Friday, December 29, 2017

Re-Learning Family Responsibilities from Mary, Joseph and Jesus

Homily for the  Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Sir 3:2-6, 12-14;
·          Psalm 128:1-5;
·          Col 3:12-21
·         Luke 2:22-40
·         ( Alternate 1st and 2nd  Readings for Year B: Gen 15:1-6;21:1-3; Ps 105:1-9; Heb 11:8,11-12,17-19).

Re-Learning Family Responsibilities from Mary, Joseph and Jesus

It is not surprising that following the celebration of Christmas, the Birth of Christ, we re-gather today to contemplate and celebrate the virtues of the Holy Family of Mary Joseph and Jesus. In fact, this Feast makes a lot of sense for us, since we are all fruits of a given family, a community of parents and children, brothers, sisters and relatives, sometimes by blood, and sometimes by choice. Today, we celebrate the responsibility we owe one another: love, respect, care and charity. The family belongs also to the people!    The family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus was a family of “Yes!” and openness to God. Mary, in those Christmas stories knew how to say, Yes, fiat to the Lord, “Be it done to me according to your Word,” (Luke 1:38).  The righteous and quiet Joseph, listened to the angel Gabriel as well. He took Mary home (Matt 1:24). Joseph provided for the safety of baby Jesus in Egypt. Jesus’ parents were humble. They paid close attention to whispering of the Holy Spirit into their ears. They knew their responsibilities.
 Today’s Gospel presents us with the episode known as the presentation of Jesus in the temple; which is the 4th joyful mysteries. Remember the five joyful mysteries, the annunciation, the visitation, the nativity [birth of Christ], the presentation and then the finding of Jesus in the Temple. These are all part and parcel of today’s Gospel, which actually sheds light on the responsibilities of the Holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.  Like any other family, after the birth of Christ, Joseph probably must have gone back home, and perhaps going about his carpentry work, and having to deal with customers; while Mary probably was busy with household works and changing of the baby- Jesus’ diapers.  These did not distract them from prayers, singing the psalms or keeping their customs.  They remained devout and prayerful.

 That is why we are told in the  Gospel, when the time came Mary and Joseph carried out the Jewish customs and rituals of offering back their male child to the service of the Lord, remembering the sparing of their Hebrew male children in Egypt (Exod 13:1-2, 11-16 Num 18:15-16) and the purification of the mother (Lev 12:1ff).  In the Temple they met Simeon and Anna, two faithful Jews, who all recognized Christ as the Messiah, to  the amazement of Mary and Joseph. Simeon sang the Nunc Demittis ((Lk 2:29-32). They were grateful to God for what he has done for them. For them Christ was not only the Messiah, the redeemer, He would be a sign of contradiction and the cause for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and a Light for the Gentile.
Mary and Joseph were also told by Simeon that through this light for the Gentiles, “a sword would pierce their hearts.”  Through Christ, some would rise and many would fall.  This sounds scary. But it came to be fulfilled. Jesus would challenge the status quo. Jesus would preach the truth fearlessly. He reached out to the poor, to the marginalized, healed those they were thought could not be healed. He ate with sinners defying ancient traditions, not to do so. These, of course, would cause resistance among the Pharisees, Jewish elites and the Roman soldiers, against him. His life from conception was a mystery!

Truly the mysteries surrounding the life of Jesus, which we daily recite when we pray the rosary, were challenging to Mary and Joseph.  They were like a sword to Mary and Joseph. Many swords actually pierced their souls.  Think of the swords of poverty, humility, (anxiety, when Christ was lost in the temple and the event of the Holy Week/Easter—can summarize this)! They were very poor. Mary and Joseph had no place in the Inn.  They were some kind of immigrants, as noted by Pope Francis in his 2018 New Year message! And remain today a lesson and role models for modern immigrants. They slept in caves days leading to Christmas. After the birth of Christ, some of their guests were those poor Bedouins and the shepherds. During their customary purification ritual Mary and Joseph were so poor that they could not afford a lamb or a sheep, except two turtle doves (Lk 2:24).
 Isn’t it interesting that the mother of the Lamb of God could not afford a lamb for ritual cleansing? Mary and Joseph did not deny their lowliness, who they are, something we could learn from. Mary openly acknowledged her lowliness and poverty with joy, every now and then, especially in the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55).  Besides the sword of poverty, Mary and Joseph experienced the swords of opposition to Christ, false accusations against him. Mary in particular witnessed the suffering and death of Christ. She was at the foot of the Cross. The sword that pierced through Jesus' side pierced through Mary's heart. Mary suffered with Jesus. She is our co-redeemer. Mary and Joseph teach us how to endure in raising our children, in redeeming our children, even from drugs and other abuses. They had nothing, except, hope, faith and love, which they share with us. The faith learned from Abraham, Sarah (patriarch and matriarchs, Gen 15, Heb11)! They teach us how to be  good fathers, mothers, and neighbors.

