Cultivating a docile heart at Advent: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent

1st Sunday of Advent. December 1, 2019.

Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44

Cultivating a docile heart at Advent

I was both sad and surprised to hear from a parish priest that one of his female parishioners threatened to leave the Catholic Church because of what she described as a homophobic homily that I had preached in the parish some weeks earlier during Sunday Mass. What did I say in the homily that infuriated her so much? I had simply reminded the congregation that we Christians are first called in our sinful world today to radical conversion, closeness with Christ, and to pray and sacrifice for the conversion of other sinners. It so happened that the example that I had used to illustrate the need for our prayer and sacrifices was the many Gay Pride parades where our brothers and sisters boldly and obstinately flaunted and celebrated their homosexual lifestyles in the very face of God.

Three things about this parishioner and her threat to leave the Church because of a homily calling for conversion and prayers. First, she obviously came to Mass to worship God. Second, she wanted to worship God but she did not want to be instructed. Third, she left the Mass not with peace but with anger at challenging words of hopeful truth.

We too forfeit divine peace when we try to worship God without that docility that makes us ready and willing to be instructed, trained, formed, and led by God. Our worship of God, if it is authentic, is always accompanied by divine instruction, God summoning us to abandon our old selfish ways and to embrace lives more appropriate for life with Him. When we are docile enough to listen, learn, and respond to divine instructions, we become people of peace who radiate that peace to others.

The worshippers that the Prophet Isaiah prophesied will come from all the nations to the mount of Jerusalem to worship God in the temple were excited to both worship God and to be instructed by Him in His laws. They exclaimed, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths.” Israel was to be a nation wherein God instructed all the nations in living God-like lives, “For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The divine reward for their faithful worship and fidelity to God’s instructions was peace within and outside their borders, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

We worship our God present to us in Jesus Christ, the one who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His words of power.”(Heb 1:3) We are transformed by His Spirit into His image as we worship Him, “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”(2Cor 3:18) This same Spirit of transformation also instructs and inspires us to live like Christ and for Christ, “Anyone who has this hope in Him makes himself pure just as He is pure.”(1Jn 3:3) The Spirit leads us to participate in Christ’s own docility to the Father, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing on His own accord; but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise.”(Jn 5:19) Lastly, the Spirit brings us to be instruments of peace to the extent that we are docile to His instructions, “Peace be with you…Receive the Holy Spirit.”(Jn 20:21,22)

Advent is a time of waiting in expectant hope for the coming of Christ at the end of time. Sadly, we only think of Jesus Christ coming at “an hour we do not expect” because we think He really plans to sneak up on us when we least expect Him and find us unprepared. Will Jesus really be thrilled to catch us unprepared when He returns in glory? On the contrary, Christ comes to us at every moment of our lives to instruct us in our Christian life with Him so that we may be ready to welcome Him when He comes at the end of time.

We cannot wait in expectation for Christ if we do not desire His coming in glory; and we cannot desire His coming in glory if we are not docile in following the instructions that He offers us for Christ-centered and Christ-like living. This is why St. Paul counsels the Romans to prepare for Christ’s return by “casting out the works of darkness.., putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Advent is not just about waiting for Christ’s return but a period of training in docility to recognize and welcome Christ in His glorious return.

Jesus teaches that even Noah’s ark was meant to be instructive to the people of the time that there was a deluge to come, “For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” But they remained deaf to this instruction as they were engrossed in “eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”

My dear brothers and sisters who worship Christ as God in the flesh, we must never forget that our worship of God must be complemented by our docility to His instructions to us. The living God we worship is constantly instructing us through His inspirations and words, through our time of prayer, the authoritative teaching of the Church, the gentle promptings of our well-formed consciences, and the events and circumstances of our lives. He does all this because He wants us to have His peace in our hearts and in our world through our hearts, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you.”(Jn 14:27)

One sad phenomenon in the Church today is a reluctance to instruct in love. We clergy are so caught up with public opinion and acceptance that we dare not instruct the flock entrusted to our care with the sound teachings of the Church. The many heretical teachings from clergy should make us question how much of our Lord’s instructions we even believe in the first place. The flock too today appear to have become allergic to any form of challenging instructions concerning faith and morals that is in line with scripture and tradition. We are more concerned in affirming and accepting ourselves no matter our lifestyles that we lose the sense of the Transcendent One in our midst and the duty we owe to Him, “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”(Jn 5:44)

The Church is always Mater et Magister, our faithful Mother and Teacher. But with our reluctance and refusal to instruct properly, the Church fails to evangelize the culture and has become as confused as the culture itself. We appear to be a worshipping Church that lacks docility and openness to divine instructions. The lingering financial and sexual scandals show us that the Church is fast forfeiting that peace that Christ won for her.

Jesus, our Teacher, commanded us thus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”(Mt 28:19,20) He never said that we or our teaching would be accepted and applauded by the world. He never said that we would live up perfectly to what we teach either, even though we ought to do so. But He offers us His mercy and grace to continue to instruct others by words and actions about Him and His saving Gospel until He returns in glory.

