Friday, July 3, 2020

July 5, 2020: Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 12:25-30
We Are Not Alone!
1.    We live in a world that has all kinds of laws, rules and regulations. There are rules at home, rules in church and everywhere. The State, cities all have their rules. We are more afraid of the penalty for breaking the law than keeping the law itself. Who has ever kept to the speed-limit regulations? But since we afraid of being penalized for over-speeding, we keep to the speed-limit, especially when the cops are around. The Bible too is filled with the do’s and don’ts. Since Moses gave the 10 commandments in Exodus, the children of Israel have so many variations that it becomes a burden to keep up with them. They were more afraid of breaking the law than offending God.

2.    Little wonder then, when Christ was asked, which was the greatest commandment, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:36). Jesus reduced the commandments to love of God and love of neighbor. He made it easy for his disciples to live and breathe. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to learn from him so that we may have rest for our souls. He speaks of the mutual knowledge of wisdom between Him and God and invites the weary to come to him for refreshment.  

3.    Jesus urges us to learn humility from him. This is reechoed in today’s first reading. “See, your king shall come to you; a just Savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The vision of Zechariah the prophet, was such that God would raise up a ruler in the Davidic line, anointing him to carry out a universal mission of peace and reconciliation. He saw that this mighty king would be poor and committed to peace (humble and riding on a donkey) rather than to war (riding on a horse). And yet this king of peace was rejected and doubted, even by those close to him. John the Baptist wondered whether Jesus was truly the one “Who is to come” whom he proclaimed. (Matt. 11:1-15). Both Jesus and John the Baptist were equally rejected. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Matt. 11:18-19). The cities of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida refused to repent after hearing his message (Matt. 11:20-24).

4.    In spite of his rejection, Jesus is full of praises to God, because the proud and the haughty, the Rabbis and the wise rejected him, but the poor, the humble, the meek and the gentle, even children embraced and clung to his words. Christ rejoiced over the revelation that his apostles chose to follow him. Lord to whom shall we go, you have the message of everlasting life. Christ clearly rejected intellectual pride that made it difficult for his simple teaching of love and mercy to be accepted. If we must follow Christ in his simplicity, then we must follow our hearts not our heads. William Barclay was right when he observed: “It is not cleverness which shuts out; it is pride. It is not stupidity which admits; it is humility. A man may be as wise as Solomon, but if he has not the simplicity, the trust, the innocence of the childlike heart, he shuts himself out.” The simple, the humble, the poor and children are closer to the heart of God; they will inherit the earth. Our prayer, therefore, should bring us closer to the presence of God. The more we pray the humbler we should become. When we learn humility and compassion from Jesus, we should practice it in the way we treat people around us.

5.    Christ invites us to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Is the burden you bear too heavy for you? Then it is not from God. Christ knows that we bear the burden of daily life, and, at times it may seem insurmountable. We are poor. We are weary, indeed. We are weighed down by Covid-19 pandemic, by political and economic uncertainties, we are not sure of our health care system amidst suits and counter lawsuits of our present-day government. We are uncertain of the educational future of our children and for some of us, our jobs are hanging on a balance. Our burdens are different. It may be physical handicap that makes life difficult for us. It could be sickness in the family and the burden of taking care of elderly parents. It may be the difficulty of scoring high grades in school or peer pressure at work. Our weariness may be the responsibility of leading or directing others as parents, teachers or supervisors. Some may have the burden of being sick, widowed or divorced. There are burdens some carry in looking after others. No matter what kind of weariness we may feel or what kind of burden we bear, Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are over-burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28).

6.    Christ knows that it is not easy for us. The fact that the poor and the lowly are God’s blessed ones, does not mean they are free from the weariness and burdens of human life. It fact, they often suffer more than the rich and the powerful. But all of us, rich or poor, strong or weak, have our share of weariness and burdens. We all feel fatigue from hard work. We feel boredom which comes from vague dissatisfaction with life and we, at one point or the other, have moments of depression. Christ invites us all, regardless of our situation. He doesn’t expect us to carry the burden of life alone. Do not be afraid, he tells us. His grace is sufficient for us. He is right here with us. Like the yoke that is carried by two animals, Christ will carry our burdens with us. He assures us, I am with you always till the end of time. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.” (Is. 49:15-16). He tells us “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn. 16:33).  