 We can also learn from Christ, then the Child Jesus. Each time they made to the temple, for Presentation and Passover, we are told in the scriptures, the child went back home and was submissive and obedient to the parents.  He responded to the love of his parents. He learned basic wisdom and the facts of life, the “fear of the Lord,” from them.
On the feast of the Passover as narrated in the last section of Luke 2:41-52, Jesus, then 12 years old stayed back in the temple without the knowledge of his parents. Realizing this at home, and like every good parents, they went anxiously looking for Jesus. As if it was another sword, Mary said “son why have you done this to us, your father and I have been looking for you with anxiety.”

At the end of the day Jesus went back home with his parents. And Scripture says, he “was obedient to them,” (Luke 2:51).  And was advanced in age and wisdom before God and man (Luke 2:52). He obeyed his parents. Echoes of such obedience are heard in the first reading of today (Sir 3:2-6, 12, 14), that, whoever honors his parents atones for sins and preserves himself/herself from them. When he prays he is heard, and whoever respects the mum stores up wealth and riches for him/herself and will live long (cf. Exodus 20:12; and Deut 5:16).
 You and I know, especially our parents that we live in a different time today. Today, there are many fathers and mothers who walk away from their mutual responsibility to their children, leaving them with third parties under the name of personal freedom or 'too busy at work." Divorce has also become the order of the day, to the detriment of our children. Today’s society is also searching for where to draw the line between rights of parents and of those of their children: the movie they watch, the drinks they take, the conversation they engage, and the examples they are shown. Are they adult food, drinks, movies? What examples do we show to our kids!: how we treat each other, how we return home from work on time, join the family at meals and how we relate and respect our next door neighbors?

 I am  the sixth child in a family of 4 surviving brothers and two sisters from same mom and dad. I have other step brothers and sisters. Customarily we respect our parents. We honor them. We show gratitude to them for many reasons- for raising us, for breast-feeding us, for the food, clothing, for the tuition, for teaching us the faith, name them.  We never talked back to our parents.  The respect is so deep and mutual that we cannot call our parents even our elderly ones by their first name. Usually whenever there is any misunderstanding in our family everybody is eager to work hard to have the matter resolved with compassion and love.
 This is the Family Life in the Lord that St. Paul addresses in the 2nd reading (Col 3:12-21). The family is a place where each of us would learn to put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. Like the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ it is place where we learn to pray, to sing Psalms, cultivate wisdom, respect, honor one another and lay our spiritual foundation.  It is a place where we learn to visit our parents and seniors in the nursing homes, hospices and hospital. It is a place where we learn to be our brother's and sisters' keepers. It is a domestic sanctuary for faith, hope and love.  It is a domestic church, school of virtues, where we lay the foundation for the values and virtues we bring to our larger Community, churches, schools, places of work and governance.

As we approach the table of the Holy Eucharist today, let us pray that each and every one of us may return home today, nourished by the virtues and exemplary lives of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
Reflection questions:

1.      How do you relate to the stories told of the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus?

2.      How do you strive to fulfill your family responsibility as a father, mother, or child and relative?

3.      How do you assist other families in your faith communities to imitate the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus?


Friday, December 22, 2017

The Saving Light of Christmas!

Homily the Nativity of the Lord (Day Mass Yrs ABC): Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isa 52:7-10;
·         Ps 98:1-6;
·          Heb 1:1-6
·         and John 1:1-18
·         Isa 62:1-3;
·          Ps 89:4-5,16-17,27,29;
·         Acts 13:16-17,22-25;
·          Matt 1:-25[Vigil ],
·          Isa 9:1-6; ps 96:1-3,11-13; Tit2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 [during the night], Isa 62:11-12; 97:1,6,11-12; Tit 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20(at Dawn]).

