Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Seeking Understanding for the Mysteries of the Kingdom
Readings: 1st: I Kg 3: 5. 7-12; Ps 118; 57.72-77.127; 2nd: Rom 8, 28-30; Gos Mtt 13, 44-52

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), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Today is the 17th Sunday of Ordinary time and in it, the Church encourages us to pray for understanding and wisdom in order to enable us discern the true value of things especially the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, she reminds us that the greatest of all treasures is the Kingdom of God. If we gain it, we gain all, whereas, if we lose it we lose all. In light of this, we must pull together all the energies in us in order to ensure that we get it. This is especially given the fact that God himself has chosen us and prepared it for us before time. However, we must avail ourselves of the opportunity presented to us by God through asking as Solomon did as well as by working and walking our way into the Kingdom.
Today’s first reading began in a very interesting way. Interesting in the sense that it resembles a situation where a very poor man is suddenly given an open check and asked to fill in any amount he feels like having, and it will be all his. If you my brethren were Solomon what would you ask for? Best cars, houses, shoes, foods, more money in your account, to be made the world’s president, power, children and the likes of these I suppose! Today however, Solomon rather than ask for material wealth asked for wisdom and understanding, something that would benefit his earthly kingdom and of course the kingdom of God in his people’s heart. He begged God to give him understanding: “Give therefore your servant understanding…” By this, he simple means: “give me that which is necessary for the services in which I am employed by you.” An understanding heart is God’s gift (Proverbs 2:6). So we must ask and pray for it (James 1:5)! We must like Solomon say to God: “Give me an understanding”, not to please my own curiosity with, or puzzle my neighbours, but to know the right thing and do it, an excellent sense of judgment. That is, the best knowledge that will be serviceable to us in doing our duty. It enables us to discern between good and bad, right and wrong, sin and duty, truth and falsehood, so as not to be imposed upon by false colors in judging either of others’ actions or of our own. It will also keep us attuned to the things of the Kingdom. If like Solomon we make a pleasing request to God, definitely he will bless us. Therefore, we are to learn the following from Solomon: that the way to obtain spiritual blessings is to be unrelenting in our request for them, to wrestle with God in prayer for them, as Solomon did for wisdom only because it is important for his service and ministry. Solomon was given wisdom because he did ask for it and, wealth because he did not ask for it. The more we abound in God’s work the more comfort we may expect in him, the more his glory will shine on us, and we will hear a voice saying to us, Ask for what you need, I shall give it to you. Solomon did not neglect God’s offer. Instead he made a pious request to God. He readily laid hold of this offer. So we too must not neglect it in our lives, like Ahaz, who said, I will not ask? (Isaiah 7:12).When God says ask it shall be given to you… (Matt 7: 7), he means every bit of it. However, he expects us to ask reasonably, according to his mind and not selfishly. Also, our request must benefit us and others for the Kingdom of God.
In the second reading, Paul reminds us that: “By turning everything to their good God cooperates with all those who love him…” Commenting on Rom 8, 28 Raymond Ortlund writes that: “The hand of God is at the helm. He’s steering us through the storms of life toward home, toward a safe haven (in his kingdom). And He takes care to order all the events of our lives right now to speed us on our way there. This is what we call Providence, God’s overruling hand at work everywhere in a fallen world. The Providence of God is clearly taught from one end of the Bible to the other. And our confidence in the Providence of God is a faith so bold, so demanding, so unapologetic, that we cannot believe it without being transformed. Either all things work together for our good, or nothing makes sense. So let’s be bold about it. “All things” is utterly comprehensive, having no qualifications or limits. Neither this verse nor its context allows for restrictions or conditions. “All things” is inclusive in the fullest possible sense. It includes your present trouble, your aching head, your heavy heart, your joblessness, bareness, poverty, sickness, etcetera – “All things, “everything” and nothing left out! Nothing existing or occurring in heaven or on earth “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus” (8:39). There is nothing idle in God’s domain. “All things work together.” There is no discord in the providence of God. The strangest ingredients go to make up the one matchless medicine for all our maladies. “It suffices to note that Paul is not saying that God prevents His children from experiencing things that can harm them as most prosperity preachers would interpret this passage today. He is rather attesting that the Lord takes all that He allows to happen to His beloved children, even the worst things, and turns those things ultimately into blessings. No matter what our situation, our suffering, our persecution, our sinful failure, our pain, our lack of faith-in those things, as well as in all other things, our heavenly Father will work to produce our ultimate victory and blessing. The corollary of that truth is that nothing can ultimately work against us.” (MacArthur, J: Romans 1-8. Chicago: Moody Press). Indeed we must be mindful of what Paul means here. He equally indicates that: “They are the ones he chose especially long ago…” Yes all things will work well for us, the chosen. However, what guarantees this promise is that we must continue to pay allegiance of love to God over and above all things, because it is for: “All those who love him.” Therefore, we must constantly polish our love for God and for things of the kingdom. Indeed, God has already earmarked us for heaven, but it does not preclude the fact that we must ask for it, seek, and find it. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2, 12).
In the gospel of this Sunday and for the third consecutive week Jesus uses parables to speak to us. This he does because he knows that as candidates of the kingdom, we are endowed with the understanding and wisdom required for unraveling the mysteries behind them, appreciate them and consequently find the kingdom. Hence, we must put in every of our time, talent and treasure in order to attain it. The first two parables of this Sunday’s reading are intended to instruct believers to prefer the Kingdom of heaven to the whole world, and therefore to deny themselves all the desires of the flesh, that nothing may prevent them from obtaining so valuable a possession. We are greatly in need of such a warning; for we are so captivated by the allurements of the world that eternal life fades from our view; and in consequence of our carnality, the spiritual graces of God are far from being held by us in the estimation which they deserve. Justly, therefore, does Christ speak in such lofty terms of the excellence of eternal life that we ought not to feel uneasiness at relinquishing, on account of it, whatever we reckon in other respects to be valuable. The kingdom of God within us is a treasure indeed, but a treasure hid from the world, and from the most wise and prudent in it. He that finds this treasure, (perhaps when he thought it far from him) hides it deep in his heart, and gives up all other happiness for it.” If we lack wisdom and understanding we cannot understand the parables of this Sunday which focuses on the need for us to seek the kingdom of God as the most valuable of all treasures. Jesus knew this very well and so asks his disciples: “Have you understood all this?” He asked this question because he was fully away that only those with the understanding that come from God can grasp the meaning of the parables of the kingdom. Let us therefore this Sunday ask for this understanding as Solomon asked, so that the kingdom might not elude us owing to sheer ignorance.
Peace be with you all!
Maranatha!!

