Saturday, February 27, 2016

Homily [2] Third Sunday of Lent Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] Third Sunday of Lent Year C:  Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Exod 3:1-8a, 13-15; Ps 103:1-4, 6-11 and 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 and Luke 13:1-9

God Yesterday, Today and Forever!

 As we journey through Lent with wonderful scriptural passages our confidence continue to grow in God, who is yesterday, today and forever. The God who reigns, who has planted us as a vineyard, fig trees in this life to yield fruits. We are confident in his presence, the God of our Fathers and Mothers: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses. We are confident in his protection, provisions, love and forgiveness, when we turn to him in repentance. He is a God of all moments, events, circumstances and times.

In the times of Moses and of the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt and in the wilderness, God manifested himself, his saving glory them,  to the Israelites, through Moses who he discovered during the event of the burning bush (Exod 3). In that event, Moses did not discover God. Moses is discovered by God and he is drawn in to divine purpose. Moses is the human agent of divine salvation.  God commissions Moses to go to Pharaoh and to the Israelites.  With Moses’ initial objection, God revealed himself  as the one who is (ayeh ahser ayeh, ego eimi), who creates, who controls, who protects, who intervenes  in human history, who liberates, who provides, who redeems, who forgives, who fulfills his promises, and the one who saves! He is the one who was, who is, and who will continue to be. God will be what he will be. Who he is cannot be reduce to a single word nor his love limited to a single event.

God manifests himself to us, his human agents, in varied ways, exemplified in the events of the exodus:  in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, in the cloud, in the manna he provided, in the food, in the water from the rock, in the signs, symbols, in the ten plagues, in the crossing of the sea, in the murmuring and in the various trials of his chosen people and of course, through human agents, like the leadership of Moses! Remember, we human are not perfect!

Paul was aware of this. The more reason while speaking to the Corinthian Church, during his time, Saint Paul points to these events, of the Exodus, and to the ever presence of God, in the clouds of events, and in our neighbors. Paul says, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, yet God was not pleased with all of them.....These things happen as an example for us.”

 How many times do we not hear in the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of John that Christ/God is the great I AM, the Ego Emi, who controls all events and has planted us in this life, as vineyard, as fig tree, for a purpose? In today’s Gospel similar message is heard (Luke 13:1-9).  Christ invites us in his goodness, not only to repentance and renewal, especially in this time of lent, but he wants us to be that healthy parabolic fig tree, that vineyard bearing good fruits; fruits of selfless services, fruits of love, gratitude, graciousness, forgiveness, faith and perseverance in moments of trials, recognizing his ever presence  with us!

 That is to say that our Christian life today, particularly in this Year of Mercy must be daily lived with the consciousness of the exodus events and the ever presence of God in our lives in various and varied ways and moments!  Granted that, today the drums of war, terrorism, stories about ISIs, poverty, illnesses, loss of our loved ones, and many other socio- political, religious and economic challenges are still been heard, we want to be like Moses, and be opened to the many ways that God wants to work in us and through us, so that others may experience God’s  constant and ever presence, that is Who God Is- through our words, deeds and actions!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Homily[3] Second Sunday of Lent Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily[3] Second Sunday of Lent Year C:   Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
 Readings: Gen 15:5-12, 17-18; Ps 27: 1, 7-9, 13-14; Phil 3:17­–4:1 and Luke 9:28b-36.

Our Citizenship is In Heaven

 “Our Citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself,”

These words of Saint Paul to the Church in Philippi capture well the essence of what we celebrate today: that all of us, throughout history, are on a journey like the Israelites (Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers 1–10). We are immigrants, migrating to our heavenly Father. As believers, and children of the covenant, where we are now is not our final home.  Heaven is our final home. That “promised land” promised by the God of “our fathers,” through our ancestors! It takes courage, patience, courage,  endurance, perseverance and attentiveness to the voice of God to get there! It is costly. I mean the "cost of discipleship" to get there!