The Saving Light of Christmas!
 Today is the long awaited Christmas Day! Happy Christmas to you! Today we celebrate the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.  It is one of the happiest moments and days of our Christian lives. On this day, Christians all over the world (Africa, America, Asia, Europe etc.), rejoice, celebrate, give, and be given, from loved ones, family members and from Santa Claus! We consolidate the messages of hope, faith and love heard during the past four weeks of Advent.  Today we celebrate the gift of life over death, light over darkness, truth over lie, and grace over sin. We celebrate our commitment to our Christian faith, to love one another and to reach to those on the margins!

Christmas in a way fulfills those promises made to us by the Lord, through our ancestors, patriarchs and matriarchs.  Promises of  God's abiding love, his presence in our midst, his unshakeable mercy, his resolute kindness, his amazing grace, his surpassing generosity; his faithfulness, his redeeming skills, his saving power in human history, from one generation to another. These blessings reach their fullness in the incarnation of the Word/Logos [God], becoming flesh, and making his dwelling among us, carum factum est (John1:14), we heard in today's gospel!
In John's gospel we heard “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We celebrate today a God who has always been there with us, journeys us through the desert, through the red sea and in the burning bush. Today he is with us in the birth of his son Jesus Christ on this day of Christmas! His birth has given us new life and a light for the world. As John's gospel rightly put it “what came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” At Christmas Christ is not only peace and joy born for us, but Light!

Ordinarily we know the opposite of light is darkness. We use light to do many positives things in our lives. We use light energy, electricity to cook, read and brighten our ways. We drive with it on foggy and cloudy roads or in the night. Plants and crops need light for photosynthesis through which we have the green vegetable, lands and medicines. In fact, some cultures and families would name their babies "light", "uwnana," or "brightness" or "sunshine."  These are metaphors and symbols of good things: life's blessings, love, peace, kindness, forgiveness, charity, unity and joy, prosperity, growth, good health of mind and body. These are what we pray for each day!. Therefore, we should not be surprise that John's Gospel would use this metaphor to express the birth of Christ, and the importance of the child born for us today into a human world full of challenges, sometimes ugly ones!
In John's Gospel  just as light represents every positive things in this life, darkness is a metaphor for negative things in this world: war, terrorism, illnesses, exiles, hostility, hatred, racism, and oppression of the poor, discrimination of all forms, anything we know that is sinful, forbidden by the church, and our faith traditions. I am sure, Pope Francis would loved to add here the abuse of planet and our mother earth, if we go by his Laudato si ( Care for the planet).

Israel's prophets, Isaiah in particular, spoke of this Light when he prophesized  “behold a virgin shall conceived and give birth to a son, and his name will be called Immanuel” (Isa 7:14).  This Light then is the redeemer, foretold in the first reading. He is the one who would free the exiled and brings us glad tidings. He is the announcer of peace and salvation in every generation, and the bearer of good news to all peoples (Isa 52:7-10). He is Christ our savior, the Light of the world!
 How do we response, How do we react to this Light? How we response to this entrance of Light into our world of darkness counts.  His parents, Joseph and Mary reacted with love, patience and great care, in spite of the threats of Pilates  and those who opposes the Light. John the Baptist, his precursor responded with great humility. The angel broke into a great song, “Glory to God in the Highest… peace to people of good will”, which we began this Mass with. The remnant of Israel, the shepherds of Bethlehem, Simeon and Hannah, all saw and received Christ as a gift, as the saving Light of the world, as God’s revelation and presence in their midst, and were exemplary in their lives to others.

