Saturday, November 30, 2019

Preparing for Christ's Coming; Homily First Sunday of Advent Year A

Preparing for Christ’s Coming
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

v  Isa. 2:1-5;
v  Ps. 122:1-9;
v  Rom. 13:11-14;
v  Matt. 24:37-44

Every year we set out with joy on a spiritual journey to the Lord’s House, and of reliving and reflecting on the mysteries of Advent, the coming of Christ. This journey to the holy mountain, to the Lord’s House for salvation, for eternal life is well captured by the Psalmist; “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”

Here we are again joyfully gathered in the Lord’s House, relaunching a new Advent, a new journey, a refreshing journey, with new skills of evangelization, technology, and musical equipment (look at the new things around us) that we may not have had thousands of years ago. So many advantages for this new Advent and new season of hope. Advent is also a season of joyful expectation and preparations for the coming of Christ.  Today’s scriptures take us through that historical channel and propose ways in which we must prepare for Christ and for our salvation!

 In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah of Jerusalem reminds those ancient distressed, frustrated and waring nations to stream to the mountain of the Lord with hope. There God will re-establish Jerusalem (Zion) as the peace center of his worldwide kingdom, reconciling hostile nations to himself. Nations shall not raise sword against another, nor shall they train for war anymore (Isa 2:3-4; Mic 4:2ff).

 In a way, Isaiah is addressing us. Even though Isaiah’s prophecy of hope was originally addressed to Ahaz, Hezekiah and his contemporary Judeans of the eighth century BC, who were faced with  threats of war, exile and lose of the promised made to their father, David (2 Sam 7), we too today, can be nourished with this prophetic advocacy for peace, hope and reconciliation, especially in world that wars, threats of wars, terrorisms, conflicts, neglects of the poor,  violence of all kings and divisiveness continue to be major issues. In the midst of all these Advent reassures us, the new and renewed Jerusalem that God is nearer to us, wherever we are, than we can possibly imagine- at home, school, roads, and works places.
Since God is so near with us at all times, Saint Paul, in that second reading stresses the importance of preparation for Christ (Rom 13:11-14). Writing originally to the Romans, who also had their issues, Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believe…Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Of course for Paul darkness represents all that is not good in human communities, while light represents goodness, and the realm of Divine which is nearer to us. The garment of light that Paul recommends is nothing else, but hope for salvation when we tend to be hopeless. It represents a renewal, or an effort to reconstruct, to repair that which was once destroyed: hope, that city, peace, joy, good health of mind and body, a beautiful Jerusalem, the house David, that beautiful mountain of today’s psalm 122. That question then remains: What in your life, in your family, in your church, diocese, need a reconstruction, as we await the coming of the Lord?

 As we reconstruct our brokenness in Advent we consciously strife to stay awake, positive, optimistic, joyfully, forgiving ourselves, our neighbors and those who may have offended or betrayed our trust, reaching out to the poor and the needy, the orphans and the homeless, shining the light of Christ in our neighborhood and places of work.

 This is the type of preparation and eschatological watchfulness heard in today’s Gospel (Matt 24:37-44). Here, the Jesus of Matthew, the new Moses proposes that unlike Noah’s generation who were careless, indifferent and carefree in their drunkenness and merriment, we must avoid their past mistakes. Rather, we are called to stay awake, for we do not know the time nor the hour when the Son of Man will come. In other words, being prayerfully vigilance, or a conscious awareness of God's presence in our lives is key to Advent.

Such awareness also demands our being sensitive to our environment, dialogue with our culture, towns and villages since each of us can encounter Christ in most of our daily activities. It does not matter where you are and what you do Christ is with us. Christ comes to us in our children and in our neighbor’s children. Christ comes to us in our husbands and in our neighbor’s husbands. Christ comes to us in our wives and in our neighbor’s wives. Christ comes to us in our priests and pastors. Christ comes to us in our brothers and sisters, in our neighbors. He comes to us in the Scriptures and in the sacraments we celebrate. 

 In this season of Advent, he comes to us in our friends, in the poor of out towns, cities and villages, in the sick, and the needy and in the less fanciful.  He comes to us even in those that may be less friendly to us. He comes to us in every event of our lives, in our sufferings, illnesses and crosses. The question then remains, can we stay awake with hope, in whatever situation we find ourselves. And can we offer hope to others who are struggling to recognize the nearness of Christ in their lives vicissitudes?

