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!!
Maranatha!!!

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!!
Maranatha!!!

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” (2Cor 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!!

Maranatha!!!

 

Homily for 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Paying Our Mutual Debts By Doing All Things in Love!
Readings: 1st: Ezk 33, 7-9; Ps 94, 1-2.6-9; 2nd: Rom 13, 8-10; Gos: Mtt 18, 15-20

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.

“Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor. Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.” (Where charity and love are, God is there. Love of Christ has gathered us into one. Let us rejoice in Him and be glad”). This is a very popular Catholic and Christian hymn. There is no better time to sing it than on this glorious, gracious and love-filled 23rd Sunday of ordinary time when the holy mother church in her wisdom reminds us of our obligation to love, to do all things in love, and to pay the debt of love we owe one another. She also presents to us Jesus’ love-based approach of conflict resolution and management.
A brief story from the book titled: “The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes” (p. 28), edited by Clifton Fadiman goes thus. A Roman nobleman died, leaving enormous debts that he had successfully concealed during his lifetime. When the estate was put up for auction, Caesar Augustus instructed his agent to buy the man’s pillow. When some expressed surprise at the order, he explained: “That pillow must be particularly conducive to sleep, if its late owner, in spite of all his debts, could sleep on it”. Debt creates pressure and no one likes pressure. However, there is one debt that we will always owe and never be able to pay off fully: “The debt of love to one another.” It is difficult for us to get to a point where we say, “Now I have loved others as much as I ought to.” And so, no matter how long we have been and grown as Christians, we still have much room to grow in love. This debt is that desperate one that we cannot discharge ourselves from, but must ever be paying, and yet ever owing. As we say of thanks, “Gratiae habendae et agenda (thanks must be given, and yet held as still due”), so must this debt of love.
It takes love to warn, counsel or advice someone. Therefore, it is out of God’s love that He sent his prophet Ezekiel in our first reading today to warn his people. He both sends and equally warns us today of the imminent calamity to befall our world due to disobedience and negligence. It is a duty and a of course a “categorical imperative” which we must obey. It is not an option! That is why today the Lord makes it clear to us as he did to Ezekiel that if we keep quiet or silent in our world, it will perish. Therefore the Lord says: “I will hold you responsible”, it is your duty to speak out, counsel and advice my people. Being indifferent to the decay of our world especially in terms of morality, and spirituality is to our detriment too. So, a great onus lies on all of us to be our brothers and sisters keeper. What do we do when things go wrong, keep quiet, add to the wrong by joining the band wagon, pretend the wrongs does not exist? We have to act, but whatever action we take in order to correct, to rebuild, and to bring back the lost sheep must be motivated by love. This is what will make the difference, as Loraine Okotie once sang: “Love is that medicine that cures you today,” while The Beatles wrote a popular song titled, “All you need is love.” We must also be mindful that God says: “I do not delight in the death of a sinner…let him repent and live” (Ezek 18, 23). Therefore, the most important thing is that we must make ourselves heard but, in love. So much depends on us the “raiment of Israel”!
