THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: PRIDE DESTROYS

22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Reading: Sirach 3:17-20, 28-29; Psalm 68; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Theme: Pride Destroys

There are three elements that were present in the temptation of Eve and of Jesus. These elements are pride, pleasure and power. I call them The Devil’s 3 Ps, and deadliest of them of is pride. Satan tempted Eve to pride when he told her she will be like God if she eats the forbidden fruit; he also tempted Jesus to pride when he asked Jesus to show off by jumping of a height. Eve fell for that temptation, and many people in human history have also fallen for it. It is so deadly and destructive that God abhors it greatly. This pride is one of the dominant themes in today’s Liturgy of the Word. Both the First reading and the gospel speak strongly about pride.

In simple terms, to be proud is to think more highly of ourselves than we truly are; it is looking at ourselves as being superior to others; it is putting others down while exaggerating our own importance. Whichever way we describe it, one thing still remains: by pride, we attempt to put ourselves where God has not put us. The word of God is very clear on pride: God hates it! In fact, Proverbs 6:16 says it is an abomination unto God, and our first reading tells us that God hides himself from those who are proud. The Bible says further that “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:5). It is in order therefore, to say that the reason why God is not answering some people’s prayers is because they are proud people.

Every time the bible talks about pride and proud people, it often ends in a destructive end for them. It was for pride that King Saul became envious of David and sought to kill him (1 Sam 18:6-9); we all know how Saul ended. It was for pride that God struck King Nebuchadnezzar and turned his heart to that of a wild beast (Dan 4:30-35); it was for pride that God also struck down Herod that he was eaten by worms even while still alive (Acts 12:20-23). In her Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin Mary said God shall scatter the proud in the conceit of their hearts (Lk 1:51) and in today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us that anyone who exalts himself will not only be humbled but may also be publicly disgraced. It is important to note that pride has also been at the root of the collapse of many marriages/relationships and the premature termination of many destinies. Little wonder the Bible says that “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov 16:18).

Dear friends, today God is challenging us to shun pride and embrace a life of humility. This does not mean putting ourselves down, or thinking little of ourselves. It also does not mean denying our true worth or belittling ourselves. Humility rather means that we do not show off, that we accept ourselves for who we really are and not pretend to be who/what we are not. It also means that we realize our nothingness before God and give credit to Him for all that we have and are. Humility demands that we be ready to take corrections when we are wrong and also to say sorry; it demands that we be submissive enough to learn from those who know better than us. Most importantly, humility requires that we imitate our master, Jesus Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve.

Child of God, if you profess Christianity and you are proud, that is an irreconcilable contradiction and you must ask yourself what brand of Christianity you are practicing, for surely, if it is the type that makes us disciples of Jesus Christ, then you should have no place for pride in your life. May God grant us all the grace of humility. Amen

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: TRAGEDY OF A WASTED CHRISTIANITY

21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 117; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

Theme: The Tragedy of a Wasted Christianity

Today’s readings present us with the fundamental goal or destination of every human being. We came from God and shall ultimately return to God. The soul of man shall live forever in eternity, whether in heaven or in hell. This heaven or hell will be the final destination of everybody. This is what our readings today point us to. Scripture generally describes heaven as a place of celebrations and glory, and hell as a place of torture and endless pain. Still, the bible teaches that God has given us the freedom to choose where we want to spend eternity. If we choose heaven, God shall help us get there because the journey will be hard, but we shall have to struggle for it; if on the other hand, we choose hell, the journey is very easy, so we would not need any help. Today’s readings tell us a few things about the final end, and these shall form the lessons for our reflection.

Lessons

1. Heaven is open to all

The word of God says in Isaiah 66:18, “I shall gather ALL THE NATIONS AND TONGUES, and they shall come and behold my glory” and Isaiah 25:6 says “On mount Zion, Yahweh shall prepare a banquet of rich foods and fine wine for ALL THE NATIONS of the earth. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says people will come from the East and West, North and South and sit at table in the kingdom of God. This means that the opportunity to go to heaven is open to all; there are no restrictions, no discrimination. You and I therefore, have also been invited; the same invitation card has been shared to us all. What will you do with your invitation? Will you honour it or will you say “Please hold me excused, I cannot come”? The choices we make daily, the kind of life we live everyday is a response to that invitation. Choose wisely, for there are implications for the choice we make.