Reflection Questions:
1.         In what ways are you consciously aware of God’s presence, his nearness in our lives, families and faith communities?
2.         Do we make effort to avoid attitudes of indifference to the plight of our neighbors, especially the poor and the less privileged?
3.         In what practical ways do we help members of our faith community, reconstruct their lives, faith, hope, love, relationship, and stay awake for the coming of Christ?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Imitating Christ our Universal King, Homily Solemnity of Christ the King

Thirty-fourth Sunday of Year C (Christ the King)
Imitating Christ our Universal King
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

§  2 Sam 5:1-3;
§   Ps 122:1-5;
§  Col 1:12-20
§  Luke 23:35-43

Today we celebrate the universal kingship of Christ, the Son of David. It is a celebration of the meaning of true kingship and their roles especially in our today’s world filled with corrupt and selfish leaders. It is a celebration of true leadership for the poor and the rich, the needy, those in prison, and those out of prison. We celebrate unity, humility, care, love, hard work, endurance, compassion, the good shepherd motifs, universalism of forgiveness, a sense of common good, prudence, truthfulness, selflessness, faith, hope, patience and trust in God’s plan of covenant of love( 2 Sam 7) that genuine leadership bears.

The first reading ( 2 Sam 5:1-3) of today reminds us of the unique kinship of David, his family and human problems, his struggle with Saul, but also the everlasting covenant God had established with his house( 2 Sam 7). The young handsome David succeeded Saul as the king of Israel, since Saul had disobeyed God, and had broken the ban (1 Sam 15). David rose and consolidated power in central place of Jerusalem, with a sense of universalism, unity, togetherness and divine promise. We are told, “In those days, all the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said, ‘here we are, your bone and your flesh…. And when all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the Lord, and they anointed him king of all Israel.”

In spite of his personal challenges (Bathsheba incidence and Uriah’s death, incest in his family, rebellious son like Absalom, conducting  a Census when not necessary etc) David was never a king for some elders, some few tribes or for some parts of Israel, but the King for all Israel. He was a king for everyone, a theme that is resolutely developed in 1 &2 Chronicles. This separates David from several other divisive and idolatrous kings of Israel, we have come to learn from the passages of the Scriptures.

 David did so well and stood out among others that generations of prophets (Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah etc) would yearn for another David. Late historical books and midrashim like the Book of Ruth would present the worthy Ruth as the great, great grand mother of Jesus (Matt 1:5), the “Son of David.”

In his ministry down to his passion on the Cross, this Son of David, Christ, ruled and ministered with patient, compassion, prudence, love and kindness. He led by examples. Ironically, both Pilate and those who prosecuted Jesus proclaimed him the king of the Jews and of the Gentiles by their ironical interrogations and the inscription they placed on Jesus cross in several languages “This is the King of the Jews.” Even the criminal on the cross was moved to recognize the universal kingship of cross, when he said, “Jesus remember me in your kingdom” (Luke 23:35-43//John 18:33-37).

Paul in the Second reading re-emphasized this kingdom of redemption and forgiveness of sins when he says " God has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son… for in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him reconcile all things to him, making peace by the blood of his cross, through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven" (Col 1:12-20).

For those of us on earth living in nations, families and institutions of ironies, the challenges grow every day. They are enormous. The challenges for our elected, ecclesiastical and biological leaders (at all levels) to lead selflessly, with peace, patience, integrity, humility, transparency, care, love, hard work, endurance, compassion, sense of universalism and shared common good, harmony, exercise of administrative prudence, truthfulness, selflessness, faith, hope, patience, availability to our subjects, and trust in God’s plan that we saw in David and in Christ Jesus.

Reflection Questions
1.      What is our understanding of today’ liturgy and readings?
2.      Do we see Christ as non-worldly king, who came to heal, and save us?
3.      Do we pray for our civil leaders that they may imitate Christ- the King and lead with integrity?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Perseverance In Justice and Integrity, Homily Thirty-Third Sunday Year C

Thirty-Third Sunday of Year C
Perseverance In Justice and Integrity
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufokobong

§  Mal 3:19-20a;
§   Ps 98: 5-9;
§  2 Thess 3:7-12
§  Luke 21:5-19

The readings of today offer us hope and perseverance. Prayer, orderliness, simple life style, trusts in God and practice of justice and righteousness are sources of security as well as a prosperous future and joy, even in the face of persecution and seeming hopelessness.
The returnees from exile- - the Israelite community optimistically sought for these sources of security in the New Jerusalem they had returned to rebuild. But what they saw was still a deeply divided community. They saw a community plagued with rift, social injustice and disorderliness. Power politics, despair and hopeless had also taken root. Many of the post-exilic prophets Haggai, Zechariah, Trito-Isaiah (56–66) and Malachi, today's first reading have all addressed these.

Some of these prophets were even critical of the Temple and the priests since there was absence of proper worship that takes cognizance of people’s daily living.  There were also lingering problems that Ezra- Nehemiah had face. The problem of who should be included in the New Jerusalem: foreigners, everyone or a selected few or what the new community should look like? Tithes and offerings were abused while justice and righteousness were nowhere to be found in this newly reconstructed Jerusalem Temple.