Homily for 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

The Lord Our God: The Just and Merciful Judge Is kind To Us!
Readings: 1st: 12, 13. 16-19; Ps 85, 5-6. 9-10.15-16; 2nd: Rom 8, 26-27; Gos Mtt 13, 24-43

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), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Given our constant request, and need for mercy and forgiveness due to our weakness, the Holy Mother Church on this 16th Sunday of ordinary time turns our attention to the Lord the Merciful and Just Judge who assures us of forgiveness when we repent and remain faithful amidst all oppositions the world posses to us. She also, in a special way calls us to get glued to the Holy Spirit who is ever ready to help us, by pleading our case in our weakness.
A priest once put up the following questions to his congregation: “In whose hands are the souls of the righteous? They happily responded: “In the hands of God!” Again, he asked them: “In whose hands are the souls of the wicked?” Joyfully again they responded with a deafening shout: “In the devil’s hands!” Finally, he asked them: “In whose hands is the soul of the devil?” At this juncture, there was a grave silence. However, after some fractions of minute, and as if they have woken up from David Hume’s dogmatic slumber, they reluctantly responded: “In God’s hands!” Indeed, we all belong to God. I am sure someone there is already asking me: “You mean, including that wicked fellow and devil incarnate that has been a thorn in my flesh and made my life miserable? Yes my dear, even he/she! However, God being the just judge knows what to do with each one of us on his great harvest day. It is not within our jurisdiction to decide because we ourselves are weak and in dire need of help.
In the first reading of today, Wisdom extolled God for being a just judge, and a caring Father: “You never judge unjustly. Your justice has its source in strength.” This is the nature of our God, the just judge who over looks our sins in fulfillment of what the Psalmist says: “If you mark our iniquity, Oh Lord, who will survive?” (Ps 130, 3). Therefore, God as a merciful father is never too hard on us. He gives us the due attention necessary for our wellbeing. At times though, it could involve chastisement. Yet, it is just and for our good. He gives us ample room to retrace our steps and make amends. Hence, Wisdom says of Him: “…and you have given your sons the just hope that after sin you grant repentance.” What must we make of, and learn in from this? Quite simple! Since God is just and ready to acquit us by granting us repentance which sincerely speaking is grace, we too must do same to others. Just as the Lord is kind in judgment to us, we too must do same to our brethrens: “…By acting thus, you have taught a lesson to your people how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men!” In order words, we must learn from God as our father not to be too hard in judging our fellow men and women. This calls for emulating God’s very high sense of judgment.
In the second reading of today, Paul highlights one very important ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is given the fact that as mortals and frail beings, there are definitely times in life when we cannot help ourselves. Swiss scholar Frederick Godet called Paul’s Epistle to the Romans “the cathedral of the Christian faith,” in the nineteenth century, and so, compared it to the great masterpieces of medieval architecture: “We do not know which to admire the most, the majesty of the whole or the finish of the details” (The Epistle to the Romans, 1879). When a Christian comes to Romans 8 he cannot but enter the beautiful inner sanctuary of this impressive cathedral. Surrounding the pilgrim are stunning sculptures and frescoes that teach what it means to walk in the assurance of what Christ has done for us. Prominent in the display is God the Holy Spirit. The Greek word πνεῦμα (Spirit) occurs 21 times in Romans 8. It would appear that only two of these occurrences (v 15a, 16b) do not refer to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s ministry within Christianity and for Christians takes center stage in this most comforting chapter. The Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. This weakness of ours is expressed in many ways, but mostly, in and during the course prayer. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in to help us in addition to bearing witness that we are God’s children (Rom 8, 14-15). In order words, it is the Spirit of God that strengthens, energizes, and in fact, advocates for us before God. The reasons are quite simple and obvious: we are weak and “do not know how to pray”, he alone can succeed wherever we fail because, He alone speaks the language that God understands: “…The Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put in words…God knows perfectly well what He means.” As a mother understands the meaning of the cry of her weak and helpless baby and tends to it, so does God understand the words of the Holy Spirit spoken on our behalf. He it is, who also stands before God’s council and his judgment throne in heaven to plead our case, course, and innocence. Though sin makes us helpless and weak before God, the Holy Spirit pleads for us and makes us acceptable to God because he communicates and reminds God of our weakness as the Psalmist humbly proclaims: “In weakness /sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51, 5)! Therefore, as the Spirit comes to aid us in our weakness, we too though weak, (and yet “stronger or better” than someone else), must help and intercede for those around us in their own weakness. This is what Wisdom means when He says that: “The virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow man!”
In the gospel Jesus used three parables to illustrate not only what “the kingdom of God is like”, but also how open minded and just the judgment of God is, and promises to be. These three parables illustrate how welcoming and accommodating God’s kingdom is. The parable of the weed and darnel however, of all these three parables, in one piece tells the whole story about the nature of God, His Kingdom and of course, His just judgment. God, “the owner” of the field, the darnel, and (of course by owning the land), the weed as well, did not succumb to the idea of pulling out the weed prematurely. The weed was given time to flourish alongside the darnel. We live in a world that comprises saints as well as sinners as St. Augustine of Hippo wrote in his book Civitate Dei, and both cohabit. It is the strength of our character and the combined help of the Holy Spirit that sustains, and will distinguish saints from sinners. God knew this before time began yet he did not create two separate worlds apart from each other for them. Rather, he allows all of us to cohabit. Each playing his/her own part towards the other. The saints, seeing the misery of sinners, learn their lessons and continue to struggle in order to remain virtuous. Sinners seeing the triumph of the saints equally struggle to take a leap out of their misery and sin. So, the parable of the weed and darnel portrays how God himself the just and merciful judge does kindly with all his creatures. “His judgment is true and just and salvation belongs to him,” and “he allows his to shine and his rain to fall on both the good and the evil.” This just judge knows what to do with each of us on his great harvest day
In allowing this “dangerous” and “mysterious” cohabitation, God gives us ample opportunity to repent, and prepare ourselves for the great day of harvest. As a seasoned and professional Gardner, he knows at a glimpse which is the weed and which, the darnel. He needs no “medicated glasses” to distinguish them because he is experienced in the business and knows those who are his and mature enough for harvest into his barns. So, just as what helps the darnel survive the stiff and harsh opposition, and competition for soil and space was its viability, will to survive and of course the Gardner’s ingenuity, so also, what will help us survive in this world of sin and weakness include: The strength of our character, dealing kindly with our fellow men and women, and of course, our constant and continuous reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit who is ever ready to intercede for us in groans that words cannot express, but only God the Father – the just and merciful judge, and his council understand. Let us then echo with the Palmist: “O Lord, you are good and forgiving!”
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha!!!

