Saturday, January 30, 2016

Homily [2] 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily [2] 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; Ps 71:1-6, 15, 17: 1 Cor 12:31–13:13 and Luke 4:21-30.

 Preaching and Prophesying with Love

And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph….and he said to them no prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

This passage from today’s Gospel highlights an outstanding message that runs through today’s  scripture readings- the mission of Israel’s prophets, the mission of every Christian, the challenges they face on their mission; and how they must respond to such challenges with Love!

In today’s Gospel Jesus has gone to preach love and mercy in his own town of Nazareth. He reads and preaches from the scroll of prophet Isaiah he was familiar with. He preaches hope he preaches the coming and the fulfilment of the Messiah. He is the savior of the world, the anointed, the source peace, and joy long awaited by Israel! Many who listened to him admired and believed Christ; while many rejected, and taunted him outright. They knew his father, Joseph, they knew his mother, Mary. They knew they were poor, not from a priestly and royal family, in worldly sense!  Importantly, this rejection took place in his home town of Nazareth. No wonder Jesus truly and rightly says in that passage, “no prophet is [honored,] accepted in his own native place.” We experience this every day in our lives!  How often do we not take our own for granted? How often do we not disrespect ourselves—in our families groups and even among colleagues? How often are we not been rejected or persecuted simply because of our faith– as Christians? Remember, each of us are called to be prophets in our various capacities– ready to stand up for the truth, conscientize our communities,  ready to resist evil, ready to cherish the highest good, love, kindness, mercy, and forgiveness as Christ did!

Even before the experiences of Christ heard in today’s Gospel, several of Israel’s prophets particularly Jeremiah was called at a very tender age to preach and challenge the evil of his time, in his own region of Judah, shortly before exile! His mission as that of Christ was made with resistance and rejection. Among Israel’s prophets, Jeremiah suffered most. He was beaten severally, abused, imprisoned, called all kinds of names, thrown into in muddy cistern, exiled and finally killed!

In this challenging mission what God said to Jeremiah is important for us today. God said to him, “Gird your loins, stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account…I have made you a fortified city, a pillar of Iron, a wall of brass- against the princes kings.”

In our daily challenges– which could come in different forms– illness, poverty, political wrangling, hatreds, unhappiness, racism, rejections, divisions in our various communities and families, we have to think and with love that God is solidly behind us!

This is the love that Paul reminds us of in that 2nd reading. Like Jeremiah and Christ, he suffered in his missionary journeys. He met various challenges in the Corinthian church- including rivalry, hatred, back-biting, division and unhealthy competitions. For Paul, truly, all these challenges, including our personal challenges, and struggles- be it illnesses, rejections, unhappiness, threats of war and terrorisms,  set-backs in life, loss of our loved ones, modern challenges to the teachings of the church and family values- all these– can be handled by each of us, “prophets on a mission,” with Love! And for St. Paul,

The Love of God is Patience in moments of trials
The Love of God is kindness to the poor and the needy, and people we meet on our ways
The Love of God is not Jealousy of our neighbors'- gifts and talents
The Love of God is not pomposity in discharging our duties and ministries
The Love of  God is not inflated, but tempered with mercy
The Love of God not rude, crude language- even to strangers
The Love of God does not seek its own interest- but looks out for the community
The Love of God is not quick tempered in the face of temptations
The Love of God does not brood over injury, but forgives, especially in this Year of Mercy
The Love of God does not rejoice over wrong doing- but courageously rejects evil
The Love of rejoices and seeks the truth


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Homily [2] Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily [2] Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12:12-30 and Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

God’s Words are Spirit and Life to Everyone- In this Year of Mercy!