The Eucharist is of course the perfect worship of the Church, a participation in Christ’s own perfect worship, the place where we are instructed by Him who is the source of “grace and truth.”(Jn 1:17) If we still lack peace in our hearts, families, Church and communities, if we fail to communicate this peace to others, then we must pause and ask ourselves how docile we are to divine instructions as we worship God in this Mass.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

 

 

 

 

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Is Jesus Christ truly my king? A homily for the Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe.

 

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, King of the Universe. November 24, 2019.

2Sam 5:1-3; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

 

Is Jesus Christ truly my king?

The image of Christ, King of the Universe, played a central role in my vocation story. I had sensed the call to quit my telecoms job, go to the seminary and begin my formation for priesthood in our religious congregation. The word that featured most in my prayer then was “My.” I constantly lamented to God about my life, my plans, my dream job that I believed I had then, my desires, my abilities and achievements, my family and their expectations, my comfort, my reputation, etc. It was an endless my this, my that during that period of discernment.

Then this question came to me during prayer: Is Jesus Christ truly my King and Lord? It was easy to say Yes to that question but my self-centered prayer and my fixation on all my “My’s” showed that Jesus was indeed very far from being my true king. If Jesus is indeed my King, He owns all things and I too belong to Him completely, together with all that I have and am. It was only when this truth went from my head to my heart that I had the freedom and courage to embark on my journey to the priesthood and religious life.

St. Paul reminded the Colossians why Christ is truly the King of the Universe. He is truly King first of all because of His divine nature, “For in Him all the fullness was pleased to dwell.” He is King also because He owns all things, “For in Him were created all things in haven and on earth, the invisible and the visible; all things were created through Him and for Him.” Lastly, He is King because He also freely chose to die for us on the cross to redeem us from the bondage of sin and death and bring us into His own kingdom, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”

Because Christ, the King of the Universe by His very nature, the one who owns all things, has also freely chosen in love to be our Redeemer by the “blood of His cross,” and thus to make us His own, we too must freely choose Christ as our Sovereign king. This means that we must freely choose to belong to Him completely together with all that we have and are. We must freely choose to depend on Him for every need. We must freely choose to submit to Him and to please Him in all things by our loving obedience to Him. We must freely choose to do all in our power to extend His reign in our world.

What do we gain when we go beyond lip service and freely submit to Christ as our king? We gain the powerful freedom of God’s children, “To all those who received Him, who believed in His name, he gave power to become children of God.”(Jn 1:12) Freedom, God’s most gracious gift to us, is the power to choose God and His will for us always in our world and to do so with love. When Jesus Christ truly becomes our king, we share in the very freedom of Christ and the power that it bears.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we see this lack of inner freedom in our world today with disastrous consequences. I recently read the touching story of Lamar Odom, a two-time NBA champion, Olympic medalist, and reality TV star, who had been struggling many years with drug and pornography addiction. He had become so addicted to pornography that he lost the freedom to control himself. His story reminded me of what happens to us when we are so fixated on safeguarding and controlling our “my’s,” forgetting that Christ owns and guides it all.

Lamar’s current fiancée, life coach Sabrina Parr, forced him to make a choice between her and his pornography addiction because she could not accept his out of control behavior anymore. Lamar chose to remain with his girlfriend and fight his addiction with her help. He had a choice to make and he wisely chose to love another human being instead of indulging in his addictions. This choice to truly love another person and to make God the center of his life set him on his journey of freedom. He said,

“God brought me back, hopefully for me to tell my testimony and help as many people I can. Just by sharing my story and telling them that they can overcome anything if they put God first and family first and I’m living proof of that.”

If a choice for another human person, a love that is always imperfect, can empower a person to set out on a determined course for inner freedom, how much more power for freedom will we have when we truly choose to belong to Christ, the King of Love. Jesus Christ is our king who wants us to be truly free as He is free, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to proclaim liberty to captives.”(Lk 4:18)

Sometimes we think that Jesus has come to take away or deprive of all that we hold dear. Then we lament about my this and my that. But in truth, Christ longs to free us from all that takes away or hinders our inner freedom and to “deliver us from the power of darkness.” Despite our ongoing struggle with sin now, we are already in the kingdom of Christ and enjoying the “glorious freedom of the children of God.” Yet we are called to grow in this freedom by freely choosing Christ as our king constantly over sin and selfishness.

St. Luke’s account of the Crucifixion shows us the power of Jesus’ freedom as He hangs on the cross. He cannot be tempted to prove Himself by coming down from the cross. They shouted at Him repeatedly, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the chosen one, the Christ of God,” “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” But Jesus did not think of anything that belonged to Him but only focused on what leads to the Father’s glory and our eternal good.

Jesus on the cross received two prayer requests. The first one was from the thief who reviled Him, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” This thief only wanted relief from his suffering and he did not want to belong to Christ as King at all. We make such prayer requests too when we beg Jesus to save us from our sufferings and trials in this life but we are not ready to belong to Him as our King. Notice that Jesus does not give any answer to such prayer from the thief or from us.

The second request was from the good thief, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This thief was not just looking for relief from his suffering but he was actually longing to remain with Christ in His kingdom. Jesus, in the throes of death, replied to this prayer with painful gasps, “Amen, today you will be with me in paradise.” He thus set this thief free from both temporal suffering and eternal death.

The King of Kings freely offers us Himself today in this Eucharist. He freely shed His blood that we belong to Him. He also asks us to make a free choice: Are we going to freely belong to Him as our King or are we going to continue pretending to be our own kings?