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Jesus Christ Sows Viable Seeds (Word) in our Hearts
Readings: 1st: Ish 55, 10-11; Ps 64, 10-14; 2nd: Rom 8, 18-23; Gos Mtt 13, 1-25

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), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Today being the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we celebrate Christ who came to sow the seed of the Word of God both in our hearts and in the world at large. Through this celebration, the Church enjoins us to re-evaluate our relationship with the Word of God which his ministers and Christ representatives sow in our hearts every day. We must also re-evaluate the fertility of our souls, and how much fruit we allow this Word bear in our life.
In the first reading of this Sunday, the prophet Isaiah compares the Word of God to rain and snow that falls on the ground: “As the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth…so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty without carrying out my will and succeeding…” this is a statement of fact and also, of assurance to those who believe, accept it with faith, and live it out in their life. The Word will accomplish because it is itself not empty since fire begets fire. This is a sign that the seed of the Word that God sends forth into our hearts and the world is viable and not sterile. “His Word (the seed) is Yes and Amen” (1 Cor 1, 20) only for those who allow it to influence them positively. It has full potency and must give life to anyone that provides a conducive environment for it to germinate, grow and bear abundant fruits. However, it can also bring condemnation upon those who toil with it and refuse to believe it as Jesus Says: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (Jh 5, 24). Also, He says: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (Jh 3, 18). This is because it will stand to testify against us on the day of reckoning. In this case, either ways, it will not return to God void or empty; it is either that we allow it to present us before the throne of God as worthy children of God or on the contrary , it will present us as culprits, and un-repented souls only fit for damnation. It can never return void because it will either acquit us or convict us. This is why the Word of God is a two edged sword (Heb 4, 12). God’s Word therefore, has a valuable purpose which must be accomplished!
In the second reading, Paul makes two categorical statements. The first is all about the expectation or longing of the world: “…The creation is eagerly waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.” The second is: “From the beginning till now the entire creation, and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first fruit of the Spirit.” In the first, Paul sets one wondering what the outcome of this manifestation would be. Of course, it is to be taken for granted that it will be positive, since those whom he is talking about are sons of God. This manifestation means to bring forth, to bear, or to reveal what is borne within us. Therefore, as vessels filled with the Word of God, we are expected to emit good fragrance when we are eventually revealed or manifested. To cap it all, Paul went ahead to talk about how we and the entire creation groan in one great act of giving birth. What are we to give birth to? It is the fruits of the Holy Spirit which we bear within us by the reason of the Word of God and anointing of the Holy Spirit. It is only when we have manifested ourselves as good fruit – bearing children of God that we can be set free ourselves. If not, like a pregnant woman under the pains of labour we shall continue to groan under the burden. This means that as children of God in whom the seed of the Word of God has been sown, and upon whom the anointing of the of the Holy Spirit rests, there is great expectation from us. And the product of this expectation of our manifestation should be nothing short of positive. Anything short of this means a negation of what and who we ought to be. It must be good because what God placed in us is good – a viable seed. In order words, it is garbage-in, garbage-out and, whatever goes in must come out even better and of course without corruption or shortage.
Looking at the gospel of this Sunday on Jesus’ parable of the sower, the questions that suffice include: Does it in any mean that some of the seeds were not viable for sowing, did the sower not do his job well by being careless with the seeds, and whose fault was it that some of the seeds fell on sandy, thorny and rocky soil? I thinks the seeds were viable ones, if not the sower would not have carried them. This is a parable, and simply put, God is the Sower and our hearts, the different types of soils upon which the seeds fell. By spreading the seeds everywhere without considering the nature of the soil and where they fall is an indication of God’s openness, outstretched arms, and his willingness to let all and sundry have and hear his Word which the seed represents. It is a sign that “God has no favorite” (Acts 10, 34), and that he wishes that all peoples hear the good news and repent. However, it is only those who are open and whose hearts are fertile that will receive this Word and allow it to germinate, grow and bear fruits in them.
The parable of the sower speaks to all of us. If we examine and tell ourselves the truth, each one of us will convincingly find our position within it, the type of soil we are and how far we have handled the seed sown in us. What do we do with the Word of God we hear proclaimed to us every day is one question I constantly put to my parishioners. This is because, for many, we have become used to it that it no longer makes meaning to us, and we have developed a very hard and tough skin towards it that it can no longer penetrate the walls of our heart. Do we still heed the call and instruction of the Word of God, and has it brought any ontological or functional change in our lives? If after hearing this Word preached to us every day and we still did not make heaven, who is to blame? Our pastors, priests, parents, brothers and sister, who? Of course, the obvious answer is, “I”, because to whom much is given much is expected. The Word of God is meant to transform us and help us live a better and healthier life. Above all, it is supposed to help us affect others positively. God does not send and sow his Word so that plants and trees are able to grow and live, but rather, so that we are able to grow and live. His Word gives and sustains new life in us. Yes, his Word brings “new life” because without that Word, we were dead in sin. Yes, without the knowledge of Jesus as our Savior, we were dead people. Maybe we are walking around and breathing here on this earth, but unfortunately and practically speaking, most of us are dead because we have no hope in eternal life Word of God, and there is nothing to look forward to except eternal death in hell as a punishment for our rejection of God’s Word.
Therefore, if we have faith in our hearts, we have life given to us and created in us by that powerful Word. And that faith in your hearts is a proof that God’s Word powerfully accomplishes the purpose for which God sent it. Sadly though, many people doubt the power of that Word. They doubt the value of that Word and what it can do for them in their lives. Unfortunately, and sadly also, sometimes we are those people! Our faith depends upon hearing God’s powerful and life-giving Word as Paul says: “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.” (Rom, 10 10-17). May we all grow and mature in our faith, and may we see the necessity of accepting the Word of God in giving us life. Amen!
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha!!!

 

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Encountering Jesus the Humble and Gentle Hearted in the Poor
Readings: 1st: Zec 9, 9-10; Ps 145, 2-3.4-9; 2nd: Rom 8, 9. 11-13; Gos Mtt 11, 25-30

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), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

