Homily for 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

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

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

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

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!!!