Saturday, March 25, 2017

Homily Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
·         1 Sam 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a;
·         Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-6;
·          Eph 5:8-14
·         John 9:1-41

Christ Looks Deeply Into Our Hearts
 Today we celebrates  our trust in God’s healing light, and hope in his boundless love for us not measured by appearances! God in today's readings gives us the vision of light, cures our blindness (which could come in different forms) and looks into the hearts of each and every one of us. He is the ideal shepherd (Ps23, Jer 23, and Ezekiel 34 and John 10). He loves us where ever we are. He cares for us and does not judge us from appearances. He shines his light and scrutinizes from within! Today’s scriptures substantiate this divine attitude toward us, especially the catechumens who are to be admitted to the Sacrament of Christian Initiation, and those that the society considers weak or the improbable, but fortunately and consistently uplifted by the ministry and preaching of Pope Francis.

 In today’s first reading God chooses shepherd David, the youngest son of Jesse to replace Saul as the new King of Israel (1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a) to the amazement of everyone. He does this irrespective of other seven sons of Jesse, presented to Samuel for anointing.  This story illustrates God’s choice of improbable savior. It shows that God can write on a crooked line. The same young David would defeat the gigantic Goliath in a battle (1 Sam17). This is how God works. In many other places in the bible we have seen God chose Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Rehab the prostitute, Israel’s Judges, the prophets, prophetess and priests, our Mother Mary, and of course David, irrespective of their human weaknesses or lowliness to work his marvelous. Some of them like Isaiah would argue, “O God I am a man of unclean lips” or like Jeremiah, “I am too young.” Or like Mary, “how can this be since I am a virgin.” It goes back to the reading of today. God does not see as human being sees. Human being sees the appearance, but God looks and shines his light of love and forgiveness into the heart of each and every one of us. Even though David on the long run would have his own trials, but God would insist and establish for him an everlasting dynasty-- in Christ! Are we convinced that God sees through our hearts and choses us in spite of who were are?
Similarly, in the Gospel reading of today, Christ’s healing of the blind beggar (John 9:1-41) receives mixed reactions as David’s choice was. It is viewed differently and humanly by everyone, the passers-by, including the Pharisees who so much depended on external appearances and judgments.  For them Christ was not from God, because it was an abomination to heal and to perform charitable works on the Sabbath. There were also those who disbelieve that the man was born blind, in the first place (v.18). Christ must have been “faking the miracle.”

They did not believe in Christ. Disbelieve itself is a form of spiritual blindness. The more reason they went to confront the parents of the healed man in order confirm how their son’s healing came about. Out of fear they couldn’t testify much to the healing mercy of Christ. They simply said to the Pharisees “my son is of age ask him, how he got his sight.” Apart from disbelieve, sometimes fear and lack of spiritual courage can also blind us or deny us of an opportunity to speak or witness the truth. Each of us are called to go out to the whole world and witness the Gospel!
 Beside the image of David, we are invited to turn to the blind man as our model of faith. Or relate to his experience of encounter with the Lord, the Light of the world. We have to do this recognizing that we  do have our own blindness and weaknesses (which could be indifference to the plights of our neighbors, irresponsibility to our duties, arrogance, laziness, selfishness, tribalism, parochialism, lack of creativity, racism and jealousy...).

 In the case of the healed beggar, even though he is thrown out of the synagogue, persecuted, denied and rejected by family members and close neighbors (vv. 8-34), the cured man once again was found by Jesus, the Son of Man, whom he completely trusts and believes in (vv.35-36).  He worships Christ, who reassures him that, he” came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see and those who see might become blind” (v. 39).
 With this Christ like God his father who appointed David king of Israel, is drawing a contrast between human sight and God sights. He is drawing contrast between the blind man who responded in faith to the light of vision brought him by Christ, and the Pharisees who claim to see, but disbelieve in the works of Christ. Human fear and faithlessness displayed by the parents of the blind and the Pharisees, can blind us from the light of Christ.  They are “fruitless works of darkness,” according to Saint Paul (Eph 5:8-14).

The light of Christ penetrates the hearts of each of us, in every land, culture and nation. It goes deeper than appearances. It knocks off the barriers of division, jealousy, racism and blindness of injustices in our broken world. It shepherds us (Ps 23) and brings us hope.  As we make progress in our Lenten discipline may we continue to trust in God’s healing light, and hope in his boundless love for us, that surpasses mere appearances!
Reflection Questions:

1.    Are you convinced that God’s love for us is not limited to our appearances; but shines through the darkness of our hearts?

