Thursday, May 23, 2019

May 26, 2019 - Homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter - Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled.

We are afraid of the unknown. Scared when we go to the doctors and they recommend a test: Mammogram, MRI, Sonogram, CAT-scan or they like. What will the diagnoses be? Will it affect my life adversely? What would happen to my love ones? When there is a conflict in my life, how do I deal with it? What about my financial wellbeing? Have I saved enough for the raining days? What about my mortgage? Will I be able to keep up with the payments on my house, my car, my children’s education or my utilities? These questions and worries only succeed in doing one thing to us: deprive us of our inner peace and throw our life into confusion. Therefore, Christ warns us not to be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat? Or what shall we drink?…But seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt. 6:31-34).

The readings of the 6th Sunday of Easter assure us that we are not alone in our quest for peace. Jesus’ disciples were equally worried. Christ knew that his followers would be thrown into a gamut of worries and confusion as he was about to demonstrate his love for us by accepting death on the cross. He encouraged them not to let their hearts be troubled but pleaded that they put their trust in God. After his resurrection, Christ knew he would soon go to his father. His Ascension was fast approaching, hence, he assured them of his peace and promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the first reading we read that life among early Christians was not always rosy and without problems. As Paul and Barnabas took the Gospel and the message of salvation to the Gentiles and as they embraced the faith problems began to surface. Some brothers demanded that the Gentiles should observe and obey the Jewish laws and practices - be circumcised. This caused a rift among the Apostles and the converts to the faith. To solve this problem, Paul reported to the Apostles and the first official Council of the Church was convened – the Council of Jerusalem. The Apostles trusted themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and listened to each other. “Then the whole meeting quieted down and listened while Barnabas and Paul told of the great signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12). “For the Holy Spirit and we have decided…” (verse 28).

How often do we allow ourselves to be torn apart by anxieties, indifferences, idiosyncrasies, families, ideas and a sense of Church that make us pitch a tent only on one side and feel that we are better than others? When we take a stand and fail to pursue the unity of the Church or refuse to concede our positions, are we not tearing the body of Christ apart? When we feel that we are the standard of judgement and fail to consider the good of our brothers and sisters, are we not sinning against charity and the very God we sought to serve? St. Paul admonished: “But if you bite and devour one another, take heed or you will be consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).

We will always be disappointed by the Church, parish, families and our communities. A tension-free church and society is not possible in this world but in the world of the second reading, where there will be a new heaven and new earth. How do we solve the problems and heal the divides in our lives? The Church has always found a way to call people together for a dialogue - a listening session and give the Holy Spirit room to function; to facilitate the healing and proffer solutions. Such was the case in the first reading with the Council of Jerusalem. The solution was attributed to the efforts of the participants and the Holy Spirit.

And so, Jesus promised the Apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit. He tells them not to be afraid. He gives us a counselor, a friend and an advocate who will plead on our behalf. Christ cares for us so much that he wants to spare us any angst and anxiety. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says, “but put your trust in God”. In the midst of our disappointments, pains, fear and trepidation, Christ promises us his presence. “It is I, do not be afraid” (Mt. 14:27).  The Holy Spirit will always be there to steer the ship to the shore of peace and tranquility. Even when we have sinned, the Holy Spirit will be there to get us back up again. In our prayer, the Holy Spirit will be there to lend support. “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought but the Spirit himself pleads for us with unutterable groaning” (Rom. 8:26).

With the Holy Spirit comes peace. This peace is not the absence of war, “It is”, according to Baruch Spinoza, “a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice”. It is the presence of Christ working in his people, it is a life lived in God. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). The peace promised by Christ is an indicative of an indwelling of the Trinity in the life of a Christian. This is a life lived in absolute surrender to the will of God. And so, Christ said that the peace he gives is different from the peace given us by the world.

Let us pray at this Mass for the gifts of Peace and the Holy Spirit. May the Eucharist that we celebrate lead us to discover the Lord of peace. May it give us the gift of the Holy Spirit who will lead us to all truths. Let us learn to agree to disagree but still keep the unity of God’s children. May the Spirit help us to settle our differences and know that our strength is not in our failures but in our ability to get back up each time we fail. In his mighty name we pray! Amen.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP: May 19, 2019. Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter: The New Commandment - Love One Another As I Have Loved You!