Malachi in particular preaches hope and perseverance to disillusioned members of this divided community especially those who trust in the Lord. He says, “For those who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” (Mal 3:20).

For the followers of Christ who face similar challenges at every time and place, and culture, their security should never have to be placed any longer in physical Temple but in Christ Jesus who is the New Temple, because as was the case in history a time came as we heard in today’s Gospel when the physical Temple was no longer there (Luke 21:5-6).

Christ's message in today’s Gospel remains important because when he is gone, his disciples and many of us would face persecutions, hardships, trials, divisions, confusions, uncertainties, temptations and contradictions, as it was in the community of Prophet Malachi. But just as Malachi, God's messenger assured Israel of the help of the sun of justice, the Lukan Jesus, as he journeys to Jerusalem assures his followers of God’s assistance with the spirit of perseverance in moments of such trials and persecutions. For as rightly marked Luke 4 he came for the poor, for those in prison and for the persecuted.

Each of us in our ways at different times may have had our own moments of these trials, fears, temptation, despair, frustration, tragedy, loss of our loved ones, hurricane tsunami, sandy, typhoon, violent cause by war,  terrorism and inordinate use of guns and fire and natural tragedies. Many have also experienced poverty, hunger, illnesses, racism, and ignorance, lack of proper education, dysfunctional, corrupt, unstable government, discrimination, joblessness and discrimination.

In such moments what do we do? To whom do we go; to the physical temple which is never permanent or to Christ the permanent Temple? Paul gives us a soothing suggestion in the Second Reading. He presents himself as a model to imitate (2 Thess 3:7-12). Hard work, simplicity of life, prayer, pursuit of justice and righteous acts, integrity, honesty, hope, courage, trust in God will enable each of us handle hardship and difficult situations with a discerning spirit of perseverance, knowing that, Christ, the sun of righteousness is constantly watching and shinning over us.

Reflection Questions
1.      What lessons have we gathered from today’s scripture readings?
2.      Are we faithful and hopeful Christians in moments of trials and persecution?
What prevents from practicing justice and pursuing 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Faith in Christ Who Is Our Life and the Resurrection, Homily Thirty-Second Sunday Year C

Thirty-Second Sunday of Year C
Faith in Christ  Who Is our Life and the Resurrection
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael Ufok

§  2 Mac 7:1-2,9-14;
§  Ps 17:1.5-6,8,15;
§   2 Thess 2:16–3:5
§  Luke 27:27-38
 For several weeks now our Sunday Gospel readings have been taken from Luke’s Gospel, particularly from the settings of Jesus’ teaching journeys to Jerusalem to die for us. He has arrived at that Jerusalem. But it is important that Our Lord continues to remind us that the death he has journeyed to die in Jerusalem was never going to end up in the tomb. That He will be victoriously raised from the dead is an important message of hope for us.

Imagine what life would have been like for believers without hope and trust in God! Or without our core believe in the resurrection. When the faith of the Jewish people, the Children of God of the 2nd Maccabees era, around 180 BC were threatened by Hellenism and other foreign secular culture it was important that they be reminded that   their God, the God that spoke to Moses face to face, the God of their Father, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exod 3:14-15) was not only alive, but was still with them. Even when they were being persecuted, tortured and killed because of their faithfulness and obedience to the Law (Torah) all hope was not lost. Many believed and they needed to be encouraged and reminded that the faithful ones will be raised to life again- on the resurrection!

This is the center-piece and the fountainhead of today’s first reading, which is the moving story of a mother, a family woman and her seven sons who not only remained defiance to an earthly and faithless king, but gave up their lives for the sake of their beliefs, convictions, and faith in God and hope in the resurrection.

Can this faith and hope speak to us?  Faith and hope!  They not only spoke to Paul during his trials and missionary journeys, but Paul spoke faith and hope to his persecuted, worried and despaired Thessalonians community.  This is true in the Second reading when he wrote, “may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word… the Lord is faithful he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thess 2:16–3:5).

Evil ones, evil things, teachings, and temptations can come to us, the followers of Christ in different ways in different contexts, nations and cultures. Christ himself was confronted a few times with some, soon after his baptism, and throughout his ministry, and even on his way to Jerusalem. Imagine the question put to Christ by the Sadducees in the Gospel reading of today (Luke 20:27-38). First of all they did not believe in the resurrection yet had the audacity to dishonestly ask Jesus if Mosaic levirate marriage will be practiced in heaven, in the resurrection! But the point of Jesus’ brilliantly and divinely amazing soothing response to the Sadducees' mischievousness is what we celebrate today- Our God is a living God. He is not a God of the dead!

