Saturday, October 12, 2019

Fr. Augustine Inwang, MSP - October 13, 2019. Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time year C

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19

Where Are the other Nine?

The Eucharist is the greatest act of thanksgiving we can ever render to God. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos.1359 and 1360, “The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God had made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity.” It explains further, “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all “thanksgiving.” At Mass we gather around the Eucharistic table as a family of God’s people, to give thanks to God for the gift of life, for good health, for our families, for friends, for our nation and for everything God has done for us.

It is surprising then, why churches are not full to capacity, with standing rooms only, with grateful people singing God’s praises for the blessings received. The empty pews raise some questions in our minds, could Christ be asking us the same question he asked the Samaritan leper cured of his leprosy: “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Being grateful to God for blessings received should come to everyone naturally. And so should it be, even with favors received from brothers, sisters and friends. Unfortunately, we are living in a world where selfishness, self-centeredness and greed have given way to a false sense of entitlement, making us feel that whatever is given us is ours by right. Hence, it is becoming more and more difficult to appreciate the contributions that people have made towards our successes in life. It is true, according to Criss Jami, that “Man is not, by nature, deserving of all that he wants. When we think that we are automatically entitled to something, that is when we start walking all over others to get it.”  

This brings us to the readings of today. Two men, both foreigners and outsiders, are presented to us, to teach us the importance of gratitude. Outsiders, whether Samaritans or lepers, are the special focus of the ministry of Jesus. This is because they were open to seeing God at work in a way that ordinary believers are not. After his healing, Naaman recognized the special status of Israel’s saving Lord and declared, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” The sincere gratitude of Naaman towards the God of Israel and his prophet Elisha, brought him a gift far more precious than the healing of his leprosy. He received faith in God and was determined to serve Him faithfully. “If you will not accept (the gift he brought), please let me, your servant, have two mule-loads of earth, for I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the Lord.” (Gospel reading). “Obedience to the prophet healed him and his faith in God brought him healing of his sins as well. Humility obtained for him the cure of his skin disease. Gratitude to God obtained for him a far greater grace: faith in the true God. Jesus was pleased to see one of those lepers, the Samaritan, coming back to him, praising God for the favor received. It pained Him that the other nine had not come back to do the same. He certainly expected them back, not because he wanted to receive their gratitude as to enable Him to complete His work of love, of which their healing was only the first step: to bring them to faith.” (Philip John, SSP; Premdas, SSP. New Horizon Homilies)

We must be willing to teach our children to be appreciative and to show gratitude for the blessings and favors received. “Someone once asked a Southerner… ‘Where does the South actually begin?’ The Southerner said, proudly, ‘When you notice the children say, “Yes, sir,” and “No, ma’am,”’ “But good manners are not a matter of geography. There are many polite children in Caribou, Maine; Wichita, Kansas; and Tacoma, Washington; as there are in Natchez, Mississippi. Children don’t learn politeness from a postmark. They learn it from a parent. “You’ll know you’ve done a good job of teaching when your child says, ‘Thank you for teaching me to say, “Thank you.”’” (Mark Link, SJ, Sunday Homilies Year C).

Today’s readings remind us to say ‘Thank you’ to God for his love and mercy towards us. We must also teach our children not to take anything and anybody for granted. Everything we have is a gift, freely given by God. God also uses people to help us in our endeavors on earth. Many times, some of us have been ungrateful to our parents. To people like this, King Lear said, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” We are also often ungrateful to our fellow-men. We can never pay off the debt of gratitude we owe to many men and women who have assisted us on the way to becoming the men and women we are today. How easily we forget that a friend, a teacher, a doctor, a surgeon or a colleague has done something for us which is impossible to repay. But the tragedy is that we often do not even try to repay it. “Blow, blow, thou winter wind, thou are not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.” (William Shakespeare, from ‘As you like it’).

The questions to ponder this week are: who am I? Am I always grateful to God for favors received? Or will Christ say of me, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” Have I taught my children to say ‘Thank you’ for blessings received? Or have they got the false sense of entitlement from my behavior and my inability to be thankful? Maybe we could set aside some minutes this week during dinner (if we still eat dinner together) to have each family member give thanks to God for some special things that happened that day. This should not only be done during Thanksgiving Day once a year. We have reasons to be grateful daily. Count your blessings one by one, and you will be surprised what God has done for you. “Thanksgiving – the giving of thanks – to God for all His blessings should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ. We must not allow a spirit of ingratitude to harden our hearts and chill our relationship with God and with others.” (Fr. John Pichappilly: ‘Kindle Your Spirit’; Homiletic Reflections for Sundays (ABC)). Let us pray with the poet George Herbert: “O God, you have given us so much. Give us one thing more – a grateful heart.” Amen.  

