Saturday, February 23, 2019

ONLY MERCY AND MISERY REMAINED Homily Seventh Sunday of Year C: Fr. Udoekpo Michael Ufok

Homily Seventh Sunday of Year C: Fr. Udoekpo Michael Ufok
·         1 Sam 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23
·         Ps 103:1-2,3-4,8,10,12-13
·         1 Cor 15:45-49
·         Luke 6:27-38


Scripture readings today, together with that responsorial Psalms, “the Lord is kind and merciful,” reminds me of the 2016 Pastoral Letter, Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery), issued by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on November 20 of that year, to mark the end of the Extraordinary  Jubilee of Mercy.  This letter draws from John 8:1-11, the story of Jesus’ mercy on the woman caught in adultery, by the Pharisees, and captures, Pope Francis’ understanding of the true mysterious nature of God. In that text of John 8 when the accusers of the woman left without the courage to stone her to death, only Jesus’ Mercy and the Misery of the woman remained!

This is who God is when we trace our salvation history, from nothingness to becoming a people, a nation. Part of this history is found in Exodus 34:6-7, Psalm 85:1-3, Psalm 103:8-12, and in many other places in  the Bible (cf. Mic 7:18-20), especially in today’s reading, that God’s love for us, sinners, our friends and enemies, family and nations, is  a mystery. Mysterious, in that He loves and forgives us our sins, without boundaries and in spite of who we are.  Of course, He expects us to do same to our neighbors, those we live with, those we work with, those we study with, those we trade, and worship with, those we play politics and democracy with, those we meet on the way, our fellow parishioner, prayer group and fellow members of our pious societies and youth groups.

In the story of today’s first reading, David and Abishai (were political people………), had the opportunity to kill his political opponent and enemy, Saul and his military commanders, but David was faithful and just. He was merciful. He would not harm God’s anointed. In this story David teaches us, as individual, family, village, town, and nation to be kind, patient, non-violent, merciful and charitable to one another, in our communities, allowing mercy and misery to remain!
St. Paul, a convert, a Pharisee Emeritus (Acts 9), does the same in the second reading (1 Corinthian 15:45-49). He invited the Corinthians then and us now, to imitate heavenly values. And Paul is aware of this, especially in 1 Corinthian 13, that no heavenly value is more prizing than love, mercy, charity; patience and forgiveness  of those that may have wrong us! Allowing mercy and misery to remain!

As reported by St. Paul’s Companion, Luke in today’s Gospel, imitating God’s nature is all that Jesus taught his disciples; treating people well, “turning the other cheek”, forgiveness,, giving generously, doing to others what we would like done to us, being merciful as our heavenly father is ( Luke 6:27-38), eating with the so called ‘sinners and tax collectors” (Matt 9:9-13). Allowing mercy misery to remain and as a church reaching out to the margins as recommended by the Holy Father, Pope Francis.

This may sound very challenging in our today’s world of economy, religion and politics. But, I tell you it could be done, forgiveness and being merciful, loving and charitable to our neighbors is possible. David and Abishai did it why not us? Paul did it why not us? Christ did it why not us? Remember Maximilian Kolbe, why not us.  Remember John Paul II (forgiving his would be assassin) why not us?

We pray at this worship that in our various locations in life we may always remember to treat one another with love, kindness, and mercy, even in the face of misery!

Reflection Questions:
·         In what way can we relate to today’s readings?
·         How often do we remember to extend God’s mercy, love and kindness to our neighbors?
·         Any way we can recall few times we have failed to be merciful, kind, loving, and forgiving and why?

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Blessed Are those Who Hope In the Lord-Homily Sixth Sunday Ordinary Sunday Year C- Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok · Jer 17:5-8

Homily Sixth Sunday Ordinary Sunday Year C- Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok
·         Jer 17:5-8
·         Ps 1:1-2-4,6
·         1 Cor 15:12,16-20
·         Luke 6:17,20-26

Blessed Are those Who Hope In the Lord

In the light of today’s scriptures, we celebrate the blessings that awaits each of us, the poor, the humble, the remnant, those who endure hardship for the sake of the Gospel, the Church's mission, Christ's values, who places his or her hope in the Lord, especially in moments of challenges and despair which are inevitable in every time, place and culture. We are also reminded to stay away from those unethical behaviors that may attract us curses!