On this 14th Sunday of the Church’s Ordinary time, she calls us in a special way to reflect on Jesus’ humility, gentility and of course his great option for the poor (in Spirit), the weak and those leaving at the fringe of society. These twin virtues of humility and gentility are very necessary for our Christian journey. Although it is said that poverty is a disease or a mind bender, the truth however, is that poverty (especially of the spirit), also humbles one especially, when it is freely embraced or “chosen” as Christ did, and in imitation of whom religious men and women take the vow of poverty. Despite being the creator and owner of both the kingdom of heaven and earth Christ humbled himself and chose the fundamental option of becoming poor. Unfortunately, today we see poverty in toto as a curse, a mind bender, and view it from all sorts of pejorative angle.
I can still recall the comment attributed to one late former senator: “We are not in this honourable house to celebrate poverty.” He made this remark in order to justify why he and his “fellow honourable members of the house” must be allowed to vote millions of dollar for the furnishing of their apartments while a majority of the masses who voted them in could not afford to eat twice a day. In deed he was not there to celebrate poverty, but he must celebrate affluence and wealth at the expense of the poor and the weak masses. In order words, contrary to Jesus who became poor that humanity might become rich, our “distinguished senators and honorary” members of the house must become rich in order that those by the power of their vote and mandate they rose and rode to “superstardom” must become poor. Unfortunately, in spite of his greed, eloquence, and aversion for poverty, it was not long before this “distinguished and honourable senator” died a premature death. Today he no longer lives to mock poverty, whereas, a majority of those he cajoled indirectly still live to “mourn him.” What an irony! This is simply theodicy – the justice of the Lord God of Host!!
The first reading of this Sunday epitomizes and foretells the humility of the Christ-King who was to come. This reading is a hope raiser to all the poor (especially in spirit), and the oppressed: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout…behold your King comes to you. Triumphant and victorious is he; humble and riding on a donkey.” Of course, he comes to give succor and justice to the poor and oppressed of Israel. To give still greater encouragement to God’s people, the prophet, after uttering the foregoing promises, was carried on by the Divine Spirit, which influenced him, to announce a still more remarkable instance of God’s special kindness to them, namely, the coming of their Messiah, or King, with reference to which this passage is cited in two places of the New Testament, (Matt 21:5 and John 12:15). In the second reading, Paul reminds us of the need to live in the spirit. This is because, it is the spirit that breeds humility and gentility as opposed to the flesh (sarx), which breeds pride, and all forms of worldliness. Flesh (sarx) here as Paul employs it refers to the evil nature present in Adam, and still present even in regenerate man. The Spirit of Jesus keeps one aglow and afloat even when one is materially poor. Hence, Jesus in the beatitude (Mtt 5, 3) says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God.” Yes, it is only the Spirit of Jesus that can help one appreciate the poor, what being poor in spirit means, and help one attain it as well. The worldly and mundane spirit which manifests only in materialism and greed cannot afford this. This is why Paul says to us: “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Jesus does not belong to Him.” The Roman Christians’ faith was spoken about throughout the world. Their real character, however, was not determined either by their professions or their reputation. The apostle therefore adds, “if the Spirit of God lives in you”! This is the only decisive test. Every other bond of union with Christ is of no avail without this. We may be members of his church, yet unless we share that vital union which comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are his only in name. The Spirit of God is everywhere, yet he is said to dwell wherever