7.    I want to conclude with this beautiful poem:
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."
May God bless and continue to carry us through our troubling times of our life the rest he promised us. Amen.

                  Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Friday, June 26, 2020

June 28, 2020. Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, (Year A)

Readings: 2 Kings 4:8-12, 14-16; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42

One Good Turn Deserves Another.
1.    Last Sunday we listened to Jesus as he gave his apostles instructions before they were sent out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He made it clear to them that their journey would be anything but rosy. They were to expect the worse but hoped for the best. He told them not to be afraid of those who could only kill the body but had no power to cast the soul into hell. God was in control of their lives and knew even the number of hair on their heads. It reminds me of the parting words of one of my teachers to our graduating class from high school, “May your ways be rough.” Today, as Jesus concludes his missionary address, he warned them, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” These are hard words! Christ stressed, in no small way, the difficulty of discipleship. Our call to follow Jesus means a clean break from family ties, blood relationship and encumbrances with worldly things. It means dying to ourselves so as to live for Christ and others. Our mission responsibility, according to Jesus, should always be our number one priority. Hence our burden should be the cross of our Lord, while depending completely on the generosity of the people we are sent to.

2.    As I read through these instructions, I think of my work in Banjul Diocese of the Gambia. It was tough, to say the least. I had to learn a new language, struggled with food and the culture that was different from mine. But what I went through was nothing compared to what the Kiltegan Fathers (SPS), who brought Christianity to my region in Nigeria, had to endure. I often wondered how they survived when they came out in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They had no roads, pipe-borne water, electricity, hospitals, schools, churches and no accommodation. They fought to stay alive against malaria, influenza, cholera, and the weather; many of them died only after a few weeks of arrival. They struggled with the language, the people, elements and the environments. Gradually, however, they were able to build rectories, churches, schools, hospitals and undertook to teach children, not just religion, but also provided them with the best education they could at that time. They died to themselves so as to give us a new life. Thanks to them, many of us are priests today, following in their footsteps, and giving to others what we received ourselves. They proved that the best kind of life is the one lived for others. It is in sacrificing for others that we have a meaningful life of peace and tranquility. 

3.    The closing verses of Christ’s mission-sending speech in today’s Gospel, made it very clear that missionary work cannot be undertaken by everyone in the same way. But we are called to be missionaries, regardless. There are two components to missionary work. Some people go to the mission through their financial, spiritual and moral support, while others give to the mission by going themselves. These are missionaries who responded to the call, to leave their homes and families, in order to bring the Gospel message to people in foreign lands. Without the sending and the receiving church, mission work would be impossible task to accomplish. A disciple is the one sent, therefore, churches must be open to receive and support those sent. For in receiving the ones sent by Jesus, the church receives Jesus and even the Father who sent him. Christ reminds us: “whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Anyone who shows hospitality to those engaged in missionary activities of the church will surely be rewarded. Again, these are the words of Jesus: “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of a righteous person.”

4.    Everyone, whether engaged in mission work or not, has a role to play in the Church’s mission; therefore, we must take direct interest in responding to the divine mandate of Christ, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19). The story of Elisha’s meeting with the wealthy, though childless, woman of Shunem, in the first reading, illustrated how God has always rewarded generosity to those engaged in divine mission. She and her husband were promised a child because of their generosity to Elisha, the man of God. ‘One good turn deserves another’, indeed! We can change the world through our generosity. We may not know what acts of kindness will change the life of people we meet daily, God knows. Our sporadic acts of kindness are all we need to bring transformation to the people we encounter.