In the same way we want to receive this Light with joy of a missionary discipleship willing to spread and share the joy with our friends. We want to allow it shine and reflects in our homes, in our neighborhood, churches, society, and wherever we are, in our thoughts, words, and actions, in the gifts we share and through the witness we bear to the Gospel.
Let me conclude, perhaps this lengthy reflection with what Pope Francis told us about Christmas in 2015. He said “Christmas is you, when you decide to be born again each day and let God into your soul. The Christmas pine is you, when you resist vigorous winds and difficulties of life. The Christmas decorations are you, when your virtues are colors that adorn your life. The Christmas bell is you, when you call, gather and seek to unite. You are also a Christmas light, when you illuminate with your life the path of others with kindness, patience, joy and generosity. The Christmas angels are you, when you sing to the world the message of peace, justice and love. The Christmas star is you, when you lead someone to meet the Lord. You are also the wise men, when you give the best you have, no matter who. Christmas music is you when you conquer the harmony within you. The Christmas gift is you, when you are truly friend [sister] and brother of every human being. The Christmas card is you when kindness is written in your hands. The Christmas greeting is you, when you forgive and reestablish peace, even when you suffer….. A very Merry Christmas for all those who look like Christmas.” Merry Christmas!
Reflection Questions:

1. What is Christmas for you?
2. Apart from Christ, as Light what positive metaphor can you use to describe Christ's loving presence in your life and faith community?
3. Apart from material gifts what  spiritual gifts does Christmas inspire you to contribute to your society, particularly your faith community?


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Homily Fourth Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily  Fourth Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         2 Samuel 7:1-5,8b-12, 14a,16;
·         Ps 89:2-5, 27, 29;
·          Rom 16:25-27
·          Luke 1:26-38

    What God Has Promised Us would be fulfilled!
 Today Marks the fourth and the final week of Advent before Christmas. The Spirit of these four weeks of preparing for Christmas has been a spirit of expectation and great hope in God’s promises. What God promised us: protection, love, peace, security, joy, good health of mind and body, success in what we do, everlasting covenant, and eternal happiness, would be fulfilled.  This is true in today’s Bible Lessons, especially in the stories of David, and those of Our Mother Mary. They are great stories for life’s lessons.

 In  the first reading (2 Sam 7), David the great, great grandfather of Jesus, after he had fought and consolidated power in Jerusalem, had wanted to build a house for the Lord, where he could place the Ark of the Covenant, a physical divine presence in the community. David went to bed. But that night, as God would do his things mysteriously, he reverses David’ plan through Nathan, the prophet. God would rather build a house for David. He promised David, an everlasting dynasty. Note, an everlasting dynasty here, is much more than a physical house.
It is an everlasting promise of love, kindness, peace, joy, goodness, good-health of mind and body, faithfulness, and salvation as acknowledged in the responsorial of today; “forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord… the promise of the lord I will sing forever”!

 In the second reading( Rom 16) Saint Paul testifies to the fulfillment of this promise in the person of Christ, whose Gospel he preaches. Paul says, “to him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages, but now manifested through the prophetic writings, and according to the command of eternal God..” (Rom 16:25-27).

 Similar testimony is heard in the Gospel where Luke makes it clearer that those promises made us in the beginning through David would be fulfilled, through Mary!  A young Jewish woman, betrothed to Joseph, still a virgin, is miraculously visited by the Angel Gabriel, who promised her a child: “behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” Mary said how can this be since I am still a virgin. The Angel explains to her that “God is control,” the story we are familiar with.  At the end of her encounter with the Angel, Mary humbly surrenders herself  to the divine providence, saying, “I am the Handmaid of the Lord (your servant) be it done to be according to your word.”

 Granted that the spirit of Advent reminds us of the need to be close to Mary during this time when she is carrying her child, Jesus; Mary, like David is a good example to us in many ways; especially to us today, who have heard this stories over and over again. She is an example of an ideal disciple.  We can think of our Christian life as a longer Advent. Mary is a disciple, willing to love, willing to forgive, willing to serve.  She is a gift to us. She becomes that simple vehicle through which historic royal theology and God’s mysteries and promises are fulfilled in Christ, come Christmas.

 She listens and accepts the message of the Angel Gabriel sent by God. She dialogues freely with Gabriel. She is not violent. She is not argumentative, but ponders. She is reflective. She is not arrogant. She does not claim to know more than God and the Angel. She is opened to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, over the mysteries of the one who will rule over the house of David. Even though David had plans to build a house for the Lord, eventually built by his son, Solomon, David lived through the mysteries of God communicated to him through Nathan!