he especially and permanently manifests his presence. So he is said to dwell in heaven; he dwelt of old in the temple; he now dwells in the church, which is “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:22); and he lives in each individual believer, whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). According to Haldane, “Flesh is a principle that attaches to the earth, and the things of the earth; but the spirit of regeneration is as a light, which, coming from heaven, elevates the mind to those things that are celestial…This indwelling of the Spirit is a sure evidence of a renewed state; and believers should be careful not to grieve the Spirit, and should labor to enjoy a constant sense of His presence in their hearts (Haldane, R.: An Exposition on the Epistle to the Roman, Ages Classic Commentaries).
In the gospel, Jesus reveals and gives us the key to the heart of God. That is, the master key with which one could unlock the secrets that God would not make known to the proud hearted. This key is an alloy of humility and gentility. Little wonder the word of God says that: “God resist the proud hearted but gives grace to the humble” (Prov 29: 23). If we must serve God well, we must be humble and gentle of heart. Like a kid that must bend low and down in order to suck successfully from the mother’s breast, we must bend and bow low before God. Also, like the sheep that harms no one but simply goes about its business, we must live our lives in a way that leaves no pains or sorrow on others. Above all, we must see Jesus in the poor, the “weak”, the sick and all those at the fringe of society. They epitomize humility and gentility. If we do this surely, God will reveal to us more secrets about the kingdom that we know nothing about yet. If we do this, we are being “infants” before God as Jesus says: “You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants.” Finally, today Jesus beckons us: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This invitation is not for the proud hearted, because they hardly realize that they are overburdened. Such people go about in shameless boldness like zombies thinking they are standing and strong. Yet, they are blown off by any little wind. But this invitation is extended to the simple, humble, and gentle hearted who are quick to realize their need for God’s intervention in their life. It is for those who in spite of their physical weakness shoulder the burden of their family, community, state, nation and the world at large through prayers, mortification and even persecution from the world. It is an invitation extended to those who are humbly, sincerely and earnestly seeking the face of God, those who realizing their weakness and poverty of spirit and so constantly cry out to Jesus as did the disciples of Christ: “Lord save us least we perish” (Mtt 8, 25). It is for those who are ready to submit and surrender all, and not part or some to Jesus, and those who humbly take up the yolk of Jesus.
The invitation is addressed to the common people who are ready to take what Jesus offers them. That is, the new rule of obedience which he lays on his disciples. In three ways he tells us that his Yolk is different from that which hitherto oppressed us: we shall be instructed by one who is willing to bear with us patiently; we shall gain from his instructions what we have been vainly seeking, and we shall find the new yolk easy to be borne. As the deliverance of the Jews was typical of redemption by Christ, so this invitation speaks to all of us. We might be poor and prisoners, but prisoners of hope; our case is sad, but not desperate; for there is hope in Jesus concerning us. Christ is a stronghold, a strong tower, in whom believers are safe (Prov 18, 10), from the fear of the wrath of God, the curse of the law, the assaults of spiritual enemies and all forms of oppression. To him we must turn with lively faith; to him we must flee, and trust in his name under all trials and sufferings. It is here promised that the Lord would deliver his people especially the poor in spirit and the humble and gentle of heart.
Peace be with you all!
Maranatha!!

 

 

Hail! Oh Pillars, and Princes of Our Faith, and Church!!
Readings: 1st: Acts 12: 1-11; Ps 33: 2-9; 2nd: 2Tim 4: 6-8.17-18; Gos Jh 16: 13-19