5.     The story of Baron De Rothschild, one of the richest men of his time, demonstrates the ripple effect of generosity to strangers. Legend has it that Baron once posed before and artist as a beggar. While the artist, AryScheffer, was painting him, the financier sat before him in rags and tatters holding a tin cup. A friend of the artist entered, and the Baron was so well disguised that he was not recognized. Thinking he was really a beggar, the visitor dropped a coin into the cup. 10 years later, the man who gave the coin to Rothschild received a letter containing a bank order for 10,000 francs ($10,539.95) and the following message: “You one day gave a coin to Baron de Rothschild in the studio of AryScheffer. He has invested it and today sends you the capital which you entrusted him, together with the compounded interest. A good action always brings good fortune. Signed, Baron de Rothschild.” (Kindle Your Spirit by Fr. John Pichappilly). Our Lord promised us a reward for our acts of kindness to those who answered the call to be missionaries, his disciples, his eyes and ears in the world. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put in your lap.” (Lk. 6:38). Human generosity will always be rewarded with the divine superabundance. Please take these words seriously and open your hearts to God’s children who need your help. Whatever you give, be it water, food, words of prayer, words of encouragement, a listening ear, a ride to the doctor or assistance to missionaries, anywhere in the world, is a good deed done to God. Your reward may not come today but it will certainly come one day soon. Though you may undergo suffering and deprivation in the process, let it be your participation in the cross of Christ.

6.    Together, let us pray with St. Francis: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in giving that we do receive, and it’s in dying that we’re born to life. May God give us the grace to give all we have in the service of his name and for the salvation of our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP.

Friday, June 19, 2020

June 21, 2020; Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time of Year (A)

Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

Do Not Be Afraid.

1.    The early American Indians had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy’s thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. He was placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of thick woods, and he was terrified. Every time a twig snapped, he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce on him. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight entered the interior of the forest. Looking around, he saw flowers, trees, and the outline of a path. Then, to his astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with bow and arrow. It was his father. He had been there all night long. I use this story from the Book, “Kindle Your Spirit” by Fr. John Pichappilly to demonstrate the role of fathers in our lives. Today we think of our fathers, as we celebrate Fathers’ day. Our fathers have been there for us, protecting and supporting us in all our endeavors. We thank and appreciate them. We pray for those who have passed on to the Lord, that they may receive their reward from God. For our sick fathers, we pray for their healing and for those in jail, we pray for their freedom and release. Happy Fathers’ day!

2.    In the Gospel reading of today from Matthew 10, Jesus addressed his apostles and told them not to be afraid. The chapter begins with these words: “Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirit to drive them out and to cure every diseases and illness.” Jesus commissioned and sent them out as missionaries to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This reminds me of my commissioning on June 22, 1991. I completed my pastoral year in Maiduguri diocese in Northern Nigeria, having been ordained on June 23rd the previous year. We were called to the podium after Mass, and the late Cardinal Ekandem, like Jesus, got up and addressed us as we were being sent on Mission to the different parts of the world. I was assigned to work in the Gambia. Missionary work can be intimidating indeed. It causes one to be afraid, especially of the unknown. Jesus warned his apostles that they would face persecution, rejection, and even betrayal from family members. He stressed that they will be treated in the same way as he, the master was treated. For “A disciple is not above the teacher” (10:24). He exhorts them however, not to be afraid but to put their trust in God, who takes care of even the sparrows, and knows the number of the hair on our heads. He asked them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” He urged them to only be afraid of God. Earthly elements and human beings may kill us, but they have no power over our souls. Therefore, we should only be afraid of being separated from God. Christians should be afraid of being unfaithful to God through sin. Hence, we should approach God with awe, respect and reverence. Because “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18).

3.    Though we are not to be afraid, we know that being a Christian does not mean we will not encounter difficulties. Christ did not make such assumptions. He said rather: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so, be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.” (Matt.10:16-18). The first reading presents us with Jeremiah who experienced a lot of hardships in his preaching ministry. He was rejected, persecuted and made a laughingstock by those he loved and cared for. Jeremiah warned God’s people that they could avoid destruction that was on its way if they lived according to God’s laws. But they did not care much about Jeremiah’s warning, instead they plotted to kill him. He was intimidated and persecuted so badly that Jeremiah did not want to preach any more. In the verse before our reading today, he said, “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” (Jer. 20:9). Yet Jeremiah was vindicated and rejoiced: “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.” God will always take care of his own.