2.    How can you relate to the story of the election of David, king of Israel, as against his other handsome brothers? And to what extent do you  share this story with members of your faith community with different social/political ideologies and agenda?

3.    In the light of the story of the healing of the blind man in John 9 what would you identify as your personal, or community’s blindness? Do you trust in God’s healing light and encourage others in your families, places of work and communities to do so?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Homily Third Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Homily Third Sunday of Lent Year A:  Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
·         Exod 17:3-7;
·         Ps 95:1-2.6-9;
·          Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
·         John 4:5-42
 Christ Refreshes Us with his Gift of Love
Many of us are familiar with today’s delightful Gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4. It is a story of God’s incarnate, Christ, who consistently refreshes and lavishes each of us with his gifts, with the “water” we need, especially the “water “of his love and mercy, his journeying with us, his rapport and his dialogue with us and our families and friends!
 This loving rapport and refreshment in the gospel goes back not only to the time of creation but its also evidence in the first reading, about the first Exodus, during the time of the dryness of the Israelite in the Wilderness (Exod 17:3-7). As they journeyed through the wilderness, in their needs God not only fights for them, hardens Pharaoh’s heart, but he provides the leadership of Moses, love, food, manna, and drinking water for his chosen people, in spite of them: a community who complains; who acts out Massah, who repeats the story of Merribah, and are often distracted from acknowledging the everlasting love of God. His gifts of mercy and guidance on our journeys. God is the Rock and the Love of our lives!
 Paul, as well, speaks of this ever consistent, universal and refreshing love of God in the second reading (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8). He says, “Brothers and sisters, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith,” hope and love. Ultimately, Jesus proves his love for us in that while were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
How often do we not complain like the Israelites in the wilderness, at Massah and Merribah? What prevents us from returning to God in our desert experiences? How easy  is it for us to fail to recognize the love of God in our lives, his blessings, or forget the history of our RCIA, the history of our Christian faith, those promises we made during our initiation into Christian faith; the history of God’s love for us in our thirstiness, in our hunger; in our deserts? In our frustrations! Remember, no matter our drynesses God is there to refresh us!
 The activities of this refreshing love of God is heighten in today's Gospel passage, when Jesus encounters, dialogues, listens, and shares a cup cold water with the Samaritan woman  in John chapter 4 (John 4:5-42). It is a faithful afternoon, in John 4. Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi is travels in company of his disciples from Judea to Galilee. He passes through Samaria. Here he meets this Samaritan woman who comes to draw a fresh water from the well of Jacob. Everyone must have been thirsty to a different degree: the woman, Christ and his disciples, since it was in the middle of the summer heat. To the shock of everyone Jesus, a Jewish rabbi breaks protocols and dismantles the unnecessary status quo. He approaches, this symbolic, individual, a woman for a cup drinking water. He also spends sometime chatting with her, respectfully, to the tacit disapproval of his disciples!
This conversation and exchange are much more than the search and thirstiness for ordinary water. Jesus is friendly, respectful to women and people of all cultures. It is not long the Samaritan woman recognizes this. She recognizes the gifts and the compassion of Jesus. She recognizes his divinity, his love, his prophetic role, his saving mission, his patience in dialogue, his forgiving power, and his spiritual depth as a true source of the Living Water. She invites the rest of the Samaritan town to trust and visit with Jesus, the source of life, and the Savior of the World (John 4:42).
During Lent we find ourselves not only in the Samaritan woman, but in the Samaritan town. From this town, from our respective locations, Jesus invites us to listen to him. He comes to us. He talks to us. He dialogues with us. He loves us. He provides us drinking water.
This water cleanses our personal faults and assures our uncertainties. It refreshes and replaces our thirstiness for material things with spiritual need. It replaces our hunger for war with peace. It replaces our desire for revenge with a thirst for reconciliation. It refreshes our stinginess with generosity, our selfishness with charity, our despair with hope; our jealousy with contentment. This Living Water of Christ refreshes our divisiveness with unity; our exclusivism with inclusivism and helps us reach out to others, especially the poor, the aged, the immigrants, the sick, the weak and the marginalized of our society.
As we journey through our deserts of Lent and Exodus of hope, may we strive to imitate the Samaritan woman, disposing ourselves for Christ’s healing mercy. As recipients of God’s mercy and his refreshing love may we in turn reach out to others, inviting them to partake in this bountiful love of Christ, and share in his spiritual drink of faith like the Samaritan woman, like the Israelites in wilderness.
Reflection Questions:
1.    How often do we not complain like the Israelites in the wilderness, at Massah and Merribah (Exodus 17)?
2.    What prevents us from returning to God in our desert experiences? Or encourage other members of our faith communities to do so?
3.    How often do we not fail to recognize the love of God in our lives, or forget the history of our RCIA, the history of our Christian faith, those promises we made during our initiation into Christian faith?
4.    As believers, leaders, preachers and modern prophets do we see ourselves in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4)?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Homily Second Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Second Sunday of Lent Year A: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Gen 12:1-4a;
·         Ps 33:4-5, 18-20, 22;
·         2 Tm 1:8b-10
·         Matt 17:1-9