 King David of the first reading  Mary of the gospel I believe are great examples of how we can, in our different life-situations, respond to God’s mysteries and divine command.  David was attentive to Prophet Nathan. He gave up his plan of building a physical house. Mary on the other hand responded with complete humility, trust and faith in whatever God had in stock for her. How we respond to Scriptures, what the Church teaches, our parents, teachers and God-fearing leaders, counts.

 Our Christian life, sometimes could be seen as a longer Advent, hoping and trusting, all the way, in  the fulfillment of all the promises made to  us by the Lord. Even though we may have our own plans, Advent, particularly the Bible Lessons of today allow us to follow God's final plan. Therefore, as Christmas approaches, we are invited to imitate Mary’s gifts, and renew our trust in the Lord. We are invited to contemplate the virtues of Mary, her dialogue and reactions to Angel Gabriel. We  are encouraged to  make our homes, churches, dioceses,  schools, seminaries, religious communities, offices, places of work “Schools of Mary” and “Colleges of Virtues”, where we  sing God’s promises, and trust  at all times in the love, joy, security, and peace which the Lord had promised  us, in the beginning, since the time of David.

Reflection Questions:
1. Do we trust in God's promises?
2.Do we see ourselves in David or Mary of today's Scriptures?
3.How and in what way do we help members of our faith communities to completely trust in divine providence?


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Third Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11;
·          Ps /Luke 1:46-50, 53-54;
·          1 Thes 5:16-24
·         John 1:6-8, 19-28.
Expecting the Lord with Joy!
When we expect an important guest or anticipate an appointment, there is always that natural tendency or social protocol, to call back and forth in order to confirm the arrival of our guest or confirm our appointments.  When our guest finally arrives or appointment successfully met it brings us joy and happiness. Today’s celebration, Gaudete Sunday of Advent in the light of today’s scripture communicates not just hope but joy and happiness of freedom in Christ’s birth. The joyful mysteries, well captured by Saint Paul in the second reading when he says to the Thessalonians “Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing. Give thanks to God in every circumstances.” Perhaps, what Pope Francis would called, “the Joy of the Gospel”!
 Even though this is Advent, we must make it a joyful and a prayerful Advent. What brings us joy and happiness during Advent is the fact that Our Lord is near; the birth of our Savior is at hand. He comes to free us. He comes to forgive us. He comes to liberate us. He comes to bless us. He comes with peace and justice lacking in the world and in our families today. This is who God is, accompanying his people throughout history.  
He accompanied the ancient Israel as they return from humiliation, and exile to rebuild their temple.  Speaking on behalf of YHWH, Isaiah assures the homeless, the captives, the poor, the ignorant, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God….” (Isa 61:1-2a)”. What a message of hope often cited by Luke 4:18-21 as the inaugural address of Jesus. It is joyful message that gave them joy. It give us joy today that Our Lord will never abandon us.  At Christmas, he comes to us through the son of Mary, as promised.
The responsorial Psalm constitutes, the Magnificat, the joyful song of Mary that the birth of Christ promised her is fulfilled through her, a lowly and humble handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:46–48, 49–50, 53–54). It’s a song of joy with humility!
 [Think of what Mary had to go through from her immaculate conception, betrothed to Joseph, her mysterious encounter with the Lord, through the Angel Gabriel. Although there were moment of sorrowful mysteries in Mary’s life, today Mary prays the joyful mysteries because of the nearness of the Lord. That which was told her, as poor and lowly as she was, has been fulfilled. She became the mother of our Savior. To have Christ is to have joy, unhappiness sets in when we lose Christ. Mary through the joyful mysteries is an example one who possess Christ through listening obedience to the will of God, love of one’s neighbor, purity of mind and body, poverty of the spirit and humility to serve others, as she visited her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with John the Baptist.  At Mary’s visit, John the Baptist who was few months older than Jesus, imitated the mother, Elizabeth joyfully honoring Mary and her son, Jesus. Recalled, John the Baptist leapt in her mother’s womb when Mary visited her.]
The same note of joyful message is heard in John’s Gospel as John the Baptist insists joyfully in that humility. He baptizes with water, but he joyfully acknowledges that the one coming after him at Christmas, namely Our Savior will baptize with the Holy Spirit, the source of life, the breath of life!  John is not even worthy to untie the strap of Jesus’ sandals. What a humility! Unless we forget ourselves and not so much be consumed in our ego, we will not be able to know and serve and have Christ who is the true source of joy and happiness!
Advent, especially in a today’s world of isolationism, and indifference to one’s next door neighbor, is a time we reach out to our neighbors, support one another, pray for one another, and bear one another’s burden.  And we should do this joyfully. Advent is time we rejoice and try to be a source of joy to one another. It is a time we strive to imitate Israel’s prophets, the missionary zeal of Paul, John the Baptist, and importantly our mother Mary who knew how to expect her baby Jesus with joy, and who expresses that joy in the joyful mysteries, and at the birth of her son. As we joyfully expect Christ at Christmas, may we daily pray the joyful mysteries(the annunciation, the visitation, the nativity, the presentation and the finding of Jesus in the temple) radiate that joy and happiness in our neighborhood, churches, dioceses, parishes, stations, schools, offices, homes and places of work!
Reflection Questions
1.      What gives you joy as you prepare for Christmas?
2.      What is your take away from today’s bible readings, the humility and joyful zeal of Mary and John the Baptist or the hopeful and joyful and prophetic message of Isaiah?
3.      How do you prophetically share the joy of the Gospel (Evangelli Gaudium) with your neighbors or members of  your faith community?