“Your Words Lord Are Spirit and Life (Verba tua, Domine, Spiritus et vita sunt!). Let us say that together: “Your Words Lord, are Spirit and Life”! What a beautiful, deep and spiritual response to our Psalm today, in fact, taken from John’s Gospel chapter 6, verse 63c! Think of it again. What Word? The Word that we have just heard. Scriptures, the Scrolls, the “Law and the Prophets” that we read, live, preach and listen carefully to, at every liturgy- at worship. The Word of God, Verbum Domini! The Word of love!  The Word of unity! The Word of forgiveness! The Word of Christ! The teachings of Christ! The Word of peace!  Divine words—holy and encouraging. These words give us strength to raise our families, to carry on our respective missions, our projects, our journeys, our vocations, our priesthood, our religious life!  It is ever alive- the word of God, the values of Christ!

As they Jewish—men, women and children were returning from exile, that humiliating experience, to rebuild their homeland, their faith and dignity, their unity, their oneness, Ezra the priests, in company of a lay gentleman known as, Nehemiah brought this word of God, the Torah, the word of life, to the people. Ezra and Nehemiah read and taught the entire community these words of life. Those who listened to them were no longer the same. They were a changed people- filled with joy, strength and life- “Your words Lord, are Spirit and Life! (John 6:63c).

When Saint Paul, and apostle to the Gentiles encountered a broken, promiscuous and divided Gentile- Corinthian community, during his pastoral ministry and preaching- the word of God was Paul’s effective instrument. With the word of God Paul reminded the community that just as all parts of our bodies must work together to sustain the living body- members of Christ, the church, the baptized, Jews, Greeks and Gentiles must see themselves as brothers and sisters in Christ- and use their talents for the common good. Paul spoke words of love and unity to this divided Corinthian community! God’s words spoken through Paul, brought them spirit, and renewed their life.—“Your words Lord, are Spirit and Life!

In the Gospel of today Christ begins his public ministry ( Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) by invoking, in Nazareth, his home town, the spirit of the Lord, the energy of the Lord, that Scripture offers us on every journey that we would want to embark upon: Quoting Isaiah 61, in the synagogue of his home town, Nazareth, Jesus says,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to bring liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

What a mission, that Christ set to accomplish! Christ knew he came from the Father, who sent him on a mission. He can only accomplish so much to the blind, to the poor, to those in prison, to those in captivity- with his father behind him! It takes the spirit of the Lord to leave our luxurious home to visit with the poor and with the prisoners! It takes the spirit of the Lord to be humble to forgive those who have offended us, to be kind and to be prayerful or to accept our situation with faith, hope and love!

Each of us in our various life situations today- no matter how bad, or good, it may seems, how divided and broken we may seem to be, sometimes;  can relate to the once exiled community of Ezra-Nehemiah, who  has been restored to joy, strength, happiness and life in today’s first reading.  We can relate to divided, boastful Corinthian community of today’s 2nd reading. Our talents, with the grace of God, can be channeled towards the common good!
In fact, as it were in the Life of Christ, each of us can only stay focus, we can only  attempt to do so much good, ----be good leaders, good teachers, good children, loving parents; fulfilling our spiritual and corporal works of mercy-in this Year Mercy- visiting the sick, the blind, those in prison; praying for the oppressed, protecting the unborn, forgiving those who may have offended us, accepting those born in cultures outside our own, and reaching out to the poor, the marginalized by being attentive listening, preachers and doers of  the Word of God, which are spirit and life. May we all once again say together---Your words, Lord, are Spirit and Life.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

Homily [2] Second Sunday of Ordinary Time C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily [2] Second Sunday of Ordinary Time C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 62: 1-5; Ps 96:1-2, 2-3; 7-10; 1 Cor 12:4-11 and John 2:1-11

 God’s Love: The Newness Its Brings Us (In the Year of Mercy)!

We all know what it means, and how it feels to love and to be loved by God! It makes us feels good, sweet, confidence, joyful, happy, not wanting, not lacking in anything! Today’s readings (from Isaiah, Paul and John), in today’s world, simply remind us of God’s constant love, his miracles and  protection that call us to faith. We are called to be mindful of the gifts and graces, God continuously and miraculously lavishes upon us, according to our various needs!