In today’s first reading, God unconditionally establishes a covenant, a loving relationship with Abraham, our ancestor. Abraham’s descendants; Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, David, the prophets, Christ, Paul, renewed in us, in the Church, in our communities, and families today, will be as plentiful as the stars in the sky and as the sand of the sea shore. Abraham and his descendant shall be given that land for a possession (Gen 15). Abraham believes and puts his faith in God. He is accredited as a just man, as a righteousness man. Abraham, by believing, and putting his faith in God, teaches us how to be believing people, a compassionate, church, a believing, family and community. Abraham’s response to God reminds us that our work and Lenten disciplines here on earth will never be in vain. Those spiritual and corporal works of mercy will never be in vain. Abraham teaches us to be docile, faithful, righteous, open to change, renewal, confession, acceptance of the will of God, and the teachings of the Church; conversion and transformation from our “UR of Chaldeans” to the “Promised Land.”

On Mount Tabor, in the transfiguration episode of today’s Gospel Jesus' face changes in appearance, during prayer. His cloth becomes dazzling white to the amazement of Peter, James and John, his disciples who were with him. Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus about the glory of the cross in the language of the exodus, known to both of them. Peter wishes to remain on this peaceful, glorious, beautiful earthly mountain of Tabor. But, truly their citizenship were beyond the earthly mount Tabor, Christ speaks to them about his journeys to Jerusalem! Heavenly citizenship can only be accomplished through the Cross and good works we do!

Today we encounter our daily crosses in different forms; the cost of discipleship in different forms. In acts of charity, forgiveness, suffering, pains and penance; the insult be bear for the sake of Christ. There are some that have experienced, poverty, terrorism, illnesses,  inhumane-deportations, wars and various forms of institutional or organized, socio-political unjust structure– as they journey through this life. Some leave in fear! Some in anger! Some in excess materialism and uneasiness to forgive and to fell forgiven by God of their past sins. Whatever, our various challenges in life must have been as Christians- Lent, especially in this Year of Mercy, re-invites us to patience, trust and willingness to listen to the voice of Christ, who daily speaks and invites us to his eternal citizenship!


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Homily [2] First Sunday of Lent Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily [2] First Sunday of Lent Year C:  Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Deut 26:4-10; Ps 91:1-2, 10-15; Rom 10:8-13 and Luke 4:1-13

“One does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

These are words of Jesus, charging back to Satan in that wilderness area, where he was led by the Spirit, for 40 days of fasting with prayers,  and to be tempted after his Baptism. Lent, among other things, commemorates these 40 days, and reminds us to stick with the God of our Fathers manifested in Christ!

There is hardly any of us here who has never experienced trial, testing or temptation: temptation to over eat, to over enjoy a bottle of wine, temptation to over study- putting your health into danger, temptation to get angry, or to over reactor to commit one sin or the other.  How to manage these trials and temptation is an important aspect of our faith, such that three Evangelist Matthew, Mark and Luke took note of this, with slight variations, in the light of Christ’s events. The Church is delightful with these stories that we read them in all the three liturgical cycles on every first Sunday of Lent.

Lent, introduced to us (the other day), on Ash Wednesday, is not only a time for prayer, fasting and doing charitable works; it is also  a time we pay closer attention to Jesus and learn from Jesus how to manage crises, troubles, trials, temptations since we all, are vulnerable to these things- even as years pass by.

I say, “as years pass by” not that we have not been praying or practicing corporal and spiritual works of mercy in the past, but remember this is  2016  different from 2015. Lent 2016, falls in this  Year  of Mercy, is a time we want to re-examine ourselves spiritually; it’s a time for a new kind of spiritual renewal, with hunger for a renewed  spirit of forgiveness and compassion towards our neighbors. None of us recharges his or her cell phone once a year. We recharge them occasionally. Lent is a time we want to recharge our spiritual batteries again, and pay closer and renewed attention to how we listen to, study, live or actualize the Word of God, and the teachings of the Church, particularly in the face of present day, challenges and trials.

The three temptations in the Gospel reading of today, demanding Jesus to turn stone into bread, to prostrate and worship Satan or jump from a high storey temple building for a prize, in order to prove that he was the son of God, is indicative of the fact that temptation or testing of one’s faith and love for God "of our fathers," is not a new phenomenon. Temptation does not respect anybody.

