HOMILY FOR 3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER: KEEPING FAITH ALIVE

By. Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

Theme: Keeping Faith Alive

After the events of Good Friday to Easter Sunday, a lot of things happened to the disciples of Jesus, a lot ran through their minds. Among other things, there was a mighty big feeling of disappointment among them. They were disappointed in Jesus, and they were gripped with fear. This resulted in the temporary dispersal of the group. As recorded in John 21:3, Peter said “I am going fishing.” Going fishing means going back to his former life, back to where and what he was before Jesus called him. And some opted to go with him.

In today’s gospel text, which shall be the focus of our reflection, two other disciples were also going back to their place, to Emmaus. Note that they were leaving Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the political and religious capital of the Jews. It was the City of God. To move away from Jerusalem therefore, is to move away from the presence of God, and any movement away from God, is a movement in the wrong direction. And while they were making this journey, Jesus came along, and in their chat with him, they told him the fundamental reason for their leaving. They said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, but our leaders delivered him up to death and killed him.” In other words, we had faith in him, but that faith has been dashed; we have lost our faith. Well, Jesus was right there with them, so he helped them to recover their faith. To keep their faith alive, three things stand out in the gospel reading, and by these three things also, we too can keep our faith alive when it is threatened.

1. Sharing the burden

Psychologically, sharing a burden with someone helps make it lighter, hence, the saying, “A problem shared is half solved.” The sharing of their burden with this stranger was the beginning of the regaining of their waning faith. But who else can we better share our burden with if not Jesus? As scriptures tells us in Matthew 11:28, Jesus says “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” and in 1 Peter 5:7, we are admonished to cast all our burdens upon the Lord, for he cares for us. Though the disciples tried to run away from their troubles, Jesus came to share it with them. We too shall realize sometimes, that our trials, our burdens, our troubles, tend to draw us far away from God. God never abandons us; rather, we are the ones who abandon God. God’s word says in Psalm 16:10, “You will not abandon my soul to death.” But even when we move away from God, he still comes searching for us. He came to meet these two disciples on their way to Emmaus; when Peter went fishing with the others as recorded in John 21:1ff, Jesus also came to meet them there. God will always be there for us, but we need to talk to him. I know that many of us are burdened either psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, physically or financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us all be assured of the presence of Jesus with us through these times, and let this knowledge lead us into deeper union and communication with him.

2. The journey through scriptures

In Isaiah 55:8, the word of God says “My ways are not your ways…” Indeed, God’s choice of how to redeem the world surely defies human logic. Couldn’t God have redeemed the world without Jesus’ death? The very powerful, miracle working man that these disciples saw as the Messiah was brutally and shamefully executed before their very eyes, and by their understanding, he had failed them. Little did they know that this was the process of the actualization of their dreams. So Jesus helped them to understand all this by taking them on a journey through scriptures. Many times, we too will find ourselves in situations when we think that God has failed us, abandoned us, or rejected us. One very good example is this period in which almost the whole world has shut down to fight the coronavirus disease. However, God’s word is full of promises and proofs that God never abandons his people. But we will not know this if we do not study the bible, the living, written word of God. For every challenge we face in life, God has made a promise about it in the bible, but we will not know unless we study. little wonder God said through the prophet Hosea that “My people perish for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6). Many people today do not seem to understand what is happening in the world; they cannot come to terms with why places of worship had to be closed down; they cannot fathom why it is taking so long to find a cure for the coronavirus disease. In all of these and many other confusions which may becloud our minds, let us turn to God’s for answers, for encouragement and for strength. When your faith begins to wane, turn to God and listen to him as he speaks to you through his word.

3. Gathering with believers

After breaking the word and the bread, the two disciples recognized Jesus and afterwards, hurried back to the community of believers in Jerusalem. The news that the other disciples have also seen the risen Lord would surely have dispelled any remaining doubts about the vision they saw. This would ultimately have one big effect: keep their faith in Jesus alive. “Do not forsake the gathering of the believers” (Heb 10:25) is an injunction of scriptures we need to give serious thought to. When we gather together as believers, we are able to share our faith experiences and encourage those who are weak or in crisis. If on the other hand, we neglect such gatherings, we may be faced with the challenge of bearing our burdens alone. There is great power in community. However, some may say “But we cannot gather as a community of believers now because churches are closed.” To such people I say, do not forget that the family is a domestic church; it is in fact the first point of contact between the human person and God. It is in the family that the seed of the faith is planted. And every time people gather as a family for prayers and the study of the Word of God, God is present in their midst, for “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst” (Mat 18:20). In fact, this period when the church buildings are closed is one that families should take advantage of to rebuild and reawaken the communal/family prayer life that they may have neglected for long. While the church as an institution may be closed, the church as a family must be opened, and even in that community of the family, we shall find courage and strength. When you are having a faith crisis, try to spend time in a gathering of other believers, including your family, and watch how courage will gradually return to you. It is my earnest prayer that the Lord Jesus be there to help us to keep our faith alive, especially in our moments of challenges, fear and doubt such as during this coronavirus pandemic. Amen

DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY: DIVINE MERCY, CORONAVIRUS AND US

2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Theme: Divine Mercy, Coronavirus and Us

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Divine Mercy, which is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. By this feast, we are reminded that our very existence and sustenance is a product of God’s mercy. With the way humanity constantly derides and even sometimes blatantly loathes God, it can only but be the mercy of God that is keeping us still. As scripture says about ages past, due to the wickedness and evil of the human race, God regretted creating human beings (Gen 6:5-6). Today, I dare to say that nothing has changed for the better; if anything at all, we have grown worse than the people of Noah’s day that God destroyed with the flood. But as mentioned earlier, it is just the mercy of God that has been preserving us, for if God should mark our iniquities, none of us will survive (Psa 130:3).

As we celebrate this feast today, I see in our readings, especially the first and gospel readings, a resemblance with what is happening in our world right now. The first reading tells us three key things about the early church. It says that

  • the disciples held steadfastly in obedience to the teachings of the apostles
  • they constantly gathered for prayers in two places: the temple and in their homes
  • they shared their goods among themselves such that the poor among them were not in need.

And in the gospel, we read that

  • due to fear of what was lurking outside, the disciples locked themselves behind closed doors and
  • in their fear and in their closed rooms, Jesus comes to assure them of his presence and also give them the gift of peace and the Holy Spirit.

Today, I see these five elements in the life of the church and of all of us. First, in these very trying times that we have been passing through due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Church has had to make some very tough decisions for her faithful. Some of these decisions were initially greeted with resistance by some members of the Church. But such people did not seem to realize that the bishops in communion with the pope, who are the leaders of the Church today, are the apostles that we have and see. And just as the early Christians obeyed the teachings of the apostles and held steadfastly to them, that is how we too must behave. While we may seem to have adjusted now, since it appeared we had no choice, in the future, we must learn to listen to and obey what the Church teaches, so long as it does not go contrary to the commands of God.

A second lesson for us, from the second point highlighted above, is that the church exists in two forms and therefore has two places of prayer. The first is the church as a building. The disciples constantly went to the temple to pray. The second is the home; they also met in their homes for the breaking of bread. Before coronavirus forced us to stay at home, some Christians hardly prayed in their homes, including family prayers. They saw the church building as the only place to pray, forgetting that the family is a domestic church. Hopefully, with the lockdown occasioned by coronavirus, such families are now praying together in their homes. If you have not made of your home a place of prayer, please start now. And even when the coronavirus pandemic is over and we return back to our church buildings, please continue to pray together at home, whether you live alone or as a family. Remember, as it is said, “The family that prays together stays together.”

Thirdly, as the early Christians lived together, they shared their goods/possessions with each other. Those who had enough gave to those who did not have as much, and no one was in need. We need to see this happening more today as the lockdown ordered by the government brought into many homes, the hunger virus. I presume that we know that many people are hungry now more than ever before because they have no means of earning money to buy their daily bread; millions of Nigerians live by what they earn each day, and now that they have not been able to work for three weeks, one can only but imagine how they have been managing to survive. The church as an institution has been reaching out to families with different palliative measures according to her means, but as individuals, God is also calling upon us at this time to also reach out to those in need around us. If you do not know how to go about it, just visit your parish church and drop whatever you have with the priest and be rest assured that someone who needs it will get it.

From the gospel reading also, we draw two lessons, which are the fourth and fifth points highlighted above. The first lesson from the gospel is that Saint John tells us that the disciples locked themselves indoors for fear of the Jews. It was not really the Jews that they feared; it was rather what the Jews would do to them, which is, to kill them. By running into hiding, they preserved their lives and later came out bolder and stronger to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Always, we need wisdom to know which evil to confront head-on and which to defer confrontation against to another time; we need wisdom to know when to come out and fight and when to run and hide. This is a winning strategy of war. The coronavirus pandemic presents us with such a war-like situation. As global medical experts have told us, this is a time we need to run into hiding. By staying locked up indoors, we have a greater chance of defeating the virus. As far as this war with coronavirus is concerned, this is one of the winning strategies we can deploy. We should learn, like the disciples of Jesus, to know when to hide and when to come out. Those therefore, who blatantly flaunt the stay-at-home order of the government should know that they are risking the lives of the rest of the community and the world at large. This war may linger much longer than we hope if we do not employ the strategy of retreating into our homes. Please, unless it is very necessary, stay at home so that the mercy of God will reach out to all of us. Do not be like Thomas who was not where the others were when Jesus first visited.

