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Month: March 2022

A Call to Repentance

HOMILY OF 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C

THEME:GOD GIVES US GRACEAND TIME TO REPENT

1st Reading: Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; 2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Gospel: Luke 13:1-9

In the past, the Jews had a superstitious notion that misfortunes only invaded bad people, while divine favour or good things only embraced good people. This was evident in the life of Job when he was passing through moments of excruciating sufferings. His friends tried to convince him that the reason why those terrible misfortunes befell him must have been some sins he had committed, perhaps without knowing it (Job 22:5).

Sequel to this Jewish ancient belief, many people always tend to attribute one’s misfortunes to be caused by the atrocious acts he or she might have committed in the past. Yes, there is no gainsaying that nemesis or karma does catch up with people later in life, however, it is not always the case, because calamities or misfortunes can befall anyone, both righteous and sinful persons alike. God may allow them for a purpose, only when they may be springboards towards salvation.

Amidst our misfortunes, God still loves and cares for us, and He is always making plans daily in order to deliver us from our predicaments, even when we do not take cognizance of His graciousness towards us. In the First Reading, God (I Am who I Am) calls Moses from the burning bush and entrusts him with the responsibility of delivering the Israelites, His chosen people from bondage in Egypt, where they were being systematically persecuted and gradually exterminated for four hundred and thirty years. Was it because of their sins that made them remained in perpetual agony for those number of years? Not at all!

In the Gospel, while responding to the crowds’ questions as regards those Galileans in the past that were invaded by misfortunes and subsequently met their untimely death, Jesus Christ uses the opportunity to correct the ancient notion of the Jews; that the desire to find direct correlations between sufferings and sin are fruitless and miss the point, which is that all are sinners in urgent need of repentance. Hence, their death should serve as a warning to us unless we repent, turn to God and change our ways (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Unarguably, the people who suffer misfortunes are not necessarily the worst sinners; they may, in fact, be quite innocent. Just like Job, the righteous man, or the little children in Bethlehem who were massacred by Herod (Matthew 2:16); so, what sins did they commit? As the scripture says: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers them from them all” (Psalms 34:19). God alone knows why misfortunes invade good people sometimes, including innocent children, while a lot of wicked people prosper materially, and can easily get away with their crimes.

However, the truth is that nobody will get away with any crime he or she has committed, unless the person repents. That includes those who think wicked thoughts about their neighbours and say wicked things about them, as well as those who perpetrate evil. The day of reckoning may be long coming, but it will surely come. If it does not come in this life, it will surely come on the judgment day. That is when sinners who fail to repent will most certainly perish forever (Romans 2:6).

Moreover, the good news is that every sinner who repents receives forgiveness from God. Some people may not like that, rather, they may wish to see some particularly wicked sinners pay dearly for their crimes even after they have repented. Fortunately, God is not like us; “His ways are not our ways, just as His thoughts are not our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). Also, through Prophet Ezekiel, God stated categorically: “I do not take pleasure in the death of anyone, says the LORD GOD. So repent and live” (Ezekiel 18:32).

Undoubtedly, we can repent of our sins at any time during the year, but Lent is a privileged season for genuine repentance and forgiveness. We should take full advantage of this season while it lasts and repent, so that we do not perish. Just as Jesus Christ talks about the parable of the barren fig tree in the Gospel of today, which is being given a final chance, a period of grace, to bear fruit, so God gives us time and grace to repent and to bear good fruits (love, patience, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, etc.), and to use our positions to touch the lives of others positively in order to deliver them from their misfortunes.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul admonishes us through the Christian converts in Corinth, to avoid overconfidence or making similar mistakes the Israelites made in the past, when they turned away from God even after delivering them from bondage, and because of that, they perished and did not reach the Promised Land. But, we are to show gratitude to God always by our righteous way of living.

Finally, just as God called Moses and used him to deliver the Israelites from bondage, He also calls us in various capacities to use our talents, positions, occupations, vocations, etc. to salvage or alleviate human sufferings as well as deliver people from their misfortunes, instead of using them to victimize people or to perpetrate evil in the society (Matthew 25:31-46).

Nevertheless, even if we have made mistakes in the past, God will still forgive us once we repent and confess our sins (Isaiah 1:18-20). For the scripture says: “…with the LORD one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow in fulfilling His promise, as some think of slowness, rather He is patient with you, because He does not want anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:18).

PRAYER:

May the Almighty God, through the Power of the Holy Spirit, deliver you from all your misfortunes and grant you the grace to repent from all your wrong doings this period of Lent, and also the grace for you to help and deliver those who are passing through excruciating sufferings, and at the end may you gain eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!!!

Peace of Christ be with you…

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

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The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ at Mount Tabor

HOMILY OF 2ND SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C

THEME: ATTENTIVE LISTENING TO GOD’S WORDS: A FUNDAMENTAL TASK OF A CHRISTIAN.