Today’s Gospel reading is very explicit indeed! It demonstrates that Christ reigns supreme on the Cross. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:32). And so, on the eve of his death, Christ addressed his Apostles about his glorification. His death was imminent. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (Jn. 13:31). The glorification of Christ was due to his tremendous act of love in obedience to God, his father, for the salvation of the world. “Christ Jesus… did not regard equality with God… emptied himself… and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him” (Phil. 2: 5-11). It is this self-sacrificing love that Christ wanted his disciples to emulate and share with the world. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).  Christ, the new Moses, gave a new commandment to his disciples and by extension to us all. Love one another. To love is not a new commandment, it is as old as the Old Testament itself. In Leviticus 19:18 the children of Israel were told to “Love your neighbor as yourselves”. But Christ told his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you”. How did he love his disciples? By dying on the cross for them. “Greater love than this no man has that a man should lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Christ is not talking about emotional love. Not infatuation, eros or philia. He meant the love that goes beyond all and cuts right into the heart of our being. He meant agape!

Agape is the highest form of love. It is the love of God for man and of man for God. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes agape love as “something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it is the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likable, but because God loves them” (A Knock at Midnight, Pg. 48). This love made the early Christian community to live together sharing what they had in common (Acts 2:42-46). It drove missionaries to traverse the length and breadth of the world proclaiming the good news to all the world and even to shed their blood for the sake of Christ. These men and women, having experienced God’s love, as St. Paul would say, “The love of God urges us on” (1 Cor. 5:14), could not keep that love to themselves but did all they could to teach and baptize others so that they too may experience God’s abundance life and his redemptive love (Mt. 28:19). 

Therefore Ss. Paul and Barnabas, during their first missionary journey, would say in today’s first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Yes! “A true Christian is not only interested in his own salvation, but also deeply concerned about the salvation of others. Merely giving some alms does not constitute the virtue of charity. Effective interest in Church matters and Parish activities, intended to strengthen the faith of the members, is the obligation of every Christian. The Apostles and early Christians proved their undying love by accepting hardships and even martyrdom for the faith. We can show our love for others by courteous correction of an erring person, words of encouragement to the suffering and above all through our prayers. Let us begin to love truly and thus build the kingdom of God” (New Horizon Homilies by Philip John, SSP and Premdas, SSP, pg. 442).

Jesus Christ wants us to accept and put into practice his new commandment of love. To love as he loves us, to forgive as he has forgiven us. To be self-effacing and to always think of the good of others. No wonder the mother of a child with life threatening sick would spend her life caring of her sick child. Or a woman whose fiancĂ©e is comatose will refuse to give up hope but stay by his side day and night praying for a miracle. To love as we are commanded makes it possible for mothers with children killed by drunken drivers to offer forgiveness to the killers instead of living with the pain and grieve and get stock in the past of unforgiveness. “There are thousands of broken families which would not have broken up if the members lived in love. There thousands of men women and children in jails, hospitals and street corners, who would not be there if those concerned had not failed in fulfilling their obligation to love. Thousands are poor, famished, oppressed, bonded laborers, victims of war and riots, because some persons, refused to love. Even more shocking, there are thousands suffering and uneducated, thousands live without any place for Christ and His teachings in their lives because we have failed to exercise charity. Love, the distinguishing mark of Jesus’ kingdom, should spring from our own hearts. When there is love in our hearts, there will surely be love in our families, institutions, country and world. The human heart is the minutest and most important unity of the kingdom. By exercising brotherly love from the heart we already anticipate the holy city in our midst” (New Horizon Homilies by Philip John, SSP and Premdas, SSP, pg.441-442).

The Book of the Apocalypse of John anticipates a new city of joy, peace and love. This vision of John in the second reading can only be realized in our life time if we begin to obey the new commandment of love. “Love is the one creative force that can transform the whole world and us. It enriches the recipient without impoverishing the giver. Therefore, Mother Theresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go, first of all in your family. Give love to your children, to your husbands and to your next-door neighbors” (John’s Homilies Cycle - C by John Rose Pg. 77). 