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Homily Second Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Second Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11;
·         Ps 85: 9-14;
·          2 Pet 3:8-14
·         Mark 1:1-8  
 Preparing With Fidelity , Hope And Trust In God
Advent which began last week is a time of preparation for Christmas. It is also a time we renew our faith and hope in the second coming of Christ. Unlike lent, it is not a time for reflection on Jesus’ passion and death, but a time  we re-live the message of  hope, optimism,  expectation and call  for preparedness in the manner of  “God’s servant”( (malachi=MT), his angel (aggelou autou= LXX) proclaimed by Israel's prophets, from Isaiah to John the Baptist. We are God’s servants. We are called to be our neighbors’ angel, servants and messengers!
 Surely, preparedness for Christmas stands out during Advent scriptures. How do we prepare in the midst of all the problems of life- political, social, economic etc? Scripture readings of today suggest ways for Christmas' preparation. These readings urge us to use our religious imagination and look forward to the future with hope, faith, humility, practice of justice, righteousness, pursuit of peace, and courage no matter the challenges that we encounter daily in life. Watchfulness, alertness and some sense of eagerness and urgency for compassion are also required on every believer’s journey, in history! 
 A little history is also important. In the 586/7 BC the Babylonians military had overrun Jerusalem and destroyed the temple there. Second Isaiah, among all Israel’s prophet had every reason to “proclaim” this message of hope and comfort to those displaced in exile, “Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way”. The messenger especially the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 (my messenger) is rendered angellou autou (his messenger), in the Greek translation, the LXX. The joy of this affirmation, is that despite all the destruction, disappointments and set-backs around him Isaiah was clearly called to proclaim, or “cry- out” the message of comfort and hope of salvation to his people, hoping to walk the long highway, from Babylon to Jerusalem, the Holy Land.  Getting there, Jerusalem shall be rebuilt and the Lord will be like a good shepherd feeding, tendering and caring for his flock in the rebuilt Jerusalem. 
 In other words, the force of these pronounce “my messenger, my house, way of the Lord,” it is the Lord that leads the way. He does this with care and comfort. Isaiah calls us today, to play our part on this long journey, like God’s servants and instruments by caring for one another-- feeding flock, gathering the lambs in our arms and bosoms, and leading the ewes care.
 The second reading (2 Peter 3:8-14) builds on this hopeful, trusting and selfless message of the first reading (Isaiah).  Preparation for Christmas, also requires devotion, some sense of urgency, justice, righteousness and peace. Peter says “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire,…since everything is to be dissolved in this way….conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of the God,… in which righteousness dwells, and be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace” (2 Pt 3:8–14). Again, like the way, the day belongs to him and the messengers are his!
Isaiah’s prophecy foreshadowed not only what we have heard in Second Peter but fulfils Gospel messages.  Mark’s Gospel today, not surprisingly makes a direct reference to Isaiah, “behold sending my messenger  ahead of you; he will prepare your way, a voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Mark 1:3//Isaiah 40:3, cf. Matt 11:7-10).
In Mark, John the Baptist may have been the servant not Isaiah. But what Isaiah announced thousands of years before him, is what John the Baptists proclaimed from the desert, during his time, about the coming of Christ. For us, it is this Christ, God’s Son that we prepare for at Christmas, through repentance, baptism, conversion, works of charity, forgiveness, humility, modeling leadership and prophetic virtues of justice, patience, prudence, modesty and faith in the one mightier than us!
Today we live in a pluralistic society with various socio-cultural, political and leadership challenges, including threats of war, terrorism, poverty, widening gap between the "haves" and the have-nots." The more reason we are invited to reexamined the many pastoral ways we can prepare for Christmas. What have been suggested in today’s scriptures include humility in walking the way, humility in preaching, leading and serving the people, especially the poor, and importantly an awareness that we are God’s servant. We are his instruments and agents of evangelization. The way, the house belong to him. This awareness is achievable provided we placed our faith and trust in God’s fidelity.
Reflection Question
1.      How do we prepare for Christmas? As a good shepherd or as a wolf?
2.      How are we feeding the flock, the lambs and the ewes entrusted to us, with care?
3.       Do we see ourselves as God’s Malachi (messengers), aggelou autou (his angel) as we prepare for Christmas?
4.      How do we humbly, prophetically lead, help members of our faith communities to prepare for Christmas, in the manner God’s servant recommended in today’s scripture passages?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Homily First Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily First Sunday of Advent Year B: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7;
·         Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19;
·          1 Cor 1:3-9
·         Mark 13:33-37.