Finally, even in the room where the disciples locked themselves up, Jesus came to them, assured them of his ever-abiding presence and left them the gift of his peace and the Holy Spirit. Due to the prevailing circumstances of the time, the disciples were afraid, and rightly so. They had witnessed the brutal execution of the one they call Master and Lord, the one whom they believed had power to do and undo. If this did not frighten them, then nothing ever would have. But in their fear and confusion, Jesus comes to them and his first words were, “Peace be with you.” After revealing himself to them, their joys knew no bounds. Today, we are very much like these disciples of Jesus. Coronavirus has instilled fear in the hearts of even the high and mighty; the powerful nations of the world appear powerless before it; science is still struggling to find a solution and has therefore been humbled; the arrogance of humanity as a result of which many have become too secular and discarded God from their affairs has now been proven to be vanity. So in the hearts of billions of people across the world, fear is reigning supreme. However, the good news is that we are not alone in this. The Divine Mercy of God has not abandoned us, and Jesus says to us today, “Peace be with you.” He himself promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age (Mat 18:20) and because he cannot deceive us, we are assured in faith, that he is with us even in our homes where we have locked ourselves against coronavirus. Child of God, let us keep faith in Jesus that his mercy will win victory for us against coronavirus. We may have been locked in, but Jesus is with us even in our rooms and his stripes shall heal our world.

As we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy today, we pray that God will look mercifully on our world and heal our land; we pray that he will bring healing to those who are infected; we pray that he will enlighten the minds of our medical experts and scientists to find a cure; we pray that he will strengthen health workers and other care givers in the frontline of the fight against the virus to be steadfast in the work that they do, and for those who have died of the virus, may God’s Divine Mercy grant them eternal rest and console their families and all who mourn them. Amen.

HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY: NEW WORLD ORDER

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; John 20:1-9

Theme: New World Order

In the past couple of weeks, there were several conspiracy theories that sprang forth from different quarters revolving around the deployment of the 5G network around the world. These were beautifully but illogically linked to the corona virus pandemic we are facing at the moment and further tied to the end time theory, that these are signs that the world is coming to an end. These conspiracy theorists claimed that certain world leaders, including the pope, whom they called the antichrist, were trying to use the 5G network to usher in a new world order with one religion, one currency, one government, one this and one that, and that these world leaders plan to implant certain chips in people through a vaccine that would enable them control everybody, and so many other irrational claims that they make. As usual, they try to find a biblical basis for such ginormous but hilariously specious claims. Before these present alarmist theorists, several others like them have come and gone, most, if not all of who also accused the popes in their days of being the antichrist and who also claimed that the world was coming to an end. Interestingly, they all claim that God revealed it to them. But because God did not send them, and the scriptures, which they try to cunningly twist to give support to their false claims does not and cannot contradict itself, God has repeatedly proven them wrong and will still continue to prove them wrong.

Today we celebrate the Mass of Easter, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The passion, death and especially the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation upon which our faith as Christians is built. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, as Saint Paul says, it would have been delusional to believe in him, and for that, we would be the most pitiable of all men for having faith in a dead man (cf. 1 Cor 15:17-19). But thanks be to God, the world of the dead was conquered by Jesus when, three days after his death, he rose triumphantly from the dead. Not even the sealed grave nor the soldiers set on guard could stop his resurrection. Praise the Lord!

This glorious resurrection of Jesus forever changed the course of human history. With it, a new world order was ushered, and this will continue to be so until the end of the world, whenever that will be. Humanity’s relationship with God was set on a different course; human relationships also were forever altered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even humanity’s outlook towards life was also rebranded. As scripture says, “All who are in Christ Jesus are new creatures; the old order has passed, and all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17). This new world order is what the second reading of today’s Mass calls us to further strengthen in our own milieu.

Saint Paul says to us, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be new dough… Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival (of Christ’s resurrection), not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:7-8). This text of scripture tells us in clear and categorical terms, what God expects of us as people who are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. We must cleanse out the old dough of malice and backbiting, of gossip and slander, of jealousy and envy, of anger and bitterness, of pride and arrogance, of deceit and insincerity, of greed and selfishness. We must put away from our lives the leavened dough of exploitation and stealing, of adultery, fornication and every other form of sexual immorality, of grudges and an unforgiving heart. Today, Jesus invites us to put away the evil dough of taking advantage of people’s unfortunate circumstances as some of us did when it was obvious that some cities were going to be locked down by the government as a measure of combating the coronavirus pandemic. Many people (and a good number are Christians) saw and are still seeing it as an opportunity to make more money, hence, they inflated price of commodities, making life more difficult for already suffering Nigerians. If you are one of such persons, repent now and ask God for forgiveness, for that was a very evil thing to do. This is not the kind of new world order that Jesus established by his death and resurrection; this is not the kind of world order that the early Christians showed the people of their days by their example (cf. Acts 2:44-47); this is not the kind of world order that we should be propagating.

Dear child of God, today, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let us be reminded that it is now on us, believers of this generation, to push for the furtherance of the new world order won by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Let us do well, by word and example, to strengthen in our day, the new world order in which love replaces hate, honesty replaces deceit, truth pushes out lies, bounteousness supersedes selfishness, and humility kicks out arrogance. We must do our best to show the rest of the world the new world order established by Jesus in which there is peace and forgiveness, in which exists selflessness and contentment, marital faithfulness and sexual purity. Jesus wants to see a new world order in which people forgive those who offend them, one in which those who have much share with those who have little or nothing, one in which Christians, by their lifestyle, live like people who appreciate the suffering and death of Jesus for sinful humanity. This is the real new world order, a world in which believers in the Lord Jesus will truly let old things to pass away so that everything may become new. We pray today, for the grace to faithfully follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master, who suffered and died in order that the world may have new life. Amen. Happy Easter to you.

HOLY THURSDAY (MASS OF THE LAST SUPPER): DO YOU UNDERSTAND…?

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 116; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

Theme: Do You Understand…?

In the book of Exodus, God gave a command for the Israelites to kill a lamb without blemish, smear doorposts with the blood, and eat the meat hurriedly. Did the Israelites understand this command? Fast forward to the days of Apostle Paul in the New Testament. He recounted that on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, he gave bread and wine to his apostles as his body and blood, by which today, he is sacramentally present to the church. Did the disciples understand what he was doing and even saying? Rewind back to the days of Jesus, on the actual night of his Last Supper. He took off his outer garment and tied around his waist, a towel with which he cleaned the Apostles’ feet after washing them. Peter even tried to resist this gesture. Did they really understand what Jesus what doing? Today, all of these are brought together in one celebration and we read of them. But do we really understand their implications for us? Indeed, this question of Jesus has far-reaching implications for us, Christians of today.

Israel was tied down in physical slavery. To liberate them, god used the blood of animals. Humanity was tied down in bondage to Satan. To liberate us, the blood of Jesus was required. There is always a costly price to pay for true freedom. And so it is, as Saint Peter says, that “the price that was paid for our redemption was not paid with anything corruptible like silver or gold…but with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Pet 1:18-19). It is important to note that for the blood of the sacrificial lamb to be effective for the Israelites, they had to obey the instructions God gave through Moses. In the same vein, for the blood of Jesus to be effective in our lives, we must be obedient to the commands of God given through his Church. Do you understand? This means that just as the Israelites were liberated from slavery and every negative thing associated with it, so shall God liberate us from the clutches of Satan with all its attendant negativities. If we are obedient to God, by the power in the blood of Jesus, he shall free us from the bondage of sin; he shall liberate us from sickness, sorrows, occultic manipulations, confusion, destruction, backwardness and eternal death. Just as a new phase opened for the Israelites by the shedding of the blood of the lamb of sacrifice, so shall God open a new phase for us in our own lives by the blood of Jesus. But first, we must be obedient God’s commands for us. Do you understand this?

At the last supper, Jesus took off his outer garment and tied on a towel. After washing the disciples’ feet, he asked them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?” In this action, Jesus calls us to a life of humility and of service. It is hard for the world to understand why a great man, a big man, a powerful man, a famous person should stoop so low as to do the work of servants. It is even hard for some people to understand why a highly placed person should relate with someone on the lower rung of the ladder of life/society. As far as the world is concerned, the powerful should relate with the powerful, the rich with the rich, the mighty with the mighty, the educated with the educated. The world cannot seem to fathom why the daughter of a wealthy man would choose to marry a boy from a poor home; it is incomprehensible for the world that a highly educated young man should settle in marriage with a “bush” village girl with no education. To many in the world, it is unthinkable that one big oga who goes out for a whole day with his driver should worry about whether the driver has eaten or not, not to talk of inviting him to eat together. Why should that big madam in the office bother to know the name of the wretched cleaner woman who cleans the toilets, let alone asking her of her wellbeing? The examples we can give are indeed many. But Jesus bursts that bubble by his action and his question, “Do you understand?” and he goes on to add: “I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Therefore,

  • Do you understand, is an invitation to take off our outer garment of pride and tie the garment of humility around our waist.
  • Do you understand, is an invitation to shun discrimination of any kind and embrace all in love.
  • Do you understand, is an invitation to seek for greatness, not through might and strife, but through humility and service.
  • Do you understand, is an invitation to shun injustice and stand for justice at all times.
  • Do you understand, is an invitation to put away the cloak of deceit and dishonesty and put on the garment of sincerity and honesty.

As Jesus did, showing us an example, so we also should do. We pray especially for priests today, that as we celebrate the institution of the sacred priesthood, all priests may learn to follow in the example of Jesus their Lord and Master. Amen

HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY, YEAR A: UNTIE IT…AND LAY IT DOWN

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Theme: Untie it…and Lay it Down

Today, we celebrate the Mass of Palm or Passion Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. It is an unfortunate experience that this year, the Coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for the vast majority of Catholics to physically take part in the liturgy of today’s Mass and the rest of the Holy Week. However, the grace of God still reaches out to you all wherever you may be, and the Word of God cannot be caged even by the lockdown of some cities. As the Bible says, “The word of God is alive and active, and it is sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing where soul and spirit meets” (Heb 4:12). So while we may be staying at home, the Word of God is cutting through space to meet us where we are. At this time, we thank God for technology that has helped us to stay connected in spirit with the liturgy of the Church.

Our reflection today shall be drawn from the gospel text, and we shall take two lessons from it. First, in that text, Jesus instructs his disciples to go into the village opposite, untie a donkey and bring it to him. When this was done, he rode on the donkey into Jerusalem amidst shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David.” That was not the first time Jesus was going to Jerusalem, but this time, it was different; this time, it was a triumphal entry. Jesus made that triumphal entry into Jerusalem once and forever, and on that occasion, the donkey played a very important role. But today, Jesus is making entries into homes and neighbourhoods and work places and communities and cities and the church and the world at large. And just as he needed that donkey to enter into Jerusalem, he still needs help even today.

I see us therefore, playing the same role as that donkey, being the instruments by means of which Jesus will enter into the different areas of our lives and our world. However, like the donkey, we too must first be untied. Some of us are tied and shackled to greed and selfishness; some are tied and bound to lies and deceit; some are tied and entangled in fornication, adultery, homosexuality and other forms of sexual sins; some are tied down by gossip, backbiting and backstabbing; some of us are bound by bad temper, bitterness and unforgiving spirit; some others are tied by hate and revenge. Dear child of God, know that Jesus needs you as an instrument by which he may enter into your family, your neighbourhood, your community, your workplace and even your church. But how can he use you when you are still tied down? You must therefore untie yourself so that you can be presented to Jesus. Jesus has given us the command to “go into the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mk 16:15), and as he has promised, he himself will be with us through it all (cf. Mat 28:20), but we cannot embark on this errand, neither will he go with us, if we insist on remaining tied down. So, dear child of God, untie yourself from all forms of evil doing, for Jesus has need of you.

Secondly, the gospel passage tells us that when Jesus had climbed on the donkey, the people removed their garments and spread them on the road for Jesus to ride on. As we well know, the garment is what covers our shame, thereby providing us with dignity. Removing their garments and laying them down on the ground before Jesus therefore meant that the people surrendered their dignity to Jesus. By that act, they humbled themselves before Jesus. In the second reading of today’s Mass, scripture tells us that Jesus stripped himself of the dignity of his divinity and became humble and obedient even unto death. We are therefore challenged today to remove the garment of pride and arrogance from our lives and lay them down before Jesus. Pride is a big obstacle in our relationship with God, and as the Book of Proverbs says, among the seven things that God detests most, pride is the number one (Prov 6:16-19); that is why God will always resist the proud but give grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:5).

As we enter into the period when we celebrate the mysteries of our redemption, let us always keep in mind that the passion of Jesus was for our sakes, for our redemption and justification before God, and if Jesus endured such great sufferings for our sakes, then we must do everything in our power to untie ourselves from the shackles of sin and refuse to be clothe in the garment of pride and arrogance, which shall make us abominable to God. We pray that by the merits of the stripes of Jesus’ wounds, his passion and death, God may heal our land of the ravaging effects of coronavirus. Amen.