Fr. Martin Eke, MSP - October 13, 2019. Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time year C

Homily of Twenty-Eight Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
The readings of today invite us to reflect on the importance of gratitude. When Naaman bathed in the River Jordan as directed by Elisha, “he was cleansed of his leprosy.” He was grateful to God and returned to Elisha with a gift to express his gratitude. Naaman was Syrian. Syria, then, was considered a pagan territory because they were Baal worshippers. Naaman said to Elisha, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel. Please accept a gift from your servant.” Ironically, this happened during the last years of King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, and their children who led the Israelites to idolatry. While the Chosen People were ungrateful to God by worshipping pagan gods, Naaman the Syrian expressed gratitude to God and proclaimed, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
In the Gospel, Jesus healed ten lepers. Nine were Jews, and one was a Samaritan. Again, the nine Jews who were healed did not return to Jesus to express gratitude. The Samaritan did. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans as pagans and foreigners. Yet, it was the ‘pagan’ (the foreigner) “who returned [to Jesus] to give thanks to God.” The Jews took their healing for granted. Many times, we take our blessings for granted by not showing appreciation.
There is a saying that ingratitude is the worst of vices. This is because every vice is rooted in ingratitude to God. For example, when I don’t forgive those who offend me, I am ungrateful to God who forgives me all the time. We are invited today to live life of gratitude: gratitude to God and gratitude to fellow human beings. We are invited to limit our complaints, fault finding, whining, and nagging, and to increase our gratefulness, appreciation and thanks.
St Paul urges us, “Give thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20).  “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The Gospel of today emphasizes the importance of gratitude: “And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’ Then he said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.’” The Psalmist says, “Those who offer praise as a sacrifice honor me.” Giving gratitude to God is a recognition that all we have is a gift from God (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Jesus spoke harshly to his people due to their ingratitude. He scolded them, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And as for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.’”
Ingratitude can be very costly. In the Old Testament, the journey of forty days became forty years for the Israelites due to their ingratitude, and the ungrateful generations did not reach the Promised Land.
We can conclude with the following observations:
Expression of gratitude is a prayer in itself that God may give us more opportunities to thank him.
Expression of gratitude encourages, enlivens and empowers. Lack of gratitude discourages and diminishes.
Expression of gratitude is uplifting and promotes healthy environment. Ingratitude is sickening, and creates anxiety, stress, aches and pains.
Expression of gratitude is delightful. Ingratitude is repulsive.
Expression of gratitude brings more blessings. Ingratitude takes away blessings. The second reading says, “If we deny him, he will deny us.” May this not be our portion. Amen.
Fr. Martin Eke, MSP

Fr. Augustine Inwang, MSP - October 6, 2019. Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary time year C

Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 2; Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Faith Makes the Impossible Possible

Our first reading this morning is from the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk is generally believed to have written his book in the mid-to-late 7th century BC, not long before the Babylonians’ siege and capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Habakkuk was deeply disturbed by the violence and cruelty of the Babylonians, and asked the Lord, “So why are you silent while they destroy people who are more righteous than they?” (1:13). The Lord’s answer was that he would take action in his own good time, and meanwhile, “Those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God” (2:4). We sometimes feel like Habakkuk; frustrated and disillusioned when we witness so much destruction and bloodshed in our lands and God seems not to notice. Our faith is often tested, if not shaken, in the face of so much hatred and disregard for one another. We hear of the persecution and the incessant killing of Christians, some, while either praying in Churches or being burnt alive during the celebration of Mass. We want to cry out with Habakkuk, “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene.”

But God tells us to be faithful. In other words, He wants us to have faith. What is faith? Faith is defined as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “faith is both a gift of God and a human act in response to God. In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace. Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.” We are able to obey God because we cooperate with His grace. It is by so doing that the impossible things in our lives become possible.

Our faith in God should make us ready and willing to do his will. In the Gospel, the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. Why was this request relevant? The answer would be found in Luke 17:1-4. Here, Christ warned his apostles against being the cause of scandal or stumbling-block for others. He acknowledged that it was impossible to construct a world with no temptations; but woe to that man who taught another to sin or who took away another’s innocence. In verse 3 he said, “So watch what you do!” In the fourth verse Jesus speaks of the necessity of forgiveness in the Christian life. He tells them to forgive seven times. The difficulty of putting this teaching into practice made the apostles to ask for an increase in their faith. Without faith and the grace of God, we cannot obey his command or put his teaching into practice.
In response to the apostles’ request, Jesus said, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Jesus made it clear that faith is the greatest force in the world. With faith we can do the impossible. Our faith is not dependent on the size or quantity, but on the quality and its effectiveness. With faith, even the things that look completely impossible become possible. If we approach any task with the belief that it cannot be done, it will probably not be done; but if we approach it saying, “It must be done,” the chances are that it will. We know that we approach no task alone, but that with us there is God and all his power.    