In the first reading (Isa 62:1-5) for instance, God frees Jerusalem from Exiles. He frees them from torture, dryness, hunger, mockery, poverty and all kinds of deprivations they were subjected by their enemies. Completely a new situation now; a new land! The land once destroyed; the temple, their spirit, their confidence, their identity, the culture, once demolished has been rebuilt. Smiles everywhere! Jerusalem smiles at God. And God smiles at Jerusalem. He rejoices over them as a husband would smile at his wife. The situation is that of love. God’s love without limits. He gives us the graces that we need in this life.

Saint Paul speaks of these graces in the second reading (I Cor 12:4-11) while preaching to the quarrelling Corinthian Church. It was a community deprived of joy. It was filled with lack of understanding and immorality. Acts of fornications, adulteries, boasting about one’s talents, as if they were not a gift and graces from God, became a pattern in this community. It was a human community like ours, today!

Of course, for Paul, these gifts, be it expression of wisdom, knowledge, faith to believe, power to heal, perform mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment and interpretation of tongues, all come from the same God, and must be used for the common good, the good of the community. As Paul would put it, “there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same spirit, there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” As he produces, these blessings, gifts and graces in us, God expects us to use them of the service of our neighbors, especially the poor and the less–privileged, everywhere; and particularly in this Year of Mercy!

 By the way, God’s grace extends throughout the century and flourishes in all circumstances to everyone, land, culture and continents! It is not limited to a few! At the wedding feast in Cana, Galilee in today’s Gospel (John 2:1-11), God’s love, his mercy, generosity, compassion are in  miraculously in display. We are familiar with this story, Jesus' first miracle before his public ministry.  He changes water, to wine, through the intercession his Mother, Mary, and drew many to faith! In fact, the sweetest and the most superior of all the wines, to the amazement and joy of the wedding quests!

There is no old, ugly, hopeless and bitter situations in our lives that our miracle- working- God, with his love and mercy cannot change.  God’s love for us in unchanging! He loves us from generation to generation– Isaiah, Christ– Paul –to our generation. He loves us from nation to nations, from coast to coast, from continent to continents. Let us pray for the grace to remain prayerfully open and dispose to his transformative new wine, and love in our lives, families and in various communities today (especially in this Year of Mercy)!



Saturday, January 9, 2016

Homily [2] Baptism of the Lord Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] Baptism of the Lord Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings; Isa 42:1-4 or Isa 40:1-5, 9-11; Acts 10:34-38 or Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7 and Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.

Mission of God’s Servant (In the Year of Mercy)
“Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit he shall bring forth justice to the nations”(Isa 42:1ff).

These words of Prophet Isaiah, the first song of the suffering servant of God, is indirectly repeated in today’ Gospel, where a voice from heaven proclaims, “You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).

Both of these passages point to the spiritual meaning of what we celebrate today– the Baptism of the Lord, (in this special Jubilee Year of Mercy)! If our Christian baptism washes away our sins, welcomes us, initiates us into that Christian family, as God’s Children–, in this commemorating event of the baptism of Christ,  we celebrate the serving grace of God, his mission, which often challenges our missions.  We celebrate his atoning power in lives. We celebrate his mercy (in a year of mercy). We celebrate his forgiveness, his humility; his (God) coming concretely to be with us, live among us, Caro factum est, and teaching us how to love, how to practice justice; and how to promote peace in our families, institutions, parishes, diocese, and world today! It is a celebration of the mission of God’s servant- whom we are called to be, and imitate! Christ's mission challenges our missions!

In  the first reading, for those following Isaiah 40, Isaiah, the Prophet announces salvation to a people whose hope has been shattered, comfort, home, jobs, freedom denied! How do you feel when your hopes, freedom, comfort, peace are denied you? I am sure, you feel horrible, hopeless, unsafe and unsecured!  In Isaiah’s message God is not indifferent to his people. And God will never be indifferent to us today! His covenant stands ever! Israel to whom we all belong has been forgiven. God   acts to give concrete expression to his promises and words- a in various stages of history.