2. Not all will be saved

As already mentioned, heaven is like a feast, a wedding banquet. Just as with all weddings, not all invited guests shall attend. God has invited all of us, but not all of us shall enter heaven. Those who shall be admitted to the feast of heaven are those who respond to the RSVP on God’s invitation card and the RSVP is the kind of life we live here on earth. The bible makes is abundantly clear that sin is a rejection of God’s invitation. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, scriptures says “Do you not know that evildoers will not inherit the kingdom of heaven?” and Galatians 5:19-21 says “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, quarrels, jealousies, anger, selfishness, divisions, envy, murders, drunkenness, and the like… those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:44-46 that those who refuse to help the poor and needy will not enter the kingdom of heaven. He also tells us that some will come and say “Lord, open for us” and he will say to them “I do not know you” and they will say “We ate and drank in your presence” but he shall say to them, “Depart from me.” Why would he say that? It shall be because, as Matthew 7:21 says, “Not all who call me Lord, Lord that shall enter the kingdom of heaven…”

3. “Wasting” Christianity is a big tragedy

Child of God, knowing the name of God and being in his presence does not take anybody to heaven; being a member of the church and even a Communicant will not take anybody to heaven; simply, not everyone in the church is a candidate for heaven, but only those who are living according to God’s precepts. If you are all of the above and you don’t live according to the will of God, your judgment and punishment will be double, for “the servant who knows d master’s will but does not do it will receive a severe flogging” (Lk 12:47). God is more interested in how we live our life everyday than simply what we do for two hours on Sunday. So we should ask ourselves:

  • Does my personal lifestyle conform to the standard of God’s word?
  • Do I practice “churchianity” without Christianity?
  • Do I do the will of God or am I content with simply being a church goer and parading as someone who knows the name of God?

Jesus tells us that on that day, many people will be surprised. If human beings are praising you that you always come to church, you always receive Holy Communion, that you belong to different societies in church, that you do not come late to Mass, that you make big financial donations in church, etc, is God also praising you? Will God say about you that you do not lie and cheat, that you are not hot tempered and a drunk, that you are not a fornicator and adulterer, that you do not envy people and are jealous, that you are not selfish and greedy, that you help those in need and that you donate to support charitable causes? It will be a huge tragedy therefore, for anyone who is a member of the church not to make it to heaven. That will amount to what I call “The tragedy of a wasted Christianity.” The teachings of Christianity show us the road to heaven; not to follow that road therefore, will be a waste, a tragedy. It will not be easy, which is why Jesus says the door is narrow, but it is possible with God’s help. Indeed, as Jesus says, His grace is sufficient for us, and His power is strongest when we are weak (2 Cor 12:9), so whatever it is, we should try our best to enter by the narrow gate.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: TABLE SHAKERS

20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

Theme: Table Shakers

Today’s readings present us with unsettling events. Reading I is on the travails of the Prophet Jeremiah. In 587 when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged the Southern Kingdom of Judah, on God’s leading, the prophet Jeremiah warned King Zedekiah that the only way of escaping total destruction of the kingdom was to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. This was contrary to the advice of the leading men of the city, and they accused Jeremiah of disheartening the soldiers who were poised for war. Zedekiah knew that his army was incapable of defeating Nebuchadnezzar’s army, but he chose to tow the path of political correctness in order not to offend the political key players of the kingdom. However, Jeremiah continued in his business of shaking tables, even though he appeared to be a lone voice pointing out the obvious. Eventually, refusing to heed the word of God through Jeremiah, Zedekiah went to war against Nebuchadnezzar. He was defeated, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken into exile. In Reading II, St Paul recounts the ordeals of Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of our faith and sets them as examples before the Christian community who must also be ready to face hardships on account of the gospel of Jesus which they carry and which without doubt, will turn them into table shakers. And in the Gospel reading, Jesus makes a seemingly controversial statement when he said: “I have not come to bring peace but division.” This division shall come as a result of the fact that the message which he preaches and which his followers shall also preach is capable of ruffling feathers. From these readings, there are two lessons we shall draw.

Lessons

1. Christians must incur losses

Jesus says he has come to bring division among people. Christianity is a religion of peace, but what it stands for can cause people to become antagonistic. This is because the Christian message and way of life is one that shakes tables and makes some people uncomfortable. While for some, it is the road to salvation, for others, it will be the cause of their downfall. Saint Paul says “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews, a stumbling block; to the gentiles, madness; but to those who believe, it is the power and wisdom of God” (I Cor 1:23-24). The division caused by Christianity is therefore borne out of differences in opinion and preferences. Christians are called to live a life of righteousness and there are many people who will not like them for that. Some people will be rejected by their friends and even family because they have chosen to follow Jesus.