4.    Preachers encounter difficulties because people do not want to be told what to do. “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” (John 3:19-21). This is why we gossip, because we are cowards. Bad things are, most of the time, done in the covers of darkness. Heinous crimes are committed in the dark. Those who abuse their wives or children, gamblers or drunkards, drug barons, addicts or prostitutes, embezzlers and cheaters, would not want people to know their secret lives. They prefer deeds of darkness to the light. If people should talk about their way of life, they become enemies, that must be destroyed, like Jeremiah in today’s reading.

5.    Therefore St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “If by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man, Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Jesus has redeemed us with his precious blood and has given us the power to conquer our fears, even the fear of death. He says, “Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” (Lk. 10:19). Therefore, we should not be afraid. Let us pray that the holy Spirit may shine its light on our hearts and expose the darkness therein to Christ who loves us with an everlasting love. Amen.

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Friday, June 12, 2020

June 14, 2020; Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Readings: Deut. 8:2-3,14-16; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

Mass is God
1.    Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – the Corpus Christi. In the Eucharist, Christ is offered and received and in him the church continually lives and grows. The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life. By means of the Eucharist the unity of God’s people is signified and brought about, and the building up of the body of Christ is perfected. We hold the blessed Eucharist in highest honor by taking active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice of the Mass.

2.    The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is so important and essential to us Christians that we must do whatever it takes to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion regularly and frequently. There is a story told of a merchant, who traveled, miles and miles, every Sunday to attend Mass in a parish when there weren’t many parishes. One day the pastor asked him where he resided. “Florida”, he answered. Then the pastor asked how he was able to attend Mass in Baltimore every Sunday, with limited means of transportation, as it was then. The man stopped short and looked at the priest with amazement. He told him, “Father, if there is only one Mass in the whole world, a man must endeavor to attend that Mass even if it means crawling on his knees, because Mass is God.” In today’s gospel reading Christ stressed, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” (Jn. 6:54). By eating the Body of Christ and drinking his Blood, we become the living Christ. We are enabled to discover our closeness and blessedness; and we acknowledge our brokenness and our strengths. We, like Christ, begin to put the needs of others above our own fears. Thus we, like Christ, become food for the world. We are Christians because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ but Catholics because of the Eucharist. Food is an absolute necessity for the growth of our bodies. And the Eucharist is an absolute necessity for our spiritual life.

3.    This brings to mind the story of Cardinal Newman. He was devoted to the Eucharist. Newman was a reputed scholar and had been a holy Protestant pastor. He studied Catholic doctrine carefully and struggled for many years before becoming a Catholic. A few days before his conversion, one of his friends tried to dissuade him from the step he was about to take, “Think over what you are doing! If you become a Catholic, you’ll lose a handsome income of 4,000 pounds a year.” Newman’s reply was: “And what are 4,000 pounds compared to a communion?” (New Horizon). Pope Francis reminds us that “The Eucharist is the spiritual lifeblood of the Christian because in receiving it we consume the glorified body of the Risen Lord, whose life then transforms us, elevates us and empowers us to become like him. The Eucharist grants us a share in the Divine and Human Savior of the world, whose gift of himself imparts eternal life to those who love him. That is why Jesus says, “If any one eats of this bread (my flesh), he will live forever.” (Jn. 6:15). 

