THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: FULL OF SELF, EMPTY OF GOD

30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Theme: Full of Self, empty of God

Bill Moyers, the press secretary of President Lyndon Johnson of the USA in the 1960s tells of an experience with the president. He recounted that one morning, as they sat to eat breakfast, President Johnson asked him to say grace before meal. He had hardly started when the president said, “Louder, Bill, louder! I can’t hear what you’re saying.” And he said, without lifting his eyes, he said, “Mr. President, I am not talking to you.” Our petty catechism tells us that “Prayer is the lifting up of our mind and heart to God.” What these two tell us is that in prayer, there is a communication with Someone, a Divine Someone, and that Someone is God. Today’s first and gospel readings speak to us on the subject of prayer, and the place of pride in the arena of prayer, so our reflection shall be focused on pride and how it affects our prayer life.

In the gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector. Briefly, let us examine the two personalities.

The Pharisee

  • The man really did not go to pray but to give God reminders of his righteousness. Jesus said he was talking to himself, and since prayer is talking to God, as we have shown above, it means that he was not praying.
  • He believed that heaven was his right and in fact, that God was indebted to him for being such a good man.
  • In his self-righteousness, he condemned all of mankind. He is like Abbot Simeon ben Jocai who boasted: “If there be only two righteous men in the world, surely it is my son and I; and if there be only one righteous man in the world, then I am he.”
  • He was a proud man who came to God full of himself. His pride made him stand tall before God, but God says he hates pride (Prov 6:16). And because he came into God’s presence full of himself, he went away empty of God.

The tax collector

  • He was a man despised in the community on account of his occupation.
  • He was a humble man who accepted himself for who and what he is: a sinner.
  • His acknowledgement of his sinfulness made him afraid of God, so he stood afar off.
  • Though a sinner, he was a master at prayer who was very specific with what brought him before God.
  • For his humility, God accepted his prayer, for scripture says “The prayer of a humble man pierces the cloud” (Sir 35:17).
  • And because he came into God’s presence empty of himself, he went away full of God, for Jesus says he went away “justified.”

This parable gives us credible lessons about pride, especially in the place of prayer and our relationship with God.

The first lesson is that a proud person cannot truly pray. Pride makes people full of themselves that there is usually no space left for God. If you are full of yourself, then you are definitely empty of God. That is why scripture says “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Prov 3:34). When we come to God full of ourselves, we shall most certainly go away empty of Him and the reason is because pride will not allow us to see our need for God.

Secondly, the prayer of forgiveness is not open to the proud. Just as proud people cannot see their need for God, that is how they are also unable to see the need to ask for his mercy. God’s mercy is open to all who ask but proud people do not see themselves as needing it, so they do not ask. And unless we ask, we shall not receive (cf. Mat 7:7). In prayer, we must always ask God for his mercies because we stand constantly in need of it.

A third lesson for us is that pride gives us a false sense of holiness. Holiness is to be measured against God, not against our fellowmen and women. Because the Pharisee compared himself to another man, he felt an overwhelming sense of holiness. If we measure our holiness against God’s standards, then we shall see how much we still need to do. As the first reading tells us, God sees us as we really and truly are, for He is not partial. So, even if you feel you’re holier than some people, when placed on the scale of God’s justice, He knows exactly where you belong.

So today, we reflect on our lives and our standing before and with God, especially as it pertains to pride and prayer. And we ask ourselves:

  • Do I come to God full of myself and leave His presence empty of Him or do I present myself before God, empty of myself so that I can leave His presence full of Him?
  • Do I like others to see and hear of my good works or do I prefer to do them quietly?
  • Do I give generously to charitable causes when no list of benefactors is published?
  • Do I willingly take part in church activities requiring rendering of service when I’m not included among the leaders or do I feel offended?
  • Am I intolerant of other people’s faults while excusing my own?
  • Do I see myself better than every other person or do I see the good and potentials in them?

