TODAY’S MEMORY VERSE

Zechariah 3:1-5 (NKJV) – Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the angel of the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the LORD stood by.

REFLECTION: Spirituality is not how we appear before men, but how we appear before God. To the eyes of men, Joshua was the sanctimonious high priest, adorned with beautiful and priestly robes, but to the eyes of God, sin made all of that appear like rags. The grace of God is available to the repentant sinner, to take away the rags of sin and replace it with the garment of holiness. Let us seek him, to receive this unmerited favour.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: MERCY OR JUSTICE?

17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

Theme: Mercy or Justice?

Today’s First Reading is a continuation from last week’s First Reading. Last week, we read how three angels of God were received by Abraham into his home and how he showed them great hospitality. Before they left, they promised Abraham that in a year’s time, his wife who up till that time was barren, would have a child. In today’s First Reading, God revealed to Abraham his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great sins. Upon this revelation, Abraham bargained with God, interceding for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, all the while, appealing to God’s justice and mercy. From this reading, let us draw three lessons.

A. God will judge the sinfulness of men: It was for sin that God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. It is important for us to always keep in mind that as much as God is merciful, His mercy does not overrule His justice. It is in mercy that God offers us repeated chances for repentance, but in justice, He shall punish us if we remain obstinate in sin. God says to us through prophet Ezekiel that He is not interested in the death of sinners but in their repentance that they may live. This is His mercy speaking. And he goes on to warn that the righteousness of the righteous shall not save them when they transgress and continue in their transgression. This is His justice speaking (cf. Ezk 33:11-12). It was in mercy that God agreed with Abraham to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if He finds only ten righteous people in them, but it was in justice that He destroyed the two cities for lack of those ten. The Word of God tells us that God has set a day on which He will judge the world (Acts 17:31) and the fastest means of drawing God’s judgment is by continuing in sin, for “sin is a reproach unto any people” (Prov 14:34). I dare to say that if God’s judgment burnt Sodom and Gomorrah, how much more will God judge us, because we have and are doing worse than them, for the principal sin recorded against them is the sin of homosexuality. I therefore charge us today to make concerted efforts to turn away from our sinful ways in order to escape God’s judgment, for “it is appointed unto man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27).

B. Holiness if of greatest importance: As big as Sodom and Gomorrah were, only ten holy people could have saved them. As sinful as they were, only ten righteous people could have kept them standing. In the same vein, one holy person in a family could save it from disaster. One holy person can hold back God’s anger from a family, from a Church, from a community. I say to us today that the anger of God is held back from us because of a few people struggling to live righteously. That is why scripture says “righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov 14:34). But it would be a most costly mistake to make to think that others should be the ones living the holy life while we take refuge in the shadow of their grace. Many others may just be thinking the same thing too; besides, we all have our individual races to run. So, will you be the one holy person on whose account God will bless your family? Will you be the one righteous person on whose merit God will avert disaster from your household or your community? Strive to be that one holy person.

C. There is power in intercessory prayers: When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He saved Lot, Abraham’s nephew on Abraham’s account (cf. Gen 19:29). God also cut down the terms and conditions upon which He had set the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from fifty to ten righteous men because of Abraham’s intercession. When God’s anger was kindled against Israel, Moses interceded for the people before God with fasting, prayer and weeping for forty days and forty nights, and God held back what he had threatened to do (Deut 9:25-29). Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine on account of his mother’s intercession (John 2:1-5). In the same manner, God can save your family, your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends or anyone for that matter because of your intercession; God can bless people because of your intercession; God can turn things around for good for those on whose behalf you pray. Whether we accept it or yes, to my mind, God is still saving Nigeria and the world at large despite our numerous unimaginable evils only because of some people’s constant intercession and plea for mercy. We too must therefore learn to pray for one another and pray for our world, for there is great power in the prayer of intercession. May the Lord bless and keep us all. Amen.

Germany’s Catholic Church lost more than 200,000 members in 2018

According to a report by the Germany’s Catholic and Protestant Churches, the loss to both communities amounted more than 430,000 faithful in 2018.

Membership in the Catholic and Protestant Churches of Germany are falling and the trend tends to continue.

Germany’s Catholic Church lost 216,078 members and Protestant churches lost some 220,000 in 2018, according to data published on Friday by the German Bishops’ Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

The losses have hit hard the two main Churches of the country, as members pay up to 9% of their taxable income as church taxes.

In total, around 23 million German citizens are still members of the Catholic Church and 21.14 million are members of the Protestant churches. The two groups account for 53.2% of the country’s total population of over 83 million.

Hans Langendörfer, secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, described Friday’s figures as a “worrying” statistic.