  • When for example, you choose, as a woman, not to be a gossip again, your friends and gossip mates will leave you because your lifestyle now discomforts them.
  • When a man stops following friends to drink and get drunk, his former drinking partners may no longer consider him their friend because his new life in Christ opposes their own way of life.
  • When as a business man, you now choose to sell quality products at the correct price, many of your business colleagues may hate you on account of it.
  • If as a civil servant, military or police officer, you choose not to accept bribes again, you will lose money and also lose some friends and colleagues. You may even be framed and lose your job.
  • If as a young girl, you no longer follow your friends to play “runs” because you have given your life to Christ, your former “runs” girls will no longer be comfortable around you, so they will leave you.

When we give our lives over to Jesus and begin to live in righteousness, we shall be divided or separated from many worldly things: money, fame, pleasure, comfort, friends, and even family, and all these shall happen because our new lifestyle in Christ Jesus shall shake the table of their consciences and discomfort them. But we must not be deterred or discouraged; we should rather always remember the words of Jesus that if we gain the whole world and lose our souls, it is no profit to us (Mat 8:36).

2. Christians must come under fire

In the game of football, soccer, basketball or other ball games, it is only the player with the ball that is most attractive to the camera. It is also only the player with the ball that 2-3 or more players of the opposing team attack. Why? It is simply because he has something good in his possession, something that his being in possession of poses a threat to them. As Christians, when we live uprightly, we must come under attack because we have something good in our possession. The righteousness of our lives is a threat to the ungodly, so we will come under attack. If we live in sin, we are not different from others, so no one will bother about us. Jeremiah was attacked and almost killed because his standing for the obvious truth was a disturbance to the ungodly who somewhat profited from the war. If therefore, we are being attacked for being good, for doing what is right, for standing up for the truth, we should not be discouraged because it means we are truly living the Christian life. The word of God says that if we must suffer, let it be for doing good (I Pet 4:15). On the flip side, if as a Christian, the ungodly are comfortable around you, if your Christian life does not discomfort anyone, does not shake the table of anybody’s conscience, if people will not stop and consider before doing certain things because they know you are around, then you are living your Christianity in complacency and you need to step up.

Today, dear friends, God challenges us to go into the world and disturb it, to make the ungodly uncomfortable by our righteousness so that they may consider the option of repentance; God today challenges us to shake the tables of people’s consciences till they come down from that place of comfort in sin and embrace the life of uprightness. In doing this, we will be attacked for living in holiness, but we must never give up because God shall give us victory as he gave Jeremiah. Jesus says in John 16:33, “In the world you will have troubles, but be of good cheers, for I have conquered the world” and the Psalmist tells us that the trials of the righteous are many, but God shall deliver them from them all (Psa 34:19). So as you go out this week, do well to live your life in uprightness and do not be afraid to be a table shaker. May God grant us the courage to always stand for what is right. Amen.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: DEADLY SLUMBER

19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48

Theme: Deadly Slumber

In 2004, during the annual convention of the Young Catholic Students (YCS) of Abuja Archdiocese, as a seminarian on holiday, I worked with the organizing committee to plan for the convention, being a former YCSer myself. Accommodation was insufficient at the venue, so those of us in the committee had practically no place to sleep. On the second night, I went to the boys’ hostel late at night when most of the students had gone to bed for routine check, then I noticed a very small boy lying on the upper bunk of one of the beds. Below him was an older boy from my alma mater secondary school, so I appealed to him if he can share his bed with the younger boy (whom I later learnt was also from the same school) while I use the upper bunk, and he agreed. Then I tapped on the small boy to wake him up, but he wouldn’t. After trying unsuccessfully several times, I lifted him from his bed and put him in the lower bunk. At about 5am the next morning when he woke up, he stood for like a minute, looking at where he slept and where he woke up, but he did not say anything. Later that night, the same scenario played out, and the next morning, like before, he still stood and was looking, in a state of confusion. Then he woke the older student on whose bed I put him and asked, “Brother, why is it that at night, I will sleep on the upper bunk and by morning, I will wake up on the lower bunk?” And most students who were already awake burst into laughter.

