23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Theme: On Sentry Duty

‘Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make him a suitable companion to help him.”’ (Gen 2:18) This was God’s own observation of the life of man, even before it truly began. The nature of God is the nature of community; God is a community of persons – Father, Son and Spirit. And if God made humans in his own image and likeness, (Gen 1:26-27) then it is only fitting that humans should also live in community. And so, God made woman for the man as a companion. With time, the first man and woman multiplied and filled the whole earth. That is where we are today.

The very fact of God giving the first man a companion indicates that we cannot live this life in isolation. Since we are social beings, we need each other to journey through life. Where the journey gets tough, we can most certainly rely on each other for support. This is also very true of our spiritual journey, and this is the point the readings of today’s Mass speak to us about.

In the first reading, God tells us through the prophet Ezekiel that we are mutually responsible for each other’s spiritual safety. Using the imagery of the watchman, God says we have the same duty as a city’s watchman towards each other. He calls us to spiritual alertness and to warn each other of spiritual dangers. Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that doing this is a debt we owe each other in love. He who loves someone looks out for the beloved’s good. And Jesus takes it a step further in the gospel text by asking us not to easily give up on people in pursuing their spiritual good, even if they will not readily listen to us.

But why must we look out for each other? Why must we warn each other of looming spiritual danger(s)? Why does God call us to be the watchman on the wall? Do people not

naturally know what is good and what is bad for them? I adduce three reasons why.

Some people are innocently on the path of error. There are lots and lots of people who are on the path of error without realizing it. Such people may think it is okay to live the way they do, to do the things they do. Such people need someone from the sideline to tell them they have entered the wrong lane. The bible says “There is a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof is destruction.” (Prov 16:25) To such people, we need to sound the watchman’s trumpet.

Some people know they are on the path of error but simply do not care. There are very many people who fall into this group. Some do not care because they do not really understand the implications of their lifestyle; there are others who do not care because of the transient pleasures and gains from such lifestyles; and there are still others who do not care because they have sold their souls to the devil. They too, need the sound the watchman’s trumpet.

Some people lack the courage to give up the way of error. A lot of Christians have to struggle with this, moving back and forth in their spiritual journey. Today, they give their lives to Christ, tomorrow they are back in the way of sin. As scripture says in Rev 3:15, they are “neither hot nor cold.” These people need a loud blast of the watchman’s trumpet.

Dear children of God, today, God tells us that our own spiritual safety and salvation is largely tied to the safety and salvation of our brothers and sisters. God tells us through the prophet Ezekiel that if we work for the salvation of others, we ultimately also work for our own salvation, but if we neglect the salvation of others, then we neglect our own salvation too. God calls us to be on sentry duty. However, to be able to sound the sentry’s trumpet, we must ourselves be on the high walls of righteousness, since we cannot give what we do not have; to help someone up, we must ourselves be up. By extension therefore, as God calls us to be on sentry duty, he is first of all, calling us to climb up the wall of holiness. It is only then that we can see clearly, the dangers coming to our brothers and sisters and warn them of it.

There is a special calling here for pastors of souls (the clergy and lay leaders of different groups in church) and parents. By virtue of your position, with souls under your care, you are naturally on sentry duty at all times. God expects that you fulfill this role very well, for you shall give an account to God of how the souls he put in your charge fared. Know however, that all those under your care, be they your church members or children, will only listen to the sound of your trumpet if they see you standing at your duty post of uprightness. As scripture says, “an overseer must be above reproach” (1Timothy 3:2).

We pray for the grace to be spiritually alert and always on our duty post high up the wall of righteousness. May God also help us never to fail in our responsibility of helping each other on the way to heaven. Amen.

22 ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A (03/09/17)

Theme: Stand Out, Stand Firm

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63: Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16: 21-27

“For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness” (I Thess 4:7). This text of scripture sums up everything about the Christian life. By virtue of our baptism, God called us into a relationship with himself. As believers in Jesus, God has called us to live the life of grace he willed for us, a life of uprightness and obedience to his will. This life of complete dedication to God, does not however, come easy.