In the second reading, the apostle to the gentiles, Paul hits the nail right on head: “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love”. We must take note of the adjective, “mutual” with which Paul qualified love. The quality of this love is not just a feeling but ultimately can be known only by the actions it prompts in us. It simply means that love is relational, and, a give and take. It is more meaningful when it is shared. For this to be, it must be taken as an obligation because, when one owes a debt, he/she has to pay. What does mutual love achieve? It counsels, and corrects. It is generous to the extent that we continue to offer ourselves to and for others until there is nothing more of us to offer. It exhibits all the qualities Paul enumerated in 1Cor 13. Paul sees the paying of debt as an obligation and a duty which must be carried out in and with mutual love. It sounds easy, yet it is pretty difficult. However, our consolation lie in the scriptures which say: “With God all things are possible”, and “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me” (Mtt 19, 17; Phil 4 13). In deed we can! So, correct that ill in love, win back that straying child, drunkard husband, wayward wife, and mend that broken relationship in love. Counsel that stubborn youth in love, win back that rebellious and cantankerous friend in love, mend that broken and near-to-crash marriage in love and resolve that community problem in mutual love.
In the gospel today, Jesus continues to toll the line of doing everything in and out of mutual love. He sets before us the principles of reconciliation, mediation, and conflict management. He gives us a three dimensional principle based on love. Today he gives us the spiritual freedom and power for restoring broken or injured relationships. He makes it clear that we should not tolerate a breach in mutual relationships and love among us. Conflicts must be confronted, and help must be offered in order to restore a damaged relationship. It is love based because it teaches us how to patiently win back our brethrens. How do we go about our problems today in our world? Take a pound of flesh, or go straight to the court of law? It suffices to take note of the flow of this passage. In it we see a movement from the individual to the communal. Where there is conflict, Jesus encourages us to confront it directly, one-to-one. Should the problem persist, we should include someone else in the conversation, and if all else fails we should take it to the community as a whole. In this passage, there is a progression from individual confrontation to communal attention that follows the development of a conflict from its origin in individual matters to its conclusion at the community level.
Unfortunately, out sheer hatred, anger, and quest for revenge, we jump the primary stages that Jesus sets before us today straight to: “treat him like a tax collector”. This is a very wrong application of this passage. Even when we choose this option wrongly, we must note that Jesus says: “Treat him like…” and not kill, destroy, or castigate him. But simply, let him be. Perhaps one day, like the prodigal son he will come to his senses and return. So we must make all possible efforts to reconcile with others, warn them, counsel them before booting them, and all of these must be done in love. This is because everyone deserves to be given the chance for change. For all these to be possible we must agree to work together in mutual love. Whenever we do Christ will definitely be there with us as he promised: “If two of you on earth shall agree to any thing…it will be granted to you…For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” What a promise and a reassurance! However, this “being there with them” is meant for those who will come together in mutual love for reconciliation and conflict management. That is, those who are ready to follow the love based principles that Jesus laid down for us today.
My dear, what we read and hear from all the readings of this Sunday is a call to action and duty, a call to pay our mutual debt of love, and a call to follow Jesus’ love based approach. Our Lord and God is making us watchmen and women today and not “watch dogs”. Watch dogs bark and bite but watchmen and women take the offender into custody, not necessarily to kill or do harm (safe in safe defense), but to help him or her change for good. Like Ezekiel we are not charged with assessing the spiritual state of the people. God will do the assessment and will provide the message that we will to give the people. Our only responsibility is to deliver God’s message in love, and faithfully. This is the mission we are called to today, and the only way we can do it and do it very well is in, with, and through mutual love. This is why the Psalmist warns us today as ever before: “O that today you listen to his voice, harden not your hearts as at Meriba…!”
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha!!!

Homily for 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Overcome that Obstacle, and Offer Yourself Wholly to The Lord!
Readings: 1st: Ish 22, 19-23; Ps 137, 1-3.6. 8; 2nd: Rom 11, 33-36; Gos: Mtt 16, 13-20

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.

Today is the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. As ever before, the holy mother church realizing the difficulties and obstacles we encounter daily in our efforts to respond fully and positively to the clarion call from God, encourages us to rise above both the internal and external obstacle, and reluctances in order to offer ourselves wholly to Christ who himself resisted all obstacles and reluctances in order to offer himself as a living, holy and fitting sacrifice in order that we might be salvaged from death unto life.
During a church service one Sunday, the offering plate came to Little Maria who was seated at the end of a row. She took the plate, put it down on the floor, and stood in it. The usher surprised over Maria’s action, asked her: “What are you doing?” Little Maria responded thus: “In Sunday school I learned that I was supposed to offer myself completely to God.” Does this mean anything to you? She has made her point and indeed has offered everything without thinking of the cost. Nothing could stop her, the congregation, the usher or even her own self pride and fear. She overcame all these “obstacles” in order to offer herself on the offertory plate. All the readings this Sunday including the psalm lead to one direction – the need to offer oneself to God in spite of both the external obstacles and even the internal resistances. Some of us like Jeremiah keep complaining (Jer 1, 4. 17), and like Peter, some of us present ourselves as “obstacles” and “wet blankets” on the part of others who are making frantic efforts to yield to God’s will.
In the first reading of this Sunday the lamentation of Jeremiah – the “weeping prophet” (9:1) was that of disappointment. He lamented: “Lord you have deceived me” or “seduced,” and “overpowered me” He was saying, “God, I didn’t sign on for this! You told me it would be tough, but you did not tell me that it was going to be this tough!” God why are you doing this to me? How on earth could you do this to me? What crime did I commit to deserve all this? The ordeal of the weeping prophet (Jer 9, 1), tells us that nothing can prevent the word of God from being proclaimed, not even our own reluctance or resistance. Though Jeremiah resisted, yet he submitted to God: “…and I have let myself be seduced”. He was no longer in charge of himself, rather, the word of God burns like fire in him. The double edged sword of the Spirit (Eph 6, 10; Heb 4, 12) has pierced his heart and left a great burden on him. The Jeremiah who was very timid and did not know how to speak (Jer 1, 4. 17) is now a hammer in God’s hand. There is much mystery in God! Sometimes we live under the assumption that if we do God’s will, we will be healthy, wealthy, and loved by all. But that’s not always true. Faithfulness to God at times brings sufferings, trials, disappointments, he allows us to experience horrific pains. However, in spite of all these, He blesses us and shields us.
In the second reading of today Paul employed the language of grace other than that of law and power to beg us to offer ourselves wholly to God. It suffices to take note of the adjectives he employed in describing the type of sacrifice we ought to be, and offer to the Lord. He enumerates them thus: “living bodies”, “holy sacrifice” and “truly pleasing”. This means that the sacrifice we must offer of ourselves to God must not be a dead one like the sacrifice of Cain (Gen 4, 1-4), it must not be the type that has been corrupted by the this mundane world and, it must be a sacrifice fitting for God. Offering ourselves to God as Paul puts it means a continuous exercise, every day and every time of our life. There is no extent to which we can say we have offered enough of ourselves to God. It is only when we have offered ourselves to God wholly that we can fully model our lives according to his pattern other than the pattern of this world. To present our bodies is to yield our faculties, our new life in Christ. “Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom 6:13). The surrender of our will to Jesus is essential to a life of joy and victory. We are to hold nothing back, instead, we should simply say, “Jesus, I love you all I have is yours, do with me whatever you will.” Many of us hold back from surrendering all to Jesus because they fear that it will bring terrible consequences. Our actions seem to say: “I surrender some instead of, I surrender all to Jesus”. For us to yield wholly to Jesus, we must understand what the Will of God is. When we understand his will and yield to it, we become wonderful and amazing channels of God’s love, peace, charity, happiness and joy to those around us.
In the gospel of today, we see the irony of the human person playing out. The same Peter who proclaimed Christ as the Lord just last week is now been referred to as Satan. Why would Jesus speak to him so harshly, after extending the keys to the kingdom to Peter just a few verses before? The answer is quite simple! Peter does not yet understand that the mission of Jesus entails the act of the shepherd laying down and offering his life for his flock (John 10:11). Perhaps Peter’s thought was, why are you talking of dying when we have not fully conquered the Romans. I am disappointed in you! How can you speak that way, you are the Lord. We have not become governors, ministers, ambassadors in this new government you have formed, and I have not even enjoyed the benefits of the new position you just appointed me to. Peter must have been so disappointed that the “Lord and God” could utter such a word about himself.
Today “Peter and his advice” are the “obstacles” that Jesus had to overcome in order to offer himself wholly to God for our salvation. He therefore represents “sympathizers”. Usually, they do not mean “bad”, but they are very myopic and shallow in their thinking and views. They see only “the-now”, but do not project or interpolate into the future to understand that the action of today has both geometric and exponential effect on the future. The poor Peter did not realize the necessity of Christ’s death – that: “It was necessary for one man to die so the many will live”. He represents in this contest, the college of bad special advisers and ignorant counselors in our social, economic, political, religious institutions; families, marriages, relationships, career etcetera. It may interest one to know that many world and institutional leaders or presidents are good people with wonderful intent for their people and organizations respectively. However, it is unfortunate to note that only about two to three percent of their so called special advisers are good. The result is poor governance, and oppression. This is because, rather than offer advices that will benefit the masses, like Peter, they prefer to give the ones that will stagnate the progress of the nation for their selfish gains and intentions. What type of advice do we give, who do we take advice from, what motivates our advice – emotions or genuine intents? Furthermore, Peter today represents those of us carried away by zeal and flesh, and thus forget Paul’s advice that: “Whoever thinks he is standing should take care not to fall” (1Cor 10, 4). Records abound of great men and women of God, spiritual giants who turned puppet overnight because they lapsed for a moment.
Today, we see Jesus resisting Peter and his suggestions. He refused to be distracted, but remained committed to his agreement with the Father about offering himself as a living, Holy and fitting sacrifice for the salvation of his brothers and sisters. What lesson must we learn from Jesus today? We must not allow both internal and external obstacles and reluctances prevent us from offering ourselves wholly to God. Instead, we must continue to echo with the Psalmist: “O God, you are my God, for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry weary land without water!”
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha!!

Homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Who is this Almighty, Awesome, and Wise Lord To Me?
Readings: 1st: Ish 22, 19-23; Ps 137, 1-3.6. 8; 2nd: Rom 11, 33-36; Gos: Mtt 16, 13-20

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.

“How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge…To him be all the glory. Amen!” It is on the note of this amazing and beautiful outburst of joy from our second reading today that we begin our reflection on this 21st Sunday of ordinary time. In a special way the church enjoins us to recognize, reverence with “sacred awe”, praise, and glorify the Sovereign, the All Powerful and Wise Lord. It is only when we know him (as much as he chooses to reveal himself to us though), that we can respect his ordinances, appreciate his greatness, burst out in amazement and declare to others who he really is as Paul and Peter did today.
A young girl was asked: “Who is your father, and how would you describe him?” She was quiet for a couple of seconds as if he was lost in wondering contemplation. Eventually, she mustered enough courage and responded thus: “My Father?” She retorted. “He is that man who leaves home before I wake up in the morning; that man who comes back home when I am already asleep, at times with some bars of chocolate, ice cream, cake, peanuts, and fried potato chips; that man who punches mummy in the face whenever he returns home drunk and, he is that man who never cares or gives me a hug.” Tears rolled down her cheeks as she concludes: “That is my father, but how I wish I never knew him” Finally, she burst out crying. Is this little girl wrong or to blame? Not at all! This is the picture of her dad she has, and in her innocence, she has painted it and thus, expressed her emotions. Like this little girl (who was right in her case), some of us have a very pejorative view of God, some wrong notion of what he stands for and can do, yet others are indifferent in their opinion about who Jesus is to them. Who is Jesus to you?
In the first reading of today, God exhibits his power over all sovereignty, throne and kingdom. In his wise judgment, he reduces the proud and wicked hearted while exalting the lowly and faithful. While Shebna was dethroned because of his pride, wickedness and lack of obedience to the ordinances of the Almighty God, the humble Eliakim was elevated to the throne. In this, Eliakim becomes a prophecy of the Messiah, because Jesus told us this passage spoke of Himself: “These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” (Rev 3:7). Jesus is the one with the keys of Hades and of Death (Rev1:8), and he is the one who has all authority both in heaven and on earth. Jesus delegates this authority to anyone that pleases him, and as it pleases Him, just as he did to Peter today in our gospel reading (Matt 16:19).
In the second reading, we see Paul this Sunday bursting out in jubilant excitement and exaltation over the wisdom of God. Like a mountaineer who has reached the apex of Kilimanjaro, the apostle turns and contemplates. Depths are at his feet, but waves of light illumine them, and there spreads all around him an immense horizon which his eye commands. The plan of God in the government of mankind spreads out before Paul, and he expresses the feelings of admiration and gratitude with which the prospect fills his heart. Today therefore, Paul not only presents to us the greatness of the wisdom of God, but also His sovereignty over all creation. The Lord’s plans are as marvelous as his wisdom, acts and justice; his designs are as profound as his doings are vast. Creation is immeasurable, and the wisdom displayed in it unsearchable. God alone possesses wisdom in the absolute sense: “…For with Him are wisdom and might. To Him belong counsel and understanding.” (Job 12:13). Paul presents to us the Creator not created by any one, the Counselor not counseled by any one, and the one whose ways, methods and designs are obviously different from ours. Of course, when we realize this we cannot but like Paul burst out in jubilant praise: “How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge…” and “How great is your name O, Lord our God, through all the earth…” (Ps 8, 1). How do I see God, and how great is my God, is a pertinent question we must ask ourselves today! For us to realize how great he is, we must seek him sincerely. As humans, we cannot fathom his greatness, but he reveals himself to those who seek him in truth and honesty. He has done this in, and through Jesus Christ, but only those who humbly allow the eyes of their mind to be illumined by the Holy Spirit will see and know him.
For lack of space and time, it suffices only, to take note of the importance of today’s gospel to the Apostolic Succession and the Papacy of the Holy, One and Catholic Church. So, we leave it for the solemnity of SS. Peter and Paul or the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. In this gospel, Jesus fully aware of the on-going debate about him and the ignorance of the people about his personality, decided to also know the mind of those close to him – His disciples: “Who do people say I am…and…You, who do you say I am?” We must not distance ourselves from this question today. Rather, we must ask ourselves: “Who is Jesus to me? This is because, it is possible that we have been baptized, received Holy Communion, got married in the church, ordained as a pastor or minister, served, and in fact still serving in the church in different capacities and yet do not know who Jesus is. I am not kidding you brethren! A very sincere and humble priest once confessed that he never had an encounter with Jesus Christ until after seven years of his ordination. Many of us have a distorted view of God, views of God that are distorted because of our background, experiences or perhaps just simply because of our ignorance. So, we do not realize that we are actually worshiping the greatest Deity. Much of our lives and much of our time is spent worshiping a figment of our own imaginations and so, what we fail to realize is that God exists independently of our views of him. God exists as he is regardless of our woeful and inadequate views of him. Our goal as Christians should be to bring our understanding of God in line with the truth of who He really is.
My dear, you cannot answer this question of your own accord. Therefore, like Peter and Paul, we must seek the counsel of the wise God. We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us and, we must ask God himself to reveal his son to us as he did to Peter today, else we will continue to have very wrong and distorted opinions about Jesus Christ as the Jews had: “…Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah…” Who do I say Jesus is? May be, he is the “universal” or “cosmic policeman” standing around every corner just waiting for us to break the law so that he can punish or trash us; the “indulgent old man” who is a little senile but very friendly; the “shrewd” or “frantic manager” sweating profusely because the world is such a mess and he is trying to hold it all together, or the “workaholic father” trying to meet the needs of his family, the miracle worker, the healer, the problem solver, the defender, the rock of ages etcetera. Indeed, he all of these and even more than these, but only God in his great wisdom can make him fully known to us if we humble ourselves. Peter got the answer not just by his own power, but by the grace of God. It was a gift offered to him by God in order to prepare him for more blessings and the exalted position from the Son himself. He is blessed and happy today because he knew who Jesus is. In order to be blessed and be exalted like Peter, we must first of all declare: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!” And, “How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge…To him be all the glory. Amen!”
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha!!!

Homily for 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

God’s Invitation And Mercy, Without Boarders!
Readings: 1st: Ish 53, 1. 6-7; Ps 66, 2-3. 5-6; 2nd: Rom 11, 13-15. 29-32; Gos: Mtt 15, 21-28

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.

Today the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church draws our attention to God’s invitation and mercy to entire humanity, which is definitely without borders. It suffices to note beforehand that this does not mean “Universal Salvation”, least one slips fast into the heresy of “Universalism.” “Invitation and mercy without boarders” simply means that each and every one of us (without exception) has equal opportunity of the mercy of God if we respond accordingly to His invitation. Therefore, the church through all the readings of this Sunday presents to us a God whose invitation and mercy is not the sole or exclusive right of any individual or group; a God whose invitation to mercy reads: “It is for all” – Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, Blacks, Whites etcetera; and a God whose mercy like water does not discriminate or have enemies.
While reflecting on today’s readings, I recalled an old TV commercial. In it, people were walking along a busy and broad street with different sizes and shapes of umbrella in anticipation of imminent rain. Eventually, there came a powerful wind and down pour, too powerful for small and weak umbrellas. But only one man had a very big umbrella, the size of a room. With a wave of hand he invited all others whose umbrellas had succumbed to the power of the wind and down pour. In a fraction of minute, many threw away their umbrellas and took shelter in the man’s. Also, another ad from a particular political party reads: “Our Umbrella is big enough to contain all of us, there is room for you in here, come in right away!” Indeed, the invitation and mercy of God is large and strong enough to restore all of us, but it is for only those who are ready to throw away their, small and weak umbrellas (that is their pride, shame, and disobedience), in order to come to Him. Are you ready?
In the first reading, Isaiah makes the mind of God known. In addition to the “faithful Israelites”, “foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name…these will I bring to my holy mountain.” I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.” In this, God is fostering the “ecumenical spirit” which has to begin with praying together. Imagine a prayer house made up of Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Traditional religionist, Pagans, Israel and Hamas, America and Al Qaeda, Churchill and Hitler, Nigeria and Boko Haram, Iraq and ISIS, and lots more praying together to God. For us it seems difficult, but with God, it is not because, he designs and controls all of history. So, when we put this reading into both historical and political perspective, we simply encounter the truth that God designs and controls all history in order to display the glory of his mercy to all of us. However, the only condition he requires is that we must attach ourselves to Him, serve him and love him.
In the second reading, Paul also strikes on the same note as did Isaiah. In this reading it suffices to note that when Paul says: “Mercy to all”, he is not saying that God will save everyone, rather, that His mercy is available to all those who will respond accordingly to his invitation. This is the reason he tells us: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling!” (Phil 2, 12). God has played his part by extending his invitation to all and making His mercy available in abundance. We must play our own part by responding accordingly to his invitations. If we do we “pluck” his mercy. We must not forget the truth that the “Jews” are the beloved of God. He is sovereign in their salvation and it is not because of any merit passed on from the patriarchs, but because God chose Israel and that choice was, and forever will be irrevocable. The gentiles are also favored and considered worthy of the good news. When Paul says: “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, he means that because God hardened the Jews, the gospel has now gone out to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11-12, 15. 28). Irrespective of the reason, the fact is that God has made them a promise also. He has counted us among those worthy to take refuge under his umbrella, and as potential candidates for salvation. And this promise stands because: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it…?” (Nub 23:19; Mal 3:6). The lesson from this is that when one person or a people become disobedient and rejects God, it becomes an advantage to others. In spite of Israel’s rejection of God, it has not made God change his mind towards loving them. Right now the good news is that the same mercy flows for all of us, and we are all potential recipients of God’s mercy in this period as the gospel go out to the nations.
Today, Jesus’ journey to the territory of Tyre and Sidon is amazing and fascinating, but it leaves much to be desired in the light of His former instructions to His disciples: “Do not go to Gentile regions…Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-8). So, what did he go there to do himself? One could possibly say there was a paradigm shift in Jesus’ view of the gentiles. Today’s gospel goes further to illustrate the universality of God’s mercy. However, that Jesus was initially hesitant to listen to the woman perhaps must have been a tactical way of testing her faith. In order words, in spite of the fact that God is ready to show us mercy unequivocally, he requires something from us. Something Jesus himself described as: “a faith as small as the mustard seed” (Mtt 17, 20). I am sure the faith demonstrated by this woman surpassed the expectation of Jesus. Let us tell ourselves the truth here. Who among us would be called a: “Nigger”, “White Monkey”, “Black Monkey”, “Gringo”, “Bushman”, “Americow”, “Sand Monkey”, “Abo” or “Brit” that will not angrily and quickly leave the scene. But this woman endured this derogatory calling of name and persisted in her plea to Jesus for mercy. Far from being offended by Jesus, instead, she was inspired by Him to ask for what she desired. For this, Jesus commended her faith in a way that no Jew was ever commended. The lesson this woman teaches us is simple! Though God may test us in seemingly strange and unpredictable ways, he will not turn away from his promises to help those who call on him in their time of need. And he will never turn his back on true faith. This is the type of faith that our first reading refers to when it says: “Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to love and serve him.” Jesus found that faith in this woman after making her pass through the “acid test”. Like this woman, each and every one of us in a certain way is in need of God’s mercy. Somehow we have been disobedient and so, as Paul recounts in our second reading: “God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.”
My dear friends, one of the greatest requirements in order to respond accordingly to the universal invitation of God and to share in his mercy is faith in his son Jesus Christ. Today, Jesus is close to us. Are we going to let him pass us by without insisting on having his mercy? We must take our opportunity, grab his clock right now, kneel down, cry if you will, shout until he hears you, and shut your ears to all the insults, discard your small and weak umbrella, and insist on entering into Jesus’ large umbrella of mercy. Does our Lord give you humiliations to bear? Perhaps it seems that he rejects your prayers! When he humiliates you, remember and imitate the example of this “Canaanite dog”. Say to him now: “Lord Jesus, I will never let you go unless you bless and show me your mercy” (Gen 32, 22). When you feel the burden lifted off your shoulders then join the Psalmist in saying: “Let all the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you…because your faithfulness, love, and mercy endures forever!” (Ps 66, 4; 100, 5).
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha!!!