BE A NONCONFORMIST TO THIS WORLD (HOMILY FOR 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Matthew 25:1-13 (Gospel reading for Friday of 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year II) contains the parable of the ten maidens – five wise, five foolish. In that parable, only one reason was given for this categorization, namely, that the wise maidens took lamps with extra oil while the foolish ones took lamps without extra oil. The ready questions that then come to mind are: What does the extra oil signify? And why were the maidens denied entry to the wedding hall even though they had been previously selected to meet the bridegroom? The answers too are not far-fetched. First, the oil signifies extra effort to rise above mediocrity. Since the parable is likened to the kingdom of heaven, it implies that only those who make extra effort will be worthy of being admitted into it. Secondly, though the foolish maidens had been invited, they were denied entry in the last instance because it is one thing to be invited, but it is another thing entirely to put oneself in readiness for what the invitation demands. This is also what Jesus means when he says “not all who say to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Mat 7:21) and also, “many are called but few are chosen” (Mat 22:14). We may ask a further question: how did this happen? How did these maidens fail to prepare adequately? The answer is what we find in the readings of today’s Mass, and more precisely in the second reading.

Writing to the Romans who were gentile coverts to Christianity, Saint Paul admonished them, and now us, in these words, “Do not be conformed to the standards of this world, but let your lives be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” Powerful admonition we can say. In this, lies the weakness of many Christians of our age, which silently put them in the condition of the foolish virgins who took no extra oil. As we see from the first and gospel reading, the call of God to us will demand a lot from us, and this demand will require that we always take the extra oil of greater efforts to live the good life. We will not however, be able to do this unless we live a life of nonconformity. And I dare to say that this is the biggest tragedy of Christianity today, that we are very content with being mediocre, nominal Christians who see no need to make extra effort to live the good life God expects of us. But the words of Jesus are still very much valid, that if we are neither hot nor cold, he shall spit us out of his mouth (Rev 3:15).

Dear child of God, we must always bear in mind that it is one thing to answer the name of Christian, it is another thing to live the life of Christian; it is one thing to be in the church of God, it is another thing to be on the path to heaven. Living a life of conformity with the standards of the world which makes us think certain sins are okay, which makes us imagine that God will understand because “everybody is doing it”, which makes us live by the principle of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” which makes us see sin as a normal part of life, and which makes us detest the idea of the cross in our lives, will bring us nothing at the end of this life but the reward of pain, damnation and eternal sorrow. For as Jesus says in today’s gospel reading, “When the Son of man comes with his angels, he will repay every man for what he has done” (Mat 16:27).

The basic call of God to us therefore is not to be conformed to the standards of this world, not to be deterred when we are mocked like the prophet Jeremiah for doing what is right, and not to shy away from carrying our crosses as Jesus admonishes in the gospel reading. We should rather let our lights shine and transform the world, for we are the light of the world (Mat 5:14). The church is to reflect the light of God to the world to illumine it, and we are that church. Sadly however, the church is gradually resembling the world; and worse is the domestic church, the family. There are too many Christian families today that have patterned their family life according to the tenets of the world: they do not pray together, they do not study scripture together, the children are not raised to know, love and serve God, the children are not exposed to Christian literature but are fed novels that are in some cases ungodly, they are not taught Christian songs, but the parents applaud them when they can mime every kind of secular songs, and many other such things as we see in families today. Instead of light conquering darkness, it appears as though darkness is infiltrating and wanting to overpower the light.

Dear friends, the word of God to us today is clear: the Christian call may be tough, but do not bend to the easy way of the world, for it leads to death (Mat 7:13). May we do well therefore, to live our lives according to the call of God for us. Amen

HISTORY MADE AS ARCHBISHOP KAIGAMA OF ABUJA RECEIVES PALLIUM FOR A SECOND TIME

In a historic event which took place at the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral, Garki, Abuja, the new Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, Most Rev. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, today, 27th August 2020, received a new Pallium for a second time as Archbishop of Abuja at the hands of the Papal Nuncio to Nigeria, His Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazi thus, becoming the first Nigerian Archbishop to receive the Pallium twice, the first, being as Archbishop of Jos Archdiocese, and also the first Nigerian Archbishop to receive the Pallium here in Nigeria.

The ceremony began with the profession of faith and taking of the oath of allegiance to the Holy See by the receiving Archbishop, after which a simple ceremony of investiture was performed by the Pope’s representative, Archbishop Filipazi, the Papal Nuncio.

In his homily at the Mass, the Papal Nuncio clearly explained the meaning and significance of the Pallium, which includes an expression of Communion with the Supreme Pontiff. He also added that the Archbishop who bears the Pallium upon his shoulders has the task of leading his particular Archdiocese and the suffragan dioceses in his province to be in complete Communion with the Holy Mother Church. Speaking further on the significance of the Pallium especially to the recipient Archbishop, the Nuncio charged Archbishop Kaigama to imitate Jesus the Good Shepherd who goes after his lost sheep. He also stated that the Pallium should constantly remind him of the call of Jesus who commands us to take his yoke upon our shoulders.

The Pallium is a special vestments made of wool from sheep raised by trappist monks and woven by Benedictine nuns. It is worn over the neck of an Archbishop with Metropolitan Authority, signifying his responsibility as Shepherd and a sign of his Communion with the Holy See. Previously, the newly appointed Archbishops across the world go to Rome to receive the Pallium from the hands of the Holy Father on the Solemnity of Sainst Peter and Paul but in 2015, Pope Francis directed that henceforth, the Pallium imposition should be done in the local church of the recipient in other to offer the faithful in the local church the opportunity to take part in the ceremony. Between then (2015) and now, Archbishop Kaigama has been the only new Archbishop to an Archdiocese, making him the first Archbishop to receive the Pallium here in Nigeria.

Goodwill messages to the new Archbishop of Abuja came from Archbishop Augustine Akubeze of Benin Archdiocese on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, Bishop Anthony Adaji, MSP of Idah Diocese on behalf of the suffragan bishops of Abuja Ecclesiastical Province, Hon. Ogbonnaya Onu, Honourable Minister of Science and Technology, on behalf of the Government and People of Nigeria and Sir Charles Uwaonwa, KSJI, on behalf of the Laity Council of Abuja Ecclesiastical Province.

Congratulations to Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama and the Church of Abuja Archdiocese and Abuja Ecclesiastical Province at large.

SPIRITUALITY IS PERSONAL (21ST SUNDAY, YEAR A)

Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

Life generally is full of questions, and so is scripture. The word “question” is a derivative of the Latin quaerere which means to ‘search’ or ‘seek’. Thus, to ask a question is to search or seek (for answers) and he who searches will almost always find (Mat 7:7). The gospel reading of today’s Mass contains two very important questions, which shall be the focus of our reflection. First, Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” then secondly, he asked, “But who do you say I am?” From these questions, we shall take two lessons.

Lesson 1: Spirituality is a private matter

Knowing Jesus is and must be a very personal matter to each and every Christian. While on a general, common level, we can all know about Jesus, to know Jesus is a different matter and must happen on a personal level. This implies that there is a huge difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. As we see in the gospel reading, when Jesus asked “Who do people say I am”, it was easy for his disciples to relate the people’s opinions of Jesus. Their answers were easy and shallow because they only knew about Jesus. But when Jesus asked the deeper question, “But who do you say I am”, his disciples fell silent. At this point, Jesus was no longer asking of the common, general opinion about him; Jesus made the question personal, and then they must have realized they may not even have truly known this man they have been following everywhere. What this reveals to us is that simply knowing about Jesus breeds superficiality in spirituality but knowing Jesus on a personal level leads to ruggedity in spirituality. We can know about Jesus by simply reading about him, hearing what our parents, teachers and the church are all saying about him and following the superficial crowd spirituality as it relates to him. However, to personally know Jesus, we need to consciously make the effort to move away from that crowd knowledge to a personal, deeper knowledge of him which is built on a personal encounter with him. It is in this personal encounter that we develop a true spirituality. Thus, knowledge about Jesus should necessarily lead to knowledge of Jesus. Sadly however, many Christians are comfortable with this mediocre level of knowledge and relationship with Jesus; they show no interest in having a personal relationship with Jesus, which answers the question, “Who do you say I am”, but prefer rather to remain at the shallow level of “Who do people say I am.” Every Christian knows about God, but only very few Christians know God. The word of God invites us today to seek to establish a personal, deeper relationship with Him, and we can do this by giving him space in our lives and by seeking to walk by his precepts daily.

Lesson 2: Knowledge of God leads to true knowledge of self

If we seek to know God on a personal level, He will help us to discover our true value. As we see in the gospel reading, Peter did not know that he carried in himself, the potential of being the rock and the head of the church and the keeper of the keys of the gates of heaven till he met Jesus. In other scriptural instances, Moses did not know that he could lead a great nation as Israel until he encountered God; Gideon was hiding from the Midianites, not knowing that God made him to be a man of valour, until he met God; Jeremiah did not know he carried the fire of a great prophet until God called him; Isaiah did not know that despite his unclean lips, he was to be one of the greatest prophets in Israel until he encountered God. They were content with where they were until they met God and he showed them it was not their true place. Many of us will never get to know our true value in life until we enter into a relationship with God. If you know and confess God, he will reveal to you, your true value. However, so that this does not happen, the devil will try to deceive you into remaining a mediocre Christian who is okay with just coming to church and going without building a strong personal relationship with Jesus. My challenge to you today is to seek to rise above being a nominal Christian; make every effort to move into a level of deeper union with God. Until you truly know God, you may never truly know who you are and what you carry inside you.

NEWS: Catholic Bishops of Nigeria call for 40 days prayers against incessant killings in the country

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), has called on all Catholics and indeed, all Christians to a 40 days prayers against the incessant killings of innocent Nigerians in different parts of the country. According to the message sent out through the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), the Bishops have asked that from Saturday, August 22, 2020 to Wednesday, September 30, 2020, all Catholics should pray One ‘Our Father’, Three ‘Hail Marys’, and One ‘Glory be to the Father’ immediately after the ‘Angelus’ prayer which is usually said at 6am, 12noon and 6pm, while on Thursday, 1st October, 5 decades of the Rosary should be prayed at noon.

This call for prayers has become necessary as there is the need to continue to seek the face of God in the face of the rising spate of killings of innocent Nigerians, especially in northern Nigeria, with Southern Kaduna as a hotbed. This is not the first time the Catholic bishops have called for such mass prayers from Nigerians and indeed, the whole world. Recall that on Sunday, 2nd March 2020, thousands of Catholics including bishops, priests and reverend sisters from across the nation gathered at the National Ecumenical Center in Abuja from where they held a peaceful prayerful protest march to the Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral, Area 3, Garki, praying for peace in the country.

The word of God assures that if we call on God in the day of distress, he will hear us and save us (Psalm 50:15). Thus, in response to this noble call, may all Catholics, and indeed, all Christians join faith in prayer for God’s intervention in our nation.

Please spread the word by sharing this news article.

Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh

FEAR NOT, FOR GOD IS NEAR(HOMILY FOR 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

FEAR NOT, FOR GOD IS NEAR(HOMILY FOR 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

1 Kings 19:9, 11-13; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

The feeling of fright (fear) is a universal feeling that all human beings can relate with. Irrespective of age, status, gender, religious or political affiliation or any other differentiations we may have, we all experience the feeling of fear at one time or the other and in varying degrees. While for some, it is something that comes and goes, depending on a situation that triggers the feeling, for others, it is a perpetual state in which they live their lives. These second group of people are controlled by fear in their thoughts, words and actions.

The first and gospel readings of today’s Mass present us with this reality of fear. The first reading is a narration of how God assured the prophet Elijah of his presence while he was running away from Jezebel out of fear because she threatened to kill him for killing the prophets of Baal, while the gospel reading recounts to us the deathly fear that came upon the disciples of Jesus when he came to them walking on the water and they thought they were seeing a ghost. Of a truth, both situations are capable of making even the stout-hearted to be afraid. To know that someone who has power and authority and an entire army at his/her disposal is out to kill you will make you afraid, no matter how brave you are. Also, it was unheard of that a human being can walk on water, let alone in the dead of the night (between 3am and 6am) and in the middle of the sea, towards a boat struggling with waves. This was the experience of the disciples of Jesus and any sane human being will be shaken by such a sight! Though we all react differently to fear, fear makes some people do very nasty things and say some crazy stuffs without thinking. From the readings therefore, we shall take two lessons for our reflection.

  • God is never far

While the prophet Elijah was running away from Jezebel, he got tired of his whole ministry at a point and asked God to take his life. At one point, he even thought he was the only remaining true prophet (1 Kgs 19:10). He felt God had abandoned him, which was why he was going through so much trouble. But the word of God holds true that “his salvation is near for those who fear him” (Psa 85:9). So what Elijah did not realize was that God was with him every step of the way. This was why God had to show him his presence as we heard in the first reading. The disciples of Jesus also thought they were left to their fate as they battled against the raging storm that was threatening to sink their boat. What they also did not know was that Jesus was in the territory of the storm, and his presence made it impossible for them to be overwhelmed. He however had to come to them physically, to completely still the storm. These two encounters narrated to us today assures us that when we face a storm in our lives, when heavy trials come upon us, we should not look too far, for God is always near. And God has given us the free pass to call upon him in the day of distress and he will save us (cf. Psa 50:15). At all times therefore, and in all situations, let us keep in mind that God is never far away.

  • Have faith, not fear

It is true that God is always near, and that he desires to help us, but God demands a faith commitment from us. In certain instances in scriptures, such as the healing of the paralytic (Mk 2:5) and the woman with hemorrhage (Lk 8:48), we see that God’s help comes as a reward for our faith in him. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says “I will bless the person who puts his trust in me” (Jer 17:7). It is necessary therefore, that when the storms of life rise up against us, that we keep faith in God and not be afraid. In fact, it is in times as these that we need to ask God to increase our faith. Notice that when Peter asked Jesus if he could come meet him on the water and Jesus answered in the affirmative, Peter was able to walk on the water until he allowed fear to set in. Of greater importance is Jesus’ question to Peter: “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” See that Jesus did not question Peter’s fear; instead, he questioned Peter’s faith. Why so? It is because faith is the antidote to fear! As long as we keep our faith in God alive, we will not fear; and as long as we do not fear, we will not sink. So, child of God, when next fear threatens you, knowing that God is near you, send your faith to fight it. Fear not, for God is near!

LET LOVE PRODUCE LOVE (18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm145; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Matthew 14:13-21

Imagine going to the supermarket to shop and instead of paying for the items you picked, you are paid by the owner. Or just imagine that everything in the market, irrespective of the monetary value, is free for all. Such things are difficult to imagine, humanly speaking, but this is the kind of picture painted for us in today’s readings, especially in the first reading. Summarily, all three readings of today’s Mass speak to us about the love of God for us. The first reading, the psalm and the gospel paints a picture of God who, in his love for us, provides for us and takes care of our needs; the second reading on the other hand, admonishes us not to separate ourselves from this loving God. In all, these readings send out three invitations to us, and these shall be the crux of our reflection.

  1. An invitation to enjoy God’s blessings

The first reading is basically an invitation to enjoy the blessings and goodness of God. All of God’s gifts to us are invaluable, priceless, yet free. God gives us his gifts freely because we cannot pay for them. So he invites us to come and “eat” and “drink” for free! The Psalmist says we should “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa 33:9). It is out of this his goodness that God provides for us as we journey through life. A question we must answer however is, despite this invitation, do we go to God or we prefer to be elsewhere? Scriptures says one day in God’s presence is better than a thousand elsewhere (Psa 84:10). As God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in our first reading, anything that we may be seeking outside of him is a waste and cannot satisfy. Let us therefore take advantage of this enormous love of God for us and savor the sweetness of his blessings.

  • An invitation to care for the needy

The gospel reading tells us that Jesus noticed the plight of those who followed him; he noticed that some were sick among them and that some were hungry. He was not oblivious of their plight. And when he took note of this, he proceeded to do something about it: to the sick, he brought healing; for the hungry, he provided food. Jesus will not provide bread again in this manner except through us. But the question is: do we notice the plight of those around us? Do we even care enough to notice that something is going on with them? And when we do notice anything, do we help? We must remind ourselves that every act of charity done for a needy brother or sister is done for Jesus, “for I was hungry, you gave me food…I was naked, you gave me clothes” (Mat 25:34-36).

  • An invitation to cooperate with God

It is true that we may not be able to do much in the face of so much trouble in the world, but with God’s touch, our little efforts will count for something. God does not expect us to solve the problems of the world, but God expects us to make little efforts in solving those problems we can, using the resources at our disposal. As we heard in the gospel reading, in the face of five thousand men – not counting women and children – the little boy’s five loaves and two fish counted for nothing actually. But placed in the hands of Jesus, it was more than enough to feed that multitude. That is what happens when we cooperate with God to help people in the little ways we can with the little things we have.

Today, dear friends, the word of God enjoins us to appreciate the love of God which takes care of our needs and to run to this God at all times. And in a special way, we are challenged today to love our neighbors and help those in need when we can, just as God comes to our help in our own moments of need. So basically, God’s love for us should necessarily produce in us, love for our neighbours. When Jesus finished washing the feet of his disciples on the night of the Last Supper, he said to them, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15). So, as God shows us love, we too ought to show others love. That is the message at the heart of our reflection today. We pray therefore, for the grace to always acknowledge and appreciate God’s love for us and also to extend the fruits of that love to those around us. Amen