 Time (Kairos) Belongs to God Our Father and Redeemer (ḇȋ and gō’lēnû)
 How often do we not hear people say to one another, “hang-in there, God’s time is the best’?”  Behind this expression, historically speaking is the human person’s eagerness, anxiety, uncertainty, curiosity, and the need to know, when and how, why and where? In faith context, it is an expression of our total dependence upon God, our father (ḇȋ), the pater noster.  It expresses hope for deliverance, improvement, and hope for people of all cultures, depending on their needs, or the situation in which they find themselves, as believers.

 For the Jewish exiles- experiencing freedom––or searching for one, it is an expression of faith, expectation, watchfulness and trust in God their father, who comes (advent) to liberate and  free them from the oppressive clutches of colonialism and internal issues of settlement in the newly rebuilt land. For Christians, worldwide, Advent is a time we relive this expression “God’s time is the best! How often, do we not search for freedom, good health and good fortunes? Advent is a time of prayer; a time of expectation, a time we prepare and patiently wait for the coming of Christ, the Son of God our Father (ḇȋ), at Christmas. It is that moment of God’s intervention. God our Father, in his son, becoming like one of us, in order to save us!
Scripture readings today are so timely and fitting. They redefine this divine time for us in Jewish and Christian contexts. For all Israel’s prophets, including Third Isaiah (Isa 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) this time was the “Day of the Lord.” No wonder the first reading, begins acknowledging God as “our father” and ends on the same notes of God, as “our father,” (’ḇȋ) ) and our redeemer(gō’lēnû) .Time, gifts, live, prosperity, land, life belong to him, who blesses with them. Third Isaiah's  passage invokes that time when God accompanies them(Israel) throughout their journeys in exiles. Truly, when they were in trouble of slavery, dryness, starvation, thirstiness, sin or faced challenges in rebuilding the new community, they placed their hope and trust in God, who comes down, and renders heavens to save Israel! Israel's dependence in this God is as a child to a father, or a clay in the potter’s hand, as the reading stresses, and confirmed by the Psalmist, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be save” (ps 80:4).

 Again, in Christian communities, Advent is a time we continue to cherish, acknowledge with hope and expectations God’s presence in our lives, through the birth and working of Christ his son. Saint Paul brought same message to the Corinthian community in the Second reading. Paul says:
 “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in very way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:3-9).

 In the Gospel, Mark uses Kairos to describe this time of the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, to his eager disciples. It is an important time, an appointed time; a quality time (Mark 1:15); a time of fulfilment of the day of the Lord. It is a time nobody knows (Mark 13:33).  It belongs to God “Our Father.” This time can only be handled by faith, watchfulness, being alert, loving our neighbors. It can only be handle by putting forgiveness into practice. By forgiving those who have offended us and asking those we have offended for forgiveness. It can also be handle by offering services of charity to the poor, and the needy! 
The danger is that, Advent Season and Christmas can come and go without our realizing that “God’s time is the best,” and that God is hidden in every events of our life’s journeys. He is our father, who feeds us, who protects us, and who provides for us. Like the gatekeeper in the Gospel passage of today (Mark 13:34), the Church invites us during this Advent not to remain chronologically static, or be carried away by the media, the politics of the day, the noise, the violent on our streets, the wars and the threats of war. Or even by our own weaknesses and sins, thinking that they are beyond repairs.  During Advent, our relationship, our covenant with God our father (ḇȋ) and redeemer (gō’ᾰlēnû) is repairable; so also is our broken relationship with our neighbors during this advent!

 Reflection Questions:

1.      How do we prepare for Advent, the coming of God’s Son?

2.      Do we expectantly see him as the revelation of God our Father and Redeemer?

3.      Do we see the redeemer grace of God in how we relate with the poor, the voiceless, those on the margins, and the needy? How do we help members of our faith communities to live Advent by recognizing God our father (’ḇȋnû) and redeemer (gō’ᾰlēnû) in their midst?


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Thirty Fourth Sunday Year A (Solemnity of Christ the King: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Thirty Fourth Sunday Year A (Solemnity of Christ the King: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Ezek 34:11-12, 15-17
·         Ps 23:1-6
·         1 Cor 15:20-26, 28
·         Matt 25:31-36
Imitating Christ, the Good- Shepherd- King In service to others
Today we celebrate the solemnity of Christ the King, which marks the end of the liturgical season.  Even though we have come to the end of this liturgical cycle our faith journeys, and search for justice, peace, employment, Christ-like and glorious leadership in families, religious communities and nations around the world continue. It will be recall it was Pope Pius XI who in 1925 introduced this feast into the Church Liturgy not only to remind “earthly rulers” such as Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin that Christ is the only Sovereign King, but to constantly remind each of us today, of our obligations to love, lead, train, teach and treat one another, especially the poor, the needy, the anawims, the dalims, the ebyonims, with love, mercy and compassion, in imitation of Christ.
It is in this spirit of God’s people invitation to imitate Christ, that the Church, picks Ezekiel 34, Psalm 23, 1 Cor 15 and Matthew 25 for scriptural reflections today. In the first reading, just as in Psalm 23, and Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel, the prophet of Exile reminds and consoles the Jewish exiled that the coming Messiah, fulfilled in Christ, for Christians, is the good-shepherd –king who feeds, protect and care for his flocks, and raises them from death, no matter what. Christ is not like those irresponsible and earthly kings who watched over the burning down of the temple, in 586 BC, or contributed to the tragedy of exile through their failure to lead, with love, compassion and the fear of the Lord. Of course, it is this same hopeful message of Ezekiel prophecy of the Messiah, that the psalmist renders into music in Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”
In the Second reading, Saint Paul affirms Christ and the Messiah foretold by Ezekiel. He is the all-powerful king and ruler who does a lot for his people, including raising the dead from death. Every power must be subjected to Christ, including the power to judge ( I Cor 15:20-26,28).
 It is this power to judge us on how we have charitably shared our bread with the poor, with the needy, those in prison, that  Evangelist Matthew stresses in today’s Gospel ( Matt 25:31-46). That is to say, how we govern matters. How we care for one another, the least of our brothers and sisters, matters and how we serve makes us friends with Christ the King. In other words, Christ is with us in the poor and the needy we serve, in the stranger we receive, in the hungry we feed and in the thirsty we offer drinks, as humble “sheep” on the right hand of God in the parable
The “goats” in the parable, perhaps reminds us of the uncharitable ones, the rude and hostile leaders, without compassion and love. It reminds of us parents who do not take care of their family responsibilities and those who abuse their offices of services. It challenges us on this last Sunday of the Year to always strife to imitate Christ the King and our Good Shepherd!
 Reflection Questions
1.      In our leadership positions do we see Christ as our model?
2.      How do we recognized the kingly presence of Christ in the poor and the voiceless of our communities?
3.      Conscious of divine judgment how do we assist members of our faith communities to hope and place all their trust in Christ, the King-ruler, and good shepherd?