Friday, February 14, 2020

February 16, 2020. Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Readings: Sirach 15:15-20; 1Cor. 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
The Burden of Our Choices
Today is the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next week, precisely on February 26th we begin the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. It is fitting indeed that we make a choice today. “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.” (Sirach 15:15-17). In the Book of Deuteronomy God urged the children of Israel to keep his commandment and enjoy a long life in the promised land. He told them that his command was not difficult for them to observe but was something very near to them, “already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out” (Deut. 30:14). In verse 15, he says: “Today I am giving you a choice between good and evil, between life and death.” He gave them a choice between God’s blessing and God’s curse. To stress the seriousness of the choice, God invites, in verse 19, the heaven and earth to witness the choice that they were to make.
One of the most sacred gifts God has gifted us with is Free Will. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and feely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” (1730). With our free will, it is expected that we choose the path that would lead us back to God. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. We have often chosen to deviate from God, choosing ourselves rather than our Creator. We have used this gift of freedom, many times to our detriment; to destroy and kill rather than to love, respect and protect others. Yet God still respects us and will never take that gift away from us.
Today’s readings remind us of God’s intention in giving us free will. “The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man’s every deed. No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.” Again, he reminds us “If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God which I enjoin on you today, loving him and walking in his ways and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.” (Deut. 30:16). Our choices have repercussion and consequences; we are responsible to every choice we make. When we refuse to obey God’s Commandment, we do so to our detriment and we will pay the price for it. “If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish…” (Deut. 30:17-18).
This brings us to today’s Gospel. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. We must not only obey the law but personalize and internalize it. God gave us the law for a purpose, to guide our way of life on earth and ensure a peaceful cohabitation with others. The law of Mosses finds its completion in Jesus. Hence, he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17). It is therefore, in our best interest to obey the law of God. No wonder the Psalmist prays in today’s Psalm, “Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.” (Ps. 119:33-34).
The law of God, fulfilled in Christ, makes us morally strong, upright and honest. It makes it possible for us to live a life of integrity, to give and keep our words and to speak the truth at all times.  No wonder Mark Twain said: “Speaking honestly is better. It takes a lot of stress out of our lives. If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything, but if you don’t tell the truth you have to remember what you said.” Proverbs 10:9 stresses this point thus, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” Herein then lies the punishment of those who do not obey the law of love.
The choices that we make place obligation on us. If we make good and positive choices we reap a bountiful benefit but if we make bad choices we will certainly end up with bad consequences. We have to choose to forgive those who hurt us or be stuck with the toxic feeling of hatred each time we see the object of our apprehension. Christ wants to spare us this and so he instructs us to tread the path of reconciliation. He gives us simple rules or a manifesto of his kingdom – the beatitudes. He warns, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Let us pray, once again, with the Psalmist: “Be good to your servant, that I may live and keep your words. Open my eyes, that I may consider the wonders of your law.” Amen.

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

December 29, 2019; Feast of the Holy Family.

Readings: Sirach 3:2-6; Colossians 3:12-21; Mt. 2:13-15, 19-23

The Family that Prays Together, Stays Together
On this last Sunday of the year, the Church calls our attention to our family, even as we reflect on the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Please keep this question in mind as you reflect on the Holy Family: How healthy is your family? Last Sunday we reflected on the person of Joseph, who is a righteous, honorable, faithful, prayerful, forgiving, accommodating, compassionate and loving man. We know that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a dutiful, faithful, humble, gentle, prayerful, caring and compassionate woman. Little wonder that Jesus, though truly God and truly man, imbibed both the virtues of Joseph and Mary in his person. He demonstrated these qualities in his relationship with others. These qualities become the attributes and characteristics of the Holy Family. What would your family be noted for? The first reading, from the book of Sirach, tells us that “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.” The father and the mother therefore, are the ones to set the tone for the children to follow. If our families are to be virtuous and exemplary, our parents must certainly be virtuous and exemplary in their dealings with their children and other people outside the family. When the parents take care of their children; providing for them, both materially and spiritually, the children will return the favor, when the time comes for them to take of their parents. This is the trade mark of a happy family.