4.    One of the core teachings of the Church on the Eucharist is that “Our Lord is truly, really and substantially present in the Holy Eucharist. Hence, we believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, not just a symbol of his Body and Blood but, his real Body and Blood through the process of transubstantiation during consecration. Christ told his disciples, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven.” (Jn. 6:57-58). Many of his disciples stopped following him because of this teaching, but Christ did not beg them to stay. Instead he asked his apostles: “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn. 6:67). According to Pope St. John Paul ll, this teaching “Is at the heart of the Church, the secret of her vigor; she must keep watch with jealous care over this mystery and affirm it in its fullness.” Taking this teaching seriously means that we must prepare ourselves for the fruitful participation at Mass. It is recommended that we read, beforehand, the readings of the Mass, examine our consciences, confess any mortal sins we are aware of in order to receive our Lord and Savior Jesus timely, worthily and devotedly. After receiving Holy Communion, our Lord is present in us as long as the species remain. This can be as long as 8 to 10 minutes. According to the Sacred Congregation for the sacraments and divine worship, “The faithful are to be recommended not to omit to make a proper thanksgiving after communion. They may do this during the celebration with a period of silence, with a hymn, Psalm, or other song of praise, or also after the celebration if possible by staying behind to pray for a suitable time.” If we truly believe that we receive Jesus Christ, His body, blood and divinity he will change us and make us holy, forgiving, loving, merciful, compassionate, devoted, caring and charitable. We will become what we eat.

5.    It is incumbent on us to protect and safeguard the sanctity of this sacrament. If you see someone take communion and not consume it, please call the attention of the priest. If you invite a non-Catholic friend to worship with you on a Sunday, please do not invite him to holy Communion. If he is interested in the Catholic teaching, let your pastor know so that he may be registered in RCIA, be catechized first before being invited to the table of the Lord.

6.    After Mass, we are dismissed to “Go forth, the Mass is ended, or Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord or Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”. This means we are sent forth to take the Christ that we have received in the Eucharist to our communities, our cities and our neighborhoods. Like Jesus, we must share him, the Bread of Life with the poor, the homeless, the sick, the saints and sinners alike. We are to make the Bread of Christ, broken and received by us available and fresh for others at all times. The Christ that we receive in the Eucharist is a sign of unity. It calls us to hold each other accountable and show that we are one in Christ, for “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28). Let us offer this Bread to those who need healing for their broken bodies, forgiveness and conversion to sinners, companionship to the lonely, food to the hungry and reconciliation, justice and freedom to prisoners. May we receive strength and nourishment from this food so that we may live forever with our Lord. Amen.

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Friday, June 5, 2020

June 07, 2020. Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.

Readings: Exodus34:4-6,8-9; 2Cor. 13:11-13; John 3:16-18.

We Are at Our Best When We Are in Love
1.    Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We worship God who manifested himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit - three Persons in one God: God the Father, Creator of the world, God the Son, Savior of the world and God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier of the world. In the Preface of the Trinity, we praise God in these words: “We joyfully proclaim our faith in the mystery of your Godhead. You have revealed your glory as the glory also of your Son and of the Holy Spirit: three Persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendor, yet one Lord, one God, ever to be adored in your everlasting glory.” In the Trinity, we experience unity of purpose and expression of love. Therefore, we worship a God who is in a relationship, and who invites us to enter into a relationship with Him. Hence, we are at our best when we are in relationship with others: God, friends, children, parents, co-workers, colleagues, etc., etc. No man is an island.  

2.    We begin every prayer by calling on God the Father, the Son and the Spirit to dwell in us and to help us live good and saintly lives. We were baptized into the life of Grace through the invocation of the Trinity and on the day of our funeral and burial, our coffin and grave will be blessed by the sign of the Cross and the invocation of the Trinity. The life of every Christian is marked by the Triune God dwelling in and through us. The Trinity is a mystery that presents us with a God of closeness, communion and intimacy. Our God desires community, communication and love within the Persons of the Trinity and with each and every one of us. “This is an initiating God, an outgoing God, a creative, life-giving God who stamps his communal life on us. We are in relationship because God is, we are made in his image and likeness.” (William J. Bausch). There is absolute love, respect and understanding within the Persons of the Trinity.