“Every departure hurts,” said Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, president of the EKD. “Since people today, unlike in the past, decide out of freedom whether they want to belong to the Church, it is important for us today to make even clearer why the Christian message is such a strong basis for life.”

Membership renunciation a free choice

Church membership can officially be renounced by making a declaration in person at a local government agency, sometimes a district court. There is no need to provide any reason for wanting to leave.

Unless they renounce their membership with an official declaration, members of the Catholic and Protestant Churches pay up to 9% of their taxable income as church tax, generating billions of Euros in income for both communities.  The money is automatically deducted, just like payroll taxes or social security.

Decline tends to continue

A study published by the University of Freiburg in May concluded that the number of people belonging to Germany’s two Churches will drop by half by 2060.

The main reasons for declining membership in the two Churches include adults leaving the church, fewer baptisms and an ageing population, the researchers said.

The study predicted that the combined membership in the two churches will drop from about 45 million now to 34.8 million by 2035 and 22.7 million by 2060.

Credit: Vatican News

TODAY’S MEMORY VERSE

From The Imitation of Christ, Book II, Ch. 12, No 5 – If you fling away one cross, you will certainly find another, and perhaps, a heavier one.

REFLECTION: The centrality of the cross in our Christian faith is an inevitable reality. We cannot shy away from it. Let no man therefore, preach to you a Christianity without the cross, for it is not the Christianity of Jesus Christ.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: 16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Ameh, Sylvanus

Readings: Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

Theme: Time Out!

A Jesuit priest, Fr. Mark Link once shared the story of a father who came to a school’s PTA meeting, and during a talk with one of his son’s teachers, broke down in tears. After regaining his composure, he apologized and told the teacher that his son no longer lives with him. But he still loves his son and wants to know how he’s doing in school. He then went on to tell the teacher how his wife and four children left him and moved out and away from him. He was a building contractor and sometimes worked up to 16 hours a day. Consequently, he saw little of his family and they slowly grew farther and farther apart. Then he concluded by saying, “I wanted to buy my wife and kids all those things I had dreamed of giving them. But in the process, I got so involved in working that I forgot about what they needed most: a father who was around at nights to give them love and support.”

In the games of basketball and volleyball, there is something called a ‘Time Out’ which a team can call for. It is a brief break for the players of the team to quickly reevaluate their game plan and also catch some breath. A ‘Time Out’ is a very essential winning strategy because in that brief period, very vital observations and decisions can be made that will turn the tide of the game.

This point and the story above illustrate one of the very important lessons from today’s Liturgy of the Word

  • We can get so involved in what we are doing that we forget why we are doing it;
  • We can get so involved in pursuing the things money can buy that we forget or even lose the things money cannot buy;
  • We can even get so busy working for God that we forget God.

This was Martha’s mistake as we see in the gospel reading. Jesus did not come to look for food, for shortly before now, he had just fed over five thousand people (Lk 9:10-17); Jesus rather came to be with friends. It was the reason he told Martha that Mary chose the better part. This means that what Martha was doing – preparing food for him – was good, but there was something better, and it was Mary who was doing it. So Jesus’s answer to Martha is a call for us to reevaluate how we have been living. Jesus invites us today to spend time with him and be refreshed. Sometimes, we even get so busy doing the work of God that we forget the God of the work. The gospels narrate to us that sometimes, Jesus will withdraw with his disciples from their ever busy schedule to be alone by themselves, and the event of today’s gospel reading is one of such times. Jesus even invites us to come to him with all our burdens, and he will give us rest (Mat 11:28).

Dear friends, busy as we may be, we must find time to sit at the foot of Jesus in the Mass, before the Blessed Sacrament, in the open garden, in our rooms, or anywhere we find most convenient. Just always make the effort to spend some time alone with God. Sometimes too, we need to take a ‘Time Out’ from work or business just to relax, to be with family/friends, to refresh. In many other things, we also need a time out. As parents, you need a periodic time out to evaluate your parenting style; as a couple, you need a time out too to review how your marriage has been going. The thing is, if we do not take a time out, we shall experience burn out, whether physical or spiritual. Jesus gives us an example to follow as we heard from the gospel reading; he left his work of preaching, teaching and healing to rest in the home of Mary and Martha. We too must learn to do same from time to time, and most profitably, in the atmosphere of God’s presence. Let us always keep this question of Jesus in mind: “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (Mat 16:26). We can also add: What shall it profit a man if he gains all the money, power and fame and loses himself, his family, his friends and God in the process? May God grant us the wisdom to know when to take a profitable Time Out. Amen

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Ameh Sylvanus

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

Theme: Spirituality of Practice

  1. In English language, there is a word called a verb. In its simplest form, a verb is defined as a word that is used to describe an action. Some simply say “A verb is an action or a doing word.” Borrowing from this, I like to think of the Christian faith/Christian spirituality in the same manner, that is, as “an action or doing” spirituality. This is due to the fact that the Christian faith almost always calls us to take action. It is important to however note that there are basically two levels of Christian spirituality: the theoretical and practical levels. Every Christian falls under the theoretical category, but only few can be classed under the practical category. The theoretical level Christians profess the Christian faith but are often slow or unwilling to live by its demands; the practical level Christians on the other hand, not only profess the Christian faith, but make effort daily to live by it. Thus, these two levels of Christian spirituality are what I call the “Spirituality of Theory” and “Spirituality of Practice”. Today’s readings talk about these two levels of spirituality, with emphasis on the spirituality of practice.
  2. In the First Reading, Moses said to the Israelites and to us, “the law of God is in your heart, so that you can DO it” and Jesus, in the gospel reading, in answering the lawyer who asked him the question “Who is my neighbor?” told the story of the Good Samaritan. In concluding that discourse with the lawyer, Jesus said to him and to us also, “Go and DO likewise.” We see from these two readings therefore, that spirituality is much more about doing something, about putting into practice, the commands of God. Today, God challenges us to be Christians who imbibe the spirituality of practice. From these readings, we shall draw two lessons for our spiritual edification.

Lessons

A. We are called to practice what we already know. Both from the first reading and the gospel, we understand that God is calling us to put into practice, the commands he gives us, chief among which is the command to love. At the end of our time, when we stand before God in judgment, God will not judge us based on how much of his laws we know or how much of his Word we know, but on how much of them we practiced. This is the implication of what Jesus meant when he said “It is not all those who say to me Lord, Lord, who shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but only those who DO the will of my Father in heaven (Mat 7:21). In the Parable of the Last Judgment (Mat 25:31-46), Jesus says those who will be admitted to heaven will be on the basis of WHAT THEY DID to the least of the brethren while those who will be cast out to hell fire will be on the basis of WHAT THEY DID NOT DO to the least of the brethren. So, child of God, if you know God, if you know His word, if you know His command, then make effort to move into the level of the Spirituality of Practice, that is, you must put into practice what you know. Christianity is not just a religion of creeds, it is more a religion of deeds.

B. We are called to be people of integrity. Jesus tells us in the gospel that the Samaritan who helped the victim of armed robbers took him to the inn and left some money, with a pledge to pay up any balance that may accrue from his treatment. And there was no argument, as presumably, this arrangement was agreed to. We can infer two things from this line: (i) the Samaritan was not a new fellow to the owner of the inn (ii) they probably have had previous business dealings in which the Samaritan showed integrity, for which he could be trusted in this circumstance. And then, the question comes to us: can we be trusted? Are we people of integrity? Do we always keep our word? Do we make promises and keep them? Do we make pledges and fulfill/redeem them? Do we have integrity in our marriages? How much integrity do we bring into the conduct of our businesses? In our work places, can our colleagues and superiors rely on us? In the Church, can we be trusted? The Word of God says “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them” (Prov 11:3). We must do well dear brothers and sisters to be people who are known to keep our word. Let our yes always be yes and our no always be no. May the Lord bless His word in our hearts through Christ our Lord. Amen

TODAY’S MEMORY VERSE

Sirach 27:12 (NRSV) – Among stupid people, limit your time, but among thoughtful people, linger on.

REFLECTION: Choose wisely, those in whose company you often hang around. They have a way of influencing the direction of your life.

TODAY’S MEMORY VERSE

1 Cor 13:1-2 (NRSV) – If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, , but do not have love, I am nothing.

REFLECTION: There is no expression of our Christian faith and our union with God more powerful than the love of God in our hearts shown to our fellow humans. Love is the measure of all things.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Ameh Sylvanus

Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

Theme: Peace be with you!

There is one thing which the world stands in great need of today but which seems to constantly elude her. That thing is peace. Everyone one of us yearn for peace; we desire it so much because we realize how miserable and difficult our lives would be without it. This peace is not simply the absence of war or trouble, it is something deeper; it is the kind of peace that Jesus gives us, and He makes clear to us that the world cannot give this type of peace. This peace is one of the dominant themes cutting across the readings of today’s Mass. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah, speaking to the returnees from exile, assures them of an era of peace which God shall bring upon them; Saint Paul in the second reading prays for grace and peace for all who walk by the simple rule of keeping the cross of Jesus ever in their view, and in the gospel reading, Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples to preach the gospel, charging them to be carriers of his peace. Their first salutation to every household they enter should be the greeting of peace: “Peace be to this house!”