Faith is not jumping to a conclusion; it is rather concluding to jump into the arms of God our Father unconditionally. It is accepting that Jesus is the Son of God; and believing in the words he spoke and in his power. It is “By this faith a just man lives” (Gal. 3:11). This is the kind of faith that can draw poison from every grief, take the sting from every loss and quench the fire of every pain. It is this faith that can be compared, as Jesus does, to a “tiny mustard seed.” Because, as the power of the seed does not depend on its size but on the life hidden within itself, so the power of our faith does not depend on its quantity but on its quality.  This faith and trust in the power of God to transform our lives, will enable us to struggle against sins in ourselves, and avoid causing scandal in others. It will make it possible to forgive all hurts done to us and help us wait on God to act on our behalf. Our faith must be living, practical and trustworthy.

Paul reminds Timothy in the second reading, not to forget the gifts of the Holy Spirit he received when he was ordained a minister. “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:6-7). Timothy should not be intimidated by the hardships, opposition and difficulties he encountered in Ephesus. These should not deter or dampen his spirit but strengthen his faith to remain strong, and resolute in his mission. The apostles too sensed the difficulties of their mission and so cried out for an increase of faith.

Following Christ is never easy for anyone. It was not easy for Christ to obey the will of His Father either. On the Cross He cried out too, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?”, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:2). Jesus urged us to have a strong faith. If our faith is strong, we should be afraid of nothing; nothing should shake or disturb us. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever” (Ps. 125:1). Doing the will of God will never be easy for anyone. Yet those who follow Him are on the right path. They have to fight the good fight and yet be humble enough to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” In the face of difficulties, violence, persecution and tribulation, we must wait on the Lord. “I waited patiently for the Lord’s help; then he listened to me and heard my cry. He pulled me out of a dangerous pit, out of the deadly quicksand. He set me safely on a rock and made me secure” (Ps. 40:1-2). For “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for. Then you will call to me. You will come and pray to me, and I will answer you. You will seek me, and you will find me because you will seek with all your heart” (Jer. 29:11-13). We should learn to wait or hope diligently and earnestly, patiently and perseveringly, until God should be pleased to help us.

We know that God did not call us to be successful but witnesses so, let us pray, that we may not wait for our God in vain; and that he may increase our faith, so that we may not be intimidated by the troubles of this world. May we commit ourselves to a life of prayer, to our baptismal vows and our call to be missionary disciples. Amen.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Fr. Martin Eke, MSP - October 6, 2019. Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary time year C

Homily of Twenty Seventh-Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Prophet Habakkuk prophesied in Judah about 600 years before Jesus Christ. At that time, there were political decadence and abandonment of worship of Yahweh. The first reading was a section of Habakkuk’s lamentation over the state of affairs in Judah. Habakkuk questioned God about his silence over his and the people’s cry and lamentation: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ But you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strive, and clamorous discord.” Habakkuk 1:4 which is not included in the reading says, “This is why the law is numb and justice never comes, for the wicked surround the just; this is why justice comes forth perverted.”

There are people whose condition is as Judah was, and like Habakkuk, in their grief and desolation, they ask God many questions: “Why me?” “Why this?” “Why that?” “Where are you, God?” “Where are your promises.” And many other questions. Some people argue that it is not proper to ask God questions. If that is the case, then the Scripture is full of improper questions to God. My understanding is that questions addressed to God with faith are prayers in themselves. Improper questions to God are questions asked doubtfully and without faith. God always answers questions to him with faith. When we claim that God is silent, we need to examine our faith. God speaks to us through Prophet Isaiah, “No, the hand of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, it is your crimes that separate you from your God. It is your sins that make him hide his face so that he does not hear you” (Isaiah 59:1-2). We can put verse two this way, “Rather, it is your [lack of faith] that separate you from your God. It is your [faithlessness] that make him hide his face so that he does not hear you.”

Because Habakkuk asked with faith, God responded, “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfilment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. … The just one, because of his faith, shall live.” In other words, God’s plans will surely come to fulfilment. God will not disappoint. Even if he delays, let us trust him faithfully. Our faith will save us.

St. Paul in the second reading encourages us not to lose our faith. He says, “Beloved: I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control… Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us.” In this passage St. Paul spells out some of the fruits of faith, “power, love, and self-control.”

The Gospel: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.’” It is not surprising that the apostles made this request. They had seen Jesus’ miraculous deeds and the authority in his teaching, which they would have compared to their lack of faith. We are like the apostles; we lack faith. This is seen in our lukewarm or lifeless practice of our Christianity. St. Paul calls our attitude ‘spirit of cowardice.’ St. Paul encourages us to stir and fan our faith into flame.

Yes, our faith in God will be tested as that of the selfless (unprofitable), hardworking, and obedient servant Jesus alluded in the Gospel. He remained faithful and went the extra-mile to do all his master’s will. The victory over this world is our faith (1 John 5:4). St. Paul says in Roman 14:23, “For whatever is not from faith is sin.” And Jesus bade some persons farewell with the following words: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace," to the sinful woman (Luke 7:50). "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering," to the woman healed of hemorrhage (Mark 5:34). "Go, your faith has healed you," to blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:52). Jesus encouraged Jarius, “Do not be afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:36). May Jesus greet us with such words as above. Amen.

Fr. Martin Eke, MSP