In Isaiah 42, God concretely sends his servant. He says, “Here is my servant whom I uphold” (v.1). Who is this servant and to do what? What was his mission? To bring justice and righteousness to the world; to be a light to all nations and cultures, as in the case of Cornelius in the Acts of the Apostles; and as in the case of the visiting Magi in the Christmas story; to reconstruct and not to deconstruct,  to build not to destroy, to unite and not to disunite, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from “the dungeon those who live in darkness”.

 What a mission! This servant must be truthful and courageous!  In Isaiah’s words, He is a bruised and unbreakable reed; a smoldering and unquenchable wick, virtuous, humble, gentle, meek, purposeful, and quiet! This reminds me of my childhood friend, whose nickname was and still is “Unbreakable.” Very strong young man, physically and spiritually, no matter the challenges and deficits in life, be it illnesses, low grades in examinations, hunger, lies told against him, or loss of his parents at childhood, this friend of mine remained strong, and “unbreakable.”!

But, who might this servant be, the bearer of this good news, who will free us, and bring prisoners from dungeons and prisons? There have been many proposals! Was this servant King Cyrus of Persia, that features in Ezra-Nehemiah, whom the Lord inspired to allow the Israelites to return from Persia to rebuild the Temple? Yes, in a sense, for some people! Was this servant the whole Israel, reference in the reading, especially the passage that says,” I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people” the remnant Israel, the covenanted people? Yes, in a sense!

 Was this servant with reference to Christ, born for us at Christmas, whose baptism we celebrate today; spoken of by Peter, in the house of Cornelius, in today’s 2nd reading, Acts of the Apostle? Yes of course! Peter says, “You know the word sent to the Israelites to proclaim peace, through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Without partiality?  Christ  mission is for all, male and female, Jews and Gentiles, the poor and the rich, the aged and the young, the youths, the knights, catholic daughters, the catholic son, men, priests and religious1

He is the one that allows himself to be baptized by John in today’s Gospel, Luke Chapter 3. Here, in the Gospel, he is the one that the heavens opens for. He is the one that dove descends upon. He is the one that a voice from heaven addresses as ‘my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased.”

Soon after this baptism, he is the one who quickly acclaims the mission of the servant, and reads from the very prophet Isaiah, but chapter 61, proclaiming, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind , to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’(Luke 4:18-19).

In other words, could this servant be all of us! Yes of course.  In every facets of our scripture,-search from Genesis to Revelation, it is clear that God can use any of us, from generation to generation.  This is what the preacher in the Letter to the Hebrew means when he preaches, “In time past, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all through whom he also created the worlds” (Heb 1:1-2).

In today’s baptism, we are God’s sons, daughters and servants called to imitate the ministry and mission of Christ, his love, his sense of unity, his sense of oneness, his sense of forgiveness,  his peace and justice, and mercy! This, is the way, the mission that Pope Francis continuously invites  everyone to follow, especially in a challenging time of ours, and in this Year of Mercy. In his 2016 New Year Message he vigorously and paternally invites us to “overcome indifference and win peace.”

 We know we live in a challenging world of Isis, Boko Haram, terrorism, wars and threats of wars, gun violent and distrust; poverty and abuse of power, pluralism of religion and segregations, but, Just as the God of Israel was never indifferent to Jerusalem plights, in the mission of his servants, may we in this Year of Mercy, and as the baptized never be indifferent to injustices, violent, poverty and challenges of our times. May we as partakers in the sacrament of baptism, in Christ’s mission, continuously pray for ourselves and our neighbors, reach out to the poor, the afflicted,  the rejected, the aged, the sick and pray for our nations!



Saturday, January 2, 2016

Homily (3) the Epiphany of the Lord: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily (3) the Epiphany of the Lord: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-2,7-8,10-13; Eph 3:2-3a,5-6 and Matt 2:1-12

Let Every Nation on earth Adore You O Lord, in this Year of Mercy!