I share this story because of its relatedness to the theme of staying awake that Jesus repeatedly hammers on in today’s gospel. Jesus says to us to stay awake, stand ready and keep watch, principally for two reasons: first is that the Son of man of man will come at an hour we do not expect and secondly, satan will have the opportunity of breaking into our lives like a thief in the night if we are not vigilant.  The little boy I spoke about in my story said he slept up, and woke up down, and this happened at a time when he was not awake. It is to prevent such an experience in our spiritual lives that Jesus says we should stay awake. Many Christians have been brought down low from the spiritual heights they have attained because they failed to stay awake, rather, they slumbered, a kind of slumber that is deadly. In the parable of the wheat and weeds, Jesus said the sower sowed good seeds, but while men were asleep, the enemy came and sowed weeds (Mat 13:24-25). Child of God, there is a kind of slumber that is deadly and a Christian must do everything possible not to fall into it. It is against such deadly slumber that Jesus enjoins us today to stay awake.

The tricky thing about this deadly slumber is that sometimes, we do not even realize we have fallen into it. The devil just drags us gradually into it that we become spiritually tepid. While we still profess Christianity and may even appear outwardly spiritual, in essence, we fit perfectly into the class of those Jesus says are neither hot nor cold and whom he shall consequently spit out of his mouth (Rev 3:15). This deadly spiritual slumber will make us hold positions in church without having a relationship with God; this deadly slumber will make us solemnize evil by finding excuses to explain why they are harmless; when we are in this state of deadly spiritual slumber, we lose the sense of the sacred such that we can do in the house of God, with the things of God and to the ministers of God, things that should ordinarily make us shiver. People chew gum in church; some people dress indecently or inappropriately to church; people steal from the church, sometimes as committee members that have dealings with funds, some also steal other people’s property, even from the Chapel of adoration; people disrespect and even plot evil against God’s ministers, and it means nothing to them all because they have slumbered and the devil has come into their lives like a thief in the night and sowed weeds.

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus says to us today, STAY AWAKE! So we will do well to always keep the admonition of St. Peter in mind where he says, “Be calm, but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). May the grace of the Lord Jesus help us not to be caught off guard! Amen

JOY IN ABUJA CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE AS CARDINAL ONAIYEKAN TURNS 50, ABUJA HITS SILVER MARK

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

It was a time of great rejoicing for the Catholic faithful of the Archdiocese of Abuja as their Chief Shepherd, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan celebrated 50 glorious years in the Catholic priesthood while the Archdiocese at the same time, celebrated its Silver Jubilee of elevation as an Archdiocese. Cardinal Onaiyekan was ordained on 3rd August, 1969 in his hometown of Kabba, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, while the Archdiocese of Abuja, which started off as the Independent Mission of Abuja on November 6, 1981 and later raised to the status of a diocese on July 19, 1989 was elevated to the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Abuja on March 26, 1994 with Cardinal Onaiyekan installed as its First Archbishop on 7th August, 1994.

Activities marking both events began on Thursday, 1st August, 2019 at Holy Trinity Event Center, Maitama, with the unveiling and launch of a book titled “Thy Will Be Done: A Portrait of John Cardinal Onaiyekan”, a detailed biography of H. E. John Cardinal Onaiyekan, written by his former personal secretary, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ojeifo. On Saturday, 3rd August, 2019, the exact date of his 50th priestly ordination anniversary, the Cardinal celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving held at the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral, Area 3, Garki, which was well attended not only by Catholics of Abuja Archdiocese, but also by Catholics of other dioceses, non-Catholics and non-Christians. Present also at the Mass were dignitaries of the Church and State, including Bishop Michael Gokum of Pankshin Diocese, Bishop Martin Uzouku of Minna Diocese, Bishop Mathew Kukah of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Anselm Umoren, the Auxiliary Bishop of Abuja, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, the Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Abuja and H. E. Most Rev. Anthonio Fillipazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria. Speaking in his homily, the Cardinal thanked God who called him to ministry and has sustained him through the years. He briefly reminisced on his journey to and through the priesthood and stated that from the onset, his mind was clear as a little boy that he wanted to be a priest. The high point of the Mass was the reading and presentation of the personal goodwill message of his Holiness, Pope Francis to Cardinal Onaiyekan, which was read in Latin and afterward delivered by His Excellency, Most. Rev. Anthonio Fillipazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria. The Mass was followed with a reception in the Cardinal’s honour at the same venue

The prototype of the Cathedral of the 12 Apostles , Abuja, under construction

Continuing in the mood and spirit of celebration, the Church of Abuja gathered again on Sunday, 4th August to celebrate the silver jubilee of the elevation of Abuja to the status of an Archdiocese. Priests, religious and lay faithful from across the Archdiocese trooped to the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral, Area 3, Garki, the venue of the celebration to rejoice with and pray for the continued growth of the Archdiocese. In his homily at the Mass, the Cardinal Onaiyekan thanked the people of God in the Archdiocese for their continued support through the years from when Abuja was an Independent Mission. He expressed joy that the silver jubilee of the Archdiocese providentially coincides with his golden jubilee of priesthood and used the opportunity to remind the people again that he was due for retirement and was still waiting for the Pope’s assent to his resignation letter. He further seized the opportunity to appeal to all Catholics in the Archdiocese to give more support to the ongoing building of the Cathedral, which he says is now in a very critical stage. During the Mass, two deacons of the Archdiocese, Reverends Boniface Neibo and Joseph Obada were ordained priests.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: HOW MUCH LAND DOES A MAN NEED?

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23; Psalm 90; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-31

Theme: How much land does a man need?

  1. Leo Tolstoy, in his 1886 short play, tells the story of Pahom, a very great and hardworking farmer who was dissatisfied with the amount of land he had. Greed and the thought of great wealth made him to want more. He is introduced to the Bashkirs, and is told that they are simple-minded people who own a huge amount of land. Pahom goes to them to buy as much of their land for as low a price as he can negotiate. Their offer is very unusual: for a sum of one thousand rubles, Pahom can walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak, marking his route with a spade along the way. If he returns to his starting point by sunset that day, all the land his route encloses will be his, but if he does not reach his starting point, he will lose his money and receive no land. He is delighted, as he believes that he can cover a great distance and has chanced upon the bargain of a lifetime. On the agreed day, he began at dawn, marking out land until just before the sun sets. Toward the end, he realizes he is far from the starting point and runs back as fast as he can to the waiting Bashkirs. He finally arrives at the starting point just as the sun sets. The Bashkirs cheer his good fortune, but exhausted from the run, Pahom drops dead. His servant buries him in an ordinary grave only six feet long. Now, we ask the question: how much land does a man truly need?
  2. This story reflects the exact point of today’s readings. The first reading says most of the things we greedily chase are all vanity; in the second reading, St. Paul enjoins us to put to death, covetousness (greed), which is a form of idolatry; and Jesus warns us to beware of covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Worst still is the fact that Qoheleth tells us that after all the toil, we shall still die and leave our possessions to others to enjoy, sometimes, even people who know nothing of how we suffered to get them.
  3. The farmer in Jesus’ parable exemplifies for us, how foolish we sometimes get when we become greedy and pursue earthly wealth. He was not called a fool because he worked hard or because his farm yielded a great harvest; rather it was for other reasons, and we shall consider just two of them.
  • Selfishness – His speech, from what Jesus tells us, depicts great selfishness. He was all about “I”, “Me”, “My”. Everything started and ended with him. And this is a very common trait among all greedy people. They do not think of others, they do not care about what happens to others, so long as they are satisfied. They hoard things they do not need and would scarcely share with the ‘have nots’ of society. The farmer thought of pulling down his barns and building bigger ones rather than giving out the old stuff. We too will come under God’s condemnation if we behave like that. We may want to ask ourselves how generous we have been with our possessions, especially those we sometimes have in excess and may no longer even use. The clothes, shoes, bags, furniture, food, etc. lying idly in your house that you or your children have not used for a long time and may no longer use belong to the less privileged. Please give them out and let God bless you
  • Earthly mindedness – The farmer was also earthly minded in that while he made plans for his future here on earth, his speech does not suggest he had any plan for death and the life after. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we ought to seek more the things that are above, where Christ is. The danger we must avoid is that when we get too steeped in avarice, we lose sight of the real things and we begin to think we have security in the number of possessions we have, forgetting that life is short and fleeting. Psalm 90:12 says “Teach us the shortness of our lives that we may gain wisdom of heart.” As we plan for our future here on earth, may we never fail to plan also for our eternity.

4. Today, dear child of God, we are challenged to look at our lives again and reevaluate our relationship with material possessions. Today, we are encouraged to kill avarice before it kills us. Today, God invites us to seek him first, and he shall add to us, every other thing (Mat 6:33). Today, Jesus wants us to come to the realization that the true value of life does not depend on how much material things we have, for indeed, they are all vanity. Again, we should ask ourselves the question: how much land does a man truly need? May the Lord Jesus help us to truly keep our eyes fixed on the things of heaven. Amen