Rise Up, Do Not Be Afraid(Matt 17:7)!

In today’s Gospel of transfiguration and renewal Matt 17:1-9, Jesus tells his disciples on Mount Tabor to “rise up and do not be afraid.” This seems to capture the essence of today’s readings and the spirit of Lenten prayer, alms giving, Lenten fasting and retreats, since our life’s journeys are characterized by uncertainties, challenges, hardships, trials, and sometimes humanly unpredictable circumstances. These trials can show up in our communities in any disguise: Trials of poverty and trials of abuse of wealth and inordinate desire for pleasure. Trials of lack of comfort and and trials of  abuse of comfort, forgetting God, the poor, the needy and the common good. Trials of impatience and trials of indifference about the plight of our neighbors. Trials of overreaction and trials of uneasiness about change, transformation, renewal or fear of the unknown. We can only accomplish our Christian journeys if we trust and hope in God, if we put our faith in God; if we are ready like Abraham, Christ's disciples and Paul to rise up, take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus on his journey to heavenly glory!

In Genesis 12 Abraham, our patriarch is told to embark on a journey to the land promised him by God and never to be afraid. Trusting in God Abraham did exactly the same. He leaves his native Mesopotamia, without a GPS to an unknown destination: a land that God would show him. He is met with all kinds of trials. Sarah is barren for sometimes. If she is barren how would the promise of many children by God come to a fulfilment (Gen 11:31; 16ff)? King Pharaoh threatens to the beauty of Sarah and the veracity of Abraham (Gen 12:10-20). This goes on and on. In these trying moments, the only thing Abraham has is putting his faith, hope and trust in God. He keeps going. He journeys on. He is ready for change guided by God. He is not beaten down by trials and the hardships of his journeys. How do we handle our daily trials, illnesses, deprivations, hunger, confusions? Do you throw in the towel or do we keep rising, keep walking, and keep going in faith, with openness for a renewal.

Going back to that story of transfiguration- on his journey to the cross Jesus brought his disciples, Peter, James and John to the mountain of transfiguration, mount Tabor, where Jesus’s face was transfigured and transformed. Christ’s face shone like the sun to the disciples. His cloth also became white as a bright light. Moses the law giver and Elijah the prophet also appeared to them, chatting with Jesus. So many transformation here. The brightness of the sun and the serenity of this mountain top gave the disciples such a joy and peace that they would want to remain there forever, building houses for Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
 But for Jesus the journey was not complete, without his cross.  Tabor experience was only the foretaste of his glorious coming; a foretaste of victory over the cross.  The disciples would have to keep going and be patient with themselves, not to be afraid, and not complain or tell anyone about this mountain top experience, this vision, until the son of man has been raised from the dead. The glory of this vision is not earth bound, but heavenly bound. Our Christian journeys are  not earthly bound, but heavenly. Our Lenten charities and disciplines are not earthly bound but heavenly, at the resurrection!

 Paul understood this as well. His missionary journeys, after his conversion and personal transformation, were not without ups and downs. There were times he was beaten, ship wrecked and thrown into prisons. He bore it patiently because he knew they were not earthly bound, but heavenly where God’s glory awaited Paul. The more reason he specifically says to Timothy, “beloved bear your share of hardship for the gospel, with the strength that comes from God (2 Tim 1:8-10). Who’s God?  The God of God of Abraham (Gen 12), who commands Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel to ‘listen to him,” who commands us to “rise and not to be afraid” Matthew 17:7!
 What are your challenges as  you journey through lent: temporary pleasure, abuse of alcohol, drugs, your body, inordinate taste for power, material possessions; attachment to  electronic gadgets,  selfishness, indifference attitude and insensitivity to our neighbor’s sufferings? How do we move beyond these challenges, beyond the Tabor experience? Or are your challenges and trials in form of hunger, joblessness, uneasiness about change, experience of injustice, violent, scandal, stress, betrayals, illnesses and disappointments or difficulty to cope with the pains of the loss of someone we loved?