The above questions are indicators of pride and answering “Yes” to any of them means we have to check ourselves very well and ask for God’s help. We pray today for the grace and spirit of humility. Amen.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: BAPTISED AND SENT

29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (WORLD MISSION SUNDAY, 2019)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8

Theme: Baptised and Sent

Today, the Mother Church celebrates World Mission Sunday and for this Sunday each year, the Pope sends a message to all Catholics in particular and Christians in general reflecting on the mission mandate of the church. This year’s Papal message is titled “Baptised and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” In this message, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, reminds us all that the Church is on mission in the world and it is our faith in Jesus that enables us to see this mission in its proper perspective. He goes on to remind us that the missionary mandate touches us personally, hence, each and every one of us is always on mission, more so as baptized Christians. He then reminds us that it is Jesus who sends us on this mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you (cf. Jn 20:19-23; Mt 28:16-20), hence, this mission is part of our identity as Christians.

As Jesus sends us into mission, we must keep in mind that the core message He entrusts to us is to preach repentance and righteous living for the salvation of souls. One of the greatest weapons with which we can do this, apart from our personal lives, is the Word of God. The Word of God as contained in Holy Scriptures is our guide for good living, and this is the thrust of the second reading of today’s Mass. Saint Paul tells us that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Let us then quickly reflect on the usefulness/importance of Scripture on our missionary journey as outlined by Saint Paul

  • Scripture gives wisdom, which brings salvation: It opens our eyes to the truth of things, which when we know, is capable of saving us both temporally and eternally. The Word of God says many people perish for lack of knowledge (cf. Hos 4:6) and as we heard in our second reading, salvation comes through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Tim 3:15). But even this faith is founded on the word of God, for “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes through preaching the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). So our salvation is intrinsically rooted in the Word of God.
  • It is used for teaching: There are lessons in the Bible touching on almost about every aspect of human endeavours; it therefore becomes a powerful guide in teaching the correct thing. Jesus himself taught the Jews using the Jewish Torah – what we call the Old Testament today. In today’s second reading, Saint Paul admonishes Timothy to continue in the knowledge of Scripture that he had learnt from his mother. We too must use the power and wisdom of God in sacred scriptures to teach the correct thing as we carry out our mission on earth.
  • Reproof and Correction: This does not mean that scripture is used for finding faults, but that it is valuable for convincing people of the errors of their ways and showing them the right path. Very many testimonies abound of people who turned away from evil lifestyles either because they read the Bible or someone read and/or preached it to them. William Barclay tells the story of a Brigand who held up a man at gunpoint in a Sicilian forest and ordered the man to light a bonfire and burn all his books. The man lit the fire but asked if he could read a small portion from each book before throwing it into the flames. The brigand agreed, so the man took the first book and read Psalm 23 from it; he took another and read the story of the good Samaritan; he took another and read the story of the prodigal son; and from another, he read 1 Corinthians 13. At the end of each reading, the brigand said: “That’s a good book; we won’t burn that one; give it to me.” In the end, not a single book was burned; instead, the brigand took all of them and disappeared into the night. Many years later, this brigand showed up again, but this time, not as a brigand but as Christian minister, and he attributed his change of ways to the reading of those Bibles he collected that night. Reading the Bible with an open mind can indeed change our lives radically.
  • It trains in righteousness: As Scriptures has the power to reprove and correct us, so also does it have the power to lead us on the path of righteousness. As we constantly study and practice what the word of God says, we grow in holiness. But holiness is not a personal thing, it must affect others. In carrying out our mission mandate in the world, we must therefore live our lives in such a manner that we make ourselves useful to God and to our fellowmen. No salvation or righteousness can be said to be true unless it affects others as well.

So as we reflect on the place and power of Scripture in our mission mandate, keeping in mind that we were baptized and sent to “preach the good news”, let us ask ourselves a few questions and ponder on them:

  • Timothy, to whom Saint Paul wrote our second reading, was taught scripture by his mother. Parents, do you teach your children God’s word? Do you train your children in the ways of God? Parents ought to always keep the text of Proverbs 22:6 in mind.
  • We have all been introduced to Scriptures either by our families, the church or our schools. Saint Paul told Timothy to continue in what he has learned. Have we continued in the light of what we learnt or have we abandoned that knowledge?
  • When was the last time you read a chapter of the Bible? Do you own a Bible?
  • What is your general attitude towards the Bible? Do you treat it like food for everyday use or like cake for only special occasions?
  • Is your Bible gathering dust? The devil does not fear a bible with dust on it, for it simply indicates that such a Bible is not being used. How regularly do you read your bible?