1st Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; 2nd Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1; Gospel: Luke 9:28-36.

Listening attentively is one of the major challenges many people struggle with in life. Sometimes, people may be gazing at a speaker, but in actual sense they are absent minded, perhaps their frame of mind may be distracted or tainted with biased thoughts. They can only listen properly if the speaker’s message is in tandem with their aspirations.

Unfortunately, due to globalization orchestrated by technological advancements, many people do not have time to listen attentively to God’s Word or Voice, even during Holy Mass or Church service. But, they can easily resort to strange or destructive voices accruing from friends, social media, society, etc., which tend to influence their behaviors and mindsets negatively.

Historically, Abraham became a very close friend of God simply because he was always docile and attentive to His Voice and Commands. The first reading of today lends credence to this historical fact. Abraham had absolute faith and trust in God that what God promised him would surely come to fruition. His unwavering faith is praised, because he believed God’s promise despite the fact that his wife Sarah was barren. Sequel to this, God reckoned it to him as righteousness and thus established a covenant with him. Hence, faith is the basis of God’s covenant with humanity, and those who receive God’s word with faith enter into a covenant with Him.

Last Sunday, we saw how Jesus Christ refused to perform a miracle the devil requested of Him despite the fact that He was famished after 40 days fasting. The reason is very clear: His main food is to always listen to His Father and to do ONLY what He wants Him to do (John 4:34). In other words, obedience to the voice of God takes precedence in His life.

In the Gospel of today, Jesus Christ went up to the mountain to pray with His three disciples (Peter, James and John) and to seek the approval of God for the decisive step He was about to take. He would never do anything or take any step without the approval of God (John 5:30). While praying, He transfigured, and Moses (great law-giver of the people of Israel) and Elijah (greatest of the prophets) appeared in glorious splendour and spoke to Him about His passion and death, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Suddenly, God’s voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” (Luke 9:35).

Moreover, Jesus Christ had earlier told His disciples about His impending passion and death, so He also wanted to use this medium to show them a glimpse of what His glorified humanity would become after His ascension, so that they would be encouraged and remain steadfast in the terrible test of faith which His passion and death would be for them.

Surprisingly, His disciples were distracted by a deep sleep (mental lethargy) initially, but only saw His glorious splendour when they were fully awake. Peter, then requested for a permanent residence for themselves and Jesus, in the fellowship of the saints in Heaven, but immediately, God made him to understand that the prerequisite for having access to that abode is to always listen to the voice of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, Jesus Christ also made this clear while addressing His disciples: “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). His mother (Blessed Virgin Mary) knew actually that once anyone listens to her Son, divine blessings would surely ensue. Consequently, she told the servants during wedding at Cana in Galilee: “Do whatever He tells you to do” (John 2:5).

In affirming the statements of Jesus and Mary, St. James further averred that listening to Jesus Christ entails doing whatever He tells us and not just listen and deceive ourselves (James 1:22). This implies that listening attentively to Jesus Christ (Word of God) and obeying His commands are the preeminent tasks of an authentic Christian.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul enjoins us through the Philippians, to imitate his footsteps just as he always imitates and listens attentively to Jesus Christ both in words and in actions, rather than listening to those strange or destructive voices (friends, social media, society, etc.) that tend to influence our behaviors and mindsets negatively. One of the ways of imitating Christ is to die with Him (destroying our selfishness) (Mark 8:34). Also, to always have faith and trust in God, meditate on His Words daily, and thus, develop the habit of waiting patiently for His divine intervention in all circumstances.

Finally, God loves us so much and that’s why He gave up His Son on the Cross as a Sacrificial Lamb for our salvation. He always wants to be in communion with us at all times. For the scripture says: “In the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many moments; but in these last days, He has spoken to us in the person of His Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Since by the virtue of our Baptism, we have made a covenant with God, let us always be docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and eschew the things that engender mental lethargy or deafness to the Word of God in our lives.

PRAYER:

May the Almighty God, through the Power of the Holy Spirit, free you from every spiritual deafness, grant you the grace to always listen attentively to the voice of God with faith and trust, and be obedient to His commands in all circumstances, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!!!

Peace of Christ be with you…

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

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First Sunday of Advent: The Temptation of Jesus Christ

HOMILY OF 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR C

THEME: ABSOLUTE TRUST IN GOD’S GRACE: A KEY TO OVERCOMING TEMPTATIONS

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; 2nd Reading: Romans 10:8-13; Gospel: Luke 4:1-13

Our world is like a battlefield for the survival of the fittest. Most times, there are unprecedented tribulations or temptations that we encounter in life, which are being occasioned by the evil ones in an attempt to thwart our future plans or goals. Sometimes, these temptations come in an attractive as well as clandestine or deceitful forms, but in the real sense, they are very harmful.

Meanwhile, today is the first Sunday of Lent in the Church: a period of 40 days of prayer, fasting, penance, mortification and almsgiving, which commemorates the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert. It is a period of penitential preparation for Easter, which begins on the “Ash Wednesday” and ends at the evening of “Holy Thursday”.

In the Gospel, Jesus Christ went into desert experience (moment of prayer, penance & mortification) for 40 days, so as to prepare Himself for His Ministry (Salus animarum – Salvation of Souls) and to restore the dignity of humanity that was lost through the temptation and fall of Adam. The Devil tempted Him with palatable things in order to make Him fail and lose focus of His mission. First, the devil asked Him: “If you are the son of God change the stone into bread.” Then Jesus replied: “scripture says, man shall not live by bread alone except by the word that comes out from the mouth of God” (Luke 4:3-4).

Meanwhile, bread or food as we know, is what satisfies one’s hunger or thirst, or what stimulates or nourishes one’s body, mind or soul. However, Jesus Christ is not really talking about physical bread or food per se, rather He is using it in a metaphorical sense. In other words, the bread or food being used here could be viewed in a generic sense; it could be physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, psychological, social, or any kind of food. This implies that, anything we cannot do without, or anything that we love so much, that thing automatically becomes our food. Now, the question is, which kind of food do we love most or allow to dominate our minds?

In the second temptation: “the devil showed Jesus Christ all the kingdoms, powers and the splendour of the world and said: ‘I will give them to you … If you worship me, they shall all be yours.’ But Jesus answered, Scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him” (Luke 4:5-8). Certainly, Jesus Christ did not want to compromise with the standard of the world, nor to allow material things (wealth) or positions of honour (power) to distract or prevent Him from worshipping God sincerely and faithfully. “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul” (Matthew 16:26)?

In the third temptation, the devil realized that Jesus Christ always made reference to the scripture in order to back His words and actions, he decided to use the same scripture to tempt Him. “Then the devil led Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple, and said: ‘if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for scripture says: God has given His angels orders over you, to guard you, they will carry you in their arms so that you will not strike your foot on the stone.’ But Jesus answered, ‘Scripture says: do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:9-12).

Here, Jesus Christ did not want to give the people sensations or to prove Himself by performing wonders in order for people to believe in Him.  But He made reference to the scripture: “You must not make senseless experiments with the power of God(Deuteronomy 6:16). Jesus saw quite clearly that if He produced sensations He could be a nine days’ wonder: but He also saw that sensationalism would never last. Can we Christians especially ministers of the gospel emulate this?

As Christians, we should be careful and vigilant, and also be mindful of those that preach only about prosperity, and deny suffering as part of authentic witnessing of the gospel. For many fake pastors (modern occultists) or religious pundits always use the scripture to deceive or brainwash their congregation. They do a lot of abracadabra during evangelization in order to prove the omnipotence of God, and to gain people’s admiration. Be conscious of them, anyone can read the scripture and proclaim it, but only those that are guided by the Holy Spirit accept suffering as a way of gaining salvation. For true Christians live by faith, and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Although Jesus Christ was very hungry after 40 days fasting, yet He refused to perform a miracle the devil requested of Him, because His main food is to always listen to His Father and to do ONLY what He wants Him to do (John 4:34). He does not do miracles for vainglory or show off, rather He does miracles as the Holy Spirit directs Him so as to glorify His Father in Heaven. He was firm and focused on His mission. Hence, obedience to the voice of God and not man should always take precedence in our daily endeavours.

In the first reading, Moses recalled how God harkened to their prayers and delivered the Israelites from the excruciating tortures of the Egyptians when they cried to Him for help. He told them to always show gratitude to God for His love, care and protection. Similarly, we are called this Lenten period, to always acknowledge God for the wondrous deeds (redemption) He wrought for us through Jesus Christ.

Moreover, one of the ways to do this is to journey with Jesus Christ in the desert this period of Lent; through prayer, fasting, penance, mortification and almsgiving, which are ways of assessing and reviving our fidelity to God (1 Chronicles 7:14) despite all temptations, so as to prepare ourselves for the renewal of our Covenant with God during Easter. However, if we deny ourselves our material needs; like food, drinks, clothes, money, etc., yet our lives do not change positively in our relationship with both God and our neighbour, what it means is that we just succeeded in starving ourselves and not fasted.

Finally, as Christians, we should not compromise with the standard of the world, nor allow power, authority, fame, wealth, food, etc., which are the underlying factors that make people succumb to the devil’s temptations, to distract us from worshipping God sincerely and faithfully. Nevertheless, when we put our trust in God via His Words, and always ask for His divine assistance (Holy Spirit), just as St. Paul averred in the second reading, then God will always deliver, empower, and protect us from the tricks that the evil ones employ in order to make us disobey Him, and lose focus of our mission or goal in life.

PRAYER:

May the Almighty God, through the Power of the Holy Spirit, grant you the grace and discernment in order to always overcome temptations in your life to the glory of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!!!

Peace of Christ be with you…

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

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