I guess, it would have respected Adam and Eve in the Garden. But it did not. They ate the forbidden fruit. It would have respected Abraham( Gen 12-25), Isaac(gen 26-36) and Jacob(Gen 37-50).  A few times, Abraham was tempted to tell Pharoah  Sarai was not his wife, but sisters. For a while Sarai was barren- and the promises made by God to Abraham in Genesis 15, 17 were under threats!  Temptation did not respect Moses and Israelites  in the desert.  Those Israelites were tempted to forget the freedom God had given them or the battle God, the Divine warrior fought on their behalf against Pharaoh. Rather, they were tempted to rebel and complain bitterly against God and Moses. They even went as far as making other god’s for themselves. They slipped into idolatries. Even Moses became angry and impatiently struck the rock indiscriminately for the water and impatient community. Anger, inpatient, ingratitude!

 We find these stories of temptations dotting biblical histories, down to us. But the difference is in Jesus, in his teachings on faithfulness, prayers and resilience. By resisting that temptation and being able to say, “One does not live by bread alone,” by being able to say “you shall worship the Lord your God, by being able to say,” you shall not put the Lord your God to test”, Jesus  rejected, worldly power, wealth and materialism, and teaches us how to do same. He teaches us how to stick with the God our Fathers (Deut 26:4-10).

Though divine, remember he was human too. But his divine power was not meant for his own glory, but for the glory of God his Father and for the service of humanity. We see this in his miracle in Cana; we see this in his feeding of the crowds, in his healing ministries, raising Lazarus from the death, eating with those the society considered as sinners, we see this in his universal approach to the gospel- reaching out to the Gentiles and Jews. Making sure, as Paul would put it, “no one who believes in him (is) [will be] put to shame,’ (Rom 10:8-13), even in times of troubles and temptations.

 In this Lent, let us strife to re-acknowledge how weak and broken we are, prone to temptations of our times in our own desert of selfishness, individualism or tendencies to put God last instead of putting God first. And in this Year of Mercy, may we pray with the psalmist “Be with me Lord, when I am in trouble” (Ps 91:15b). May we pray with Christ “one does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of [the God]God”([of our fathers [(Matt 4:4; Luke 4:1-13).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Homily [2]5th Sunday of Ordinary Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily [2]5th Sunday of Ordinary Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 6: 1-2a, 3-8; Ps 138:1-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11 and Luke 5:1-11

We Need God’s Grace on Our Missions!

There are many times we work hard, and toil in life –but all seems to be in vain, not appreciated - except for the grace of God that boost our trust in him. This message foregrounds today’s Bible lessons. The grace of God legitimizes our missions!

The Disciples of Christ were toiling and fishing all night in vain, in today’s Gospel reading. With frustration they were washing their net ready to return home. But at the word of Jesus “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” they disciples were overwhelmed with success. At the command of Jesus “they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.  The weight of the fish also threatened to sink the boat. In fact, the “sinful Peter” was on his knees. And the rest of the disciples were amazed at the Power of Christ. Soon after that they were called to abandon, their fish, net and even their families to follow Jesus, to be messengers of God, fishers of men and women– which they did! With God everything is possible. Even, the grace to let go certain things in our lives!

In the first reading, the call story of Isaiah is also presented in a very dramatic way! It is like the appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16-19). Isaiah sees the "otherness" of God, the Holiness of God in his visions. Remember holiness in Hebrew is not a personal quality of piety, but to be separate from others. To be set apart. The God of Israel is holy, holy, holy! He is the holiest- the sovereign of all creations; the ruler of every nation. Even though Isaiah is a man of unclean lips, living among unclean people, the Holy God, Isaiah believes,  cleans his lips and commissions Isaiah to be his messenger of judgment to his people. The authority and the grace of God foregrounds Isaiah’s preaching, in spite of his weaknesses as a man of unclean lips!

Paul found himself in similar situation while preaching to the Corinthian community. In his journeys he met trials and challenges. He knew he was once a sinner. The least expected to be an apostles and agent of God, since he was known as a persecutor of the faith- enemy of the Church of God. But Saint Paul attributes all his successful missions to the grace and power of God: Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. I have toiled harder than all of them, not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

These readings challenge us to trust God more and more and acknowledge the fact that with God everything is possible. We are challenged in our various vocations and positions in life to always rely on God’s grace, his holiness, no matter our personal weaknesses, uncleanness and talents. This is applicable even to civil workers, factory personnel, priests, religious and ministers of the Gospel.  It is not always about you, our egos. But it is about God! It’s only the divine authority that legitimizes and foregrounds our missions!