In the second reading of today’s Mass, St. Paul invites us not to be conformed to the standards of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that we may prove what is the will of God. This immediately calls two things to mind:

There are two operative principles or standards by which people may live: the standards of God and the standards of the world. Both are radically opposed to each other. The standard of God is characterized by self-denial, humility, justice, truth, chastity, obedience to God’s will, charity, selflessness, love of neighbor, etc. The world’s standard on the other hand, is characterized by selfishness, pride, deceit, sexual immorality, self-aggrandizement, injustice, etc. One will either live by the standards of God and reject the standards of the world, or live by the standards of the world and reject the standards of God. There is no neutrality in spirituality; hence, we cannot simultaneously live by the two standards. In Revelations 3:15-16, Jesus says to the Church in Laodicea, “I know that you are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were either one or the other. But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth!” So, it is either we are hot for God or cold against him.

Christians are called to be a sign of contradiction to the world, to stand out! The lifestyle of Christians is meant to be radically opposed to the sinful ways of the world. What God expects of us is that as Christians, we change the world, and not to be changed by it. However, and sadly so, today, we see Christians trying so hard to pattern themselves according to the ways of the world, to catch up with the sinful trend of their milieu. We are called to be holy, not to be trendy.

Living by God’s standards mean to stand out, to stand apart from the world, not to be conformed to the world. Though we are in the world, as Christians, we are not to be of the world (John 15:19; 17:16). God has called us to live a higher life of grace, a life that will speak to the world against its ills. This is the calling before all Christians. This implies that wherever we find ourselves, we must do well not to take part in anything evil or sinful that is happening around us, even if we have to stand alone. That a lot of people are doing something wrong does not make it right; that we are the only ones holding a different opinion from others over what is right does not mean we may be wrong. Stand out, be different.

It is important to point out that standing out and apart from the ways of the world is not without its challenges. If we choose to stand with God, we will most certainly face oppositions from the world. This was the experience of Jeremiah in our first reading when he was the only one speaking for God and calling the people to amend their ways. As he

himself decried, he became a laughing stock, and people mocked him. On another level, we will have to make lots of sacrifices, sacrifices of things that we ordinarily would have loved. This is what Jesus calls our attention to in the gospel when he said anyone who wants to follow him must practice self-denial and the taking up of crosses. We will also have to sacrifice some comforts and pleasures for the sake of God, “for what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

With the difficulties involved in standing out, we must make the conscious effort to also stand firm else, we shall bow to the associated pressures and fall. Therefore, it is not sufficient to simply stand out, we must also stand firm! While this may not be easy, it is not impossible either. With God’s help, the help that sustained Jeremiah and Peter and Paul and all the other saints, we too can stand out and stand firm, for we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13). May the grace of God continually support us as we do our best not to be conformed to the standards of this world. May God help us to always stand out and stand firm. Amen

3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Theme: “Man, Know Thyself”

It was Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher who said, “Man know thyself.” This wisdom-laden maxim is one that is capable of saving people from a lot of stress and unnecessary pain and sorror while at the same time, bringing joy and peace into people’s lives and homes. Back in the seminary, we had a seminarian, now Rev. Fr. Ijeh Emmanuel who rephrased this saying into “Man know thy ‘levels’ and for some reason, I just loved his own version of it. How do we come to this knowledge of self or of our levels? Socrates provides us with an answer in another aphorism: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” This self-examination, leading to knowledge of the self, is key to having joy in this life, which is the focus of today’s Advent liturgy as we celebrate ‘Gaudate Sunday,’ gaudate being the Latin for “Rejoice.”

The 2nd Reading of today’s Mass admonishes us to rejoice always, even as we hear Mary’s song of joy in the canticle (Responsorial Psalm), but unfortunately, many people are not happy and may continue to be unhappy because their sadness is self-imposed. This is because they do not know or know but refuse to accept who they are and their ‘level’ in life, so they are in a perpetual state of unhappiness. So to speak, they are living in bondage, and they need to be brought out of their prisons in the spirit of Isaiah’s prophecy in our 1st Reading. To know yourself – like John in the gospel text – will help you live freely and happily.

When John was asked, “Who are you?” he did not claim to be who he was not. While the Jews thought of John as the long awaited messiah, and could even have probably believed him if he had said he was the one, John, knowing who he truly is, his ‘level’ and his mission, admitted not being the Christ. He rather went further to tell the people that the Christ was far greater than he is and that he was simply a messenger announcing the coming of the Christ. How would life have been for John if he had ‘cashed’ in on that opportunity to impersonate the messiah? Would he have lived the rest of his life happy? I guess not. John accepted who he was, the Virgin Mary accepted her lowliness and nothingness before God, they both knew themselves, and they lived rejoicing in the lot God gave them.

It is sad that today, very many people, very many Christians do not know who they are or have refused to accept who they are. They live a false life to the point that the lie they live as a life begins to appear real to them. In the bid to appear elitist, many people have done many shameful and sometimes abominable things to fit into a social stratum that their present state in life cannot sustain. Some people tie the glories of life to possessing the most expensive and latest gadgets, wearing the trending clothes and fashion accessories, living in the highbrow area of town, associating with the high and mighty of society, driving the latest brand of cars, eating in high-end restaurants, etc, while in reality, their pockets cannot sustain such a lifestyle. While they appear to be having the good life in the eyes of other people, in their rooms, they groan in pain and reel in debt. Even in the house of God, the

Church, there are people who live such false, pretentious lifestyle and must work so hard at keeping with the false image they have created for themselves. Many people are posing as men and women of God, many are pretending to be prayer warriors, many are living in self-righteousness and so cannot even be helped to grow in the spirit. All these often culminate in unhealthy rivalry amongst people, leading to the loss of inner peace and joy. If we truly know and accept who we are and where God has placed us at the moment, bearing in mind that life is constantly in a state of flux, all such attitudes would not be necessary.

It is important to stress here that knowing who we are and accepting where God has placed us for the moment does not mean we cannot be ambitious for higher things, but it simply calls us to a life of humility, contentment and honesty with ourselves and with others. There is no shame in being of a lowly background; there is no ignominy in not being able to possess certain things in life; there is no sin in being a simple but committed member of the Church; there is no humiliation is admitting that someone is better and much more experienced in certain areas of life than yourself; there is no dishonor in simply being you! Knowing this and accepting it is a first and major step in breaking out of the self-imposed imprisonment some people have confined themselves to.

Dear friends, it is God’s wish for us to be happy. The season of advent points us to the joy of Christ’s birth, but if we are busy living a false life, if we are not humble enough to accept our present ‘level’ in life, then this joy will elude us. Child of God, know thyself, know thy ‘level’, enjoy life in that level while aiming for higher grounds, be proud of who you are and what you are becoming and the joy of Christmas will be your portion. Rejoice, Jesus is coming soon!

2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-18; Mark 1:1-8

Theme: IN-vironmemtal Sanitation

Once upon a time in Nigeria, it was law that on the last Saturday of every month, from 7am to 10am, people must come out to clean their environment in a sanitation exercise (some States held theirs on the first Saturday). During this period, if one was caught wandering around instead of participating in this exercise, there were sanctions to be imposed. Drainages were emptied of wastes that found their way into them, overgrown bushes were cut, minor repairs were done on roads, refuse were gathered into incinerators and burnt, homes were also thoroughly cleaned, and many other cleaning exercises were carried out on this day. Back then, we (or at least, I) used to enjoy the sanitation days, and I looked forward to it. Communities were much cleaner than we have them today, which in any case, was the sole reason for the day of “Environmental Sanitation” as it was called.

To stay healthy, one of the many things we need to do is to keep our environment clean. There is also an aura of confidence and serenity that comes with a clean environment. Normally, people are attracted to an environment that is clean and motorists prefer to use a road that is smooth, but where the reverse is the case, people will do everything possible to avoid such places. When we are expecting an important guest, we do some sort of environmental sanitation to put our homes, environment and the road leading to our homes in order. This is exactly what the readings of today’s Mass speak to us about.

Last week, being the First Sunday of Advent, our attention was directed to the fact of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and we were encouraged to wait for that coming. Today, the Church is shifting our attention to what we ought to do in order to be well prepared for the coming of Jesus. The readings of today’s Mass hint us on what to do. More precisely, Reading I tells us to do an ‘INvironmental Sanitation’, and the Gospel, borrowing from Reading I, reiterates the same point. I used the word “IN-vironmental” (which does not actually exist) because the sanitation God is calling on us to do is an internal one. Jesus is speaking to us today to clean the inside of our hearts in preparation for his coming, just as we clean our physical environment in preparation for the coming of an important guest (and

in the strict sense, no guest is more important than Jesus). What sort of IN-viromental sanitation are we expected to do then? Let us consult the Prophet Isaiah for answers.

The prophecy of Isaiah of a voice crying in the wilderness, asking people to prepare a way for the Lord, was fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist when he came as Jesus’ herald. Isaiah said (and John would later repeat those words) “make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Let valleys be filled, let mountains be made low, uneven ground leveled and rough places be made plain.” These words speak volumes to us, and it is in them that we find the key to this IN-vironmental sanitation. Today, God invites us to:

Make straight the winding ways of dishonesty, of cheating in business and in marriage, of lies and all forms of attitude that render us unreliable.

Level the mountain of pride and arrogance, of harshness with people and abuse of authority, of being overbearing with our spouses and children; we must come down from the mountain of impudence and disrespect for elders.

Fill in every valley of fear, covering it up with faith. We must also fill up the valley of impatience with other people, of anger that leaves us with a sense of emptiness; we ought to cover up the valley of greed and selfishness that makes us take what belong to others and never wanting to share what is ours; every valley of intolerance of people who do not share the same opinion or beliefs with us must also be filled in.

We must make plain every rough place in us that allows for brash talk, we must make plain the roughness of rudeness, we must make plain the rough side of us that allows for indecent dressing, we must make plain every rough attitude that sours our relationship with others.

When we have done a thorough IN-vironmental sanitation, Scripture tells us that the glory of God shall be revealed to us (Isaiah 40:5). The implication of this prophetic word is that while God desires a loving relationship with us, a heart full of evil is not habitable to him, and every sin becomes an obstacle preventing us from experiencing God’s glory. Just as it is not possible to see what is on the other side of a mountain or what is on the other side of a bend in the road, so it is impossible to see the glory of God if we do not remove the mountains and crooked ways of our lives. It is very unlikely that God, who would not allow any stain of sin into his kingdom (Rev 21:27) will go to dwell in a heart full of iniquities; do not forget that we are the Temples of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 3:16). In Matt 5:8, Jesus says “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. All of these imply that we shall be denying ourselves the opportunity of experiencing God’s glory if we do not rid our hearts of evil.

Child of God, the primary call to all of us in today’s Mass is that in preparing for Christmas, we should not make the mistake of misplacing priorities. While physical preparations such as decorating homes and offices, shopping for clothes and their accessories, travelling to meet loved ones and arranging for food and drinks is good, ridding our souls of every form of sin is best. May we do well therefore, to put in much effort in our spiritual preparations for the coming of Jesus as we look forward to Christmas. Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus!

 

EDUCATION, AN ESSENTIAL TOOL FOR NATION AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan has described education as the most essential tool for the development of any nation and its people, noting that no amount of investment in it is a waste. The Cardinal made this assertion in his address at the recent celebration of the 10th anniversary and sixth convocation ceremony of the Veritas University, Abuja, (The Catholic University of Nigeria), Bwari, Abuja.

Cardinal Onaiyekan who is the Chancellor of the University declared: “… education remains the royal pathway to and fro personal and national development. No amount of investment in education is a waste. We must continue to invest in education as students, parents, communities, organizations and governments.”

The Chancellor expressed gratitude to his brother bishops for their immeasurable support for the growth of the institution, in spite of other competing demands which as bishops they face in their various Archdioceses and dioceses. He also expressed his gratitude to other stakeholders who have facilitated the steady growth of the university in its ten years of existence. He declared: “… the mustard seed we sowed some few years back is before our eyes becoming a big tree providing intellectual shade and sanctuary for many”.

Noting that the vision and mission of the Bishops for establishing the university is gradually yielding the desired fruits, Cardinal Onaiyekan commended the University’s community for their relentless efforts at helping the bishop-owners realize the desired objectives and taking the institution to a very high pedestal particularly in its academic programmes; in spite of identified challenges. His words: “This is a good occasion to salute the tenacity of the entire University Community, especially those who have been with the University through thick and thin.”

Addressing the graduands, Cardinal Onaiyekan while congratulating them charged them to be good ambassadors of their alma mater urging them to make their mark in the growth and development of the society with the knowledge, skills and attitudes which they have acquired during their training in the university. He urged them to be veritable agents of positive change and transformation in the country, because “they have been properly educated, informed and formed”.

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese appreciated other stake holders who have supported the Bishops Conference in realizing the successes achieved so far by the institution and commended the government and its various agencies for “opening valuable channels of partnership”. He noted that: “Such collaboration between the Church and the State cannot but be for the mutual interest of both parties, the good of our people all to the greater glory of God”.

In his own address, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Michael Kwanashie expressed concern about the poor funding of tertiary institutions in the country and called on government to invest more in the sector. He remarked that with the increase of universities in the country from 50 to 150, the government must also facilitate human capacity for effective delivery by these institutions.

Noting that the country’s university system experiences inadequate funding, Professor Kanashie pointed out that it is generally believed that government is not investing enough on university education and advocated a reversal of the situation. The Vice Chancellor remarked that education is a very expensive business and enormous resources is required to equip tertiary institutions.

Speaking on the efforts of the University, the Vice Chancellor declared: “At Veritas, we are doing our best to produce standard quality of thoroughly-bred graduates”. At the convocation ceremony, about 103 students were graduated with 11 of them in the First Class Honours.

The ceremony was attended by dignitaries from all walks of life, including some members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, the academia and members of family of the graduating students.

VUNA GRADUATES URGED TO BE AGENTS OF CHANGE IN THE SOCIETY

Graduating students of the Veritas University (Catholic University of Nigeria), Abuja, have been admonished to be agents of positive change in the society, using the spiritual and educational formation they have received at the university to counter the social vices crippling the country with negative consequences.

This admonition was given recently by the Visitor to the University and President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama while speaking at the sixth Convocation and tenth anniversary of the establishment of the institution, held at the permanent site of the university in Bwari, Abuja.

The President of the CBCN Conference and Archbishop of Jos declared: “As fruits of this  noble dream of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, you must offer yourselves as living sacrifices acceptable to the Lord and to Nigerians. Your actions must always reflect what Veritas stands for, which is truth.” He added: “Through your actions, VUNA will be rated and valued. Mt. 5:16 says: “be a light shining in the dark. We cannot become defeatist by saying that corruption, mediocrity, ethnocentrism, bad leadership, political recklessness tec. should have the last word.”

While congratulating the students on their academic achievements, Archbishop Kaigama urged to put into practice: “all the virtues, all the life skills, survival strategies and the diplomacy of interpersonal relationship which characterized your training in this University.” He continued: “Be brilliant stars, the hope of Nigeria and indeed the world, a world that seems to be in darkness, and a country assaulted by incurable corruption and many social vices with crippling negative consequences.”

Urging them to go into the world as men and women of honour and virtue and bear fruits that will last for Nigeria and humanity, The Archbishop of Jos prayed that the huge investment of the Church, parents and graduands of the university and other benefactors will not be in vain.

Archbishop Kaigama also used the occasion to appeal to the lay faithful not to renege in their support for the institution stressing: “While the CBCN is the legal holder of this University, it must be understood that to develop the University, and provide it with ultra-modern facilities, we need the active participation and cooperation of all.”

The University Visitor lauded the CBCN members, the Federal Ministry of Education, the National Universities Commission (NUC); the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) and all those who have in one way or the other contributed to the successes of the University in the last decade.

The Archbishop also commended the management of the university for the continued expansion in terms of facilities, programmes and students enrolment, especially the establishment of the Centre for Peace and Development.  He urged the management to collaborate with other Catholic institutions of higher learning, especially the country’s Major Seminaries.

The ceremony was attended by dignitaries from all walks of life, including some members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, the academia and members of family of the graduating students.

VERITAS UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY URGED TO ESCHEW PRACTICES THAT PROMOTE ETHNIC AGENDA

The Community of Veritas University (The Catholic University of Nigeria), Abuja, have been urged to eschew practices that promote ethnic and sectional agenda and other vices that are detrimental to the provision of holistic education and formation of students of the institution.

The admonition was given by the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama in his address at the recent 10th Anniversary and sixth Convocation ceremony of the University, held at the permanent site of the institution in Bwari, Abuja. The Catholic Archbishop of Jos reiterated the objectives of the CBCN in establishing the university and warned against any attempt to derail the contention of the Bishop owners in this respect.

Archbishop Kaigama who is the Visitor to the University declared: “Veritas University is a cherished asset of the Catholic Church in Nigeria and should not be used by anybody to pursue ethnic or sectional agenda. This University should be an icon where other institutions in Nigeria and beyond can emulate the values of hard work, responsiveness, dedication to duty and respect to authority.”

The Visitor to the university outlined some unethical practices and vices that are common in some of the country’s tertiary institutions which the Veritas University community must avoid. His words: “The members of this community must therefore avoid negative tendencies in other institutions of higher learning like ethnic or sectional bickering, desperation for power, internal wrangling, incessant strikes, molestation of fellow students, drugs abuse, undue rivalry, ethnic cliques, the pull him down syndrome  (phd), immoral practices like indecent dressing, anonymous letter writing against others, especially against authority and unbridled ambition.” He added: “Be positive rather than negative.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Jos stated that the university should be a fertile ground for learning for serious minded students “who while receiving spiritual and moral formation, want to excel in their academic pursuit.” Charging the management, staff and students of the institution to remain focused and see VUNA as one family, the CBCN President added that the university should also be a place where those employed to work should see their appointments as a call to serve without ethnic, religious or sectional sentiments.”

While congratulating the VUNA community on the tenth anniversary and sixth Convocation ceremonies of the institution, Archbishop Kaigama commended all those who have helped to sustain the university for their resilience, perseverance, commitment and dedication; urging them not to rest on their oars until the university becomes a role model in all ramifications for tertiary institutions within and outside the country.

His words: “On behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), I wish to appreciate the past and present management as well as staff of  VUNA who have demonstrated sincere commitment and remarkable selflessness in service to bring about  the numerous achievements recorded, especially in the past academic year but also since the past ten years, symbolized by the dynamic administration of the present Vice Chancellor, Professor Mike Kwanashie …”

The ceremony was attended by dignitaries from all walks of life, including some members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, the academia and members of family of the graduating students.