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Month: February 2022

remove the log in your eyes first

HOMILY OF 8TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C.

THEME: CHRIST ENJOINS US TO ALWAYS EXAMINE OUR CONSCIENCES INSTEAD OF OTHERS’.

First Reading: Sirach 27:4-7; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Gospel: Luke 6: 39-45.

In our society today, many people always want to be applauded for whatever action they take, whether good or bad, and no one likes to be blamed for any reason whatsoever. Besides, to openly admit that we are wrong whenever we err, which seems not to be a value in our culture, is a very difficult thing to do. We often have the propensity to blaming others for whatever goes wrong, but excluding ourselves from the blame. On the other hand, we always want to correct or instruct people on the right thing to do, but our actions often betray our words.

In the Gospel, Jesus Christ puts the question before us: “And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye” (Luke 6:41)? We can easily see the little faults of others, but do not notice our own atrocious acts. Oftentimes, we the preachers (religious and civil leaders) sanctimoniously criticize the evils bedeviling our society, as well as point accusing fingers at people and institutions who supposed to be responsible for whatever problem that is at stake. We can easily ask people to go to confession, to forgive, to be just, but most times, we don’t do them. So, the only idea is that if only others could change their evil ways our society would become a better place.

Furthermore, Jesus Christ instructs us on the need to look inwards into ourselves (introspection or self-examination), because according to Him, the bigger problems of the world as well as the starting point of the solutions to all problem lie within us; since our actions speak louder than our words. In other words, as far as the human problem is concerned, at any giving time and place, the heavier matter lies with us, and not others. The other person who is not us may be part of the problem, but what he or she may have contributed could be qualified as just a speck of the percentage of the whole problem. Compared to the speck in the eyes of the other, what is in our eyes is a log. That is why He further says: “…first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).

Moreover, looking inward implies: focusing on what lies inside our hearts and minds from where come our own actions, desires, thoughts, feelings, judgments and our perceptions. This is because, according to Ben Sirach in the first reading, what we say and do testify to who we are. What we say, especially about another person, says much more about us than about the other. It reveals our thoughts and values, our attitude and disposition, our motivation and preferences, our way of perceiving and judging.

Undoubtedly, every human person makes mistakes, and no one is perfect. As a matter of fact, Jesus Christ is not saying that we should not condemn evil in our society, but we need to admit our own mistakes first (introspection) before we point accusing finger on someone else’s. To take the plank out of our own eyes first before we can see clearly to remove the speck in our sister’s or brother’s eyes. So, let us stop the habit of blaming or castigating people for our mistakes or societal problems, rather we should always look inwards to see where we might have contributed to the problems in one way or the other, and then accept our weaknesses and pray to God for forgiveness and wisdom to become better persons. If everyone can adopt this habit of self-examination or introspection, then our society would become a peaceable and habitable place.

Finally, St. Paul reminds us in the second reading of the glorious future and the new life that awaits us once we persevere and become steadfast in the Lord. For Jesus Christ has overturned and overcome condemnation and death and opened for us the door of His mercy and love. So, we need to be compassionate, merciful and loving, and not be too judgmental whenever we see things going wrong. Therefore, if we desire a solution or a change, transformation or revolution, the first thing to do is to begin with ourselves. When we get rid of our logs, addressing the speck will be a very easy task.

May the Holy Spirit give us the grace to always examine our consciences properly, love others sincerely and be less judgmental, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Peace of Christ be with you…

Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.

Happy Valentine's Day 💗

BRIEF REFLECTION ON VALENTINE’S DAY CELEBRATION!

Today February 14, is the Christian feast day of St. Valentine and the traditional day for sending a romantic card or gift, especially anonymously to somebody you love. Though it is not associated with erotic or promiscuous activities demonstrated by our contemporary youths. But a day we commemorate the sacrificial love of St. Valentine, who because of his love for the union of couples that loved themselves in Roman empire, was killed by Emperor Claudius II after placing an embargo on marriage in order for his soldiers to concentrate well in battle.

HISTORY OF VALENTINE’S DAY

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

Meanwhile, the history of Valentine’s Day which occurs every February 14, and the story of its patron saint is somehow vague. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman traditions. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

1) One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he placed embargo on marriage for young men. Valentine, seeing the injustice therein disobeyed the Emperor’s decree and continued to perform marriage rites secretly for young lovers. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, the Emperor ordered that he be put to death.

2) Still others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a Bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He, too, was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome.

3) Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured.