Be it in our family faith crises we want to learn from the family woman and her children in 2 Book of Maccabees today. We don’t want to abandon our faith in the face of persecutions, hatreds and wars. Imagine those Christians in those anti-Christian environments today. We don’t want to abandon our long standing faith in our everlasting God of the Covenant, in the face of modern politics, family crises, invented secularism, new scientific discoveries, printing press or new TV adverts or because of recently published books and acted movies, propounded ideologies, illnesses, economic and financial difficulties! Even these inventions should be used in the light faith.

The faith and hope of today’s bible lesson can speak to us where ever we are and live. In the midst of pluralism of challenges, temptations and difficulties today, it is that faith and hope in Christ who is our life and the resurrection that we are called to embrace.

Reflection Questions
1.     What lessons have we gathered from today’s scripture readings?
2.     Are we faithful and hopeful Christians?
3.     What prevents us from believing and hoping?

Saturday, November 2, 2019

God’s Mercy Draws Us to him , Homily 31st Sunday Year C

Thirty-First Sunday of Year C
God’s Mercy Draws Us to him
Fr. Udoekpo, Michael ufok

§  Wisdom 11:22–12:2;
§   Ps 145:1-2,8-11,13-14;
§  2 Thes 1:11–2:2
§  Luke 19:1-10
God does not judge any of us as we deserve. Rather, he loves us. He shows us compassion, kindness, mercy and forgiveness. With this he expects us to abandon evil doings and return to Him.

This merciful and loving- nurtured God is consistent from creation. God lovingly created man and woman out of nothing, as narrated in the Book of Genesis. Even when man fell as we saw in the activities of Cain and Abel, the story of the Tower of Babel, the flood of Noah, God initiated again the call Abraham and established a unilateral covenant relationship with humanity (Gen 12ff). This covenant of love, peace and rest follow God’s people in the deserts, in exiles and throughout the entire history of salvation. The first reading of today (Wisdom 11:22–12:2), written about 50 years before the time of Christ, affirms this loving, and forgiving nature of God.

The point of this wisdom reading is that whenever we experience difficulties, and sufferings, even some spiritual dryness, as some of the Israelite did at some point and time in their lives, we should remember that nothing happens without God’s knowledge. God is constantly watching over us. And nothing remains or dies unless God wills it (Wis 11:25). Even when we make mistakes, God rebukes us little by little. God’s goals are that sinners may abandon bad ways and return to Him (Wis 12:1-2). His intention is not to demolish us, in spite of our brokenness.

None of us is perfect. God often uses weak instruments: Abraham, Jacob some of the Judges, Rahab the prostitute, Moses, and the Prophets. Even Paul who was once a persecutor of the faith was converted to a promoter of the faith and all that God has done for us in the name Christ, to whom we are constantly called to glorify ( 2 Thes 1:11–2:2). For God so much loved us that he sent Christ to us, so that everyone believes in him might have eternal life (John 3:16).

The doors of this eternal life are 24 hours opened to everyone and every race:  white and black, man and woman, young and old, rich and poor of all nations. Conversion is not too late. This is true in the case of Jesus' encounter with Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel (Luke 19:1-10). The context of this encounter of course is still that of a traveling Jesus to die for us in Jerusalem, began as far back as Luke 9:51.

Jesus has come to pass through Jericho. It is an important city. It is a town far below sea level, close to the Jordan River. It’s a city known for commerce and trade. King Herod once had a palace here.  Mark Anthony once gave Jericho to Cleopatra as a present.  With the power of God, Joshua and his trumpeters had brought down its walls. 

It was quite a historic city that Jesus has come to pass- by. Crowds have noticed not only the physical but the divine presence of Christ. They are eager to see him. In this crowd was a short wealthy man and a tax collector, known as Zacchaeus. He put his wealth aside and climbed a tree in order to catch a glimpse of the Messiah. Rather, the Messiah caught a glimpse of his total person and invited him to come down for a new life in Christ. Despite grumblings from the crowd they proceeded to Zacchaeus’ house. Perhaps they had a meal there, conversations about everything, and prayers. But within this context Luke tells us Zacchaeus was converted, and salvation came to his entire household, since the son man came to seek and save what was lost (Luke 19:1-10).

Sometimes we feel lost in our sins, poverty, joblessness, anger, racism, inordinate use of power politics, abuse of wealth and our sexuality. But the good news is that wherever you are and whatever you are doing God is looking out for you. It is never too late to come back to Jesus! You might be sleeping, saying the rosary or climbing the tree like Zacchaeus- God’s love and his saving mercy is waiting for us.  Please, come down from the Tree and be saved.

Reflection Questions
·       Do you consider yourself a sinner?
·       Have you ever experienced God’s love and mercy?
·       How do you share your experience of God’s love with your neighbor/parishioner?