Let us be reminded that if there are problems in our families, it could be that we have forgotten to obey the commandment of love. If our churches are empty, maybe we have failed to show love. And if there are problems in our institutions of learning, in our places of work, in our communities and in our nation, somewhere somehow it could that we have either ignored, failed or forgotten to put the commandment of love into practice. And hence we have not been able to experience the new city, our heavenly Jerusalem here on earth (second reading). May it never be said of us like Mahatma Gandhi once said when asked of his view of Christianity: “I have a great respect of Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who had done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with the Christians. They do not begin to live up to their own teachings”. If we Christians were to love as Christ commands us, I have no doubts that our churches would be teeming with people and instead of closing churches, we would be building new ones. May God give us the grace to accept his new commandment of love and put it into practice in our lives. Amen. 

                                                   Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Fr. Augustine Inwang, MSP - May 12, 2019. Fourth Sunday of Easter: Shepherds and Mothers

Today we celebrate Vocations Sunday as well as Mother’s Day. On this vocations Sunday, the Church, our Mother, calls on us to pray that young men and women may hear the voice of the good Shepherd and give themselves to God and the Church in service as ordained ministers of the word and the sacraments and as religious and men and women in consecrated life. We also encourage lay participation and collaboration with the clergy to promote and build the kingdom of God in love and service. May our young men and women listen to the voice of the Good shepherd “who came not be served but to serve and gave his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). 

We pay tribute today also to our mothers for their contribution in our lives. Yes, “the hands that rock the cradle rules the world.” We thank them for not aborting us when we were being formed in their wombs, but gave birth to us, nurtured us, provided for us both naturally and spiritually and contributed to making us who and what we are today. We are grateful, not only to our biological mothers, but also to those who played the role of mothers in our lives and the lives others. Without our mothers and women like them, the world would be a very difficult and fearful place for us. Rev. John Rose, in his book ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’ wrote about six young men who went to the cemetery to pray for the woman they considered their mother on All Souls day. “…The fourth man said, “We have more reasons to thank this lady than any of you. Two years ago, my friends and I were drunkards. This lady found us at the Young Men’s Christian Association rooms and took us to her house. We told her that once we had been Christians, but we had wandered far away into sin. She looked into our eyes and said, while tears stood in her eyes, ‘My Jesus is anxiously hunting and calling for His wandering sheep; let me lead you back into the fold. She prayed with us, she entreated for Jesus’ sake, for our mothers’ sake and for our own sake. She induced us to sign the pledge; place her hands upon our heads, and offered, Oh, such prayers for us. Then and there, new strength came into our lives and from that day to this, by the grace of God, we have been able to live a sober life. Boys, I tell you, this dear woman was a mother to us. Her name is Sara Houghton Fawcett”. That is the power of love, forgiveness, care, affection and mercy that courageous and God-fearing women have over us. Where would we be without them! 

Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading of today that he is the Good Shepherd. The shepherd has the heart of the mother who knows her children by name and only thinks of their good and welfare. By calling himself a good Shepherd, Jesus contrasts himself from other shepherds who are not good. We see this in Ezekiel 34. “…Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather pasture sheep?” You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured…. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves…I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” The leaders of Israel did not look after the children of Israel after the heart of God the good shepherd, hence, God snatched the sheep from their care and appointed his own dear son to look after his people. As a good shepherd Jesus loves the sheep of his flock, he prepared a meal for them, “when they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast” (Jn. 21:9,12). He gave them the bread of life, his body and blood and promised that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn. 6:54). He protected them from danger, “They came and woke him saying, “Master, master, we are perishing!” He awakened, rebuked the wind and the waves, and they subsided and there was a calm” (Lk. 8:24). Christ is always with the sheep of his flock till the end of time.

There is a big contrast also between the good shepherd and the present-day prophets, priests and preachers. Many are not different from the prophets and shepherd of the time of Ezekiel. There are many preachers today who only care about themselves and what they can get from their congregation. They preached prosperity and looks for ways to enrich themselves. They extort money from their people in the name of tithes. They build mansions for themselves, buy fleet of cars and aeroplane and jets in the name of preaching the gospel while most of their congregants are impoverished. To them also the good shepherd directs his words of admonition. They must abandon their ways and take care of those entrusted to them after the heart of the good shepherd.