Jesus owns all things, including us and all that we have and are; but as King of love, He will never force us to submit to His kingship. He will only continue to invite us to abandon our self-centered thinking, our constant my this, my that, etc. What would we gain by freely accepting to belong to Him as our sovereign king? We will surely participate in that powerful freedom of Christ that conquers all things, even sin and death itself.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Pachamama and the crisis of fatherhood in the Church today

Pachamama and the crisis of fatherhood in the Church today.

Sheila (not her real name) had a very difficult time relating to the image of God as her faithful Father. She could accept God the Father as Creator of all things. But she just could not accept the idea of a Father-God who would remain faithful to her in her trials and difficulties, who would forgive her sins, love her personally, and accept her in her weakness. Hence, she could not bring herself to trust in God. She suffered consistent panic attacks and would find it hard to trust anybody.

She only recently came to discover why she felt that way about God as faithful Father. It was connected to a very painful experience that she had with her father while growing up. She had come home from her high school unexpectedly one morning only to find her father in the arms of a woman who was not her mother. Her father begged her not to reveal his sordid affair with this strange woman to her mother who was out of town then.

Sheila accepted to keep it a secret. She was torn between loyalty to her mother and her father whom she had trusted so much as her faithful father and a loving husband to her mother. No matter the intention of her father for his adulterous act that faithful day, Sheila could hardly look him in the eyes any more or believe what he said to her. She could hardly trust him or his actions again. She also felt she betrayed her mother too. And most importantly, she lost the sense of God as a loving and faithful father who would never do or permit anything to hurt his children.

Sheila’s story is not unique. There are countless stories like hers in which the terrible actions of fathers have tarnished or destroyed the seed of faith of their children in a faithful and personal God, a precious seed that was planted in baptism. The earthly father whose role was to honor and cherish his only wife and to hold her up to his children as their only mother chose rather to bring home a woman whom the children neither knew nor accepted as their mother.

There has been a lot of stories recently of the Pachamama statues that were present at the opening and closing of the just-concluded Amazon Synod in Rome. A viral video showed some of the faithful and religious bowing to these statues at the beginning of the Synod during a ritual in the Vatican Gardens. Some of these statues were placed in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Traspontina. A later viral video shows the same statues being surreptitiously taken from the Church by some men and dumped into the Tiber a few days ago. Pope Francis then apologized to those offended by the act and announced that the statues had been found and would be in the closing mass of the synod.

What exactly are these statues that are causing so much confusion in the Church? Some say Pachamama represents “Mother Earth.” Some say that she is an image of fertility. Some say that she is our Lady of the Amazon. Some say that it is an image of a fertility goddess. Then Pope Francis referred to her as Pachamama.

But Brazilian Bishop Emeritus José Luis Hermoso shed a somber light on the ambivalent nature of these statues when he described them as “scandalous, demonic sacrilege.” He stated that

“Pachamama is not and never will be the Virgin Mary. To say that this statue represents the Virgin is a lie. She is not Our Lady of the Amazon because the only Lady of the Amazon is Mary of Nazareth. Let’s not create syncretistic mixtures. All of that is impossible: the Mother of God is the Queen of Heaven and earth.” 

Well, whatever or whoever these statues may be, or what they are called or what they represent, they do not belong in any Catholic Church. Authentic Catholic sensibility cannot accept them in any way as symbolic or expressive of motherhood in the Church. We recognize the Catholic Church as our true Mother, from whom we receive truth and sacramental grace from our birth till death. Catholics look to Mother Mary as the perfect image of the Church, both in her fidelity to Christ during her earthly journey and in her glorious union with Christ in heaven. To try to introduce another pseudo-mother under the guise of Pachamama is an affront on the Catholic faith and an unpardonable lack of sensitivity to Catholic mentality.

In his apology to those who were offended by the dumping of the statues into the Tiber, the Pontiff said that the statues were placed in the Church “without idolatrous intentions.” The intent may not be idolatrous but the action has the same effects as idolatry. The statues fails to uphold that Christ has one bride alone – the Catholic Church. The statues divide and distract from the fidelity that we should have towards God alone in the Church. To insist on having the statues placed in a Church again after they had been removed and dumped into the Tiber is to grossly neglect one’s duty as a father whose role is to point his children in faith towards the Church as her only mother. No matter the intent, imposing these statues wounds our faith and negatively impacts our image of God as a loving and faithful Father who offers us communion with Him in Jesus Christ His Son in and through the Catholic Church.

To further exemplify this crisis in fatherhood in the Church today, prayers are now being offered to Pachamama, prayers being proposed by those pastors who are called by Christ to confirm and strengthen the faithful in their faith. One such prayer is the following prayer published by the Italian Episcopal Conference before the synod:

“Pachamama of these places, drink and eat this offering at will, so that this earth may be fruitful. Pachamama, good Mother, be favorable! Be favorable! Make that the oxen walk well, and that they not become tired. Make that the seed sprout well, that nothing bad may happen to it, that the cold may not destroy it, that it produce good food. We ask this from you: give us everything. Be favorable! Be favorable!”