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), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Today the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church celebrates the feast of two of the most influential icons of faith (Saints Peter and Paul), in the history of the church. We celebrate the feast of the princes of the apostle and the pillars of our faith. The Lord stood by them and gave them power so that through them the whole message might be proclaimed for the entire world to hear. During their earthly lives, all the saints are an incentive to virtue for those who hear and see them with under¬standing. This is because they are human icons of excellence, animated pillars of goodness, and living books, which teach us the way to better things. Afterwards, when they depart this life, the benefit we gain from them is kept alive forever through the remembrance of their virtues. By celebrating their noble deeds, we offer them that praise which, on the one hand, we owe them for the good they did our ancestors, but which, on the other, is also fitting for us at the present time, on account of the help they give us now. In a special way what we celebrate today is faithfulness, courage, humility, and missionary zeal. These are the qualities that characterized these two iconic figures.
The first reading of this Sunday narrates the story of how God himself mysteriously delivered Peter from prison. This is in line (as we shall see in the gospel of today), with Jesus’ promise to Peter that: “the kingdom of heaven shall not prevail against you.” Having chosen Peter as the rock, God never abandoned him. Christ remained with Peter even when he (Peter) failed by denying Him. In spite of denying Christ thrice, Peter repented, pieced himself together, and continued from where he stopped. Anyone who looks at Peter will see that through repentance and painful grief he not only adequately healed the denial into which he had been drawn, but he also completely rooted out of his soul that passion which had made him fall behind the others. Wishing to demonstrate this to everyone, the Lord, after His passion, death, and His rising on the third day, asked Peter: “Simon, bar Jonah, agapas me pleon touton (Simon son of Jonah do you love me more than these?)” Peter responded: “Nai Kyrie sy oidas hoti philo (Yes Lord, you know I love you!)” (John 21:15). What does the Lord do? Since Peter has shown that he has not lost his love for Him and has now acquired humility as well, He openly fulfils the promise made long before and tells him, “Feed My lambs”(John 21:15). It is clear from this that the Lord’s desire for us to be saved is so great, that He asks of those who love Him only one thing: to lead us to the pasture and fold of salvation. Once Peter had made this heartfelt confession, the Lord ordained him shepherd and chief pastor of His whole Church, and also promised to encompass him with such strength. Peter remained faithful till his martyrdom. He encountered Christ while trying to run away from persecution in Rome and in response to Christ’s question: “Peter, quo vadis (where are you going?), returned to Rome and courageously faced his death and martyrdom for the sake of Christ.
In the second reading, we hear the testimony of a man (Paul) who has accomplished his mission: “I have fought the good fight of faith to the end, I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness….” Of course that crown did come as his reward. Paul though initially was not among the twelve apostles, came into the scene drawn by the power of Jesus Christ. His past negative life was that of persecuting and killing Christians (Acts 9). However, after his encounter with Christ, he became an important instrument in God’s hand. His greatest weakness (zeal to persecute and kill) automatically became his greatest strength (zeal to witness to the risen Jesus, Acts, 9, 15-16). We learn from Paul that Repentance is preceded by awareness of our sins, which is a strong incentive to mercy. “Have mercy on me”, said the psalmist and prophet to God, “for I know my iniquities” (Ps. 50:1, 3). Through his recognition of sin he attracted God’s compassion, and through his confession, self-condemnation and conversion, he obtained complete forgiveness. The psalmist also tells us: “I said I will confess mine iniquities before the Lord against myself. And you forgave the ungodliness of my heart” (Ps. 31:5). This shows that acknowledgment of our sins is followed by condemnation of ourselves, which in turn is followed by that sorrow for our sins which Paul calls “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). After godly sorrow, confession and prayer to God with a contrite heart come naturally, as does the promise to keep away from evil from henceforth. This is repentance! Repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin any more, not to mix with corrupt people, and not to gape in curiosity at evil pleasures. True repentance like Peter and Paul’s, helps one to despise things present, cling to things to come, struggle against passions, seek after virtues, be self-controlled in every respect, keep vigil with prayers to God, and shun dishonest gain. It convinces one to be merciful to those who wrong one, gracious to those who ask something of him/her. It encourages one to be ready with all his/her heart to bend down and help in any way one can, whether by words, actions or money, and to all who seek one’s assistance. It helps one recognize that through kindness to ones fellow human being, one might gain God’s love in return for loving ones neighbour, draw the divine favour to oneself, and attain to eternal mercy and God’s everlasting blessing and grace.
In today’s gospel while Peter by the power of the Holy Spirit professed the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Christ in return made him the head of the church – the foundation rock. It was from this moment that Peter became the first bishop of Rome and Pope. He became the leader of the apostolic succession, the “primus inter paris”, and of course the “majo domo (holder of the key to the kingdom of God”. Although Peter was made the first among equals, he remained humble, faithful and died courageously as others did. So as we consider, and celebrate the outcome of the lives of these two iconic figures and pillars of our faith and church, let us imitate how they lived, or at least how they were restored through humility and repentance even if we cannot attain to their other great and exalted achievements, which are appropriate to great men and fitting for great men to emulate. The appearance to us this day of both these luminaries together brightens the Church, for their meeting produces a wealth of light, not an eclipse. It is not the case that one has a higher orbit and is placed above, while the other is lower down and passes under his shadow; Nor does one rule the day, while the other, the night, such that one would overshadow the other if they appeared opposite each other. In fact, some aspects of their lives are probably impossible for anyone to imitate. They teach us that amendment through repentance is more appro¬priate for us than for the great, since we all sin many times every day. Their lives teach us also that unless we lay hold of salvation through continuous repentance, we have no hope of it from any other source. Although, it is not easy to achieve all they achieved, let us ask God for the “Grace of God” which Paul tells us “is sufficient for us” (1 Cor 12, 9), to be able at least to do our best because, we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil 4, 13). May we all attain to this by the grace of the only begotten Son of God, to whom belongs all glory, might, honor and worship.
Peace be with you all!
Maranatha!!