3.    Since we are at our best when we are in a loving relationship, we are also at our worse when we fall out of love, out of a relationship. The worse pain of our time is loneliness. That is why imprisonment is a terrible form of punishment. When prisoners behave badly, they are put in solitary confinement. Not having someone to talk to and relate with is as an awful experience. Many of our elderly ones often feel lonely when their children and friends do not visit them in nursing homes. Also, those who have gone through divorce know the painful feeling of a failed relationship, however it happened. They often feel alienated. And so, there is always a need for forgiveness and reconciliation so as to move on.

4.     The first reading from the Book of Exodus emphasizes the significance of the Triune God for us. The face of the Father is turned towards His children despite their sins. He renewed the tablets of the Law broken by Moses and showed them his mercy. He revealed His name, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” These are the attributes of the Triune God. God is merciful, implying compassion, and tenderness – the heart of the Father moved by unmerited love.  He is gracious - the favor or benevolence of one who has gifts to give and wills to give them. His kindness is the love that marks the covenant bond between Him and His children. And Finally, God’s fidelity connotes rock-likeness, constancy, the inability to be turned from the will to love. This is our God. He knows anger because of sin and permits Moses to express his anger by breaking the tablets of the law brought down from Mount Sinai; but in the end, God wants only merciful and faithful love to be known. This is the true heart of God. And the Gospel tells us how far God can go to reveal His true nature. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. In giving his Son, God the Father also gave himself, because the Father and the Son are in perfect communion and the Holy Spirit is the expression of the Father and the Son. St Paul shows us, in the second reading, that these attributes are really those of one God, and so of all three Persons. You are to “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Hence, the love from God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and the Spirit will bring us together in fellowship and union.

5.    So, how do we relate to the Trinity? We must, first of all, acknowledge the indwelling of the Trinity in our lives. Then we must develop an intimate and personal relationship with the Persons of the Trinity. This means having a personal relationship with the First Person of the Trinity. God is our Father who created us “To know, to love and to serve God in this world, and to be happy with God forever in the next.” The end of our human existence is to be in relationship with a God who made us in His image. He created us and sustains us in being therefore, we must have a personal devotion to God the Father. When we pray the Lord’s prayer, for instance, we address God the Father, directly. The more reason we should pray the Our Father with devotion, while reflecting and paying attention to the words of the prayer.

6.    We should also develop and inculcate an intimate relationship with the second Person of the Trinity. Jesus is the Savior of the world. He redeemed us with his precious blood. ‘The Anima Christi’, ‘Jesus I love You’, O Sacrament most Holy’ and other prayers besides, direct our minds to the Second Person of the Trinity.

7.    It may not be easy to have a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit because we don’t often feel that the Spirit is a person. The Church has many prayers that can help us develop a loving relationship with the Spirit: ‘Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful’, ‘Prayer for the seven gifts of the Spirit, etc., etc., Finally, it is important to know that all prayers are directed to God the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. Praying to God and God alone is far more important than to which Person of the Trinity we address our prayers. That is why, ‘The Sign of the Cross, the Gloria, and the Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, are traditional prayers that address the Three Persons of the Trinity directly.

8.    Let us pray that we may demonstrate the love of the Trinity in the way we relate in our families, in our society and in our nation. May the Trinity teach leaders of nations to love and protect the citizens they promised to govern in mutual respect. May men and women in uniform respect the dignity of every human person, irrespective of the color of their skins. And let there be tolerance and peace among people and nations of the world. Amen.