As a Catholic priest from Africa whose grandfather was a pagan priest, I know very well how prevalent idols were in my native country of Nigeria before the advent of the Christian missionaries. We had idols for fertility, for good crops produces, for vengeance on one’s enemies, for good weather, etc. You name it, we had the idol for that.

I think back in great admiration and gratitude to the missionaries, many of whom were Irish, who evangelized us Africans because these missionaries were spiritual fathers in the truest sense. They had sufficient Catholic sensitivity not to bring any of these our idolatrous statues into a Catholic Church for whatever reason. They courageously demanded that our ancestors completely forsake these statues and to receive baptism into the Church, Christ’s only bride. Our ancestors were also asked to abandon polygamy for monogamy because Christ had only one bride, the Church. They accepted this Christian way of life with great personal costs, even though having many wives and children was seen then as a sign of immense blessing from God.

The missionaries also taught us the beauty of the Catholic faith that was so foreign to us then. They pointed us to Mary, Mother of God, as our Mother in the faith, who gave us life by her fiat at the Annunciation when she brought Jesus Christ into the world. Mary united herself with Jesus on the cross so that we, her children, may have a share in the life of Christ. Mary is also our only Mother who shows us what the Church ought to be in following Christ. The missionaries taught us how to honor Mary in imitation of Christ, imitate her virtues, and pray to her in all our needs.

The awesome thing was that as we followed their teaching in this regard, we began to hear Mary’s voice too telling us, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”(Jn 2:5) We began to forsake our idols and evil practices to embrace the Catholic faith with its demands and joys. Prompted by Mary’s words and examples, many of us embraced the celibate life and Catholic priesthood, completely giving up marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. One cannot speak of the spread of the faith in Africa or the growth of priestly and religious vocation in Africa today without the role of a true devotion to Mary. But once we take our eyes and hearts away from Mary, we lose the sense of the Church as our only mother and then we multiply our idolatrous Pachamamas.

What we need in the Church today is not another mother, whether it is called Pachamama, “Mother earth,” or whatever. We definitely do not need to adopt Pachamamas into the Church. The Church is our Mother already, the only one we have, love, and recognize; and Jesus is not a polygamist!!! We need to bring the fullness of the faith to the world, including the Amazon. Assuredly if we present the fullness of the faith to them, making them look to Mary as their own mother too, her perennial words will echo in their hearts, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.” When these words are heeded faithfully, the Christian faith grows and spreads and vocations to the priesthood and religious life thrive as it did in Africa.

What we need are spiritual fathers in the truest sense of the world, i.e. deacons, priests, bishops and hierarchy members who put aside worldly ideologies for the sake of communicating saving truth and grace to the faithful. We need fathers who present the fullness of the faith by words and actions, who strive to safeguard and strengthen the already fragile and wounded faith of the flock entrusted to them. We need fathers who do not live by their own opinions or public opinions, but who echo the words of Jesus, “My teaching is not my own,”(Jn 7:16) and who are ready to point out to all people and all times the one bride of Christ, the Catholic Church.

Until we have such faithful fathers, we will have many more idolatrous pachamamas brought into the Church by our spiritual fathers. Consequently, our faithful will find it hard to look us in the eyes and trust us because we do not show them their one and true mother – the Church, perfectly modeled by Mother Mary. As long as such faithful and prudent fathers are lacking in the Church, it will be difficult if not impossible for many of our faithful to see God as a loving and faithful father.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

 

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Why we must grow in our faith today: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 6, 2019.

Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2Tim 1:6-8,13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Why we must grow in our faith today

“Increase our faith.”

Jesus had just assured His disciples of the inevitability of temptations and the severe consequences of scandalous behavior:

Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.(Lk 17:1-2)

The disciples, probably sensing their need for a stronger faith to overcome these temptations and avoid the consequences of scandals, belted out their response, “Lord, increase our faith!” They acknowledged the gift of faith in their lives; but they also realized that this faith had to grow if they were going to triumph over temptations and avoid scandalous behaviors.

We all know fellow Catholics who have fallen away from the faith for several reasons. Their departure from the faith may be due to the scandals in the Church, bad experiences within the Church, poor preaching and catechesis, severe hardships and painful tragedies in life, being uncomfortable with Church teachings, poor liturgy, or they just slowly drifted away.

The bottom line in these departures from the faith is that their Catholic faith failed to grow as their trials and temptations deepened and continued. If the gift of our divine and Catholic faith that we received at baptism does not grow constantly, in good times and bad times, it would surely die in the face of the temptations and hardships of life.

Let us consider five ways in which we can grow constantly in our faith in the face of all the temptations and trials of life that shake the foundations of our faith.

First, be grateful for the gift of faith. We lose our faith when we take it for granted. When we are not grateful for the fullness of the means of salvation found in our faith, then we become complacent in preserving our faith, giving witness to that faith, and in growing in that faith. We begin to compromise with sin and ignore its deadly power to corrode our faith.

Second, be constant in prayer, begging Jesus to increase our faith. God may never give us what we ask for in prayer; but He never fails to strengthen our faith as we call out to Him day and night. Faith matures in a climate of prayer because faith is a lived relationship with God that is based on who God is, what He has done, and what He has revealed to us in Jesus Christ and in His Church, the Catholic Church. We too ought to cry out constantly like the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith!” We must both acknowledge our faith and beg God to increase it just like the father of the possessed boy who cried out to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”(Mk 9:23)

Third, we must speak words of faith. Jesus responded to the request of His disciples by asking them to speak words of faith to the obstacles and challenges that they face in life, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Our faith matures when we speak words that show we still believe in the power, love and wisdom of God even in the face of adversities. But our faith withers and dies when our words show signs of doubt in God, in His love for us, and His power and wisdom.