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year A

WORSHIPING CHRIST IN THE HOLY EUCHARIST
Readings: 1st: Deu 8: 2-3.14-16; Ps 147:12-15.19-20; 2nd: 2Cor 20: 16-17; Gos Jh 6: 51-58

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), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Today the Holy Mother Church celebrates the wonderful gift of God to her and the entire world – the Body and Blood of his only son Jesus Christ which is “Really Present” under the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is also known as the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, which means “Body of Christ.” This feast originated in France in the mid thirteenth century and was extended to the whole Church by Pope Urban IV in 1264. This feast calls us to focus on two manifestations of the Body of Christ: The Holy Eucharist as its primary purpose, and the Church.
In the study of Human Nutrition and other food related courses the following statements stand very true: “You are what you eat” and, “good food and nutrition nourishes the body.” In as much as these are true, however, physical food is limited to nourishing the physical body, even though it is usually said that a healthy soul or mind dwells in a healthy body. While the physical food we eat nourishes the body, the spiritual food – the Body and Blood of Christ nourishes our soul, prepares and preserves it for eternity. The Eucharist does not only make the mind or soul fit to dwell in a healthy body, but also makes it worthy or fit to appear before its Lord and God. The Eucharist (Body and Blood of Christ) is the food that God has providentially made available to us in order to nourish us on our spiritual journey. This is why in the case of the sick or those critically sick, when it is administered it is referred to as “via ticum, that is, food for the journey.” The Eucharist is one way through which God’s abiding presence continues to be with us. What this means therefore is that whenever we eat this food worthily we welcome God’s presence and he remains with, and nourishes us. In light of this, our worship of Jesus in His Body and Blood calls us to offer to God our Father a pledge of undivided faith, love and an offering of ourselves to the service of others.
In the first reading of this Sunday, God nourished and sustained his chosen people Israel through their journey in the desert by giving them food (Manna) and drink from heaven. In this reading, Moses reminded his brethrens of how good God was to them, by caring for all their needs especially, by providing them manna from heaven: “He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna…Do not forget the Lord your God…who in this waterless place brought you water from the hardest rock; who in this wilderness fed you with manna that your fathers had not known.” In giving this food and drink to his people, God demonstrated his love for them, his willingness to see them through and of course, his ability to sustain them physically and spiritually. In like manner, in our own time God has given us his son Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He has given us the body and blood of Christ for the life of the world as well as for our own life too. This is why the Church describes the Holy Eucharist as the “Sacrament of Universal Salvation” It is given to us for the salvation of the entire world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (Jh 3, 16).
In the second reading Paul reminds us of the unity of the church orchestrated by sharing in the one Body and Blood of Christ. This is typical of what happens during the Eucharistic celebration, people, communities, races, and nations are united as they share in the Body and Blood of Christ. At every Mass our attention is called to the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ in it. The secondary focus of the feast of Corpus Christi which we celebrate today is upon the Body of Christ as it is present in the Church. The Church is called the Body of Christ because of the intimate communion which Jesus shares with his disciples. He expresses this in the gospels by using the metaphor of a body in which He is the head. This image helps keep in focus both the unity and the diversity of the Church. So each time we come together for the Eucharistic celebration, Christ makes himself available to us, he draws us closer to himself, unites us with one another as one body and He himself being the head of this one body. He equally offers himself to and for us, being both the victim and the priest.
In today’s gospel Jesus vehemently and fearlessly proclaimed: “I am the living bread…The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world…if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood; you will not have life in you.”  One of the most serious and grievous accusations leveled against Jesus Christ and the Early believers was cannibalism. It was on the instance and account of this truth proclaimed by Jesus in today’s gospel that the Jews based their argument and accusation against Christ. Even some of Christ’s disciples on hearing this deserted him. “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (Jn. 6:61). John says that after, many of His disciples stopped following Him altogether. Later on, the Romans (ca. 64- 313 AD) accused Christians of cannibalism, and that same charge has been made against Catholics in various ways ever since. Maybe, one of the most disconcerting and “scandalizing” Catholic doctrine is the “Real Presence” of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Many people and perhaps even Catholics with epileptic kind of faith today have the same reaction as those disciples who heard Jesus preach it for the first time in Capernaum and were scandalized. However, the truth is that as Christ has said it, His body is true food and his blood true wine. Nevertheless, it is different from the “ordinary food” we eat daily and the Manna that the Israelites eat in the desert and yet died because, “whoever eats the body and drinks the blood of the Son of Man will never die.” The Eucharist sustains our spiritual life, while the ordinary food we eat daily and the Manna that the Israelites eat sustains only the physical life which will definitely die.
According to Pope Francis, “The Eucharist is not just a weekly way of celebrating our faith, but should radically affect our relationship with others, especially with those most in need.” There are three ways of discovering how the Eucharist can make a real difference in our lives and in our relationships with those around us. The first is the way we look and behave towards people from all walks of life. Just as Christ loved to be with others and gave himself to all on the Cross, so we are called to give ourselves generously to our brothers and sisters, sharing in their joys and sorrows. Secondly, the Eucharist gives us the grace to feel forgiven and to be ready to forgive others. We go to Mass, not because we are worthy or want to appear better than others, but because we know that we always need God’s love and mercy that comes to us through the Body and Blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. Thirdly, the Eucharist affects the life of our Christian communities. It is from the Eucharist that we as a Church receive our identity and mission. It is not something we do simply to commemorate what Jesus did for us. Rather it is something that Christ does for us, filling us with grace and nourishing us with His own life. Therefore we must live and worship the Eucharistic Christ, in a spirit of faith and prayer, a spirit of forgiveness, joy and concern for all our brothers and sisters with whom “we form one single body.”
Peace be with you all!
Maranatha!!