4) According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and most importantly, a romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

THE ORIGIN OF VALENTINE’S DAY: A PAGAN FESTIVAL IN FEBRUARY

Some believe that Valentine’s Day is being celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial, which probably occurred around 270 A.D., while others claim that the Christian Church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Just as other pagan celebrations were replaced with Christian celebration, Lupercalia celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

Before the festival begins, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide.

Interestingly, the Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Finally, as we recall the sacrifices St. Valentine made to save marriages and families in imitation of ONE SACRIFICIAL LOVE that brought us salvation, may you always make efforts to imitate CHRIST in any little way today by showing love to people around you. Also may you receive uncountable blessings and healing mercies from God’s Throne of Grace and Mercy through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Peace and Love of Christ be with you…

❤️ HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! ❤️

Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.

Put your trust in God

HOMILY OF 6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C.

THEME: ALWAYS TRUST IN GOD IN ORDER TO SAVE YOUR SOUL

First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Gospel: Luke 6: 17, 20-26.

In our contemporary society, many people always want to associate themselves with prominent, wealthy and reputable personalities. Perhaps, for their lives to be influenced positively and for them to be accorded respect and honour. Unfortunately, in an attempt to gain the approval of those personalities whom they feel that can help them change their destiny for good, they would go about sabotaging, gossiping, as well as backbiting others. Sometimes, most of them put their whole trust in those personalities as if without them they won’t be able to actualize their goals in life.

On the other hand, some wealthy people put their trust, not on their fellow human beings, rather on their own wisdom and earthly possessions. They consider themselves to be self-sufficient and do not see the need for God’s assistance; not to talk of putting their trust in Him. Hence, they develop a sense of superiority complex and disdain everyone around them. Are you among those persons?

In the First Reading, Prophet Jeremiah, while addressing the people of Judah who had apostatized, foretold the dire consequences of trusting in human allies when they should have trusted in God who has the absolute power and authority over their lives: ”Thus says the LORD, Cursed are those who trust in human beings and depend on human strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:5-6). On the contrary, he further said: Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose confidence are in the LORD” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).  

Similarly, the Gospel also presents us with both a blessed (Beatitudes) and an accursed (Woes) ways of life; that is, the opposite ways of looking at life. The beatitudes here are directed to the poor, the hungry, those who are weeping, and those hated by the world. These people are blessed not because of their excruciating situation but because, despite their situation, they still have their focus on God. Meanwhile, to be poor in spirit means, to put your trust, not in your own ability, nor human beings nor earthly possession, but in God for His guidance and assistance. Just as the scripture says, “Trust wholeheartedly in God and do not rely on what you think you know, acknowledge Him in all you do…” (Proverbs 3:5). 

Moreover, the accursed are addressed to the rich, those with no pity who continually exploit the poor for their own advantage, those who are filled now, those who laugh now, and those whom the world speak well of now. Jesus Christ is not saying here that it is wrong to have earthly possessions, but it becomes a curse when we trust more in them than in God, just like the “Rich Fool” who did not include God in his plans for the future (Luke 12:16-21). Also when we fail to make our wealth available for the good of others, just like the “Rich Man” who couldn’t give his food to the poor Lazarus while on earth (Luke 16:19-31).

In the Second Reading, St. Paul elucidated why we must detach our hearts from earthly possessions: this world is but a fleeting moment. But our full and final life will come only after this one is over. If our life ends only in this world when we die, then it means that the incarnation, suffering and death of Jesus Christ are in vain. But Christ made it clear when He said: “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). He also said: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me, and I will raise that person up on the last day” (John 6:44).

Therefore, if we set our hearts and bend our whole energies to obtain the things which the world values, we may get them, but that is all we will ever get. In the expressive modern phrase, literally, we have had it! But if on the other hand we set our hearts and bend all our energies to be completely faithful to God and true to Jesus Christ, we will surely bear spiritual fruits through our constant care of the destitute, the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill, the social outcast and indeed, the poor. We may run into all kinds of trouble, and may by the world’s standards look unhappy, but much of our payment is still to come; and it will be joy eternal.

Finally, we are called to put our whole trust in God who has absolute power and authority over our lives instead of in human beings or in earthly possessions. If we solely attach ourselves to people or to our wealth and allow our values and principles to be guided by earthly riches, which are ephemeral, then our soul shall perish at the end of our earthly sojourn. But, when we patiently put our entire trust in God despite the tribulations or vicissitudes of life, then God will surely intervene in our life situation, and at the end our soul will live forever. For those who put their trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever (Psalms 125:1).

May the Holy Spirit give you the grace to make the right choice in life by utterly putting your trust in God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Peace of Christ be with you…

Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.

The miraculous draught

HOMILY OF 5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C.