Fourth, we seek to serve God unconditionally in others. We must see ourselves as “unprofitable servants,” who serve God in others always, whether we are performing the tedious tasks of “plowing or tending sheep,” or the less stressful tasks of “waiting at table.” Our faith grows as we respond to the prompting of divine love to serve God in others, “Faith without works is dead.”(Jame 2:17)

Fifth, we strive to obey God in all things, irrespective of the pains or gains. Our faith matures as we do, not what we like to do or what others expect us to do, but “all that God has commanded us to do.” A life of loving obedience to God is the catalyst for an insurmountable faith.

It is not easy for us to grow in our faith constantly; we need the gentle prompting and strength of the Holy Spirit for the cultivation of such a vibrant faith. That is why St. Paul reminds Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God,” the Holy Spirit, so that he can experience the only thing that overcomes sin and scandals – the Spirit’s “power and love and self-control.” By these tangible benefits of the Holy Spirit, Timothy can overcome “being ashamed of his testimony to our Lord,” he can “bear his share of hardship for the gospel,” and also “guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within him.” The Spirit is indeed given to us to live and witness to our faith to the fullness and with boldness in all times and seasons.

Today there is a certain tendency to appeal to a nebulous “following of the Spirit” that at the same time denies and subtly rejects the very traditional tenets of the faith. In the name of “listening to the Spirit,” we are now called to doubt and question everything that we believed and held true as divinely revealed. Holy Communion is being offered to people who are living in mortal sin of adultery. Fr. James Martin SJ is going around the world saying that we should go beyond merely accepting persons with homosexual tendencies but now even begin to accept these sinful acts as beautiful and wholesome things. Then Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the general relator of the ongoing Amazonian synod, downplays the primacy of divine revelation when he tried to justify the controversial synod’s Instrumentum laboris by saying it is a call to listen to the “voice of the earth.” Even Pope Francis is quick to label faithful clergy as being rigid simply because they stand for the timeless faith and would not attempt to naively “follow a spirit” that is contrary to that which has been revealed and held for over 2000 years.

Where is the sense of gratitude we should have for the Lord who died and rose from the grave that we may have a relationship with Him and the Father in the Holy Spirit by faith? What of the gratitude we owe to those saints and martyrs who held on to the faith and suffered martyrdom just to hand on that faith to us? In our utter ingratitude for the gift of faith, we seem to be saying today, “Lord, change our faith!” instead of “Lord, increase our faith!” Why aren’t our words showing that we believe in God and all that He has revealed to us when we face hardships and trials? Where is that obedience to God and dutiful service to the truth before all that makes our faith triumph over all adversities?

These are the scandalous and sinful times when our faith is being put to the test. Many are losing their faith in Christ and in His Church. Jesus Christ sent us His Spirit for the reason of “guiding us to all truth,” and to “declare to us all that in Jesus.”(Jn 16:13,15) so that we live out our faith with courage and fidelity in scandalous times like these. His Spirit is not given to us to dispense us from the tenets and teaching of the faith and morals. The Spirit makes our faith alive and vibrant, constantly growing through all that we face in this life, personally and in the communion of the Church.

Jesus Christ, whom we approach today with the gift of our Eucharistic faith, is forever the “author and perfecter of our faith.”(Heb 12:2) Let us first of all thank Him continuously for the gift of this faith. He constantly communicates to us His own Spirit to intensify and purify our faith. When He asked us, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”(Lk 18:8), He is asking us if our faith in Him and His words will grow constantly till He returns in glory or are we going to mock, reject, and falsify the faith to fit our changing times? Should we choose to let our faith grow constantly, there is nothing that our faith cannot overcome, even the sins and scandalous behaviors and teachings in our Church today.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Lazarus, Dives and the Four Last Things: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 29, 2019.

Amos 6:1,4-7; 1Tim 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

Lazarus, Dives, and the Four Last Things

“My child, remember you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, why did Lazarus end up in heaven and Dives, the rich man, end up in the torments of hell? There is nothing wrong or evil in having wealth and comfort that would condemn the rich Dives to hell. And there is nothing good about being poor and being deprived of the basic necessities of life that would automatically win heaven for the poor Lazarus. So why does Abraham say to Dives, “My child, remember you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad.”

In their Thanksgiving prayer after each Mass in the convents of the Missionaries of Charity, the sisters usually recite a prayer to Mary, the Mother of God, which has a particularly striking line, “Bless your own Missionaries of Charity. Help us to the do all the good we can.” After the reception of the greatest blessing, Christ Himself in Holy Communion, the sisters pray that they may never omit any good that they can do for the greater glory of God and for the good of others.

Dives lacked this desire and firm resolve to do all the good that he could with the blessings that God offered to him. He neglected the numerous possible goods that he could have done for Lazarus with the blessings that he had received from God. He was not expected to solve all Lazarus’ problems but to do some good to him. Having omitted the one good that he could and should have done, he ended up in hell, the place of endless and unremitting torture.

On his part Lazarus entered heaven because he patiently endured the evil that he could not change or avoid. He shows silent endurance in life as well as silence in paradise when Dives is still trying to boss him around, “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue… Send Lazarus to my brothers to warn them lest they too come to this place of torment.” Lazarus does not let his sufferings in life separate him from God or diminish his trust in God. His friendship with Abraham here on earth despite his deprivations prepares him to be at Abraham’s bosom in paradise.

Our spiritual life orients us to heaven and away from hell when we are ready to use all God’s blessings to do all the good that we can do and to patiently endure all the evils that we cannot change, overcome, or avoid.  In our secular and materialistic times, we are constantly tempted to reduce our Christian life to merely receiving and enjoying good things and avoiding bad things. Let us be certain: we are made for God, to be with Him forever in heaven, whether we receive good or bad things in this life.

Thus our Christian life is all about receiving with faith the innumerable riches offered to us in Jesus Christ and preparing ourselves and others to face the Four Last things – death, judgement, heaven and hell. The certainty of our own death reminds us that time is short and that this is the moment to do all the good we can and endure unavoidable evils. Judgement reminds us that the God who has bestowed His blessings on us will subject each and every one of us to strict personal account of how we have made use of His gifts during the time allotted to us. Our goal is to enter heaven and avoid hell by doing all the good we can by the grace of God as we endure the evils of this life. We cannot afford to neglect any doable good or succumb to any avoidable or surmountable evils if we are going to be in heaven.

We walk the path to hell when we willfully ignore the good that divine providence places in our path, reveals to us, and moves us to fulfill. That is why we beg for forgiveness for all our omissions in the Confiteor at Mass, “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”

St. Paul writes to Timothy, reminding him that his primary vocation is not just to be bishop, but to attain eternal life, “Lay hold to eternal life, to which you were called when you made the confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Timothy will journey along the path to eternal life as long as he does not omit any of the commandments, “Keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is to focus on Christ and draw strength from Him because Jesus “gave testimony before Pontus Pilate for the noble profession.” Jesus is that “faithful witness,”(Rev 1:5) who did the good of proclaiming the truth even when His life was at stake. Like Him, we too enter into life by doing the good we can and enduring what comes our way.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how firmly resolved are we to do all the good we can today for the greater glory of God and for the good of our neighbors? How are we succumbing to the prevailing tendency today to pick and choose only those commandments or teachings of Christ that appeal to us and rejecting those that are difficult or unpopular in our culture today?

We have an example of this willful omitting of the good to be done that is right before us when we all jump on the climate change bandwagon while we yawn in unpardonable indifference as babies are being aborted and their intact and severed body parts are being sold by biotech companies like StemExpress. We easily look the other way as abortionists like the late Ulrich Klopfer store remains of thousands of murdered babies like trophies in the home. We unreflectingly pretend to care for the environment while being indifferent to the brutal slaughter and selling of the parts of the unborn who are ironically meant to be the due inheritors of the environment from us.

We must also ask ourselves how ready and willing are we to endure for the sake of Christ what we cannot change, overcome, or avoid in life. How ready and willing are we to endure nagging temptations, addictions, persecutions, insults, inner struggles, sickness, repeated failures, suffering and death of loved ones, conflict with loved ones, etc.?

We need to ponder and reflect on the Four Last Things constantly so that we strive to overcome any indifference towards the good to be done now or to become so self-indulgent to the point that we do not endure anything for Christ in this life. The Four Last Things remind us that hell and heaven are final destinations. There is no migration from one to the other as Abraham stated in the parable, “A great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”

This is the time that God pours His blessings on us – graces of the Holy Spirit that can do and endure all things, divine mercy that forgives all sins, truth that sets us free, desires to serve others, the companionship and support of Mama Mary, the Saints and angels, talents and gifts that can bring hope and joy to many people, and, of course, the gift of time to make amends and begin again. How we make use of these blessings now will determine our eternal destiny.

The Eucharist we receive is the greatest of God’s blessings because it is the gift of Himself. This sacramental grace enlightens us to the good to be done here and now as well as the grace to do so and endure all evils. If we are going to use these blessings well, we must ask ourselves the following questions adapted from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

What good have I done and what evil have I endured for Christ in the past?

What good am I doing now and what evil am I enduring now for Christ?

What good will I do now and what evil will I endure for Christ in the future?

Our honest answer to these questions will determine if we will face the Four Last Things with confidence in Christ and enter into heaven or not.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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Taking the first step back to God: A homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 15, 2019.

Ex 32:7-11,13-14; 1Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

 

Taking the first step back to God

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

The last few months have been particularly trying and painful for Catholics around the world. There are numerous credible accusations of clergy sexual abuse and cover up for other abusers in the clerical state. An influential American Cardinal, apparently well known among the hierarchy for his sordid history of sexually molesting young men and seminarians, is reduced to the lay state and banished to a monastery.

As this disgraceful saga continues in the Church, the Church is losing many of her faithful children. Even her staunch defenders are doubting what they have come to believe about the Church all their lives. The Church is also fast losing its ability to attract converts to the faith.

In the midst of this saga and its devastating impact on souls and amidst all the talk about accountability in the Church, one thing that we have never heard, and may never hear from the Church, is a statement of personal responsibility for this mess. No one has had the honesty and courage to say even once, “What I did was wrong and I am responsible for that.” Even as bishops and cardinals resign and priests are taken out of active ministry on supposedly “health” grounds, there is little or no admittance of wrong and personal responsibility.

Why is it very important to admit wrong that we do and take responsibility for it? Because this is the very first step in the journey back to God. In the words of John Paul the Great:

“To acknowledge one’s sin, indeed penetrating still more deeply into the consideration of one’s own personhood to recognize oneself as a sinner, capable of sins and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God.” (Reconciliation and Penance #13)

St. Luke’s Gospel gives us three parables in a row about the mercy of God. The first two parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin show us God’s love for every single one of us. In Jesus Christ, God is the one who “goes after the lost one until He finds it,” and who “brings the lost home rejoicing.” But in these two parables, there is no dimension of personal responsibility on the part of the lost and found sheep and coin.

But the parable of the Prodigal Son is different because the younger son first of all faces himself in his financial and moral brokenness and takes responsibility for his own sinful actions and its consequences, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He does not pretend or blame his older brother or father for his behavior. This humble acknowledgement is his very step in his journey back to the Father, “So he got up and went back to the Father.”

He humbly and publicly acknowledges his sin and personal responsibility again before his father and his servants, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” That is all his father needs to hear and he forgives him and restores to him all that he lost and more, “Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” The returning son comes to experience deeply the generous heart of the father like he never knew before.

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, does not put on airs about his personal sanctity, but he is brutally honest about his own sinful actions and his personal responsibility for them, “I was once a blasphemer and persecutor, and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” This honest acknowledgement opens him to receive the merciful love of Jesus who “came into the world to save sinners.” Having been saved by the mercy of God, He is thus strengthened to live his life and ministry to the greater glory and honor of God.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us never think that we are the ones who suddenly repent of our sins and return to God, begging for forgiveness. No, on the contrary, we return to God because God constantly seeks for us to bring us back to Him. He enlightens our conscience and moves us to take the first step in returning to Him. He thus relentlessly searches for us at every single moment because He “has prepared a place for us and He wants to take us to Himself.”(Jn 14:3) It is in our returning to Him at every moment, no matter our sins and their consequences, that we can really know the true heart of God. But the first step that we must take on this journey home is to acknowledge the gravity of our sins and to accept responsibility for it.

We speak so much about the mercy of God today without being ready to take this first step back to Him. We first of all pretend that what we are doing is not sinful and that we can even justify it sometimes. This pretense is manifested when we deny moral absolutes, acts that are always and everywhere sinful, no matter the circumstances or the intentions of the actor. We arrogantly pretend that we can determine when God’s unchanging commandments apply and when they do not.

Even when we admit the sinfulness of our actions, we readily blame others for our sins. Children blame their peers for their sinful actions, spouses blame each other for their failed marriages, priests and bishops are busy blaming each other for their sexual perversions, and some even blame God for the deviant sexual orientation and choices that they have come to embrace in life.

Ultimately, when we pretend, justify, or blame others for our own failings, the healing love and mercy cannot flow from the heart of Jesus into His Church and the Church and her members remain spiritually impotent. Remember,

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”(1Jn 1:5-10)

If God’s truth, the only thing that “sets us free,”(Jn 8:32) is not in us because of our persistent self-deceit, how then can we be free enough to give ourselves to God and to others in selfless service? How can we hope to be courageous witnesses to the Gospel when we lack this inner freedom?

Moses stood before God to beg for mercy for his rebellious compatriots after they made the golden calf. Moses did not try to pretend that what they did was right. Neither did he blame their pagan neighbors for their own idolatrous behavior. He appealed to the mercy of God and His promises to the patriarchs, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and all this land that I promised I will give their descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” He thus won divine mercy for His people.

All God’s promises in the Scriptures are fulfilled for us ultimately in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for us sinners, “In this God proved His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom 5:8) He has freely shed His blood for us and thus we belong to Him now more than sheep belong the shepherd or coins to a woman. Thus He will never stop searching for us until He finds us and brings us to Himself.

Jesus’ unrelenting search for us continues in this Eucharist where He renews His own sacrifice on this altar, to bring us closer to His own heart of love. He wants to heal and transform our broken world through us. His grace in this Eucharist is both light and strength to make that journey back to Him at every moment of our lives. Let us begin again and again our journey back to Him, always ready to take the very first step of acknowledging our sins and personal responsibility, and honestly saying, “Lord, I have sinned against you.”

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

 

 

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Making constant sacrifices in our Christian vocation: A homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 8, 2019.

Wis 9:13-18; Phlm 9-10,12-17; Lk 14:25-33

Making constant sacrifices in our Christian vocation.

 

Venerable Fulton Sheen made a commitment to spend a Holy Hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament every single day of his life as a seminarian, priest, and bishop. His faithfulness to this resolution despite the hectic duties as bishop made him one of the most impactful bishops in the history of the Church in America and one whose messages remain relevant today.

St. Teresa of Calcutta persevered faithfully in her daily prayer despite the lack of the sensible presence of God during her prayer. She still continued to joyfully serve the poorest of the poor and to radiate hope to many people. Today she has her Missionaries of Charity sisters in virtually all the countries of the world.

These examples and many others like them in the Church’s history prove that we serve as channels of divine power and consolation to our world when we are ready to make constant sacrifices to belong to God completely and to follow Jesus faithfully to the very end. In making these sacrifices, we are ready to freely let go of that which is wholesome and good in itself for the sake of something higher, bearing in mind that there is nothing higher than belonging to God completely and following Christ faithfully.

It is this spirit of constant sacrifices out of love for Christ that dispose us to receive the inner peace and strength of Jesus as attested by St. Paul, “For as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in His consolation. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”(2Cor 1:5,6) Jesus Christ Himself consoles and strengthens us and others through us as we freely make sacrifices so as to belong to Him completely and follow Him more faithfully.

The Gospel tells us that “great crowds were following Jesus.” Most probably they sought to follow Him without this indispensable readiness for constant sacrifice. More than being followed by “great crowds,” Jesus desires that we follow Him with large hearts, that we be always ready to sacrifice even the natural family bonds so as to be His faithful companions, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus uses the word “hate” to mean that, as His disciples, the ultimate aim of our lives cannot be to please ourselves or others. Because “we have only one Master, the Christ,”(Mt 23:10) we must seek to please Christ ultimately, even if it means not meeting our expectations or those of our loved ones. Behind every suffering that we face is a divine invitation to sacrifice something to please God alone, “Whoever does not carry His own cross and follow after me cannot be my disciple.”

We are to “sit down and count the cost first,” reflecting on whether we are ready for the constant sacrifices that Christian discipleship demands from us. Since we can never envisage what following Jesus Christ is going to entail or what sacrifices He will ask us to make in the future, our honest self-evaluation must lead to our freely “renouncing all our possessions” if we are going to be His faithful disciples to the very end.

Jesus’ earthly life was one continuous act of sacrifice from the crib to the tomb. He, “in whom dwells the fullness of divinity,”(Col 2:9) did not seek to please Himself but the Father, “I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:29) He who had “more than twelve legions of Angels” at His ready disposal to rescue Him from His captors in Gethsemane chose rather to surrender because He wanted to please the Father, “Your will be done.”(Mt 26:53,39) It was through this constant sacrifice that He brought this divine power and consolation into the world.

So we need frequent encounters in our world today where we can be in communion with the person of Christ as well as participate in His life-giving sacrifice. The Catechism points to the Eucharist as the divinely ordained locus of such encounters, “In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes the sacrifice of His Body.”(CCC 1368) When we unite the painful situations of our lives to our Eucharistic Savior, we draw from His own sacrifice the grace to sacrifice all so as to please God, belong to Him completely above all things, follow Him faithfully, and bring divine power and hope into the Church and the world.

Many of us are trying to follow Christ today without cultivating a spirit of sacrifice. We shy away from anything that threatens our comfort and security and become “enemies of the cross of Christ.”(Phil 3:18) We only give ourselves to God and others as long as we do not experience pain or hurt.

Though Jesus offers us this spirit of sacrifice through the Eucharist, a recent survey show that many of us deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist and thus live without participating in the one eternal sacrifice of Christ made present on our altars. We strive to make sacrifices on our strength, and we end up frustrated and angry at our efforts and results.

On a much deeper level, some believe in the Real Presence but approach the Eucharist as only a meal and not a sacrifice. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recently linked the Church’s sexual abuse scandals to this attitude of reducing the Mass to a mere ceremonial gesture. He said, “The way people often receive the Holy Sacrament in communion as a matter of course shows that many see communion as a purely ceremonial gesture.”

When we fail to be grounded in our faith in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, when we ignore the sacrificial nature of the Mass and deny its ability to bring us into the life-giving sacrifice of Christ, we lack inner strength and hope for the journey and we fail to bring this strength and hope to others. We lack the power to endure the trials in our vocations in life. This explains the widespread loss of faith in our times, broken vows and promises in marriages, priesthood, and religious life, and the spread of evil in the Church today as evident in the painful clergy sexual abuse scandals.

We must be sure about this: Jesus did not come into this world to please us but to bring us to make the necessary sacrifices to belong to the Father and please Him alone. He did not please Himself too though He had the power to do so. He did not even live to please Mary, His Mother. When He was lost in the temple for three days, she asked Him why His behavior did not meet her expectations of Him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been searching for you anxiously.” Jesus brought her to see that it was neither about her nor St. Joseph but about the Heavenly Father, “Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business.” (Lk 2:47,49) Mary responded completely to His invitation and willingly belonged to Him completely and followed Him all the way to Calvary when all the others abandoned Him. At Calvary Mary would freely consent to the sacrifice of her one and only son on the cross for the greater good of our belonging to God and following Him faithfully. She remains for us a model and help in making those sacrifices constantly.

The grace of Jesus that we receive in today’s Eucharist was won for us on Calvary and it is not ultimately meant for us to please ourselves or others. Divine grace we receive will surely be accompanied by many opportunities for sacrifices in our lives, moments for us to put self and others aside to please God first and foremost. These will be painful for sure. But by this grace from His sacrifice, we can embrace these sacrifices for Him who sacrificed His life for us. This is the only way that we can experience and bring His power and consolation to our hurting world now and get to be completely His forever and ever. Amen.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

 

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