Since Christ is our shepherd, we are his sheep. We must listen to the voice of our shepherd and follow his instruction so that he may lead us to green pastures. There are many discordant voices competing for our attention. At times these voices are so strong that they drown the voice of the good shepherd and mislead us. Jesus gave the power of good leadership to the church and her teaching. We should not pick and choose what teaching we want to follow and which one to abandon because we do not like it. Following the master and heeding his voice may not always be easy for us. It may lead us to wash our robes white with the blood of the lamb, (Second reading) or we may suffer in trying to proclaim him to the ends of the world, (first reading) but follow him, we must. We know, and we believe that the good shepherd will be with always, even till the end of world. He laid down his life for us and nothing will ever separate us from his hands.     

Friday, May 3, 2019

Fr. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP: May 5, 2019 Third Sunday of Easter : It is the Lord!

It is The Lord!
I am convinced without a doubt that Christ was raised from dead to life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Christ’s resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises, both of the old Testament and of Jesus Himself during his earthly life. The resurrection of the crucified one shows that He was truly ‘I Am’, the Son of God and God Himself. Christ’s resurrection is closely linked to the Incarnation of God’s Son and is its fulfillment in accordance with God’s eternal plan” (CCC nos. 652, 653).  St. Paul said it better, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith” (1Cor 15:13-14). On that first Easter Sunday, Peter and his companions experienced the risen Christ as they never expected to and that changed the trajectory of their lives. Peter was emboldened by the spirit of the risen Lord to stand up to the Sanhedrin and accuse them of being responsible for Christ death. “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as leader and Savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God had given to those who obey Him” (first reading). This is the same Peter, who, a few days ago could not stand up to a young girl and admit that he knew Jesus.

There was something fascinating about Peter that, in my opinion, endeared him to Jesus – the crass humanity of Peter; and this makes the person of Peter appealing to us. We can identify easily with him. Peter was impetuous. One minute he confessed the divinity of Jesus, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16:16); the next minute he tried to prevent Jesus from accepting the will of His father to which he was reprimanded by Christ to “get behind me Satan.” But there was an undeniable friendship between Jesus and Peter; the friendship so strong that just a look from Jesus communicated to Peter that he had betrayed that friendship and hurt their relationship. According to William J. Bausch in ‘Story Telling the Word’, “The scene of two men in silent confrontation in the palace courtyard tells us the real meaning of Christianity. It is, when you come right down to it, a living relationship with a living Person. It is always and forever the relationship of redeemed human beings with the person of Jesus Christ in faith, trust, forgiveness, and love – in all the ways that one person is bound to another.”

In today’s Gospel Peter is returning to his trade: fishing. His statement: “I am going fishing” could mean that he was returning to the trade he thought he was good at or he was simply bored and needed to distract himself from the thought of betraying his friend and the constant reminder of the look of Jesus. Could it mean that Peter had some doubts about catching people for the kingdom as he was commanded by Christ? If he was not adept at fishing how would he be in catching people! Unfortunately, Peter, in my opinion, was not very good at catching fish. His first encounter with Jesus was when he was at his duty post trying to catch fish. To the request of Jesus to “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” his answer was “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (Lk. 5:5). For the second time, Jesus met Peter and his companions again during his fishing expedition and enquired: “Children, have you caught anything yet?” “No.” So he said to them “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something” (Jn. 21:3-6). It was when they caught so many number of fish that made John to exclaim: “It is the Lord”. How could they, who caught nothing throughout the night be so lucky, just because stranger had told them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat? John could recall their last encounter with Jesus when they had work all night long and caught nothing. Christ had told them what to do before they had their boats filled with fish. It had to be the Lord. Christ showed Peter and his companions that apart from him they could do nothing. He demonstrated to Peter that he (Christ) was better at Peter’s job than Peter himself hence Peter should learn another trade with the help of the grand master himself. Many times, we think we know it all. We often try to keep God out of our lives. But Christ tells us, “apart from me you can do nothing”. God provides us with the strength, the energy and the wisdom we need to do all that we do and to succeed in them.