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Matt 2:2); and “Let every nation adore you O Lord” (Ps 72). These are two important quotations from today’s scripture readings. One, is from the three magi, while the other one from Psalm 72. Both of these quotations give meaning to what we gather in the Church-particularly in today’s liturgy- the Solemnity of the Epiphany- to do! On this day of the Epiphany, we have come again, as usual, from all walks of life, different professions, culture, gender and nationalities “to adore the Lord,” “to do him homage,” “to give praise to God,” “to thank him.” At every worship, God, and nothing else, no one else is the object and subject of our worship!

  Why do we worship God? I guess because of his love, his kindness, --- his willingness to liberate us, to manifest himself to us as long foretold by many of Israel’s Prophet, particularly the 1st and 2nd Isaiah. What we have heard in today’s first reading (Isaiah 60:1-6) is a hymn of praise and thanksgiving by and on behalf of those who lived to experience what it meant to be freed from exile, from pains, from the humiliation. Israel saw this freedom as a manifestation of light into the darkness of hatred, as an epiphany of the Lord to assist them, when they most needed him.

 The more reason Isaiah in today's first reading Isaiah reading sings the Lord’s glory saying to Israel, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your Light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See darkness covers the earth, and the thick cloud covers the peoples, but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appear his glory…” (Isa 60:1-6).

In writing his Gospel, Matthew sees Christ's birth as the appearance of the “glory” song by the prophet Isaiah. He see his birth as an entrance of Light into the world of darkness. Matthew sees the events of Christmas as an entrance of the Divine Strength into our human weaknesses, pains and sufferings, poverty and loses, illnesses and hopelessness. Epiphany is the coming of divine goodness into our lives. Epiphany of God’s love; epiphany of God's mercy to everyone, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

 How do we react to the Mercy of God and to his generosities! How did the angels react? They worship God and sang, the hymn we began this mass with, “glory to God in the highest.” How did the shepherds react? With joy, they left everything; travelled to the manger in Bethlehem to visit with the holy family. How did Simeon and Anna react? Simeon sang the Nunc dimities. Anna spoke about the uniqueness of Christ's blessings to everyone (Luke 2). How did Herod and his cronies react? They sought to kill Christ, rather than worship him. How did the magi, the astrologers, in today’s Gospel react (Matt 2:1-12). They saw the star, and came all the way from the East, amidst challenges on the way- outside Bethlehem,--- to do him homage, to worship Christ, to praise him, to adore him, “Lord let every nation adore.” The magi adored Christ, submitted themselves to Christ, worshiped Christ, and knelt before Christ, along with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh!

 Gold, often recalls the royalty of Christ, his universal mission of justice, peace, love, forgiveness, mercy and holiness of life.  Frankincense is a symbol of hope and faith that we all, universally must place in the divinity of Christ. The third gift, Myrrh represents his destiny on the cross, his anointing at burial and the event of the empty tomb, so that we all might be saved (John 19:39).

 Salvation, God’s love and mercy are universally available to all of us! The only requirement is our willingness to handover ourselves to Jesus. Paul speaks of this universal blessings of God in the 2nd reading, saying to the Ephesians “you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefits…. That the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise, in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6).

 Again how we react to this available love and saving mercy of God, when we gather at worship, when we are at home, in schools, in our various places of work, offices and position of authority, is crucial! Like the Magi, it does not matter where you are, what you do. God can speak to us. He speaks to you. He manifests Himself to us in and through various events, professions and occupations. All that he requires of us- put differently, are (the gifts of) disposition, the fear of the Lord, the willingness, love and mercy for one another, our openness and readiness to embrace Christ. You can be an attorney, a priests, a religious,  a nurse, a doctor, a secretary, a receptionist, a broker, a plumber, a factory worker, a church volunteer, a student, employed or unemployed, a bank teller, a football coach, a husband, housewife, a Jew or Gentile with deep faith.

And when we receive this, faith, this love of God, may we share with our neighbors divine mercies, may we adore the Lord,-like the three magi, who saw the star, and came to do him homage! Lord, let every nation on earth adore you, especially in this special Jubilee Year of Mercy!