Homily for 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Through Our Neighbours: We Must find, Worship, and Love God!
Readings: 1st: Ish 22, 20-26; Ps 17, 2-4. 47. 51; 2nd: 1Thes 1, 5-10; Gos: Mtt 22, 34-40

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Today is the 30th Sunday of ordinary time. As we gradually draw closer to the end of the year 2014, and the churches liturgical calendar (year A), once again as ever before, the church reminds us of the most important theological virtue in life – Love. In a most special way today, Jesus gives us the two dimensions of love; the vertical – love of God, and the horizontal – love of neighbour. When these two dimensions are perfectly harmonized or synchronized then, a Christian can conveniently say to self, I have loved well. The two are so perfectly interwoven to the extent that as Christians we are left with no choice between the two.
A very brief story captioned: “Love thy Neighbour – A Beautiful Lesson” by an unknown author posted by Priya Sher on her blog on July 3, 2012 goes thus: Once there lived a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year his corn won a prize from the state fair. When he was interviewed on how he grew the wining crop. It was discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbours. When he was asked: “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” The farmer responded: “Do you not know that the wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.” The farmer was very much aware of the connectedness of life. His corn cannot improve unless his neighbor’s corn also improves. Priya comments: “So it is with our lives. Those who choose to live in peace must help their neighbours to live in peace. Those who choose to live well must help others to live well too. For the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.” This is absolutely right because it is through our neighbours that we find, worship and love God, and when we find God we find our own peace and love too.
In the first reading of today, God through Moses warns us as he did the Israelites against any oppression of widows, the poor, strangers and the weak: “You must not oppress the stranger or molest him…not be harsh with the widow or with orphans.” Of course, God reminds us that such acts as we unfortunately find in our society today are tantamount to bringing down his wrath upon the oppressor. The lesson here therefore, is that we must deal with others kindly, justly and lovingly as we would prefer ourselves to be dealt with and loved by both God and others. God hates oppression and injustice especially against the weak and the poor. In the second reading, Paul reminds the Thessalonians community of their former status as idol worshipers and how they were librated through the power of the good news. While their liberation was a sign of God’s love for them, their acceptance of the good news was a sign of their love for God. Paul thus, raised their hope and encouraged them to per due in love and hold on to it until the coming of the Lord.
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees and Scribes posed Christ yet another “difficult” question: “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” As usual, this was in a bid to test him. However, instead of faltering in, or messing up the Law of Moses, Jesus gave us the résumé of the magna carta of love. A close look at Jesus’ response today reveals that Jesus presents us first with the vertical dimension of love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul and with your entire mind.” It is very important to understand here that loving God with all of one’s mind, body and soul entails a lot of sacrifice, and of course, a lot of humility. Loving God is the most important perquisite for being god-like and going to heaven. The second dimension of love is the horizontal, which is: “You must love your neighbour as yourself?” This is pretty more difficult than the first because, we neglect and take it for granted so much by thinking that we can love just God alone, and enough without our neighbours. However, in actual sense, the best way of expressing our love for God is through the way we deal with our neighbours. This is because, life is relational and humans being gregarious must relate well and positively with others. We must affect others positively in order to love God well. This is why the scripture says: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1Jhn 4, 20).
It is baffling to note that most Christians in spite of spending the whole day in the church are never in good terms with those they live with, in the same house, compound or neighborhood. In matters of love, charity must begin at home, with your neighbour, with your friends and those around you. When we love these, invariably, we love God first, in whose image and likeness they were created, and within whom God dwells. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10, 25-37) becomes very important here. The Samaritan recognized Christ and God in the poor man brown-beaten by mobs. He loved the God he saw in this helpless fellow and attended to him. In like manner, we are called upon today to see God in our neighbours, love him in our neighbours, and adore him in our neighbours. So our love for God must be manifested in and through our neighbours. For instance, if you love to serve God as a priest and decide to give up every worldly gain, you must express this love through service to humanity. This is what Jesus means. The two dimensions of love are not contra or opposed to each other. Also, at the base of all our actions towards our neighbours, the motivating force must be love. This is why Saint Augustine of Hippo says: “Once for all, then, a short precept is given you; love, and do whatever you will. Whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love you must spare. Let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.” However, it is important not to misconstrue or misunderstand this saying of St Augustine. It does not mean plunging into the dark side of life protected by some vague hazy feeling of “luvvy duvvy” goodness and certitude, all shall be well, or that the world is a bed of roses. Instead, it means that, it takes love to be charitable, love to be merciful, love to be faithful to God and his mission towards humanity, love to reach out to the poor, the hungry, the marginalized, the oppressed, the weak, the sick, and the homeless. It takes love to be humble, patient and kind. In fact, it takes love to be lovable and godly. So this Sunday, knowing that on own our own we cannot love enough, let us join the psalmist in making this profession of love to God from whom we derive the strength to love our neighbours as our selves: “I love you Lord, my strength!”
Peace be with you all!!

Homily for 29th Sunday Ordinary Time , Year A – World Mission Sunday

Preaching the Good News in Word, Power, and Confidence!
Readings: 1st: Ish 45, 1. 4-6; Ps 95, 3-5. 7-10 2nd: I Thes 1, 1-5; Gos: Mtt 22, 15-21

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, del Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

“…And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? And how can the message be proclaimed if the messengers are not sent out? …How wonderful is the coming of messengers who bring good news!” But not all have accepted the Good News…” (Romans 10:14-16). With these beautifully crafted master pieces from Paul the missionary par excellentiam, we begin our brief reflection on this 29th Sunday of ordinary time being World Mission Sunday.
On this great day, the church, while rejoicing at the progress made so far, yet reminds us that much still needs to be done because as Paul says, “Not all have accepted the gospel.” This simply means that it is not over until it is over because the clarion call for us to “come over to Macedonia” with the light of the good news is still ringing. Just before a brief excursus into the readings of today, it is important to hear from the Holy Father, Pope Francis. His message is quite simple, and in line with the clarion call. “Today vast numbers of people still do not know Jesus Christ. For this reason, the mission ad gentes continues to be most urgent. All the members of the Church are called to participate in this mission, for the Church is missionary by her very nature: she was born ‘to go forth’. World Mission Day is a privileged moment when the faithful of various continents engage in prayer and concrete gestures of solidarity in support of the young Churches in mission lands. It is a celebration of grace and joy. It is a celebration of grace, because the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, offers wisdom and strength to those who are obedient to his action. A celebration of joy, because Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, sent to evangelize the world, supports and accompanies our missionary efforts.” (From the Vatican, 8 June 2014, the Solemnity of Pentecost).
In the first reading of this Sunday God makes clear his choice of Israel. In a most surprising way too, he makes known his choice of a foreign king whom Isaiah referred to as “his anointed” instrument. His choice of this “Pagan king” as his anointed was for a purpose, to make known his name among other nations and for the sake of Israel. Therefore, like both Cyrus and Israel, God has chosen and “armed” us with the good news: “that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that, apart from me, all is nothing.” This is a call to all of us God’s people to go and make him known to the ends of the earth, from Cairo to Cape Town, from Dan to Beersheba, from North to South, and from East to West.
In the second reading of today, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy continues to remember and pray now for the church of Thessalonica. They have preached the good news there, but they know that only prayer can sustain their labour. They know the importance of prayer in mission and so we must equally learn to pray for missionaries as the Holy Father reminds us today. This is very necessary because as Paul wrote: “We only sow the seed, but God makes it germinate, grow, and bear fruits” (1Cor 3, 6) through our constant prayers. As it is obvious that not everyone must go on foreign mission, it is however important that we all must play the very significant role played by St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. She never went on mission, but today she is the patron saint of missionaries because, she was fervent in her prayers for the success of missionaries and their work. Of course, God did hear and answer her prayers. Paul realizing the importance of prayers for the success of missionary work requested thus: “Pray also for me that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel secret…pray that I may be bold in speaking about the gospel as I should.” (Eph 6, 19-20). This is very important because, a missionary without any prayer backup will not succeed.
Again, Paul recalled how they carried out their mission. Hence, they give us a clue of how we ought to approach our missionary activities. They did it, “in words, in power, in the Holy Spirit and of course, in confidence”. They did it in words because, someone must be the medium and this is why Paul asked: “And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed? Therefore, we must proclaim the good news in and out of season; in power, because: “…The word of God is alive and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow” (Heb 12, 4). The word of God possesses the power greater than the atomic bomb that decimated and punctuated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, its energy is stronger than that of the strongest hurricane and tornado put together; in Holy Spirit because, he is the principal agent of mission. he is the one who leads and directs us wherever we go: “The Holy Spirit did not let him (Paul) preach the message in the province of Asia…they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”(Acts 16, 6-10). In spite of this, the same Holy Spirit allowed them to go to Macedonia. The missionary must therefore be a partner of the Holy Spirit. Finally, in confidence, because, the message we bear and preach has the label “tested and trusted.” It is something we have accepted, and believed. It is a life line, as well as an elixir of life with 100% guaranteed potency. So, we are proud to give it to others confidently. This is the source of our joy and confidence.
In the today’s gospel having preached the good news in word, power, Holy Spirit, conviction and confidence, the Pharisees were looking for ways to rubbish Jesus’ message, and even to distract and discredit him. This gospel presents one very important fact and reality that a missionary might face and contented with. In as much as we bring and preach the good news, detractors and difficulties abound. In short, countless efforts would be made to negate or contradict the good news; threats to both the good news, our physical and spiritual life are also imminent. However, the fact remains that the Holy Spirit the principal agent of mission and Jesus whose good news we bear will not allow us to be put to shame because they have jointly promised us thus: “…not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. … Stand firm, and you will win life.”(Luke 21, 14-16). It is important to note that as a missionary we must be wiser than the “sons of this world.” We must also be vast in wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the spiritual, physical, political, cultural, economic and social situations around us. Had Christ been completely ignorant of the politics of his time (between the Romans and Jews), and of course the rule of government, am sure he would have been taken in by the tricks of the Pharisees. He was able to distinguish between theocracy and monarchy, between democracy and autocracy. It is also very important to note here that the state, or government, and God are not opposed to each other. As members of the state, we must fulfill our obligation to it, by paying our taxes for the good of the state, while at the same time not compromising our allegiance to God the owner and creator of all things including the state.
Finally, brethren I will like to close this homily by reminding us that the joy of being a missionary does not actually come from how much material gifts one receives, but from how much lives he is able to touch, how much joy he able to bring to others and how much love he is able to communicate. I humbly beg of you all my dear brethren and readers in these same words of St. Paul, please: “Pray also for me that I may speak boldly and make known the gospel secret…pray that I may be bold in speaking about the gospel as I should.”
Peace be with you all!!

Homily for 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Welcome to God’s Banqueting Table! You Are a VIP!!
Readings: 1st: Ish 25, 6-10; Ps 23, 1-6 2nd: Phil 4, 12-14.19-20; Gos: Mtt 22, 1-4

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

“He brought me to his banqueting table, and his banner over me was love” (Song of Solomon 2:4). Today the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, The holy mother church as God’s representative exhorts, and reminds us of God’s invitation to His great banquet. This is, irrespective of our unworthiness, race, economic or political background. She reminds us that through his son Jesus Christ, God is capable of sustaining and providing our needs.
How would you feel if you wake up one morning only to receive a genuine invitation from any of the following world figures: President Obama, Pope Francis, The Queen of England, etcetera, asking you to join them for a dinner party in a couple of days time. How happier would you be if the invitation reads: “Your visa is ready for the journey, and everything you need would be made available to you?” Am sure your joy will know no bound. Today God hands out an invitation to everyone of us. The difference between this invitation and that of the world is that, while the world’s bear inscriptions like: “Strictly by invitation, only for very important personalities (VIPs). Admission fee for single, $10.00; for couple, $15; and family, $20;” God’s invitation simply reads: “You (everyone) are all invited, you are to pay nothing, and all you need shall be provided.” What a glorious Sunday today is! What good news that we have today, that God, the Creator himself is inviting each one of us personally to his banquet! While the three readings of today bear a message of restoration, hope, favour, prosperity and deliverance from God through his son Jesus Christ, the psalmist helps us immensely by giving us a clue of what our right response to this invitation ought to be.
In the first reading, Isaiah, the prophet and oracle of God brings us this good news: “On this mountain, the Lord of Host will prepare a banquet of rich food…he will remove the mourning veil covering all people…He will destroy death forever…” My dear friend the best thing to do after a reading like this is to shout Amen! The reason is pretty simple, the Lord God of Host has spoken, and so shall it be! However, we must take two things into considerations here. First, there is a location where this would be fulfilled – “On this Mountain”. If we are there already, thanks be to God, but if we are not there yet, it would be much more an act of faith to begin now to move towards this sacred mountain which is the presence of God. This is why it is an invitation, we have to be on the mountain to enjoy “the banquet of rich food and have our tears wiped away!” Second, there is no discrimination on the “Invitation Card” to this mountain and banquet. So, rather than read: “strictly by invitation”, it reads “for all people!” Amazing! In other words, each one of us is a VIP to this banquet. Hence, God invites us today as ever before without any restrictions, but we have to be on the mountain to actually partake of his blessings and favours. We can never go to this mountain and remain or return the same way we were. On our way, we may be dissatisfied, hungry and thirsty but we must surely come back fulfilled and satisfied because: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Ps 126, 5). This mountain is God’s divine presence, the place and house of prayer. When was the last time you climbed up there?
In our second reading today, Paul makes two important and very true statement. First, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” This is Paul’s source of contentment. Therefore, like him we must respond to the Lord’s invitation to be at his banquet and divine presence where all good things are made available for our contentment. He is contented with his place in Christ Jesus and so nothing bothers him. Second, “The Lord will fulfill all your needs in Christ Jesus.” Here, Paul was appreciating both God’s goodness and the generosity of the Philippians towards him. First, he reminds us as well that if we respond fully to God’s invitation as he (Paul) did, we ourselves can do all things because his shield will always be with us, his blessings, wisdom, insight and might will guide us to achieve things that ordinarily we cannot achieve because, “…It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord…(Zech 4, 6). It is however, important to take full note of these phrases that Paul employed in praying for us today. The first is: “My God will supply all your needs.” Often times we simply grab this phrase and walk away while we are ignorant of the most important aspect of the prayer which says “In or through Christ Jesus…” Paul is simply saying that God is willing and capable of meeting all our needs that are in line with Christ’s wishes for us. These include needs that are not dubious or selfish. “In or through Christ Jesus”, refers to the need of those who are in Christ, act and ask according to his mind. It refers to those who are around God’s banqueting table on his holy mountain.
In the gospel of today, Jesus the master of parables uses the parable of the wedding feast to teach us that God invites us all to his kingdom for a banquet. The first lesson it bears is the fact that out of the quest for the mundane many of us like the first invitees have rejected God’s invitation. The reason is simple! We are too busy to come to his mountain, there is no time for prayer, but we have time for the mundane. The consequences include suffering, pain, starvation, poverty, damnation, etcetera. The good news once again this Sunday is that, consequent upon the rejection of God’s special invitation by “his chosen ones ab initio”, He has now changed the Invitation Card from that which read: “Strictly by invitation and only for the chosen race” to “You (everyone) are all cordially invited!”
Why was someone thrown out? The matter of the wedding garment is instructive. The man refused to wear the garment provided for the banquet and this was a gross insult to the king. Just as the king provided wedding garments for his guests, God provides faith and salvation for mankind. He has made these available to us, in and through Christ Jesus free of charge. Refusal to have them on, means missing the banquet. This is because, on God’s mountain, there should be decorum, good disposition, self comportment and of course obedience. So, in response to this invitation, let us join the psalmist in saying: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want… you have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my enemies…surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and in the Lord’s own house shall I dwell forever and ever. Amen!”
Peace be with you all!!

Homily for 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Are We Also Going To Disappoint God Who Appointed Us?!
Readings: 1st: Ish 5, 1-7; Ps 79, 9. 12-16. 19-20; 2nd: Phil 4, 6-9; Gos: Mtt 21, 33-43

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Today is the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time and the first in the month of October 2014. On this Sunday, the church enjoins us to rejoice for being highly favored because God chose us as his beloved vineyard, as well as appointed us to be in charge of his vineyard. To be able to carry out his task effectively, therefore, we need much prayer which draws the peace of God closer and closer to us. In light of this we are to put in our best in order not to disappoint (as our ancestors did) the God who appointed us.
Once, I went to a nearby fruit shop to buy some fruits. As I was walking through the shops examining the fruits in order to make my choice, one young man insisted that I buy from his shop because his articles were good. Actually when I saw his fruits I admired them because they looked really good. So, I bought some quantity of guava from him. Unfortunately on getting home, the first fruit I tried eating was already deteriorating and had maggots inside. I took, the second, third, fourth and in fact the results were all the same. So, out of disappointment I threw the remaining into the garbage can. The next time I went to the same market, the same man beckoned on me to buy from him but I ignored him because he disappointed me the other time. When we use the term disappointment in relation to persons or things, we simply mean that a persons’ action, or that the outcome of something falls below our expectation. What do we do at such times? We express feelings of disappointment in various ways. In like manner, God feels “disappointed” and even “frustrated when we perform badly.”
Our first reading popularly known as “the parable or song of the vineyard is an allegory. In this reading, God recounts his love and care for Judah. He chose her as the apple of his eyes (Zach 2, 8) and as his beloved garden, did everything possible to make her comfortable. Unfortunately, God was rewarded with sour grapes, instead of grapes of good quality: “He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity but only a cry of distress.” What a pity! How has it been with us? Most times some of us have rewarded our well beloved thus ungratefully for all his pains. We have given him hardness of heart, instead of repentance; unbelief, instead of faith; indifference, instead of love; idleness instead of holy industry and impurity instead of holiness. Our world today is marked and punctuated by violence, victimization, hunger, homelessness, greed, conspicuous consumption, corruption etcetera. We have cared more about selling things to our neighbors than we have cared for our neighbors. I think we can do better. We should do better and God expects us to do better. Unfortunately, and tragically, instead of justice, God sees violence; and instead of righteousness, God hears the cries of victims. So as His garden, are we also going to disappoint Him in spite of his goodness to us?
The Rotarian, guiding principle referred to as the four-way test which is an ethical guide for their personal and professional relationships always reminds me of Phil 4, 8 (things we must think about). The principles include: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendship? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” Today, in his last letter to the Philippians Paul exalts us not to be worried because if we remain close to the Lord of the vineyard through prayers He will allow his peace to abide with us. In order words, through prayers we must always seek the peace of God. Finally, He draws our attention to the basic stuffs that God expects to find in us, his vineyard: “Everything that is true… noble…that we love and honour….” So, whatever that is honorable means that which is respectable, and we should think only about such things. Whatever that is right, is that which conforms to the perfect standard of God’s righteousness. Whatever that is pure is that which is free from defilement, whatever that is lovely is that which is pleasing in its motive and actions towards others. Whatever that is good is that which is laudable. Excellence and worthy of praise is that which is formally or officially approving. Unfortunately, we no longer ask “is it true?” but “does it work?” and “how will it make me feel?” Regrettably to say the least, perhaps this is the only reason many of us go to church, not to think about the truths of Scripture, but to get our weekly spiritual wage and to feel that God is still with us. Finally, as a condition for the peace of God to continue to be with us, Paul tells us to keep doing all that we have learnt from the good news of Jesus Christ. If we do, the Lord of the vineyard will continue to be happy with us because we did not disappoint him.
In the gospel of today like in the first reading, we find another allegory of the vineyard. In it, Jesus addressed the chief priests and the elders of the people in the temple. This time around the Pharisees and the Scribes were portrayed as the bad and wicked tenants who, instead of rendering a good account decided to overthrow the landlord. The question is, after throwing out these wicked tenants to whom would the vineyard be given or has been given? The good news for us this Sunday lies herein: “….and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him whenever he arrives.” When the Pharisees and their accomplices rejected the gospel it was taken to the gentiles. This reading therefore, richly conveys some important truths about God and the way he deals with his people. First, it tells us of God’s generosity and trust. Second, it tells us of His patience and justice. Of course this parable simply was to remind the Pharisees that they killed the prophets and will also kill the son of God Christ himself. However, the judgment pronounced on the original tenants must serve as a warning to us the new tenants, because: “To whom much is given much is expected.” Second is the fact that in whatever position we find ourselves now, we must be ready to render a positive and fruitful account to the Master and Lord of the vineyard. When we oppress the weak, the poor, our subordinates, and those we are supposed to take care of, when we fail to render justice to whom it is due, when we overturn the truth and prefer lie, and when we bring others pain and sorrow instead of joy, we disappoint God.
Finally, Jesus says: “The stone the builders rejected become the key stone”. In deed, as much as he speaks to the Pharisees of old so does he speak to us too. They rejected Christ the heir to the vineyard and even killed him, thinking that was the right thing to do to claim full ownership of the vineyard, but unfortunately what they thought was going to be to their advantage became their ruin. Accepting the Lordship of Christ as the heir to God’s vine yard in our lives is very important. Allowing him to take his rightful position in our lives which ultimately is God’s vineyard is the only way we can bear good fruits. That is, the good fruit God’s first vineyard could not bear. This is the only way we can be filled with what is true, noble, pure, worthy of praise and of course, virtuous; and it is the only way we can faithfully render a good account to the Lord. So, for the times we have disappointed God let us with the Psalmist today implore the Lord of the vineyard of our lives: “God of hosts, turn again, we implore, look down from heaven and see…God of host bring us back… and we shall not forsake you again!”
Peace be with you all!!

Homily for 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

What Does God Want From Us? Obedience To His Will!
Readings: 1st: Ezk 18, 25-28; Ps 24, 4-9; 2nd: Phil 1, 1-11; Gos: Mtt 21, 28-32

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

“…Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15, 22). It is on the note of these very significant words of Samuel to Saul that we begin our reflection on this 26th Sunday of ordinary time. This Sunday, the Holy Mother Church draws our attention in a most special way to the importance of realizing what God wants from us and obediently carrying them out. There is a popular saying that “obedience is the first law in heaven”, therefore, it is this virtue that will help us be who Christ is, and where Christ is. Hence, we are called to celebrate and imitate Christ who obeyed the Father’s will even unto death.
A brief but very interesting story (though with unconfirmed historicity) goes thus: During the US civil war Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was not a church-goer but was a man of deep, or at times unorthodox, faith. At one point, one of the ministers said, “Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.” Lincoln reminded those ministers that religion is not a tool by which we get God to do what we want but an invitation to open ourselves to being and doing what God wants. Also, let us consider another brief, related and relevant story. Before leaving for work one morning, a father said to his son, “Straighten your room, take out the garbage, and sweep the driveway.” When the father came home, the son explains his approach to the instructions and chore list as follows: “Well, Dad, the garbage can was only half full, and, I figured nobody would see my room. However, I cleaned the driveway, just as you said.” Is this not the way some of us treat God’s command and will for us? We approach Him with rationalizations and arguments instead of submission.
In our first reading today, God through his prophet Ezekiel confronts and responds to Israel’s accusation of his being unjust by allowing them suffer in the hands of their captors and enemies. He condemns their blame shifting attitude and pointed out to them that they are the ones at fault and to blame for their predicaments. The simple reason being: “When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin because of this he dies of the evil that he himself committed.” In order words, God simply means that renouncing of the part of integrity is “capital disobedience” (a grave sin), the effect or consequence of which is death. However, it is not over for the sinner. If we return to the part of integrity in obedience to the will of God, we have life once again. This was Israel’s case throughout their biblical history. Owing to their disobedience, they suffered slavery and deportation to Egypt, Persia, and Babylon. However, when they realized themselves and returned to God with a pledge of obedience, He restores them. In order words disobedience brings alienation from God, while obedience draws us closer to God.
In the second reading and for the second time in two weeks, Christ is emphatically presented to us as the epitome of obedience to the will of God. However, before hitting this point, Paul first of all highlights what God wants from us as a community. He says: “…Be united in your convictions and in your love…God does not want competition among you, no conceit…instead, everyone must be self effacing. Always consider the other better than yourself…” He advances a reason for this. “…That is one thing that will make you happy.” Finally, this is how Paul concluded the first part of our second reading: “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus…” The big question that begs for answer is: “Be the same as Christ” in what way or sense? Simple! Be the same as Christ in obedience and humility period! In other words, we can only be Jesus’ brothers, sisters and parents if only we listen to his word, put them into practice in accordance to the will of God (Luke 9, 19-21).
The gospel of today presents us with yet another popular parable of Jesus. In this parable of the two sons, Jesus tried to distinguish the attitude of the Pharisees and the Scribes from those of the prostitutes, tax collectors and indeed all those they tagged “sinners” towards the will of God. The first son represents the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, while the second represents the Pharisees and the Scribes. Looking at the two sons, one will find that both failed their father in one way or the other. The first failed by vehemently refusing ab initio to accept the will of the father. He did this by his very strong and disappointing words: “I WILL NOT GO!” However, after due reflection, he changed his mind and did what his father wanted him to do. The second also failed his father in both words and action. First, he made a false promise or vow: “CERTAINLY SIR!” meaning, “SURELY, I WILL GO!” Second, he failed his father by not honoring his own words with action. In other words there is no truth in him because, according to Thomas Aquinas veritas est adaequation rei et intellectus (simply put in a layman’s word in this context, truth is, when what we say corresponds with our action). It is a pity that most of us Christians fall into this category. This second son represents most of us who pay lip service to God: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mtt 15, 18); those of us who are fast at making vows of “I WILL” to the God but make no effort to fulfill any of them in obedience to His will as Christ did. He represents most of us who during the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Matrimony, boldly before God and humanity as witnesses, responded “I WILL to every question posed to us, but do not fulfill them. What a negation and negligence of obedience to what God wants us to do!
So, this parable becomes a warning to all of us who show lip service to the Father. We may be regular churchgoers, or even minister, yet do not in the end obey God’s commands and serve Him. Faith we know does not consist merely in a person giving subscription to true doctrine, but also includes something greater and deeper. The hearer is to deny himself and commit his whole life to God in truth, humility and of course, in absolute obedience to His will. Also, this parable is a gift of hopes to those of us who abandoned the part of integrity, but now, are ready to repent and obey the Lord. God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is infinitely willing to receive us back. It does not matter what we have been or done in time past. If we repent and come back to Christ then, the old things will pass away, and all things will become new for us (II Cor. 5:17).
The good news my dear friends today is that, in spite of all our failings, there is still ample opportunity for us to return to the part of integrity, to make good our promises to God as the first son did. It is time to say: Oh Lord, I have disobeyed you enough, now, “I am here to do your will”. It is time to synchronize or harmonize the words of the second son and the action of the first son in order to be the best we can in doing what God wants us to do in obedience and humility. Once we realize ourselves and are ready to do this, we like the Psalmist today can cry out to God: “Lord make me know your way, teach me your truth (that I may live in obedience and humility)…Remember your mercy Lord!”
Peace be with you all!!

Homily for 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

The Unconventional and Unfathomable Ways and Love of God!
Readings: 1st: Ish 55, 6-9; Ps 144, 2-3.8-9.17; 2nd: Rom 1, 20-24.27; Gos: Mtt 20, 1-16

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, of the Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

On this 25th Sunday of ordinary time we reflect on the unfathomable ways and love of God. This love is incalculable by any human standard and might even look foolish going by our human understanding yet, it does not in any way diminish its efficacy. The Church therefore invites us to emulate this love. Bill Wallace, a Christian missionary doctor in China, so loved these words: “To live Christ, and to die gain”. When he was arrested by the Communists and treated brutally, he would scribble verses like these on the walls of his cell to keep himself sane. In 1950, after months of interrogation and abuse, he was found dead. The Communists claimed he had hanged himself, but his body showed signs of having been beaten to death. What a dilemma! Defying the Communist authorities, his friends buried him with honor. Over his grave, they inscribed the words they felt described the motivation of his life: “For To Me, To Live Is Christ!”
All the readings of today seem to have one thing in common: “Dilemma”, especially, about God’s Love”. God sets the ball rolling in the first reading from Isaiah by extending an unmerited invitation to us. He expressed this invitation with a spark of great urgency – “Seek the Lord while he is to be found; call to him while he is near, let the wicked man abandon his way…!” The dilemma here then could be captured in this one million dollar question: Why should so holy a God whom we, like the Israelites, abandoned and offended so much, instead of punishing us, extend an urgent invitation to us? It is absurd, a dilemma and unconventional at least going by our human reckoning, is it not? God himself gives us the answer: “Yes, as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my ways above your ways, my thought above your thoughts.” Often times, we under estimate the love of God for us. The reason is simple! We think of him in the same fashion we think of our fellow humans, as very difficult, unforgiving, and or ever ready to punish us. Unfortunately and obviously we are wrong, because, he is different. That is why he will go out of his way to extend an invitation to us. Most people like to receive an invitation to a special function, perhaps to a wedding or a celebration dinner. Unfortunately, that sort of invitation is usually highly restrictive. Wedding invitations are given to relatives and close friends; celebration dinner invitations are restricted to top people in business or politics. But the invitation that God offers us in spite of our unworthiness is a universal, unconditional, gracious, and unconventional type of invitation borne out of his unfathomable love for us.
The second dilemma comes from Paul today, who was locked up in his divided opinion as to whether to die in order to be with the Lord once and for all or to keep living for the sake of the love he has for his brethren and flock. As Christians, we are pulled in two directions. We all want to go to heaven, but this life also holds great appeal. The apostle Paul had mixed feelings too. Although he believed he would be released from prison, he knew that he could possibly fall victim to Nero’s sword. This created a conflict in him. He longed to be with Christ, for that would be “far better” (v. 23). He also wanted to live, not merely to enjoy life but because he was needed by his fellow believers (v.24). In one of William Shakespeare’s play titled: “Hamlet” a young prince wondered whether to liberate himself from the sorrows of this life through suicide by musing to himself: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” On the contrary, Paul’s answer to life’s most profound dilemma and question is, “To live Christ, and to die gain”. Whichever way one looks at it, the impetus agitat (driving force) of Paul’s dilemma is love of Christ, and of course, love of his flock. Paul was pulled in two directions, and in both cases it was for the ultimate reason. What about us? Therefore like Paul, our actions and the decisions we take must be motivated by love either for our neighbour or for our God who first loved us and extended an unmerited invitation to us out of his love for us. Whether we die or live it must be for the love of Christ or for souls that need help. Paul sums up his reflection and resolves his dilemma in the following instruction both for his brethren and us: “Avoid any thing in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ.” Of course, number one in the class of this “Anything” is any action devoid of love or not motivated by love. As it was for Paul, love for Christ, his good news, and for our brethren must motivate all our actions, the goal of our life and our endeavors. It must be the source of our strength. Hence, the act of dying or living for love of God and our brethrens will no longer be a tragedy in our eyes. Such a death would bear added witness to the gospel and it would confirm that our faith and love for God is steadfast.
In the gospel Christ presents to us what in our human understanding could be labeled “unjust”, or another dilemma. How could the Owner of the vineyard pay everyone the same amount? It was difficult for the earlier workers to understand just as it would for most of us today. Yet, the answer is: The ways of God the owner of the vineyard are not our ways period! What we see in this dilemma, is simply the justice of God (theodicy), the generous, unconditional, unconventional and unfathomable love of God for all his children. The most outstanding characteristics of the owner are his goodness and generosity, qualities he has every right to. His action towards the last group of workers, shows that he is not acting in accord with “strict justice” or sound economics, but out of his unfathomable love for all who respond to his invitation. To all he has extended the same unmerited invitation and to all he will pay the same wage because his love cannot be quantified, calibrated or price-tagged. It is simply for all who heard and respond to his invitation. His reward does not depend on when he called anyone but on his generous, unfathomable and unconventional love. God is a generous lover, his love is as strong for the weak as it is for the strong; strong for the rich as it is for the poor; strong for the healthy as it is for the sick, strong for Americans as it is for Africans; strong for Europeans as it is for Asians, Australians and Antarcticans; strong for Jews as it is for gentiles, strong for women as it is for men etcetera. This is the dilemma of God’s love and generosity. It is difficult to fathom, because his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are far above ours.
Jesus summed up the dilemma of God’s unfathomable love with these words: “The first shall be the last and the last the first”. How could this be? We must note carefully here that in turning the table around, Christ in no way rejects any one. He never said that the last shall be cast away or be disadvantaged. What counts in God’s vineyard is not years of service, but diligence of heart as a chosen one. Through this parable, Jesus is saying to us: You are privileged to be with me, to be here early, but others will come into the kingdom also, you must not claim a special honor above them or an exalted place over them (Mt 20, 25-28). All men, no matter when they come in, are equally precious to God, and reward in God’s vineyard for all who respond to his invitation is not dispensed by virtue of time served but, by grace extended to the chosen and willing. Just as old age does not necessarily bring wisdom, more years does not necessarily mean honor, and experience in years does not promise greater pay in “God’s business.” What simply and surely matters is that “the Lord is close to all who respond to his invitation, and call on him. It does not matter how and when because, his love is unconventional, unfathomable and of course, his ways are not our ways!
Peace be with you all!!

Homily for the Feast of Exaltation (24th Sunday, Year A)

The Cross of Christ: The Everlasting Symbol of Victory!
Readings: 1st: Num 21, 4-9; Ps 71-2.34-38; 2nd: Phil 2, 6-11; Gos: Jh 3, 13-17

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Sancto, in Dorado, San Juan Puerto Rico, of the Spiritan International Group of Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

“But by becoming a curse for us Christ has redeemed us from the curse…for the scripture says, anyone who is hanged on a cross is under God’s curse. Christ did this in order that the blessing which God promised Abraham might be given to the gentiles…” (Gal 3, 13-14). Today, September 14, is a special feast in the liturgical calendar of the Church. It is the Feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross. The celebration of this feast on this 24th Sunday instead of moving it underscores it significance to the Church and her faithful. This is because the celebration and liturgy of the cross is a celebration of victory. Through the celebration of this feast, the church reminds us that the cross upon which Christ was crucified and lifted up is now a symbol of victory over the powers of evil rather than a symbol of curse and shame (Col 2, 15). So the church wishes that we reflect on the significance of the cross of Christ in our daily journey in life and most importantly, she reminds us, that to follow Christ, we must take up His cross, follow Him, and become obedient until death, even if it means death on the cross (Luke 9, 23). So if we identify with Christ on the Cross, we become co-redeemers, sharing in His cross, death and resurrection.
As I was reflecting on the significance of today’s celebration and the cross in my life I recalled this story. Some men were embarking on a contest-journey through an unknown terrain. They were each presented with a machete and a cross-shaped log with a simple instruction: “Carry this machete and log because, it will help you along your journey.” When they set out, one of the men who felt that the length and weight of the log was going to be a setback decided to play a fast trick. So, he left the track, went a little further into the bush and cut off some inches from his log. Thus, it became shorter and lighter for him to carry. Then he returned and continued his journey. Afterwards, he came to a trench and the instruction there was: “Now, place your log across this trench, walk on it, carry your log and continue your journey. Good luck!” Unfortunately, when this man tried to place his log over the trench it could no longer cross it because, it was now short and light. So it dawned on him that he has cheated and denied himself victory by reducing the size and weight of his log.
The readings of this feast were carefully selected to suit it. In the first reading we see the Israelites grudging against God and rebelling against Moses, and God’s immediate judgment and wrath coming down heavily upon them in the form of snake bites. However, on pleading, God relented and healed them with the symbol of the same creature with which he afflicted them. This is simply to show that in his hands are both judgment and mercy. But most important to note here is the fact: “If anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.” We are therefore not to bear grudges against God in spite of the difficulties we encounter in carrying our cross, and we must in humility look up to God for forgiveness, mercy and healing whenever we offend him. Even in our worst failures and disappointments, God provides. God offers healing for our wounds, relationship for our loneliness, and faithfulness for our faithlessness. God does not remove the sources of our suffering, but God makes the journey with us, providing what we most deeply need, if we but look in the right direction.

Our second reading is from Phil 2, 6-11, usually referred to as the “kenosis” (self-emptying) of Christ, or the kenotic song. This remarkable passage is one of the most exalted, one of the most beloved, and one of the most discussed and debated passages in the Pauline corpus. So, because of its sheer grandeur, it has assumed a role both in the church and in private devotional life. Paul presents us with humility in suffering par excellence in the person of Jesus Christ, who though, “being equal with God humbled himself even unto death”. This reading teaches us that as Christians each and every one of us must patiently and humbly imitate Christ in his suffering. He bore his cross patiently, accepted the will of the Father and unlike the man in our story above never looked for a short cut. The result of bearing his cross patiently culminated in his being exalted above every created being. In the same way, any time we share in Christ’s cross by bearing ours patiently and humbly, God lifts us up. Any cross we overcome, takes us to the next level of victory. Therefore, after the cross there must definitely come the crown of glory. It will definitely not be easy but, “the grace of God is always sufficient for us” (2 Cor 12, 9).
The gospel of today is very much related to the first reading, with Jesus comparing himself to the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses. In other words, by his being lifted up, and death on the cross we are set free as he rightly pointed out: “When I am lifted up …I will draw all men to myself” (Jh 12, 32). The significance of this reading to us today as we reflect on the cross of Christ is to remind us that Christ paid the costliest of all prices on the cross in order to set us free. Therefore, we have to appreciate his humility and patience in suffering. Also, the following are the significance of Christ’s Cross in our lives. First, it is now a sign of victory, salvation and triumph over the evil one and no longer a sign of curse or shame. He had to be lifted up on what formerly was a symbol of shame in order to give us healing and new life. Second, it is a sign of humility, because “he humbled himself even unto death.” Third, it is a sign of patience, longsuffering and endurance. Unlike the man who decided to shorten his log, Christ bore his patiently and expects us to do same. Finally, Christ’s cross is a symbol of contrast to our world where everything must come easy. So we must have fast food, fast money, fast babies, fast wives, and of course, crosses, pains and suffering must be avoided at all cost because they are not the will of God for us. However, we must ask ourselves today: “Where was God when his only son was crucified on the cross by mere mortals?”
The Cross is about a God who loves us so much, He willingly suffered a painful, ignominious death. It is about suffering, something the world tells us to avoid. It is about redemption, something few people believe they really need. And it is about grace, something that few of us understand. Too often grace is seen as God’s medicine, as His analgesic for life’s difficult times. But before God’s grace can heal, it often cuts with the sword which Christ said He came to bring. Grace follows the crosses of our lives: illness, depression, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a crisis of faith, tragedy or sorrow in our children’s lives, and personal rejection. It is when we suffer the most, when we carry our cross, that God’s grace is most abundant. So when we make the Sign of the Cross before prayer it helps to fix our minds and hearts to Jesus Christ. After prayer when we make the Sign of the Cross it keeps us close to Jesus Christ. During trials and temptations our strength and protection is the Sign of the Cross because as the emperor Constantine rightly wrote in: “In hoc signo vinces (in this sign, you will conquer)!” Therefore, as the Psalmist reminds us today, in whatever we do and in whatever circumstance we find ourselves we must: “Never forget the deeds of the Lord…who is full of compassion”.
Peace be with You!!