Whenever we run away from God, he comes in search of us. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (Jn. 15:16). Unworthy as we are God chose us as he chose the prophets of old and the Apostles. When they sinned, he forgave them and waits for them to turn back to him.  He shows us the father’s love in the story of the prodigal son, (Lk 15); and demonstrates his forgiveness in the story of the woman caught in the act of committing adultery, (Jn. 8). He reached out to Peter at the sea of Tiberias, still caring, cooking a meal for his friends, providing fish for their upkeep, giving them encouragement and hope and offering them forgiveness and love. Yes, it is the Lord, he is the only one who appears when all hope is gone, he refreshes us when water is dried up and the rain refuses to fall. It is the Lord who brings healing and strength to our failing bodies and restores us to wholeness when we are sick. “What am sure about tomorrow is that providence will rise before the dawn” because it is the Lord.

Jesus knew his friend Peter more than Peter knew himself. He knew Peter loved him, but he wanted him to say it with his mouth. After all he had told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk. 22:31-32). He knew that Satan had put his ugly hands on Peter and at the moment of weakness, he denied Christ, Christ was back to make it right. Christ asked him three times, ‘do you love me. “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you”. Yes, Peter was right, Christ knew everything, he knew that Peter loved him.

So, we pray that we may not forget that the Lord stands always at our shores loving, instructing, watching and looking out for us. He has a meal prepared for us. When we are tempted to run away from the Lord, may we not forget our relationship with him. May we have the courage to say with Peter, Lord, you know everything you know we love you. Please pray for us as you prayed for Peter that our faith may not fail, strengthen us at the moment of our weakness so that we may not betray you. Help us to see the look of love in your eyes for us so that we may weep for our sins and turn back to you. Amen.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Fr Augustine Inwang, MSP - Homily for 2nd Sunday of Easter- April 21, 2019

The wounds of Christ will heal our unbelief.

Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This momentous event changed the cause of history for Christians; sent men and women to the four corners of the earth to preach the Good news. During the Octave of Easter the Gospels present us with different apparitions of Christ to his apostles demonstrating that he had truly risen. He ate with them, preached to them and encouraged them to bear witness to his resurrection and he commissioned them to go out and preach the resurrection to all the nations.

In the Acts of the Apostles the baton is passed to the apostles as they carried out the divine mandate of their resurrected leader. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” Mk. 16:15. Because of the resurrection, these men who were coward, timid and easily intimidated when they saw Christ being persecuted became bold, strong, courageous, spirit-filled, fearless, brave and audacious in their preaching and in their zeal to convert the world, leading them to Jesus.  According to Peter, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard”, (Acts 4:20). They were able to withstand the powers that be and spoke truth to power. “They encouraged people to give their lives to Jesus and be converted for God was willing to forgive their sins. Because of this, we are told, “many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles” (first reading). Those who gave their lives to Jesus received healing and miraculous things happened in their lives. The Apostles on the other hand, were not afraid to suffer persecution themselves.  So with them we join our voices and say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting”, Ps. 118:2.

In the Gospel of today, Jesus appeared to the apostles and gave them his peace and the power to forgive sins. He invited Thomas to touch his wounds and be healed of his unbelief. Through the wounds of Jesus Thomas acknowledged the divinity of Christ. And Jesus blessed all those who did not see him in the flesh and yet believe in the power of the resurrection. Today is the divine mercy Sunday. On this Sunday God gave the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to the apostles and through them to us. The mercy of God flows to us through this sacrament. In this sacrament we touch the wounds of Jesus and become healed and declare his divinity. The mercy of God is most experienced in the sacrament of reconciliation. God is always merciful to his people and his mercy is everlasting on those who fear God.

The resurrection of Christ is invariably tied to the mission of Christ, the mission of discipleship and healing. Christ invited Thomas to touch his wound of unbelief and be healed. We cannot truly be healed if we do not touch the wounds of Jesus. What wounds do you want Jesus to heal for you? Is it anger, frustration, lack of forgiveness or weakness; is it alcoholism, drug addiction, sickness or death in the family? Whatever our wounds may be Jesus invites us to touch his wounds and be healed. We are wounded healers who must take their wounds to Jesus, touch his wounds and be healed. May the mercy of Christ flow from his wounds to heal us!
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP.