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GOD IS ALWAYS PRESENT IN OUR SUFFERINGS

Call to Discipleship. Jesus Christ sitting on a rock and preaching to the Crowd.

HOMILY OF 13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

TRUE DISCIPLESHIP: A CALL TO FREEDOM FROM WORLDLY ATTACHMENTS

1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; 2nd Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Gospel: Luke 9: 51-62

Our existence in this world is a Divine call. For none of us chose to come into this world on his or her own accord, rather God chose us and sent us into the world for different purposes. However, this call by God has implications, conditions, as well as consequences. It is a call to total commitment, self-abandonment, and freedom from slavery, which prevent us from actualizing our ultimate goal in life.

In the first reading, when Elijah called Elisha to follow him, he went and sacrificed all his oxen immediately, and used his farming implements as fuel to boil them and then bade farewell to his family. This immediate response shows his renunciation of his previous occupation or life for his new vocation as Elijah’s disciple. What a resolute decision and response!

In a similar way, Jesus Christ always chooses His disciples by Himself and not them choosing Him. He made this clear to His disciples, when He said: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out bear fruit, fruit that will last(John 15:16). Meanwhile, in today’s Gospel, a man approached Him and requested to follow Him wherever He goes. However, Christ’s response to him: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head(Luke 9:58) seemed to have rejected the man’s humble request. Not at all. Christ simply wanted him to know the implications of discipleship. For the scripture says: “My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes(Sirach 2:1-2).

On the other hand, Jesus Christ called two other men to follow Him, but they started giving excuses. One said: “let me go and bury my father”, and the other said, “let me bid farewell to my family.” In his response, Christ told them to drop whatever other agenda they had, which enslave them and make them earthbound, and then follow Him to proclaim the Kingdom of God. That is exactly what His first disciples did when they were called; they left everything and followed Him immediately (Luke 5:11). For anyone who starts to plough and is looking back is not worthy of the Kingdom of God. This implies that, following Jesus Christ does not admit of any excuses or double standard life (sycophancy, deceit, hypocrisy, dubiety, cunning, insincerity, etc.).

Moreover, it is worthy of note that, when Jesus Christ calls people to follow Him, He wants them to leave all other relationships and attachments behind, and then cling to Him without any reservation like Elisha in the first reading. It is a call to total abandonment of self, and detachment from worldliness, which also requires resolute decisions, focus and absolute dedication. This detachment from earthly possessions and family enables the disciple to be free to serve God sincerely and wholeheartedly. For Christ made it categorically clear to His disciples, that a call to discipleship is a call to self-denial and total abandonment to the will of God (John 6:38; Mark 8:34).

By the virtue of our baptism, we have been set free from the dominion of darkness which enslaved us, and thus become sons and daughters of God, as well as, the disciples of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13-14). Just like the early disciples of Jesus, we did not choose Him, no, He chose us. In other words, we are Christians not because we wanted to be Christians, but only because Jesus made us so by His own deliberate choice. His reasons for choosing us are known to Him alone. So, we must follow Him completely with all our hearts. To place our very selves and all our possessions at His disposal, to do with us as He pleases.

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that if we are to enjoy this freedom that Christ has won for us, we need to allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. For many of us have the desire to serve God, and to offer our lives to Him. But, at times, our attachment to sinful habits or attitudes, to possessions and relationships, hinders us from following Him more closely. That is why St. Paul urges us to work in the spirit so that we would not live double standard life or gratify the desires of the flesh: Adultery, fornication, masturbation, homosexuality, lesbianism, idolatry, envy, jealousy, unforgiveness, greed, etc., which tend to enslave us (Galatians 5:16).

Finally, our call to Christian life is a call or journey undertaken to follow Christ more closely and total dedication to God’s will. Also, not to live or act in a way that compromises our call to discipleship, or that contradicts our Christian faith. We also need to burn the yoke of slavery to sin and worldly things, and in its place take up the yoke of Christ to find true freedom and joy.

Although, answering this divine call may be cumbersome, or saturated with rejections, persecutions, hatred, conspiracies, etc., accruing from wicked people around us. However, instead of calling fire from heaven to consume them, like James and John in the today’s gospel, Christ asks us to ignore their shenanigans, and still show them genuine love. Our decisions to give up our inheritance or abandon our promising career trajectory in order to follow Christ, may sound preposterous. But, Jesus Christ promised us that; “everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much, and also inherit eternal life(Matthew 19:29).

PRAYER:

May the Power of the Holy Spirit guide you in making resolute decisions that will contribute to the promotion of the Kingdom of God, deliver you and your family from the forces of darkness and worldly attachments; and may you find joy in serving the LORD and loving Him above all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Peace of Christ be with you…

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

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The Potrait of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ

SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST SACRED HEART OF JESUS

THE HEART OF CHRIST RADIATES LIFE AND LOVE!

1st Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16; 2nd Reading: Romans 5:5- 11; Gospel: Luke 15:3-7

Today, the Universal Church celebrates the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. It is one of the most widely practiced and well known Catholic Devotions in the world.  This heart of Jesus Christ Symbolizes God’s infinite mercy, abundant and passionate love for humanity.

WHY DOES THE CHURCH CELEBRATE THIS FEAST?

We know that the heart is the seat of Love and where there is love there is life and health. Only a pure heart can love genuinely and unconditionally, and once you’re connected to that heart that is pure, life is being transferred or infused in you and you will be transformed. Jesus Christ is a Man with a Pure, Compassionate, Kind, Humble and Merciful Heart, Slow to Anger and abounding in Love. That is why He tells us in Matthew 11:28, to come to Him, those who are overburdened with heavy load in their hearts, that He will give them rest. Because He has come that we might have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10).

Meanwhile, in the first reading, through Prophet Ezekiel, God promised to seek out for His sheep; and to rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. Gloriously, this promise is being fulfilled in today’s Gospel, through Jesus Christ, the good Shepherd, who goes in search of the lost sheep, and, after finding it, rejoices with His neighbours. Certainly, it was because of the genuine Love He has for humanity that He decided to come as human in order to redeem her from her precarious and sinful state. Thus, Jesus reveals His compassionate love towards those who go astray, in order to reconcile them back to the Almighty God, who is the Source of Life, so that they might have life in fullness and live forever.

Moreover, He did this by shedding His precious Blood on the Cross and His Sacred Heart was pierced with a spear, and thus Blood and Water gushed out. Consequently, when He was raised up high on the Cross, He gave Himself for humanity with a Sacrificial Love; ratified by His precious Blood and Water pouring out from His pierced Heart, which is the wellspring of the Church’s Sacraments. So, that won over to the open Heart of our Saviour Jesus Christ, we might with Joy draw water from the well of Salvation (Isaiah 12:5).

Therefore, we need to make frantic efforts daily in order to be connected to this heart. For instance, a magnet has the ability to attract any metallic object and can transfer its properties to that metal when it is being attached to it for some time. Subsequently, that metal would become a temporal magnet and thus begins to attract other metallic objects. So also, if we faithfully attach ourselves to Jesus Christ on a daily basis through the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Penance, and allow Him to dwell in our hearts, then His attributes of purity, compassion, kindness, humility, merciful heart, slowness in anger and unconditional love will definitely be infused or transferred into our hearts. When this transformation takes place in our hearts, we will be able to transform the lives of those we come in contact with on a daily basis.

Finally, since God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us, just as St. Paul explains in the second reading, I enjoin you all today, to imitate that Heart that is Sacred, Pure and Lovely, so that you may have life in abundance and live forever.

PRAYER:

Say: Our Father … Hail Mary … Glory Be to the Father … O Most Sacred Heart 💘 ❤ of Jesus Christ, I place all my trust in you, for whom it is impossible not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners, and grant us the grace which we ask of you, through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, your tender Mother and ours, Amen.

Peace of Christ be with you…

Rev. Fr Benjamin OKALA, C.S.Sp.

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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.

Homily of 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.

THEME: GOD IS ALWAYS PRESENT IN OUR SUFFERINGS.

1st Reading: Isaiah 50:5-9; 2nd Reading: James 2:14-18; Gospel: Mark 8:27-35

Naturally, every human person likes comfort, and abhors sufferings, sacrifices or anything that would discomfort or inflict pains upon him or her. However, life itself is imbued with plethora of sacrificial enterprises. Even in our secular world, any successful person would tell you that achieving greatness is not a bed of roses. Like many successful entrepreneurs: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Marc Zuckenberg, Philip Emeagwali, etc, who achieved material greatness for the betterment of humanity, had no secret formula for their success, rather they were faced with many sufferings and sacrifices. This implies that, challenges, misfortunes, sufferings (cross), etc., are, but the very essential aspects of life, and in order for anyone to achieve greatness in life, he or she must be ready to embrace sacrifices or sufferings as his or her companions.

In the FIRST READING, prophet Isaiah foretold the mission of the Messiah, which would be to liberate humanity. As God’s servant, His heart and ears would always be open so as not to miss any instruction from God. However, in the process of carrying out God’s plans for humanity, He would experience humiliations, persecutions, hatred and oppositions which would culminate to His sacrificial death on the cross; but through these sufferings, He would enter into His glory (Lk. 24:26).

In the GOSPEL, despite many good works Jesus had performed, yet people never recognized His true identity (the Messiah), but gave divergent opinions or conjectures about Him. But Jesus wanted His disciples to give a personal account of Himself instead of what others were saying about Him. Thus, through the revelation given by the Holy Spirit, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus admitted the truth of Peter’s declaration, and thus plainly announced His real mission, which would be embellished with sufferings, death and resurrection. He revealed this to them so as to forestall and erase any wrong ideas of a political leader which some of the Apostles might have, but instructed them not to disclose His real identity until His mission is being accomplished.

Interestingly, what Jesus did here in the Gospel is similar to a term in psychology known as Johari’s Windows, which is a useful model for self-awareness and identifying the personality of a person in a group. Ipso facto, it is very pertinent for us to always seek for feedback which helps us to grow both socially, intellectually and spiritually. It is not enough to have the Ecclesiological and Christological knowledge that talk about the Church and Jesus Christ respectively, or to obtain a PhD in theology, without having any personal discovery of Christ, through our daily crosses, so that we can bear authentic witness of the gospel.

Astonishingly, Christ’s disciples couldn’t imagine a Messiah with such power from God to be put to death, and how could a dead man rise again. Moreover, because the Jews had a prolonged historical political domination and oppression by successive foreign powers, it made them began to anticipate an earthly military or political messiah who would forcefully revolt against the Pagan Romans, as at that time, and thus, restore the glorious days of the Israelites during King David’s reign. They never envisaged a Messiah to come and suffer any misfortune, and that was why Peter, as an elder, wanted to dissuade Jesus Christ from His mission, since no one brags with suffering.

However, seeing the manipulative utterance of Peter who just professed Jesus as the Messiah not quite long ago, Jesus immediately, rebuked him saying, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but man’s.” Meanwhile, Peter was not actually referred to as devil, but a tempter (opponent) whose way of reasoning is carnal or human construct. He was having a human outlook on God’s purpose and wanted to stop Jesus Christ, not knowing that his perspective was actually opposing God’s will. This implies that, sometimes certain thoughts or decisions we make as humans, may not actually be divinely certified, since they do not help us in fulfilling God’s will, rather our own selfish gain. For the scripture says, “There is a way that seems right unto a man and the end is death (Provb. 16:25).” When we do not pay attentive ear to the voice of God for the direction of His divine plans for us, we may not actually know that He is always present amidst our sufferings, not to talk of knowing what He is saying to us at that moment, which may gain us salvation.

Certainly, the cross (suffering) is a symbol of Christ’s redemptive action, which every Christian should be ready to endure, since out of love and obedience to the voice of God, Christ humbly and patiently sacrificed His life, and bore His sufferings in order to save humanity. He told His disciples that anyone who really wants to follow Him, must be ready to pay attention to the instructions that would be given him/ her through the Holy Spirit, which sometimes may lead to the paths of suffering (Mk. 8:34). So, if we want to experience the glorious splendor of the divine majesty, then we should be ready, like the Apostles of Christ, to endure the challenges accruing from the vicissitudes of life (Rom. 8:16-17), for God’s grace will always be sufficient for us even in our struggles (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Surprisingly, many people often forget that suffering or sacrifice is the conditio sine qua non (necessary condition) for authentic Christianity, and without which no crown or glory can be attained. For they are ways of partaking in the sufferings of Christ. So, anyone who claims to love, sacrifices of his or her time, energy, resources, etc, should be the basis for such love. Remove the cross or sacrifice, then there is no love, and where there is no love, there is no Christianity. For instance, like St. Paul and other disciples of Christ who brought down the gospel to us, suffered grievously in order to be glorified or crowned saints. At a point, when the suffering was too much, and St. Paul wanted them be removed, but God told him, “..my grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Thus, he began to boost in his sufferings for Christ’s sake.

Similarly, just like St. Paul and many Christians, I personally (Fr. Ben), had passed through plethora of sufferings before I became a priest: When I was young during my primary education, I fell from a storey building and broke my ribs; during my secondary school days, I had severe accidental leg injuries; at the university level, I broke my ribs again during football. Also when I was doing my national youth service (NYSC) in 2005, as the best goalkeeper then, I represented Edo state at Abuja, and during the match I fell on top of a stone and broke my ribs again for the third time. In 2009, when I resigned from my job and entered seminary, that first year, I had an accident and my lips tore, and was stitched. After 6 months the same year, I had a slipped disc, which kept me bedridden for two months. In 2016, I broke my leg again, my ankle pulled out from the joint and faced backwards. I was on Plaster Casts (POP) and with clutches for almost one year. The climax of all these challenges was on 23rd December 2016, when I caught pneumonia, which blocked my heart and lungs and I could not breathe again. Consequently, I passed away, but through divine intervention I later came back to life after some hours to the glory of God. In all these sufferings, I never despaired, but had faith in God, and His grace was really sufficient to carry me through, and thus I was very joyful amidst the pains; seeing them as my own share of sufferings in following Christ.

Unfortunately, many Christians, like St. Peter in the Gospel, make the mistake of attributing sufferings to manipulative or projected curse, which is unacceptable and must be resisted by force. Hence, they spend more time moving from one prayer house to another looking for deliverance, or for a way to get quick riches without making any reasonable effort to push away the frontiers of illiteracy or ignorance, and then begin to work hard so as to achieve greatness or even to earn a living. Even some pastors or ministers of the Gospel tend to brainwash their congregation into believing that a child of God cannot suffer any misfortune (sickness, disappointment, lack & want, etc.), instead of going to the hospital first for the treatment of the sick ones (though not all cases are medically oriented) and waiting patiently for God in prayers (divine assistance). This is a wrong Christian teaching (theology).

Surely, there are moments in our lives we may undergo serious training or drilling in order for us to achieve our purpose in life. Like gold, which must be refined in a furnace before it can actually produce a pure or fine gold. For the scriptures made us to understand that, “Good people suffer many tribulations, but the Lord will deliver them (Ps. 34:19).” Jesus Christ even confirmed this when He told His disciples that; “In the world, you will suffer many tribulations, but be courageous, I have conquered the world (Jn. 16:33).”

Therefore, since Christ has suffered for us out of love, we too should emulate His footsteps and reciprocate this love, by accepting difficulties or sufferings for the sake of others. Just like St. James said in the SECOND READING, our faith is dead without the heart of God. It is meaningless without compassionate service to the poor and needy. For authentic Christian life demands that one is ever ready to sacrifice one’s own convenience and pleasure for God’s Sake. This is the real meaning of faith in action, ipso facto, practical Christianity.

Finally, we should always:

(1) Give gratitude to God the Father for allowing His Son to undergo such rigorous roads for our sake;

(2) Bear our own daily crosses patiently and gladly; and

(3) Help the needy to carry their crosses by providing them with the basic necessities of life, while relying on divine assistance (God’s Grace) to see us through.

I pray that by the Power of the Holy Spirit, may the Grace of God be sufficient for you in your difficulties or 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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HOMILY OF 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C The Almighty God Loves and Cares for you…

TRUE LOVE IS SACRIFICE EMPOWERED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.Today, Jesus Christ gives us a New Commandment of Love. Does it mean that people were not required to love before His time? Certainly, the Jews had two commandments of love of God and of neighbour. So how is the commandments given by Jesus new? True love is to sacrifice one’s own comforts, energy, time, resources and talents for the sake of others; being merciful and compassionate, as well as giving a listening ear to the poor, weak, depressed, etc. For where there is no sacrifice, there is no love, and where there is no love, then there is no Christianity.Please Tap the link below 👇 to read and understand more…*https://frbenokala.com/2022/05/14/homily-of-5th-sunday-of-easter-year-c/—Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/rev-fr-benjamin-okala/message
  1. HOMILY OF 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C
  2. HOMILY OF 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C (GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY)
  3. Homily of 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year C (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY)
  4. Homily of 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.
  5. Homily of 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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