On a final note, let us always bear in mind that as Christians, we are always on mission in the world. Jesus has given to us the great commission of evangelizing the world, and we must play our part in this great task, not forgetting that the Word of God is our greatest companion and weapon on this mission. May I quickly remind us that it is the Church that gave us the Bible for our use in carrying out the mission mandate of Jesus. In other words, the Bible came out of the Church, not the Church from the Bible, hence, it will be incorrect to think that whatever the church teaches that is not contained in the Bible is not to be taken serious. Today, we pray for all missionaries everywhere who are far from their homes and are striving day by day, to bring the joys of the gospel to the people to whom they have been sent, that God may strengthen them in their ministries. Amen.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: GRATEFUL OR GREAT FOOL?

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ejeh Ameh

Readings: 2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-16

Theme: Grateful or Great Fool

“If the only prayer you said was “Thank you”, that would be enough.” – Meister Eckhart (German theologian and mystic)

One of the profound virtues we learn early in life is that of gratitude. Parents would normally teach their children how to say “thank you” when they receive a gift or a favour from anyone. As we grow, we also naturally expect gratitude from others, which is normal. This is also true of God. He not only expects gratitude from us, He demands it. This is the thrust of today’s Liturgy of the Word.

The First reading recounts the thanksgiving offering of Naaman, the Syrian Army General who was healed of leprosy by Prophet Elisha. In the gospel reading, we are presented with the account of Jesus’ healing of ten men who were also leprous. While Naaman came back to give thanks for his healing, of the ten men Jesus healed, only one was grateful enough to return and give thanks. To fully appreciate the magnitude of what God did for them, especially the Jewish lepers healed by Jesus, it is important we look at the condition of lepers in biblical times. The 13th and 14th chapters of the book of Leviticus are dedicated to the disease of leprosy. While chapter 13 instructs on how to identify and declare a person leprous, as well as how lepers should live, chapter 14 explains the rite of purification of those healed of the disease. In 13:45-46, scripture says:

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lips and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

The above text explains why the ten lepers in the gospel reading stood at a distance to appeal to Jesus. Though these regulations were given by God to prevent the spread of the disease, being one that is highly contagious, over time, it became a ground for ridiculing, stigmatizing and ostracizing lepers in the most dehumanizing way imaginable. Even in our own day, we consciously stay away from lepers and sometimes unconsciously look down on them too. This should therefore help us understand how great a thing it was that the men in our readings today received their healing, by which their health and dignity were restored.

The crux of our reflection today is on what these men did after their healing. Naaman and one of the men in the gospel came back to offer thanks to God. They were wise enough to know that what God did for them is beyond what any man can do. If it was simply about visiting doctors, Naaman would not have needed to travel out of his country to seek for help; he could have afforded the best medical care available anywhere. The other nine men in the gospel reading were too foolish to appreciate God’s work in their lives, so they never saw the need to say “thank you”. And then Jesus asked: “Where are the other nine?”

A grateful person is a wise person because he/she looks beyond every gift to the intention of the heart that gives it; he/she does not have a sense of entitlement and he/she also understands that gratitude opens the gate for further blessings. That is why someone once said “If you are thankful, your tank of blessing will be full.” On the other hand, ungrateful people are great fools because they are unable to see the beauty that lies in every gift and they tend to think that they have what they have by their own merits. So, we are either grateful in life or we are great fools.

Today, the challenge God puts before us is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. God does not only expect gratitude from us, he in fact demands it. It was the reason Jesus asked the whereabouts of the other nine lepers. Psalm 100:4 says we should enter into his gates with thanksgiving and in Psalm 113:3, scripture says the name of the Lord must be praised at all times, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Saint Paul even says it is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus to give thanks in everything (I Thess 5:18). Generally, when people are ungrateful, in their great folly, they tend to complain and grumble over everything. This is what the Israelites did that displeased God (cf. Num 11:1) and when people do this to us, we also feel unhappy about it. In our relationship with God, we should always keep in mind that what we have and are in life are only because God permitted them (cf. 1 Cor 4:7). Oftentimes, when things go well for some people, they forget to thank God; but when things get bad for them, they remember to beg Him. We must not be like that.

So today, we ask ourselves some questions:

  • How grateful have I been to God for all that has come to me from His hands?
  • Do I also appreciate the little things or I only remember to give thanks for the big things?
  • Do I have a sense of entitlement towards God and my neighbours? Or do I conceive of what they do for me as acts of kindness?
  • Am I thankful to my spouse for the small things and the big things?
  • Do I remember to thank my parents for their love and support and provisions for me?
  • Am I always grateful or am I a great fool?

Today, enjoin you all to do a simple but tasking exercise: take some time to reflect on your life and make a note the things you ought to be thankful for. As you count your blessings, name them one by one and you will be shocked how much God, your spouse, your parents, and others have done for you. Do not be a great fool, rather, be grateful.

THIS WEEK’S HOMILY: “O LORD, HOW LONG?”

27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; Psalm 95; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

Theme: “O Lord, how long?”

In today’s Mass, all the three readings speak to us about faith. The First reading tells us that in the midst of gloom, only the just shall survive. How? By means of their faith. Saint Paul reminds us in the Second reading that God gave us a spirit of faith, not of fear (which is a direct killer of faith). And in the Gospel, while the apostles of Jesus prayed for a strengthening of their faith, Jesus tells us that with a little faith, we can do many great things.

In the First Reading, Habakkuk laments about the travails of the Jews who were at this time, exiled in Babylon. Habakkuk’s prayer was for a time when they will be restored to their land, a time when they will see Jerusalem and the Temple again, a time when they will have peace and freedom. He cried to God that their sufferings have lasted too long and there seem to be no end in sight. But through the prophet Jeremiah (29:10), God had decreed that Judah shall be in Babylon for seventy years; only after those seventy years have elapsed will respite come. Habakkuk’s experiences in exile challenged his faith so much that he asked: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? (Hab 1:2). But God answered him saying: “The vision still awaits its time, it will not fail. Even if it seems slow, wait for it, it will surely come (Hab 2:3). What is this vision that awaits its time and will not fail? It is what God promised by prophet Jeremiah (29:11): “I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to give you a future and a hope.” In other words, the vision is that when the time of suffering in Babylon is over, God shall grant them peace, prosperity and a secured future.

If we look at our own lives, we will see that virtually all of us go through a Babylon experience in one way or the other.

  • Some people are in the Babylon of childlessness after several years of marriage
  • Some are in the Babylon of prolonged ill health
  • Some are in the Babylon of failing business(es)
  • Some are in the Babylon of unemployment, even after several years of graduating with an excellent result
  • Some are in the Babylon of a failing marriage
  • Some are in the Babylon of seeing their children not progressing in life, despite all their efforts
  • Some are in the Babylon of expecting a life partner
  • Some are in the Babylon of addictions they would rather break away from
  • Some are in the Babylon of habitual sins which constantly leaves them in a state of guilt, etc.

All such ‘Babylonian experiences’ of our lives are capable of threatening our faith in God; they can make us cry the same cry of Habakkuk: “How long, O Lord, shall I cry for help and you will not hear? But God’s word to us today is not to fear or be intimidated by them, for God did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity (2 Tim 1:7). We should rather fan into flame our faith in God because he has promised us a future of prosperity and security (Jer 29:11) and God does not lie (Num 23:19). When our faith is threatened by our ‘Babylonian experiences’, let us do as the disciples of Jesus did in our gospel reading of today, asking Jesus for an increase, a strengthening of our faith.

Child of God, I do not know what “Babylon” your life has been in, nor for how long you have had to deal with it, but hear the word of the Lord: “the vision (of deliverance) may seem slow, but it will surely come.” Do not give up on God, because God has not given up on you, neither will he ever give up on you. Continue to have faith in God. And concerning all the “Babylons” in your life that are threatening your faith, I have good news for you. God says: “You will leave Babylon with joy; you will be led out of the city in peace” (Isa 55:12). I pray for you, that God may strengthen your faith during your time of ‘Babylonian experience(s)’, and at his own time, may he bring you out of your “Babylon” with joy to the land of peace, prosperity and security. Amen