THEME: THE GRACE OF GOD WILL SUSTAIN YOU!

First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8, 17-19; Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Gospel: Luke 5: 1-11.

When I was growing up, especially during my secular education at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, I had a lot of remarkable experiences, which put me on the edge ahead of my peers. I also had a very strong desire to become a great man with many innovative achievements. At some point, in my 3rd year, when I assumed the position of a Taskforce Chairman, Student Union Government, and subsequently, in my 5th year when I became the Chief of Keggite Club International, I was carried away by a life of waywardness due to youthful exuberance.  

However, when God called me to the priesthood, which I never dreamt of becoming, I was shocked to the bone marrow, because I found myself UNWORTHY to be called into such sacred ministry. I wanted to run away from it by trying to get married in 2008, but the disturbance was too much for me. Consequently, when I encountered the Power of God, my life was transformed, then the Almighty God gave me this message: I am not calling you to partake in my Salvific Mission because you are righteous, but there are great potentials I deposited in you before your birth which I want to use in the world.” At this point, I succumbed, resigned from my reputable job and entered the seminary.  

In the First Reading, when God called Prophet Isaiah, he saw himself as unworthy servant for the work of God, and thus exclaimed: “Woe is me! I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)! He was aware of his frailty and unworthiness and was frightened by the mission that was to be entrusted to him. But his uncleanness did not stop God from calling him, rather God purified and empowered him for His prophetic mission. Hence, he responded: ”Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). This shows that God is capable of purifying people to make them fit to transmit His message. He does not call the qualified but qualifies the called (Romans 8:30).

Similarly, in the Gospel, Peter and his companions were frustrated after toiling all nights, but could not catch any single fish despite their prowess in fishing. But as soon as they encountered Jesus Christ (Power of God), with faith and obedience to His commands, they caught many fishes to the extent that their boats began to sink, and their nets were breaking.

Astonishingly, Peter exclaimed immediately he experienced such miraculous achievement, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). But Jesus Christ, reassured Peter and said to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10). Remarkably, Peter’s sinfulness did not hinder him from becoming God’s instrument, rather Jesus Christ purified and empowered him for His prophetic mission of drawing strayed souls back to God.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul confessed his unworthiness and unfit to be called an Apostle after recalling how he once persecuted the Church of God. However, God still called him, purified and empowered him for His prophetic mission. Subsequently, he made great exploits in his missionary journeys more than others, not by his own human efforts, but by the special Grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10). This implies that, our achievements in life cannot be realised solely by our own personal efforts without the grace of God.

Meanwhile, the three different ministers of God (Isaiah, Peter and Paul) in today’s readings were called differently, but their responses were the same; one of total surrender, one of humility, one of unworthiness and one of responsibility. Their deep sense of unworthiness allowed God Himself to work with them, which paved the way for the grace of divine call to be effective in their lives. Their sinful nature did not make God to change His mind, rather what was necessary was their responses and readiness to change.

Furthermore, the fact remains that willingness to render service to God and to humanity is what God wants from us. The awareness, “I am Unworthy”, is indispensable for the Lord to continue His work of salvation in us, and through us, for the miraculous draught of fishes to occur, for the mystery of the Kingdom of God to embrace us, for the Holy Spirit to work in us with the Power of the Cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We only need to ask ourselves whether we are responding to His call or ignoring it. Just as God is ready ‘to remove our wickedness and purge our sins’ through the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist, we must be ready to leave everything hindering us from heeding His call.

Finally, we observed in today’s readings that God does not require one’s capabilities or qualifications before calling the person or entrusting him or her with any responsibility. What He wants is one’s availability and readiness to obey His commands, then He gives the person His grace. Furthermore, until Jesus Christ intervened, the fishermen were trying to do it on their own, but caught nothing. The moment Jesus Christ stepped in, miracle ensued.

Therefore, we must always surrender our worries, challenges as well as predicaments to Jesus Christ in prayers (1 Peter 5:7) in order for us to experience miraculous achievements or breakthroughs instead of struggling to solve them only with our human efforts, even if we are experts or have the resources (Zechariah 4:6). Only the grace of God or the presence of Jesus Christ (Power of God) can solve any difficult situation in our lives, our human efforts are limited. So, we might have been working tirelessly to achieve success, or to solve any difficult problem, or to stop any vice, but to no avail, I assure us today, when we allow Jesus Christ to step into the situation and put our trust in Him, He will definitely save us.

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be made manifest in your life so as to enable you to achieve great success, and also to partake in the prophetic mission of drawing strayed souls back to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Peace of Christ be with you…

Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.

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