 

Homily for Holy Trinity Sunday, Year A

Sharing in the Unity and Fellowship of the Trinitarian God
Readings: 1st: Ex 34, 4-6.8-9; Ps. (Dan 3, 52-56); 2nd: 2Cor 13: 11-13; Gos Jh 3: 16-18

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), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

On this Most Holy Trinity Sunday, our celebration is a song of praise to the Almighty God who has taken us up to share in the very life of the Trinity. Two of the most complete, heavily loaded, and yet very concise prayers and blessings are this: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you!” and “May the Almighty God bless you the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit. I call these Trinitarian formulas and fellowship. In these prayers, and blessings, the Trinitarian God unite to perform this function for which they are being consulted. Paul knew this and so, constantly employed this Trinitarian formula in concluding of most of his letters to the churches he wrote to (1 Cor, 16, 23; 2Cor 13, 14; Gal 6, 18; Phil 4, 2).
The doctrine of the Trinitarian God has over the centuries proved a very hard nut to crack, appreciate and understand for many. The first question that comes to mind at the very first encounter with this dogma and teaching is: “Three Persons in One God, how could this be? Indeed it provokes and should provoke such questions. However, this question becomes meaningful if only one could humble oneself and ask the Holy Spirit the Counselor of this “team” to teach him/her. It also calls for appreciating the limitedness of human reasoning as Saint Pope John Paul II the great taught in his encyclical Fides et ratio. This is because there are so many things that cannot be grasped by the human mind while it still subsists in the mortal body. In order words, by applying only human philosophy without faith on the dogma of the Trinity, one crashes completely. It also calls for faithful obedience in accepting what the Holy Mother Church’s Magisterium (the highest teaching authority) teaches on the Trinity. Definitively, she teaches that the Trinity is first a mystery and as such a Dogma which must be believed. This dogma on the Trinity could therefore be summed up as follows: “The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire…The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.” “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another…The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another (CCC253-255, p.82-83).
One of the simplest ways of explaining the mystery of the Trinity is that reportedly given by St Spyridon of Trimithund at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). According to tradition, when asked how it is that three can simultaneously be One, St Spyridon responded by taking up a brick and squeezing it. From the soft clay in his hands a flame showed up while simultaneously water flowed downwards. “As there is fire and water in this brick”, said St Spyridon, “in the same way there are three Persons in the one Godhead”. Also in another debate, one philosopher argued long and hard with the Fathers of the Council, trying to prove logically that the Son cannot be consubstantial with the Father. Exhausted by long debates and eager to leave, the Fathers were suddenly confronted by a simple elderly shepherd who announced that he was prepared to argue with the philosopher and disprove his arguments. Turning to the philosopher, the shepherd looked at him severely, and said: ‘Listen, O philosopher, God is one, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has created all things through the power of the Son and the operation of the Holy Spirit. This Son of God became incarnate, lived among people, died for us and rose again. Do not labour in vain to seek evidence for that which is comprehended by faith alone, but answer me: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” Struck by these words, the philosopher could only say, “I do’”. The shepherd said: “If you believe, and then let us go to the church and there I will bring you into communion with this true faith”. The philosopher immediately stood up and went with the shepherd. On his way out, he said to those present: “When people tried to convince me with words, I countered words with words; but when a divine power came forth from the mouth of this old man, then words were no match for this power, as man cannot contend against God.”
In the first reading we see the obedience and humility of Moses before God. This humility won not only him, but his fellow Israelites the favour of God. Here also, God proved that he is indeed a Father. This is because, although he was not happy with the ways of his chosen ones, he relented in his anger at Moses’ plea, forgave their faults, and continued. In the second reading, Paul encouraged the believers to “be united and live in peace.” And then, he concluded with his characteristic benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” In this Paul shows great interest in the unity of Christian community. In order words, by invoking the Trinitarian fellowship on them, he wishes that they emulate this fellowship and be united in heart and soul just in the way they are united. This is because, a divided family or community or people lack the fellowship of the Trinitarian God, and until they give this fellowship a chance they will continue as such. The gospel of today is a very popular one: “God sent his son so that through him the world might be saved.” This sending is one way through which we share in the Trinitarian Community. They keep coming to us to unite us and to make us be like them. The Trinitarian Community continues to seek fellowship with us because they wish that we be united as they do.
In conclusion, human words cannot convey the divine reality. God’s enlightenment and His grace are needed, for us to comprehend the Trinitarian theology. No terminology or formulation is adequate to communicate the Mystery of the Trinity. Yet the Christian faith is above all Trinitarian, and it is crucially important for every Christian to partake fully in this mystery. Therefore, for us Christians, Trinity is not an abstract theological concept instead, it is a reality which is to be believed and lived through. The Trinity is someone to whom we pray, but it is also a community, the communion of three in one, the family in whose image we build up our own human community. In appreciation of this fellowship and communion extended to us let us praise the Trinitarian God as we say: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha!!!