Supposing we begins with ourselves, since “charity begins at home.” What challenges are we facing today in our various nations, cultures, places and works of life? For some it might be poverty, political instability and uncertainties, lack of willingness to engage in a meaningful dialogue with others, inordinate desire for material things, neglect of the poor and the voiceless, violence, and terrorism. For others, it might be lack of faith, rejection of Godly- family values, celebrating our towns’ men and women, who return home with looted public funds and properties, misplacement and misunderstanding of “God’s Blessings,” and total disregard for mother earth. Whatever, our challenges are, the question remains how do we handle them? With hope for a brighter day in the Lord, or with despair?
Today’s readings beginning with Jeremiah’s experiences offers us some spiritual suggestions and exhortation. As a suffering prophets, Jeremiah saw the temple of Jerusalem on fire and his people tortured, killed, oppressed and led to exile. Many were left undecided, to keep the Torah or not, to follow the Lord or human beings and their desires? For Jeremiah, those who follow the Lord, come what may are like those planted beside the waters. They are blessed for they will experience the new exodus!

 Similarly, we hear this messages of hope, curses and blessing and ethics of which way to follow in today’s Psalm 1, “Blessed are those who follow not the counsel of the wicked.”  It is a Psalm of which choice to make and which way to follow- of the wicked or of the righteous?

Saint Paul of Tarsus after his Damascus conversion/call experiences, in Acts 9 (as narrated by his companion Luke), had a choice to make. To return to Jerusalem first or to spread the Good News. He chose the latter, moved from plaza to plaza, town to town, church to church (Corinthian church in today’s reading), starting from the eastern Mediterranean of Arabia to western Rome towards Spain (thought he never got there), preaching hope,  in Christ, and what he had received from the Lord(justice, fairness, unity, hard work, patient endurance, humility, sense of common good, community life, sharing our talents and gifts etc), to those who were divided on such matters of faith and morals, including the subject of resurrection (1 Cor 12, 16-20).

The Good News of hope Paul received from the Lord, and heard from the Prophet like Jeremiah is reiterated elaborately in today’s Gospel of Luke 6:17,20-26 ( the sermon on the level ground cf Sermon on the Mountain in Matt 5-7), whom Paul might have accompanied in evangelization. Still this Good News is that of abundant blessings that certainly awaits those who hope in the Lord. These are the poor, the anawim, the dalim, the humble, the level-headed (not the arrogant, who trust in themselves alone, and in their moneys and material wealth etc) the remnant, those who insistently and patiently trust and place all their hope in the Lord in moments of all kinds of trials, including the ones mentioned earlier, depending on your state of life, cultural and socio-political locations.

Whatever are challenges are today, let us prayerfully hope and believe the Lord, in today’s scriptures that “blessed are those who hope and trust in the Lord.’?

Reflection Questions
1.      In what ways can we relate to today’s Bible Lessons?
2.      What are our challenges and how do we handle them as believers?
3.      In what way have we assisted members of our faith or religious communities to handle their challenges with hope in the Lord?
4.      What is God’s Blessings? What are Curses, biblically? When can we truly say that we have been blessed by God? What is expected of us so as to belong to that group “blessed by the Lord?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Surrendering our Unworthiness to God’s Throne and Grace!;Homily 5th Sunday of Year C- Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily 5th Sunday of Year C- Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·         Isa 6:1-2a, 3-8;
·         Ps 138:1-5, 7-8;
·          1 Cor 15: 1-11
·         Luke 5:1-11
Surrendering our Unworthiness to God’s Throne and Grace!

Today’s readings from the Prophet Isaiah, Saint Paul and Evangelist Luke remind us among many other themes, of our unworthiness, our brokenness, as well the need for us to always rely upon the grace of God in our missions, and in whatever we do.  We are to remember that it is about God who takes initiative in calling us to our various states and offices in life.

Behind the first reading of today there is a story of a marching Assyrian army, marching to engulf Judah. Everybody is panicking looking for what to hold on, including the two successive Kings, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Ahaz wants to put his trust in foreign gods and rely on Assyria for help, rather than the true God of Israel.  When Isaiah was call to take up this difficult mission of convincing and converting Ahaz from idolatry, from Assyria to Trust in God, he thought he was not worthy. He said to himself, “Woe is me, I am doomed!, for I am a man of unclean lips, living among people of unclean lips.”

What is interesting in Isaiah, just like in the case of Jeremiah and other calls in the Bible, is that he finally disposed himself and surrendered himself, including his mouth, to God’s grace. His wickedness removed, his mouth clean, and Isaiah was able to say, “Here I am Lord, send me.” And I come to do you will. This who we are called to be. To always be able to say, here I am Lord send me!
Isaiah’s call story is not different from that of Paul of Tarsus. Behind Paul’s calling and conversion is God’s grace and initiative (Acts 9). It is only with the special grace God that he was chosen to embark on this special mission of preaching the gospel of Christ to both Jews and Gentiles. By no means should this make him pompous and arrogant, but he considers himself,” the least of the apostles not even fit to be called an apostle.”  Of course, his apostleship came from God not from man, despite Paul’s unworthiness and old life style been a persecutor to Christians. No wonder after his calling/conversion Paul proceeded to Arabia not to Jerusalem to inform the others!

Like the Centurions’ words, which we repeat at every mass, “Lord I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” Paul completely relied on God’s grace and throne of mercy in all his missionary endeavors. He is a challenge to us today. Our trust and reliance must be in the power of God, his Grace, his Love, his Mercy, his Kindness, his Word and Command!
 Of course, this need is confirm in the Gospel narrative as well. Here, Simon Peter and other fisher men had professionally toiled all night without catching any fish. They could not catch anything on their own, except with the grace of God, at the command of Jesus they were able to such a great number of fish that even threaten to tear their nets. This so much touched Peter and his companions that they left everything and followed Jesus, the source of grace and everlasting wisdom.

In our present day life’s circumstances ( raising our kids, working hard to pay our bills, visiting the aged, the sick, keeping our vows, reaching out to the poor, preaching the gospel) we can learn from Moses, we can learn from the prophets, Isaiah. We can learn from Paul. We can learn from Simon Peter, to not only acknowledge our unworthiness, our limitedness, our "unclean lips," our "least apostleship," but our readiness to always rely on God’s grace and divine mercy (Exod 34:6-9).

Even when we are sick, weak and when we must have taken our medication, see all our doctors and nurses, consult all our spiritual directors, done all our home works ,duties, and responsibilities to our very best, we always want to finally rely on God’s grace. Or surrender ourselves upon the Grace of God's throne. And be able to say always, “here I am Lord, I am not worthy, and I have tried my very best, but do with me whatever thou wilt.

Reflection Questions:
1.      How often do we rely on God’s grace, love, mercy, kindness, tenderness, compassion, in our life pursuits and journeys?
2.      How often in the light today’s scripture passages reflect on our unworthiness or uncleanliness?
3.      In what ways can we allow the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah and the gospel’s apostles to inspire us?
4.      How do we often assist members of our faith community to respond faithfully to their callings in the light of Christian faith?

Homily [2]5th Sunday of Ordinary Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·          Isa 6: 1-2a, 3-8;
·         Ps 138:1-8;
·         1 Cor 15:1-11
·         Luke 5:1-11
The Need for 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. Responding, the “sinful Peter” was on his knees.  So also the rest of the disciples. They were amazed at the Power of Christ. Following this, 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! This means, with God everything is possible. With his grace we can let go certain things in our lives to follow him, to trust more deeply, the Lord, as the Prophet Isaiah did in the first reading.

In that first reading, the call story of Isaiah is dramatically presented to us. It is like the appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16-19). In that first reading, 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. We learn this reading that often we are like Isaiah man of unclean lips, living among unclean people. Like Isaiah we or encouraged to believe in the Holy God, who cleanses our lips and commissions us his messengers and servants in different capacities that we have been placed. The authority and the grace of God foregrounds all our life’s endeavors!

Paul found himself in similar situation while preaching to the Corinthian community. In his journeys he met trials and challenges. He knew prior to his experience on his way to Damascus (Acts 9), he was once a sinner. But soon became an apostle least expected by human beings, since he was known as a persecutor of the faith- enemy of the Church of God.  God acts in a mysterious way. The reason that 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.”

 We are call to allow Saint Paul to inspire us. He challenges us to trust God more and more and acknowledge the fact that with God everything is possible. Isaiah and Paul challenge us 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!  He is the one that initiates our callings!

As we celebrates today’s liturgy let us reflect on those moments we have refused or resisted God’s in our lives? May today’s scriptures assist us acknowledge our unworthiness and our need and dependence on God the source of all Good things!

Reflection Questions:
1.      How often do we rely on God’s grace, love, mercy, kindness, tenderness and compassion in our life pursuits and journeys?
2.      How often in the light today’s scripture passages reflect on our unworthiness or uncleanliness?
3.      In what ways can we allow the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah and the gospel’s apostles to inspire us?
4.      How do we often assist members of our faith community to respond faithfully to their callings in the light of Christian faith?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Love,the strength for our Christian Journey ;Homily Sunday Week 4 Year C- Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo

Homily Sunday Week 4 Year C- Fr. Michael Ufok  Udoekpo
·       Jer 1:4-5, 17-19;
·        Ps 71:1-6, 15, 17;
·       1 Cor 12:31–13:13
·       Luke 4:21-30
Love,the strength for our Christian Journey 

Our Christian calling is like preparing for a pilgrimage or embarking on a long journey. It requires some homework and of course endurance on the way.
The strength for any Christian and Spiritual journey is Love! Of course not just any type of love. But the type Paul preaches for the troubled Corinthians Church. For Paul, Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous, love is not pompous, love is not inflated, love is not rude, love does not seek its own interest, love is not quick-tempered, love does not brood over injuries, love does not rejoice over wrong doings. Love rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things; hope all things, and endures all things.

When Jeremiah was called centuries ago, even before Paul to be a prophet to all the nations, to challenge faithlessness, idolatries of his time of late pre-exilic period, his excuse was that he was too young. Jeremiah did not know that before he was born, God had already prepared him with his love. He makes Jeremiah as strong as fortified city and his strength Scripture says was as strong as an iron pillar and a bronze wall. This is the strength that will resist all attack and temptations; the strength of patient, and endurance against oppositions.

Similarly, at the commencement of his ministry, Jesus knew people would ridicule him. He knew he would be rejected. But he did not blink because he knew he had the strength that only God his father can give; the strength of love without boundary, geography, ethnicity and limits.. The more reason he said,

“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 proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to Lord….today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing,” Christ concluded ( Luke 4).

 It was this love that enabled Jeremiah to preach to the nations of his time, even to the point of death.  It was this love that enable Christ to visit with the poor, the needy, the marginalized and the oppressed; that ultimate love to the cross, which Pope Francis and every successive Popes emphasize.
On our Christian journeys, on our faith journeys I have no doubt there have been challenges; challenges in our relationship with God and one another at homes, in our families and work places and in our nations. Poverty is one of them, division, violent, lack of rule of law, lawlessness, insensitivity to the poor and the needy, and ethnocentrism are top on the list. Talk less, of lack of patriotism, lack of sense of the common good and systemic and structural and institutional corruption that has eaten deep into many African countries, Nigeria in particular.
In spite of all these negativeness, we want Christ's love to be our strength. Remember, love is nothing else than, hope, faith, trust, patient, humility, selflessness, endurance and kindness towards one another.

Reflection Questions
1.     How can each of us in our own state relate to today’s scripture passages?
2.     What are your challenges as a Christian? And how do you respond or handle them?
3.     In what way have we practice God’s love heard in today’s readings in the face of adversity and disappointment?
4.     How often do we encourage our neighbors to live by the statutes of today’s bible lessons?

Homily [2] 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
·       Jer 1:4-5, 17-19;
·       Ps 71:1-6, 15, 17:
·       1 Cor 12:31–13:13
·       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 fulfillment of the Messiah. He is the savior of the world, the anointed, the source of peace, and joy long awaited by Israel! Many who listened to him admired and believed Christ; while many who did not “listen” 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.” How many of us today will courageous like Jeremiah, and Christ and with love?
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,
God’s Love is Patience in moments of trials
God’s Love is kindness to the poor and the needy, and people we meet on our ways
God’s Love is not Jealousy of our neighbors'- gifts and talents
God’s Love is not pomposity in discharging our duties and ministries
God’s Love is not inflated, but tempered with mercy
God’s Love is not rude, crude language- even to strangers
God’s Love is not seek its own interest- but looks out for the community
God’s Love God is not quick tempered in the face of temptations
God’s Love does not brood over injury, but forgives, especially in this Year of Mercy
God’s Love does not rejoice over wrong doing- but courageously rejects evil
God’s Love rejoices and seeks the truth

Reflection Questions
1.     How can each of us in our own state relate to today’s scripture passages?
2.     What are your challenges as a Christian? And how do you respond or handle them?
3.     In what way have we practice God’s love heard in today’s readings in the face of adversity and disappointment?
4.     How often do we encourage our neighbors to live by the statutes of today’s bible lessons?