Friday, May 17, 2019

Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP: May 19, 2019. Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter: The New Commandment - Love One Another As I Have Loved You!

Today’s Gospel reading is very explicit indeed! It demonstrates that Christ reigns supreme on the Cross. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:32). And so, on the eve of his death, Christ addressed his Apostles about his glorification. His death was imminent. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (Jn. 13:31). The glorification of Christ was due to his tremendous act of love in obedience to God, his father, for the salvation of the world. “Christ Jesus… did not regard equality with God… emptied himself… and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him” (Phil. 2: 5-11). It is this self-sacrificing love that Christ wanted his disciples to emulate and share with the world. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).  Christ, the new Moses, gave a new commandment to his disciples and by extension to us all. Love one another. To love is not a new commandment, it is as old as the Old Testament itself. In Leviticus 19:18 the children of Israel were told to “Love your neighbor as yourselves”. But Christ told his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you”. How did he love his disciples? By dying on the cross for them. “Greater love than this no man has that a man should lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Christ is not talking about emotional love. Not infatuation, eros or philia. He meant the love that goes beyond all and cuts right into the heart of our being. He meant agape!

Agape is the highest form of love. It is the love of God for man and of man for God. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes agape love as “something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it is the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likable, but because God loves them” (A Knock at Midnight, Pg. 48). This love made the early Christian community to live together sharing what they had in common (Acts 2:42-46). It drove missionaries to traverse the length and breadth of the world proclaiming the good news to all the world and even to shed their blood for the sake of Christ. These men and women, having experienced God’s love, as St. Paul would say, “The love of God urges us on” (1 Cor. 5:14), could not keep that love to themselves but did all they could to teach and baptize others so that they too may experience God’s abundance life and his redemptive love (Mt. 28:19). 

Therefore Ss. Paul and Barnabas, during their first missionary journey, would say in today’s first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Yes! “A true Christian is not only interested in his own salvation, but also deeply concerned about the salvation of others. Merely giving some alms does not constitute the virtue of charity. Effective interest in Church matters and Parish activities, intended to strengthen the faith of the members, is the obligation of every Christian. The Apostles and early Christians proved their undying love by accepting hardships and even martyrdom for the faith. We can show our love for others by courteous correction of an erring person, words of encouragement to the suffering and above all through our prayers. Let us begin to love truly and thus build the kingdom of God” (New Horizon Homilies by Philip John, SSP and Premdas, SSP, pg. 442).

Jesus Christ wants us to accept and put into practice his new commandment of love. To love as he loves us, to forgive as he has forgiven us. To be self-effacing and to always think of the good of others. No wonder the mother of a child with life threatening sick would spend her life caring of her sick child. Or a woman whose fiancĂ©e is comatose will refuse to give up hope but stay by his side day and night praying for a miracle. To love as we are commanded makes it possible for mothers with children killed by drunken drivers to offer forgiveness to the killers instead of living with the pain and grieve and get stock in the past of unforgiveness. “There are thousands of broken families which would not have broken up if the members lived in love. There thousands of men women and children in jails, hospitals and street corners, who would not be there if those concerned had not failed in fulfilling their obligation to love. Thousands are poor, famished, oppressed, bonded laborers, victims of war and riots, because some persons, refused to love. Even more shocking, there are thousands suffering and uneducated, thousands live without any place for Christ and His teachings in their lives because we have failed to exercise charity. Love, the distinguishing mark of Jesus’ kingdom, should spring from our own hearts. When there is love in our hearts, there will surely be love in our families, institutions, country and world. The human heart is the minutest and most important unity of the kingdom. By exercising brotherly love from the heart we already anticipate the holy city in our midst” (New Horizon Homilies by Philip John, SSP and Premdas, SSP, pg.441-442).

The Book of the Apocalypse of John anticipates a new city of joy, peace and love. This vision of John in the second reading can only be realized in our life time if we begin to obey the new commandment of love. “Love is the one creative force that can transform the whole world and us. It enriches the recipient without impoverishing the giver. Therefore, Mother Theresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go, first of all in your family. Give love to your children, to your husbands and to your next-door neighbors” (John’s Homilies Cycle - C by John Rose Pg. 77). 

Let us be reminded that if there are problems in our families, it could be that we have forgotten to obey the commandment of love. If our churches are empty, maybe we have failed to show love. And if there are problems in our institutions of learning, in our places of work, in our communities and in our nation, somewhere somehow it could that we have either ignored, failed or forgotten to put the commandment of love into practice. And hence we have not been able to experience the new city, our heavenly Jerusalem here on earth (second reading). May it never be said of us like Mahatma Gandhi once said when asked of his view of Christianity: “I have a great respect of Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who had done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with the Christians. They do not begin to live up to their own teachings”. If we Christians were to love as Christ commands us, I have no doubts that our churches would be teeming with people and instead of closing churches, we would be building new ones. May God give us the grace to accept his new commandment of love and put it into practice in our lives. Amen. 

                                                   Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP

Fr Martin Eke, MSP - Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter- May 19, 2019

Homily of Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C

The readings today draw our attention to the virtues that help us to live a good Christian life. The virtues are faith, hope and love. Let us locate the virtues in the three readings:

First reading: Paul and Barnabas “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’ They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.”

Second reading: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.’ The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I will make all things new.’” The reading is an invitation to hope and to look forward to the blessings God has in stock for his faithful ones.

Gospel: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Faith, hope and love are called Theological Virtues because they are “gifts infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life” (CCC 1813).Without faith, hope and love we are incapable of living out the other virtues: wisdom, courage, justice and self-control. These are called Cardinal Virtues. The measure in which we receive faith, hope and love from God is the measure we practice our Christianity. Good input brings about good productivity. Low input brings about low productivity. Bad input brings about bad productivity. Whereby there is not input at all, there is zero productivity. Our Christian witnessing follows the same rule.

Paul and Barnabas spoke the words we read in the first reading to strengthen the disciples who were persecuted because they were Christians. Our faith in God is tested by difficulties and hardships. Paul and Barnabas speak the same words of encouragement to us: “Persevere in the faith.” The Lord speaks to us in Hebrews 10:38, “My just one shall live by faith and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.” May we not draw back. Amen.

For those whose hope in God remains unshaken in times of trials and hardships, God promises in the second reading to wipe every tear from their eyes, and make all things new. St. Paul teaches us the power of hope in Romans 5:2-5, “We boast in the hope of the glory of God… We even boast of our affliction, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us.”

Jesus says in the Gospel, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We can only know that we have received God’s love that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit when we show that love to others.  St. Paul writes, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you [may be] rooted and grounded in love…” (Ephesians 3:17). And in 1 Corinthians 13:8 & 13, he writes, “Love never fails… So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Jesus challenges us with these words, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” Jesus’ love is sacrificial, which resulted in his death on the Cross. Jesus’ invitation means that some of us will be called to pay the supreme sacrifice for love of neighbor. This is a reality we need to bear in mind, and pray for the grace to accept the call if God wills it so.  But all of us are called to die to self for the benefit of others since Jesus died on the Cross for the salvation of all.
Fr. Martin Eke, MSP

Fr Ebuka Umekachikelu, MSP - Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter- May 19, 2019

THE NEW COMMANDMENT OF LOVE: The context of the Gospel is the Last Supper in John 13. John describes Jesus in this chapter as having loved his disciples “to the end” (John 13:1). There is no greater love than a man dying for his friends (cf. John 15:13). William Barclay, commenting on John 13:31-33, says that in any warfare, the greatest glory goes to the warriors who fell, not the survivors, because the dead made the greatest sacrifice. He adds that obedience is the only way a man shows that he loves, admires and trusts a leader (The Gospel of John, Vol 2, 148). This comment helps us understand today’s Gospel. Judas’ exit shows his final decision to have Jesus killed. Jesus decidedly did nothing to avert the looming catastrophe because it was the will of the Father that he died on the cross. Jesus’ acceptance to die on the cross was the greatest way he manifested his love for humanity. His act was great glorification. His act of obedience was also great glorification of the Father. There was none before Jesus who exhibited this type of vicarious suffering and death. It was therefore a new commandment of love. The type of love Jesus is asking from us for others is not eros (sexual love) because this is natural. It comes instinctively whether willed or not. It is equally not storge or philia (familial or friendly love) because it is natural that we love our parents, siblings, friends and relations, since they show affection to us. The love Jesus is asking for is agape (Christian love). This type requires our intellect and will because it is not natural. Agape is also for enemies and those repulsive to us. Jesus died for his enemies (Rom 5:8-10).

O Jesus, the command to love our enemies and those repulsive to us is very demanding. Give us the grace to love as you love. Amen.

Fr Ebuka Umekachikelu, MSP - Homily Saturday, May 18, 2019

EVERY DISAPPOINTMENT IS A BLESSING: The Holy Spirit appointed Paul and Barnabas for a mission: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). This mission was not clear to them at the beginning. Being Jews, they operated initially with the Jewish mentality: The message of salvation was meant for the Jews only. This was why they preached ab initio only in the synagogues, with focus on the Jews. It was the great opposition from the Jews that opened their minds to listen more attentively to the Spirit. They then understood that their mission was mainly for the conversion of the Gentiles. The oppositions and difficulties they encountered among the Jews were blessings in disguise, both for them and the Gentiles. When they turned their attention to the Gentiles, they started experiencing greater results and more self-fulfilment in their mission. Many times in our lives, we are bound to face oppositions, failures and disappointments. These occasions should not call for throwing in the towels; rather they should be occasions of exhibiting our doggedness in God’s mission. These are occasions when God reveals to us better ways of achieving our purpose. When persecutions and difficulties set in, they come torrentially in droves. Even women, who are naturally sympathetic, were so stirred up that they became antagonistic towards Paul and Barnabas. The good news was that it was through all these abnormalities that the duo came to grips with their actual mission from God – the evangelisation of the Gentiles. For our peace of mind, Jesus exhorts us, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Lord Jesus, you encountered a lot of opposition during your ministry but remained undaunted. May we too share in the grace of conquering the world. Amen.