COME, HOLY SPIRIT, RENEW THE EARTH (PENTECOST SUNDAY, YEAR A (MASS DURING THE DAY)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104; 1Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

Theme: Come Holy Spirit, Renew the Earth

The Church celebrates today, the Feast of Pentecost, on which we recall the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus. It is important to point out here that it is not the coming of the Holy Spirit that made the day ‘Pentecost’. Pentecost was a Jewish feast known as the “Feast of Weeks”, occurring seven weeks (or fifty days) after the Passover. It was a Jewish national holiday that recalls the receiving of the Law by Moses from God as well as thanksgiving for the harvest. Pentecost was one of the three obligatory festivals for all Jewish males from twelve years upwards living in Jerusalem or within a twenty mile radius of Jerusalem to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the others being the Feast of the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. It was also a business time for people of other nationalities, who brought wares to sell to the Jews, thus explaining the multilingual crowd that understood the disciples praying in their different tongues. It was on this day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus; it was on this day that the church was born and publicly manifested.

This coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost which we read of in our first reading brought about and still continues to bring about new changes in the world and in the lives of believers. From the very first experience of the outpouring of the Spirit, an irreversible transformation occurred, and the Holy Spirit still continues his work in our world today. Jesus had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Advocate. For “fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19), they huddled themselves up in the Upper Room and when the Spirit came, that fear disappeared. A renewal took place in their lives that they began to bear witness to Jesus from Jerusalem, just as Jesus had told them they would (Acts 1:8). This happened because the Spirit they had just received was not the spirit of fear and timidity, but the Spirit of power! The Holy Spirit renewed the believers!

In our second reading, Saint Paul likened the community of believers to the many parts of the body. This is irrespective of nationality, race, tribe, gift/potentials, social and/or economic status and all the other differentiations that people make among themselves. Saint Paul simply says “we were baptized into one body and made to drink of the one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). He therefore goes on to teach that our differences are all works of the Spirit and they are meant to be used for the glorification of the body of Christ, where one complements the other. By the power and workings of the Holy Spirit, these diversities are redirected for the common good, thus bringing about a renewed communal experience. This renewal is also to be seen in families and other communities where the individuals making up such communities play different roles but for the common good.

As we read in the gospel text, the breathing of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, by which Jesus gave them the power to forgive sins, thereby instituting the Sacrament of Penance in the Church, is another source of renewal by the Spirit. In Penance, we come to God stained with our sins; by the action of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament, we return from cleansed and completely renewed. This act of renewal by the Spirit restores our injured relationship with God. We see therefore, that at every point and every time the Holy Spirit is at work, something new happens, or something existent is given new life, new vigour.

As we celebrate Pentecost today, we remind ourselves that the Holy Spirit is still very much with us. He is still actively working in, among and through us. It is therefore important for us to submit to the power and promptings of the spirit as he leads us, especially as it concerns the renewal of our lives, our homes, our marriages, our neighborhoods, our work/business places, our Church and our world. The Holy Spirit needs us as his active agents to bring about the renewal of the face of the earth when we use our gifts, talents and resources for the common good. As the Spirit which gives and also unites different gifts and different people in the one body of Christ, the Holy Spirit also needs us to be agents of peace and unity wherever we find ourselves. Our world today is sick, especially with the coronavirus pandemic. We are all looking up to God for an end to it, but we all have roles to play also. By the power of the Holy Spirit, this pandemic shall either pass and be no more, or we shall be given the immunity to resist and live with it. However, as the Spirit of God does his work of renewing the health of the world, we must also do our part of helping to contain the spread of the virus by following the preventive guidelines given to us by government and health officials.

We pray that the Holy Spirit whose feast we celebrate today may come down mightily upon us upon our families, upon our marriages, upon our work/businesses, upon our church and upon our world and renew every tired, sick, wounded or dying part(s) of them. Amen. Come Holy Spirit… renew the face of the earth.

UMUAHIA DIOCESE GETS NEW AUXILIARY BISHOP

The Holy Father has appointed as auxiliary of the diocese of Umuahia, Nigeria, Rev. Fr. Michael Kalu Ukpong of the clergy of Umuahia, currently chancellor of the same diocese and parish priest of Saint Theresa’s parish, assigning him the titular Igilgili.

Fr. Michael Kalu Ukpong was born on 15 December 1964 in Amaekpu Ohafia, in the diocese of Umuahia. He attended the Immaculate Conception Minor Seminary in Ahiaeke (1978-1984). He carried out his studies in philosophy at the Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary in Owerri (1985-1993) and in theology at the Saint Joseph Major Seminary in Ikot Ekpene (1989-1993).  He studied canon law at the Klaus-Mörsdorf-Institut für Kanonistik at the Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität in Munich (2006-2007) and then theology at the University of Regensburg, where he was awarded a doctorate 2008-2014).

He was ordained a priest on 7 August 1993 for the clergy of the diocese of Umuahia.

Since priestly ordination he has held the following offices: parish vicar at Saint Finbarr’s parish in Umuahia (1993-1994); secretary to the bishop of Umuahia (1994-1996); parish priest ad item at Saint John’s parish (1996-1999); editor of the Lumen Newspaper, of the diocese of Umuahia (1999-2001); and chaplain at the Christ the King Chaplaincy in Umudike (2001-2003). From 2004 to 2014 he carried out his higher studies in Germany, also serving as parish vicar of Saint Joseph’s parish in Reinhausen in the diocese of Regensburg, Germany (2008-2011); parish vicar of the Assumption parish in Ascholtshausen, diocese of Regensburg, Germany (2011-2013); parish vicar of the Berathausen-Pfraundorf parish unit, diocese of Regensburg, Germany (2013-2016); head of the Coronata Secondary School in Asaga Ohafia (2016-2018); and chancellor of the diocese of Umuahia and parish priest of Saint Theresa’s parish in Umuahia (since 2018).

Hearty congratulations to the new Bishop and the local church of Umuahia.

Source: Vatican News


“ME I NO GO SUFFER” (HOMILY FOR 7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 1:12-14; Psalm 27; 1 Peter 4:13-16; John 17:1-11

Theme: “Me I No Go Suffer…”

There is this popular song in Christendom with the title, “Me I no go suffer.” The lyrics read thus: “Me I no go suffer, I no go beg for bread (repeat once). God of miracles, na my papa oh (repeat continuously).” This song has its origin and finds support in the prosperity gospel brand of the Christian message which gives a false sense of entitlement to believers. The theology behind the song – if we can call that a theology at all – is that all Christians, by virtue of their faith in God, are immune from every form of suffering. Thus, suffering of any kind is the lot of unbelievers. The deep implication of such a song is that all believers must be blessed by God for the simple reason of their faith. In fact, it puts God in the debt of believers. This breeds a sense of entitlement where Christians begin to think that God owes them. Yet, the existential Christian reality proves otherwise. Thus, when these Christians do not receive the kind of blessing they have been conditioned to expect, they lose faith in God. Many of the people in the very churches were this pseudo gospel is preached are living in abject poverty while those who preach such falsehood to them often live in stupendous affluence. These merchants of falsehood in the name of pastors then set themselves as the ideal believer who is “blessed” by God for their faith and whose God (or god) their adherents should seek. This song referred to above and the logic behind it collapses when put under the lens of scripture because it is very unbiblical and far from the teachings of Christ Jesus and the apostles. This truth, we find in the readings of today’s Mass, and it shall form the basis of our reflection today.

In the first reading, we read that the apostles, together with the mother of Jesus, after Jesus’ ascension, returned to the upper room “where they were staying”, which according to a hint from Saint John, was “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19). Why were they afraid of the Jews? The answer is obvious: persecution! Saint Peter says, as we read in the second reading, that believers should rejoice when they suffer on account of their faith in Jesus, stating that they should count it a blessing and a privilege to have to suffer for the sake of the gospel. In his own life and ministry, Peter and some other disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41). In fact, Jesus at certain times, told his followers to expect suffering on account of his name (Mat 5:11; Mk 8:34; Jn 16:33). Suffering therefore, is a necessary part of the Christian life and calling. However, what scriptures reveal to us, especially in the readings of today’s Mass, is the consolation that all who patiently persevere and bear their crosses for Jesus’ sake, will receive consolation and reward from God. We see this in the three readings of today’s Mass.

The first reading describes the community of the disciples after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was in this upper room where they gathered that the Holy Spirit came upon them. Yet, not all the disciples of Jesus who walked with him during his ministry had that rare privilege of witnessing the ascension and receiving the Holy Spirit. It was only those who kept faith with him, endured the pain of his years of itinerant ministry and still believed in him even after he was ignominiously executed who received this glorious reward. Some of his disciples who left him midway (Jn 6:66) and Judas who betrayed him and later hung himself, all missed these glorious experiences. Saint Peter says in our second reading that when we share in Christ’s sufferings, then we may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. He went on to add that those who are reproached for the sake of Christ are blessed. In the gospel reading, Jesus asked the Father to glorify him because he has accomplished the work he was given to do. As we very well know, that work was not a pleasant one. There were times when he was hungry, there were times when he was threatened with death by stoning, there were times when he was insulted, and there was a time when he was afraid. But he bore all these sufferings patiently, so he could ask the Father to glorify him. Note that none of these promises and expectations of glory and blessedness come from simply having God as our papa; in fact, these rewards are to be expected only when we have persevered and borne our fair share of hard times for God’s sake.

The big message for us today therefore is that we must be prepared as Christians to brace up to the challenges associated with the Christian faith. We must also never lose faith in God because of the hardships and persecutions we bear on account of our faith in God. Today’s liturgy of the word also calls on us to be resolute and persevering, for as Jesus says, “your endurance will win you your lives” (Lk 21:19). We must do well not to carry the “me I no go suffer” mentality, for it is not a correct Christian mentality, else when suffering comes, we may easily fall because we are not mentally and spiritually prepared for them.

As we celebrate the 54th World Communication Sunday today, the Pope’s message, which is dedicated to Story Telling, invites us all to tell stories that are edifying and that build up. Telling the correct story of the Christian message, especially to our children and all who look up to us in the faith, is a Christian duty that we must take seriously. We pray today for all who work in the media industry, especially those who use the media to propagate the true gospel message of Jesus, that the grace of God may grant them joy and fulfillment in their ministry. Amen

THE WAY TO HEAVEN IS ON EARTH (ASCENSION THURSDAY MUSINGS)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

Shortly before Jesus’ ascension into heaven, he charged his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the end of the earth. And just after saying this, he was caught up in the clouds into heaven. The disciples fixed their gaze on heaven as he went up that they did not even notice the presence of angels standing in their midst. They were concentrating on heaven and became lost to the earth. The angels had to remind them that the One they are looking at just gave them an assignment to do.

The experience of the disciples is also the experience of many Christians today. We are so focused on heaven and how to get there that we forget or almost do not realize that it is the very place where we are that is the road to that heaven. Simply, the way up is down here. As with the disciples, Jesus also left us the task of being his witnesses to our world. It is by our witnessing to our world that we travel the road to heaven. Until we realize this, we will just be doing it wrong. The late Bishop Athanasius Usuh of Makurdi, Diocese, Nigeria, says it well in his favourite saying, “Do not be too heavenly minded that you become earthly useless, else, you will stumble here on earth and fall into hell.

As we celebrate yet another commemoration of the Ascension of Jesus, let us be reminded that we have work to do for Jesus, the work of bearing witness to him in our world, starting from where we are. This must not be lost on us, as it is the way we must travel to get to the heaven we so desire. Amen.

CATHOLIC TELEVISION (CTV) LAUNCHES FREE-TO-AIR DECODER

In its bid to provide greater and cheap access to quality educational, informative, entertaining and spiritually enriching contents to its numerous viewers across Nigeria and the West African sub-region, the Catholic Television (CTV), a digital satellite television owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja has launched its free-to-air decoder.

Unveiling the decoder to the Priests of the Archdiocese on Thursday, 14th May, 2020, the Director of Communication of the Archdiocese, Very Rev. Fr. Patrick T. Alumuku explained that it has become necessary to take such a bold step as it offers millions of Catholics around the country and West Africa the opportunity to access quality Catholic broadcast at no cost after the first installment. He further highlighted that being a free access decoder, all that is required is the cost of installation, after which no monthly subscription is required. This will be especially beneficial to millions of Nigerians who are unable to afford the high subscription rates of other satellite TVs.

Fr. Alumuku further revealed that there are about 50 free channels on the decoder covering religious, news, movies, music, documenatary, sports and kiddies varieties. Some of the channels include CTV Religious, The ChurchTV Religious, AIT General, Channels TV News, Aljazeera News, NTA International, France 24 English, Smillie Kiddies, Our Kiddies, Health Wellness Lifestyle, Our Movies-Globe Movies-All, Our Movies-Nollywood, Our Music , Sportify, Our Sports and Speed Factor Sports/Motoring. Others include Wazobia Max, TVC Entertainment, Trybe Tv, Trybe 208, Emmanuel TV, MBC Action, MBC 2 (UAE), MBC 3, MBC Ma, Silverbird TV and lots more.

To keep the decoder in the reach of every Nigerian, Fr. Alumuku also stated that the cost has been fixed at an affordable rate of twenty five thousand naira (N25, 000) only. This covers the cost of the decoder, satellite dish, cable and installation fee. This makes it a must have for every Catholic and Christian home.

To place orders, call Felicia on 0813 361 4993. Remember, NO MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTIONS NEEDED.

THE SUBSTANCE AND THE SHADOW (HOMILY FOR 6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

Theme: The Substance and the Shadow

Fundamentally, why do people worship God? Why do people seek God? Why do people go to church? Why are you in church this morning? Sincerely answering the question of “why”, helps us to understand the reason behind everything we do. So, even in our relationship with God, we ask: Why do we have such a relationship? People seek God for different reasons, and their reason(s) affect the nature of their relationship with him. Why do people even go to Church?

  • Some go to Church because today is Sunday, and Sunday is the day people go to Church.
  • Some go to Church because their parents or spouses compel them to.
  • Some go to Church because their friends are in Church.
  • Some go to Church because they don’t want their families or neighbours to say they didn’t go to church.
  • Some go to Church because there is something they are looking for from God.
  • Some go to Church and they don’t even know why they are in Church.
  • Some go to Church because they want to meet God.

These reasons are also the reasons why people worship God, why they seek God. The First reading of today’s Mass says when Philip preached in Samaria, multitudes gave heed to what he said, “When they heard him and saw the signs which he did.” We can deduce from this, that among the many who believed in Jesus following Philip’s ministry, there were some who believed on account of the word they heard, while some believed because of the signs they saw. The Word is actually what saves, not the signs, since the signs are only manifestations of the power of the Word. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God. This means that the word of God is the substance of salvation, and the signs/wonders, are only shadows of that substance.

Sadly, many Christians have left the substance and are now pursuing the shadows. In John 6:25-27 the bible says “When the people found Jesus on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Teacher, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: you are looking for me because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you understood my miracles. Do not work for food that goes bad; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life.” This response of Jesus is the very reason that in our day, we see people moving from church to church, pastor to pastor, priest to priest, all because they have confused the shadow for the substance. What we see in Christendom today is that people have abandoned the God of miracles and are now pursuing the miracles of God. But Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you.” Anyone who serves God, who goes to church, primarily because of what God has to offer, will be disappointed many times over, because God gives his gifts when he wants, to whom he wants and in the manner he wants.

In the gospel reading, Jesus tells us the true reason why we should serve God, why we should be in church. Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love of God, not love of the gifts of God, should be at the heart of our relationship with God. We should worship because he is God and we love him, not because of the gifts he can give. If we serve God for God and not for anything else, then we shall also enjoy his gifts and be satisfied. That is why Jesus says “He who loves me will be loved by my father, and I will love him and shall manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). This simply means that if we have God, who is the substance, we will also have his miracles, which are the shadow of the substance. We must therefore chase after God for who he is, and not for what he has to give us. May we do well therefore, to purify our hearts and love God for his own sake, not for the sake of what he can give or do.

Pope Francis calls for universal day of inter-religious prayers against COVID-19

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called on people of all religions across the world for a universal day of inter-religious prayers against COVID-19. This was contained in a statement by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue dated 6 May 2020 and signed by the President of the Council, Miguel Cardinal Guixot, MCCJ.

According to the statement, Pope Francis “invites all believers of all religions and people of goodwill to spiritually unite themselves in a Day of prayer, fasting and works of charity, to implore the divine help to humanity in overcoming the pandemic caused by coronavirus.”

The day of fasting and prayer, which is fixed for Thursday, 14 May 2020, is expected to be observed by all peoples of all religions across the world. This is not the first time the Pope has either called for, or led universal prayers for God’s intervention in the world against the ravaging coronavirus, the most profound being the Urbi et Orbi of 12 April, 2020. As we pray, let us keep faith in God to heal our world.

LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED (HOMILY FOR 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, the reality of death hung over his apostles as he sat with them in the upper room for a last meal. Most likely, confusion, despair and a sense of loss had overwhelmed them. This is to say nothing of the fear and anxiety that must have come upon them when he tells them that they will look for him but they will not see him, and where he is going, they cannot come (Jn 13:33). Jesus must have sensed what was going through the minds of his apostles, so he says to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” These were words of assurance and consolation that they needed to hear just at that time.

After this, Jesus tells them that he is going away, not to abandon them, but to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house where there are many mansions, after which he will come back and take them to be with him where he is, adding that they already know the way to the place. But because he had earlier said where he is going, they cannot come, Thomas asked a very pertinent question: If they do not know where he is going to, how then can they know the way? To this question, Jesus replied that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday. One of the things Jesus says about the Good Shepherd as we read in last week’s gospel reading is that the Good Shepherd leads his sheep out and goes before them to pasture. This means that he shows them the way to the place of good pasture. In today’s gospel reading however, Jesus goes further to say that he is actually the Way the sheep has to follow! By describing himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus is invariably saying to us that he is all that we need to reach that his Father’s house where there are many mansions. As the Way, if we follow him by following in his footsteps, in the paths that he has marked out for us, that is, his examples, then we will most certainly end our journey in his Father’s house. As the Truth, we are certain that what he tells us will not mislead us; we are convinced that his teachings and testimonies are true and that he will not deceive us, for he is incapable of such (cf. Num 23:19; Jn 8;14). And as the Life, Jesus guarantees us eternal life in his Father’s house with him, on the condition that we follow him (as the Way) and believe in him (as the Truth).

As Christians, we believe that our life here on earth is a pilgrimage; it is our conviction that heaven is our eternal home, and that is where our journey is headed. Even the Church’s catechism says we are the pilgrim church (CCC #671). However, the uncertainty of this pilgrimage through the earth can sometimes be very unsettling. We are worried and scared sometimes that we are alone; some other times, we worry about whether we will actually make it to heaven; at other times, we are worried about the difficulties associated with the Christian life; there are times too when the events of life such as the coronavirus pandemic with its associated hunger virus put a deathly scare in us. These and many other concerns make us troubled to the extent that some people begin to lose faith. It is for such moments as these that Jesus says to us, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” We should always bear it in mind that Jesus is with us always (Mt 18:20) and that he will lead us through dark and troubling times (cf. Ps 23:4). As individuals, as families, as a nation, and as a Church, we must put faith in the Lord Jesus to always come through for us. His words to us today are clear: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” This is all that we need to do, and as he has promised, he will be with us always. Even now, Jesus is with you, so, do not let your heart be troubled.

Catholic Church in Italy to resume public Masses, May 18

After two months of suspension of public Masses, Dioceses in Italy are now set to resume the public celebration of Masses on May 18, 2020. This follows the release of a protocol for reopening churches issued by the head of the Italian bishops conference and government officials.

Recall that the Italian government had declared a total lockdown of the country on March 9 after being hard hit by the coronavirus virus pandemic. According to global statistic, Italy has the 2nd highest infection rate, with the United States topping the chart.

Among other directives, the protocol for Mass and other liturgical celebrations states that churches must limit the number of people present – ensuring a one-meter (three feet) distance – and congregants must wear face masks. The church must also be cleaned and disinfected between celebrations.

For the distribution of the Eucharist, priests and other ministers of Holy Communion are asked to wear gloves and masks covering both the nose and mouth and to avoid contact with communicants’ hands.

The directives further stated that funerals were allowed again beginning May 4. Public baptisms and weddings may now also resume in Italy starting May 18.

The protocol issued May 7 lays out the general directions for complying with health measures, such as the indication of a maximum capacity in a church based on maintaining at least one-meter distance between people.

Access to the church must be regulated to control the number present, it says, and the number of Masses can be increased to ensure social distancing.

Among other suggestions, the Sign of Peace should be omitted, and holy water fonts kept empty, the protocol states.

Catholic Priest bakes and sells bread to support needy families amid COVID-19

A Catholic priest in the Costa Rican Town of Ciudad Queseda, Fr. Geison Gérard Ortiz has taken to baking and selling bread, rolls and other items to raise funds to support his needy parishioners due to the hardship occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic. Fr. Ortiz, who learnt how to bake as a survival skill in his teenage days, being from a poor background, decided to put the skills to use at a time like this when it is needed most.

According to the Catholic News Agency, Fr. Ortiz said it became necessary for him to devise a means of raising money to support the poor, as the parish finances has been dwindling and can no longer sustain charity outreaches.

From the sale of baked goods, he was able to raise extra funds, he said, which have ensured that anyone who has knocked on the rectory door has left with a package of rice, sugar or beans. 

No one has been sent away empty handed, the priest said.  “I work all day long baking bread, selling it, and in the evenings I celebrate the Eucharist. I always tell the Lord, ‘Thank you for the true bread that gives eternal life, which is the greatest of riches and is what I want our people to have, receive, taste and feel’,” he said. 

Fr. Ortiz wants other priests to find creative ways to help serve those in need during the challenging times presented by the pandemic

Source: Catholic News Agency