Frs. Philip John, SSP and Premdas, SSP in their book ‘New Horizon Homilies’ relate the following story. A couple bought a crucifix on their wedding day and, placing it in a conspicuous part of the house, asked God to bless the secret of their hearts. Years went by and the crucifix remained in the same place. The couple, now old, were preparing to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. Their large family was a model of virtue and enjoyed the esteem and respect of all who knew them. A friend asked the old mother how she had been able to raise so many fine sons and daughters. With her bony finger, the old lady pointed to the crucifix and replied, smiling, that she owed it all to the crucifix. This story captures the essence of the theme for the reflection on this Holy Family: The family that prays together, stays together. The virtues referred to above would be impossible without intentional desire for spiritual togetherness and friendship among family members. This too goes for our church family. God must be the glue that binds our family and all families together.

That is why in the second reading, St. Paul reminds us to “Put on, as God’s chosen ones holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another; if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.” Wherever there two or more people dwelling together, either in a family, society or the Church, there is bound to be friction, misunderstanding and grievances. Some members of the family will always take undue advantage of others. Others will feel that they are entitled to everything. They are still others who always create anger, animosity and tension within the family. Some members will always feel that they are victims of their perceived injustices and misunderstandings. How do you deal with these family members? St. Paul reminds us again “And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.” If there is love and peace in our homes, we would have what it takes to handle anything that is thrown at us from outside. Our home therefore, would become a great shock-absorber and a sanctuary of joyful celebration, a nursery to nurture life-enhance values. This is possible only when a home is abode of love.  

Every Christmas we gather to celebrate, to share our gifts and meals together. We think of the Christmas crib, the decorations, the parties, and all. This is a befitting celebration, indeed. For our salvation began with the incarnation, when God became man so that man may gain his way back to God. But the stable where Christ was born was not all that cozy and warm as we would have imagined for a baby. The Holy Family experienced a lot of difficulties, dangers and poverty beyond words. “The journey itself, 300 miles across a desert, was a frightening, exhausting, dangerous experience. The search for a place to live in a foreign land, the difficulty for Joseph to find employment in an unfriendly land so they could have the bare necessities of life, and constant concern for the welfare and survival of the blessed child committed to their care must have been experiences Joseph and Mary never could forget.” (The Sunday Readings). But all the hardships they endured did not take away or reduce the unity and love of their family. Every family has something to deal with, but the strength and endurance of each family depend on their love for one another and the convictions of their spirit. The role that God plays in each family will always determine how strong and resilient members of the family will be.

David Wilkerson was absolutely correct when he observed that “Good parents don’t always produce good children, but devoted, dedicated, hardworking mothers and fathers can weigh the balance in favor of decency and building of moral character. Every word and deed of a parent is a fiber woven into the character of a child, which ultimately determines how that child fits into the fabric of society.” As we have come to the end of this year, we have the example of the Holy Family to guide us into the new year. How do we want our families, both natural and spiritual to be in the new year? My prayer is that we may be contributing members of our families. May we not be only takers, but givers as well, so that the state of our union may resemble that of the Holy Family. May the Holy Family intercede for us now and always. Amen.

Points to ponder:
·      What is my contribution towards the wellbeing of my family?
·      What role do I play in my family? Am I taker or a giver? A peace-loving member or a trouble maker?
·      Am I inspired by the Holy Family or not?

“Don’t forget to pray today because God didn’t forget to wake you up this morning

Friday, December 20, 2019

December 22, 2019: Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Mt. 1:18-24

Joseph Had His Plans, But God Said ‘No’

Joseph’s dream, and indeed, the dream of the men of his time, was to get married, raise a family and live happily ever after. He was focused on that dream. He had a roof over his head, a good trade, owning a carpentry business, was making money, I presume, and was sure to provide for his family. Joseph, a devoted Jew, followed the traditional way of getting a wife. He got engaged to Mary through a Jewish matchmaker. At this stage, the couple must not necessarily know each other before the engagement. The second stage was betrothal. This could last for about a year. It gave the couple a chance to get to know each other. There could be occasional visits, but nothing really more serious than that. Once the betrothal took place, the couple were known as man and wife. Although they were not together as husband and wife, betrothal was so solemn that it could only be terminated by divorce. The third step was marriage proper. It was at the betrothal stage that Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. Joseph’s dream was unfulfilled, his plans, shattered, and his world crumbled. Or did it? “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9). Yes, when God enters your world, He turns it upside down and inside out.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent I want to reflect briefly on the man Joseph. Who was he? This man never spoke a word in the bible, yet his personality, his humanity and his humility can be rated as high as any biblical character of his time. His role in salvation history cannot be underrated or downplayed. In today’s Gospel, we heard that “He was a righteous man.” Joseph is called righteous because of his desire to observe the law. This righteousness was united with an unwillingness to expose his wife. Joseph must have been set apart for the glory of God. He was a God-fearing man who would do nothing to the contrary, to jeopardize his relationship with God or his fellow men. He was compassionate. He so empathized with Mary’s situation that he would do nothing to discredit her openly. He was a man of honor and did all he could to protect Mary’s good name. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “A person’s reputation is their most prized possession, and to destroy it is not just unjust but robbery. Even if what we say about other people is true, and they have done terrible things, it is still deeply wrong to destroy their name, unless there is some compelling necessity for the common good.” I wish we could learn from Joseph, not to say a word that will destroy the good name of another child of God. “Do to no one what you would not want done to you.” (Matt. 7:12).

Joseph was a man of faith. He trusted God and was sure that God would find a way for him. And He did! Joseph was told to take his wife home because she was pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. He was to be the foster father of Jesus, he was therefore, allowed to name Jesus. He played a big role in the life of Jesus. As his earthly father, Joseph was there for Jesus every step of the way.

Joseph was a man of prayer. When he was worried about his wife, he took it to the Lord in prayer. He did not report her to people and sought what to do with her. God showed him the way and instructed him on what to do. He never wavered from God’s plan but helped to bring it about. He re-echoed Mary’s fiat in his heart: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” How do you deal with troubling situations in your life? Who do you talk to first? Can we learn from this quiet man of the New Testament? God will always meet you at the hour of you need and show you a way out. Just trust and say yes to God like Mary and Joseph. But know that when you let God into your life, your plans become God’s plans and your life becomes his life. You will be given responsibilities you never bargain for but, be sure of this: He will always be there with you. He will send his angels to assure you that He is Emmanuel, God with us. He will provide you with what you need. In the midst of suffering and disappointments, in pains and toil, in hardship and hunger, in temptation and danger, he will always be with you because you said yes to him.

This brings us to the first reading. Ahaz would not say yes to God like Joseph. In about 735 B.C. Ahaz, king of Judah, was being pressured by two other kings (those of Israel and Damascus) to join an alliance against the superpower, Assyria. Isaiah the prophet, met the king and told him that he must not join any alliance but must put his faith absolutely in the Lord. “Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm.” (v.9). Then when Ahaz hypocritically refuses a sign that God would be with him, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!”, Isaiah gives him the sign: “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” This son would be a sign that God was with his people. God was faithful to his word. Ahaz had a son who succeeded him. His son was a good leader. Matthew saw the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus, who was born of a virgin. Isaiah’s prophecy and its fulfillment in Matthew’s Gospel point to the real continuity in history because of the divine word. History is not a meaningless chain of events. It is, rather, as Paul would put it, a mystery that is gradually unraveled for those who believe. God’s Word in the past has an inherent power that releases itself only in the time of perfect fulfillment. (The Word Alive by Eugene H. Maly).

On this last week of Advent, as we celebrate Christmas in a few days, let Joseph lead us to the presence of the new born king. Let him show us how to surrender our plans to him and say yes to God in all its ramifications. May we not hold on to our ways like Ahaz, who could not bear it because he did not believe, and his plans, in the end, came to nothing. For those who do have faith, who do trust in the Lord in total surrender to him can live in the world, knowing that the fulfillment of God’s promises will inevitably come. They know that what ‘Immanuel means is true. He is with us always, even till the end of time.

Points to ponder:
·      How easy is it for you to say yes to God?
·      When you have problems, who do you talk to first?
·      If you were Joseph, what would you have done?
·      Do you spread rumors about someone, even when you are not sure if what you are saying is true or false?
·      You are almost there: you should be on the 22nd chapter of St. Luke today. If not, what is stopping you? Have a Merry Christmas!

“Don’t forget to pray today because God didn’t forget to wake you up this morning