Whatever form we may experience trials and hardship the Jesus of Lent and the Son of the God of Abraham wants us to rise up and never to be afraid as we journey in faith, hope and love through life.

Reflection Questions:

1.    What are your fears and life trials and how do you, in the light of today’s bible readings  exemplarily handle them in your faith community?

2.    How do we manage our blessings of wealth, comfort, money etc so that they do not alienate us from the Glory of the Lord?

3.    In faith and trust in God, do we our Christian pilgrimage as earthly or heavenly bound?


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Homily First Sunday of Lent Year A. Fr .Michael Ufok Udoekpo

 Homily First Sunday of Lent Year A.  Fr .Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7;
·          Ps 51:3-6, 12-13,17;
·          Rom 5:12-19
·         Matt 4:1-11

Temptations/Testings and Divine Grace in Lent!
Last Ash Wednesday, introduced us into another Liturgical season of Lent.  It is a season we commemorates the 40 days of Jesus' prayer, fasting and moments of temptations in the desert. It is a time for prayer, fasting, alms giving and spiritual renewals. So many things to pray for including ourselves, families, world peace, and newness of life of charity, heart to forgiveness, love, hope and trust in God grace, manifested in Christ, at all times. The length of God’s grace during Lent is immeasurable.

Lent is a time we re-learn to say yes to God, manage our temptations, trials and learning from Christ who resists temptations of inordinate wealth, power and position in today’s Gospel account. Lent is a favorable time for a change of heart. A time to closely look at ourselves on the mirror.  A time to rebuild what was broken in us socially, spiritually and otherwise. A time to restore, take retreat, repair especially our spiritual houses and repent from sins which alienates us from the love of God.

 Socially, and in the light of the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, The Gospel of Joy, familiar to most us, perhaps Lenten season provides us a golden opportunity to reach out to our neighbors, to renew our relationship with the poor, and strive to include the needy, the weak, the voiceless and the marginalized in our political and economic plans of our lands and nations. It is a time we reassure ourselves that God is near us. That he accompanies us on our journeys. It is a time we pray and meditate intensely with Psalm 51, which today’s response says, “be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” It takes humility to pray that Psalm 51. How many of us sincerely recognize and accept that we are sinners? Lent is a time we contemplate scriptures with humility.
What about that First Reading (Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7), the second creation account? It’s a reminder that our God, our creator, though transcendent is immanent. Like a potter he created us from the clay of the soil, to love him and to serve him, in and through one another. He is a famer who farms with us. He walks with us as he did with Adam and eve in the garden.  He is the source of that tree of life for which we must make use of in obedience to the Lord. God expects us to stay away from that which is forbidden- sins and temptations brought by any form of serpent. This Genesis account reminds us of the importance of relearning obedience, that covenant of love, justice, righteousness, peace and trusting more and more in God’s grace to overcome temptations of our times—of which there are many that we can testify!

 In testimony to God’s grace for obedience Saint Paul  says to the Romans, in the second reading,  “ for just as through  the disobedience of one man, sin came into the world and through obedience of one man also many were made righteous” (Rom 5:12-19). It does not matter how grave our disobedience might have been in the past the grace of God through the obedience of Christ his son is able to power us now and in the future to resist temptation as did Christ himself  in the Gospel account, after his baptism( Matt 4:1-11)
In Matthew’s account after his baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the satan thrice: “if, you are the Son of God, command this stone into bread, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of this building or if you prostrate and worship me., all these shall be yours.” The good news is that Christ did not give into any of these desert temptations as some of the Israelites did during their journey  through the wilderness to the promise land, in the books of Exodus and Numbers! What a learning Lenten season? What a reminder of how to behave in the face of temptations, trials and challenges!

 None of us is immune from temptation. If Christ could be tempted who are we then? Lent provides us a food for thoughts on this important subject of temptation, resistance and God’s grace. As we journey through this Lent let us think of those trials and temptations in our homes, families, farms, factories and in other public and private places of our lives.  Secondly, let us turn and pray for increase in grace, that enables us imitate Christ in overcoming our daily challenges as Christian pilgrims on earth!

Reflection Questions:

1.    What is the meaning of Lent for you?

2.    What are your trials and temptations you may be currently working so hard to overcome?

3.    Have you ever been a source of temptation, scandal or mislead any member of your faith community? Or a source of Divine Grace?