For the purpose of our reflection this morning, I shall focus attention on some of the ways by which we can have and enjoy peace in our lives and bring about peace in our society. We shall look to the readings for answers, and there are many of them, but I shall dwell only on three.

i. Peace is a gift of God. In a lot of instances, the bible describes God as the ‘God of peace’. For instance, in the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth, the prophet Isaiah said he will be called the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isa 9:6); when Gideon built an altar to God, he named it “The Lord is peace” (Jdgs 6:24); and Saint Paul said that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Cor. 14:33). Because our God is a God of peace, he freely and lavishly gives us this gift of peace; that is why the Bible says “the Lord will bless his people with peace” (Ps 29:11). When Jesus appeared to his disciples after His resurrection, the first thing he did was to bequeath to them, the gift of peace. He said to them twice, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19-23). In the same vein, as we heard in today’s gospel reading, he instructed the disciples he was sending out to first give the gift of peace to their hosts before anything else. So in our first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes an era of peace, which shall come as a gift from God to his people. Child of God, if you want true peace, you must find it in God. God is the source and giver of peace and we must seek it in him. Oftentimes, people think that they can find security and peace in possessions, but they only end up realizing the truth of what Saint Augustine said that “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”

ii. Realizing the real essence of serving Christ. As it concerns our spiritual lives, Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that seeking glory in anything other than the cross of Christ is a sure way to lose peace. So he says, “Far be it from me to glory in anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he went on to say “Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule…” Many believers today are not at peace with themselves, their neighbours and even with God because they have a skewed idea of Christianity and its rewards. We are more and more seeing a brand of Christianity today that strongly rejects the idea of the cross. Preachers of the Word front a version of Christianity that sees no glory in the cross but promotes glory only in prosperity and material gains. This version of Christianity is the one that sings the song “Me I no go suffer, I no go beg for bread. God of miracle, na my papa oh, God of miracle, na my papa oh.” According to this brand of Christianity, the proof that you are truly serving God is that you must be materially prosperous. This brand of Christianity make believers to envy others who have spiritual gifts they do not have, forgetting that the Holy Spirit gives us different gifts, thus neglecting what the Holy Spirit has given them; this brand of Christianity also make believers become boastful when God uses them to do one small miracle. When his disciples returned from the mission he sent them, as we heard in the gospel reading today, they almost fell into this error, rejoicing that demons were subject to them. Jesus had to quickly call them to order by pointing them to what they should actually rejoice in, which is, that their names are written in heaven. People who teach this version of service to Christ glory in everything but the cross of Christ. They forget that Jesus says anyone who wants to be his follower must deny self, take up cross and follow him daily (Mk 8:34). The danger here is that those who are making sincere effort to be in right standing with God but are not materially prosperous begin to question and doubt God. If you must have true peace, child of God, you must never remove the cross of Jesus from your view, because our salvation lies in the cross, and when we have it before us, we are better able to withstand trials when they come.

iii. We must be ambassadors for peace. We all want peace, but we won’t have peace unless we work for it. In our gospel reading today, Jesus sent out his disciples and he charged them to preach peace. In our world today, especially in our country, there is so much hatred, so much anger, so much bitterness, so much division. We are more and more neglecting the things that unite us while focusing on the things that divide us. We are now so divided along so many lines: religion, ethnicity, politics, social status, and so on. Rather than promoting unity in our diversity, we are promoting division.  It is not supposed to be so. I recall that as little Christian children growing up in Kaduna State, we joined our Muslim friends to celebrate Sallah. We joyfully ate Sallah rice and we played together with the Muslim kids. They too joined us during Christian festivities, even wearing new clothes with us at Christmas, and we went together from house to house on our street sharing the joys of Christmas. Today, all that has become memories. Parents even go as far as teaching their children to hate people of other religions and ethnic backgrounds. We are now living in suspicion of each other. Brethren, Jesus charges us today to be carriers of his peace wherever we go. In our homes, in our schools, in our work places, in the market place, in our neighbourhood, in the Church, everywhere, we should sow the seed of peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Mat 5:9). When we come into a place, what kind of air do we carry with us: the air of peace or the air of trouble? We must do well dear friends, to do as Jesus instructs us today, to say to people, “Peace be with you!” And may the Lord Jesus bless us with that peace which the world cannot give. Amen

TODAY’S MEMORY VERSE

Luke 11:33 – No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bed, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.

REFLECTION: Religion and spirituality is not an isolated reality. We cannot practice our religion in a vacuum, hence, our level of spirituality has a way of affecting others either positively or negatively. To all those who, when cautioned about doing certain things wrongly such as dressing indecently, dismiss it with the claim that God sees the heart, while they may be right, the other truth is that man does not see the heart, and their Christianity is lived and practiced in humanity community. Hence, if what we do does not give off light that will lead others to God, then our Christianity is faulty.