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Friday, May 29, 2020

May 31, 2020 Solemnity of Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1Cor. 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

The Sins of Whom You Forgive are Forgiven Them!
1.    Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church. Today the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles like flames of fire. Being filled with the Holy Spirit they began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.” (Acts 2:1-4). According to the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council on the Church, “When the work which the Father had given the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost that he might forever sanctify the Church. In this way all believers would have access to the Father through Christ in the one Spirit. He is the Spirit of life, a fountain of water springing up to eternal life. Through him the Father gives life to men who are dead from sin, till at last he revives in Christ even their mortal bodies.”  The Holy Spirit filled the apostles with zeal and courage so that they became Christ’s witnesses beyond the frontiers of Jerusalem, “Throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). That was how Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, reported the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. John, however, reported the same incident, which apparently took place on the same day of the resurrection thus: “On the evening of that first day of the week when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Gospel reading). Christ wished his disciples peace before He gave them the Holy Spirit; and then He sent them on the mission of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is directly associated with the forgiveness of sins.
2.    There is story told of a man who was suffering from acute back pain for years. He had undergone all types of treatment – allopathic, ayurvedic, etc. During one of his visits, his doctor prescribed a lot of medicine but told him that he would have the pain all his life and that it was his purgatory. With resignation he purchased the medicine. While on his way back he met a Sister, who had the gift of healing. Sister asked him to forgive everyone and she prayed for about an hour. The patient felt great relief and took all the medicine back to the pharmacy. Till now he has not experienced back pain again. It is true that most of our ailments are due to unfinished business relating to unforgiveness. Therefore, if we are to be witnesses of Christ, we must forgive hurts done to us. The Holy Spirit will assist us with the gift of forgiveness.

3.    We first received the Holy Spirit on the day of our Baptism. This Spirit was confirmed on the day of confirmation. The Penny Catechism defines Confirmation as “A Sacrament by which we receive the Holy Spirit, in order to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.” I recall that on the day of my confirmation, the practice was that the bishop will give those confirmed a gentle slap on the check. The explanation was that the slap was a demonstration that the person was ready to suffer for Christ, even to the point of dying a martyr’s death.  If the apostles needed the fire of the Holy Spirit to shake them up and transform them into warriors for the faith, so do we. Christ is present in his apostles through his spirit.

4.    We must demonstrate that we have the Holy Spirit by allowing the Spirit to work in us and through us. When Jesus received the Spirit he exclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he as anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk. 4:18-19). We are called to do no less than Christ. We are faced today with so many cases of injustice, abuse of human rights, violence, police brutality and indiscriminate taking of human lives on our streets. There is total disregard for the rule of law in our society, and yet many of us Christians, born again in the water of rebirth and the Holy Spirit, stand quietly by and watch as our brothers and sisters are being killed on our streets. How did we feel as we watched three police officers pinning George Floyd down with the fourth resting his knee and his weight on George Floyd’s neck as he shouted, “I can’t breathe” until he finally stopped breathing? Oh yes, there were many people watching, feeling helpless, and another police officer standing by to prevent anyone from approaching to help George. What is the Spirit sending us out to do today in a situation like this?  Jesus calls the Holy Spirit another Advocate. What type of advocate is the Spirit calling us to be? It is my opinion that the Spirit is calling us to be advocates of justice, to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. It may be too late for the likes of Freddie Gray of Baltimore, Eric Garner of New York, George Floyd of Minneapolis, and many others whose lives were taken by man’s inhumanity to man or to put it plaining, police brutality; but we can speak out for the Freddies, Erics and Georges of tomorrow.  It is very easy to judge and condemn the protests, the burning and the looting going on in Minneapolis this week. Much as I do not condone these practices under the disguise of protests, it should also be noted that this may be a way of calling attention of those in authority to look at the root cause of these protests - racism. Yes, The Holy Spirit calls us to forgive hurts done to us, but it is difficult to forgive repeated acts of injustice with no solution in sight. So as people of faith, we ask Christ to send into our hearts the Spirit of tolerance to fight our indifference and build a community of love and peace.

5.    Finally let us ask the Holy Spirit to come with his gifts of “Wisdom and understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord.” (Is. 11: 2-3). We pray the Spirit to plant in our hearts his fruit of “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal.5:22-23). Come and conquer the indifference in our world, and help us fight the battles of our hearts and the internal battles of the flesh such as: “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies and the like.” (Gal. 5:19-21). But most of all, we pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to forgive those who hurt us so that we may be holy as God our heavenly Father is holy. Let us pray that we may be filled with the fire of the Spirit and be transformed into a people of faith; courageous preachers, lovers of God and his people. Amen. God bless you!

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP.

Friday, May 22, 2020

May 24, 2020: Homily for the 7th Sunday of Easter - Feast of the Ascension, Year A

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; 1 Ephesians 1:17-23; Gospel Matt. 28:16-20

Go, Therefore, and Make Disciples of All Nations!
1.    Today we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. Article 6 of the Creed states: “He Ascended into Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Christ’s body was glorified at the moment of his Resurrection, as proved by the new and supernatural properties it subsequently and permanently enjoys. But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ final apparition ends with the irreversible entry of his humanity into divine glory, symbolized by the cloud and by heaven, where he is seated from that time forward at God’s right hand” (CCC 659). After the ascension, the task of preaching the Gospel was passed on to the apostles. Christ promised that he would be with them through his Spirit to accomplish the work of evangelization. The disciples were asked therefore, “Galileans, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” (Acts. 1:10-11). “Ascension is not a time to commemorate Christ’s departure from us, but rather a time to recall Christ’s presence in our midst. This presence is made manifest in the work of the people of God, the Church.” (The Word Alive by Eugene H. Maly).

2.    The feast of the Ascension is like taking part in a relay, the baton is passed on from one runner to another. Christ passed on the baton to his apostles and his apostles to us. This is no time to stand idle and watch others. We must obey the divine mandate: “Go make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19-20). How do we do this? For the start, we can make Paul’s instruction to Timothy ours: “I solemnly urge you to preach the message, to insist upon proclaiming it, whether the time is right or not, to convince, reproach and encourage, as you teach with patience.” (2Tim. 4:2). There are many people out there who are unaware of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. They do not know that God loves them, passionately, intimately, personally and individually. This then, is our mission: to make Christ known and loved, and, be His witnesses to all nations. We must teach and convince the world of Christ’s love and the need to give our lives in return for his love. In doing this, however, we know that we are not alone. Christ promises to be with us till the end of time. He is with us even during the worse circumstances of our lives. He is with us in his Spirit, who is an agent of evangelization. His Spirit will teach us how to be his disciples, in word and in deed. Our lives must speak much more eloquently than our lips do when it comes to witnessing and teaching. People would much rather see a sermon than listen to one.

3.    The Ascension means that Christ leads us from heaven through a shared mission of leadership. He now involves all of his people in the work of the kingdom. In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that we all have been given gifts for ministries. Some of us are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, or teachers. We are all equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. Our gifts must assist us in the task of evangelization. Therefore, we must be the living gospel for people to read. We are called to be good Christians, to have the love of Christ in our hearts and to share same with others. We must be kind, hospitable, compassionate and forgiving. We must learn to show mercy and not be engaged in uncharitable acts. We must refuse to peddle rumors and unkind words about one another. Gossip can ruin without killing, it can tear down homes, break hearts and wreck lives. It only brings confusion and suspicion where distrust is unperceived. Let us spread the message of love instead.

4.    Let me conclude with this admonition from Pope Paul Vl. in “Evangelization in the Modern World” he says this about the sign of true evangelization: “The truly evangelized individual must eventually go out to evangelize others. Such a person cannot keep his faith to himself. The power that Jesus has given to us so that we might indeed lead the victorious life of grace must eventually become vocal. The way of life must lead to a proclamation of the word of life.” Pope Francis on the other hand wants “The Church to go out onto the streets. I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves. Our parishes, schools and institutions are all made for going out…if they don’t, they become an NGO, and the Church cannot be an NGO. You are bearers of hope…You are the protagonists of the future, artisans for the future…Make the future with beauty, with goodness and truth…Have courage. Go forward. Make noise.” Though Christ is no more with us physically, he is very much around us spiritually. He said goodbye to his disciples so as to allow them grow into mature witnesses. His Spirit, working in and through his disciples taught them the way of love and discipleship. May this same Spirit dwelling in us show us the way to true discipleship. Amen!

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP