WHEN THE PAST BECOMES USELESS (HOMILY FOR 26TH SUNDAY, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-11;    Matthew 21:28-30

One reason why a study of history is important is because it helps us use the past to mirror and understand our present, so that we can better plan for our future. This makes our past an indispensable part of our life’s reality. However, there are certain times, for certain things, and in certain contexts, when a recall of the past is not useful for the present and would be dangerous for the future. One of such instances is in relation to former possessions. Some things that we had but no longer have are better left like that. For instance, bragging about a car you had as though you still have it does not make sense. It is not like you cannot talk about it, but not as though it is still there. It is about such cases that Nigerians have the pidgin adage which says “I get am before no be property.”In the context of our relationship with God, I get am before no be property is also very apt, and this is one of the directions to which today’s Liturgy of the Word points our mind.

In the first reading, through the prophet Ezekiel, God talks about the man who abandons his sinful ways for righteousness on the one hand, and the man who abandons righteousness for a life of sin on the other hand. These two people had a particular kind of image before God, which they have abandoned for another, and God says to him, their past has become useless; what matters is their current state of living. Similarly, in the gospel reading, Jesus talks about a son who had obedience in his heart but turns to disobedience afterwards in his actions and another son who intended disobedience but later turned to obedience. In both cases, it is their current deed that mattered, not their past; their past became useless, so it could be said about them, I get am before no be property.

A major point scored by the first and gospel readings of today’s Mass is that God is very interested in our present state of life. We cannot therefore lay claim to our past so to speak, as far as God is concerned. With God, if we repent of our sinful ways and turn to righteousness, our past becomes useless; he forgives our sins, wipes the slate of our lives clean and begins afresh with us. This is why He says through the prophet Isaiah that when he forgives our sins, he remembers them no more (cf. Isa 43:25). In the same vein, if we ever feel we have lived righteously enough and turn to a life of sin and obstinately persist in sin, then our former righteousness will count for nothing before God because I get am before no be property.

Dear child of God, this message is very important for us and we must pay serious heed to it because at the time of our death, our standing with God is the first thing that will matter. A person who has lived in sin all his life and repents on his death bed will find peace with God. If you doubt me, ask Jesus about the thief on the cross when he was crucified. In the same vein, a person who has lived righteously in the past but dies in sin has questions to answer before God. This is why Jesus admonishes us to stand ready for the son of man will come at a time we do not know (Mat. 24:44). The Jews started well with God but deviated and started living contrary to God’s will; but those they called sinners were repenting a securing spaces in the kingdom of God. So it was to them and to every one of every generation who lives like that that Jesus addressed the parable in the gospel reading. And Jesus’ conclusion, by implication, is that it is not the person who says “yes” to God by word of mouth but by way of life that matters. So, as we answer God’s call, let it be both by word of mouth and by way of life, for “not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ that shall enter heaven, but those who do the will of the Father” (Mat 7:21). By this, we will always be able to stand upright before God at all times and not have to rely only on our past good deeds but also our present good deeds to speak for us in the presence of God, because when that time comes, God may have to remind us that the past has becomes useless, for I get am before no be property.

NOW THAT YOU HAVE TIME (HOMILY FOR 25TH SUNDAY, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145; Philippians 1:20-24, 2; Matthew 20:1-16

  1. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Eccl 3:1-2). This text of scripture says to us that God has arranged everything in the world in order. It also tells us that we have limited time to be in this world, that we are finite beings, so, as we are born, so shall we also die. Indeed, this world is the world of the dying, since we draw closer to our graves everyday. Knowing therefore, that we have limited time, sets a challenge before us. This challenge shall be the focus of our reflection this morning.
  2. Today’s readings speak to us about time and its proper utilization, especially for spiritual benefits. They also draw our minds to the fact that God wishes to confer all spiritual benefits upon us if we properly use our time. So, Reading 1 tells us to seek God while he may be found; in Reading 2, following the example of St. Paul, we must use the time we have in this life to glorify God; and in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that the opportunity for salvation has a time limit.
  3. Child of God, I like to call to your attention that one of the greatest tricks of the devil, by which he is dragging many souls to hell, is giving the impression that we have time, time to repent, time to be reconciled to God. Many people have tragically lived under the illusion that tomorrow is certain, so they kept postponing the day of repentance, until they were suddenly taken; many people are adjourning the day they intend to go for confession from week to week. Many people believe that because they are still young, they cannot die just yet, so they should enjoy their youthful days. And what do they mean by enjoying? They mean living a life of sin. But hear what the Bible says in Eccl 11:9-10: “Young people, enjoy your youth. Be happy while you are still young. Do what you want to do and follow your heart’s desire. But remember that God is going to judge you for whatever you do.” And this is the advice we get in 12:1, So remember now your God in the days of your youth…”
  4. Child of God, hear the word of the Lord for you today: You will not always have time! Through the prophet Isaiah, God says “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). In the gospel text of today’s Mass, Jesus tells us that the vineyard owner kept going out to look for laborers, until the 11th hour, and at the 12th hour, he gave rewards to all. This means that God will not stop searching for us, God will not stop calling us to his vineyard, God will not stop calling us to repentance. But note that it was only those who accepted the landowner’s invitation that got the 12th hour reward. Note also, that the 12th hour is no longer the time for calls, but for rewards. Do you know when your 11th hour will be, which is the last opportunity you may have? Surely, no one knows, therefore, be ready. In Matthew 24:44, Jesus says “You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
  5. So, now that we have time, what should we be doing? What should we do with the time on our hands? Our readings today give us answers to this all-important question.
  6. Isaiah says, now that you have time: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
  7. St. Paul says, now that you have time: Honor Christ in your body, whether by life of by death.
  8. Jesus says, now that you have time: Serve God diligently, and you will be given your just reward (of eternal life in heaven).
  9. Dear child of God, heaven is real, and hell is real. Hell is not a place anyone should wish for, however, if we mismanage our time on earth, we shall miss the glory of heaven and end up in hell. It will be a great tragedy that after all the opportunities God gives us to enter heaven, we end up in hell. One day, we shall die, and it will be the time for the reward for our labors. Hebrew 9:27 says “It is appointed unto man to die once, and after that, comes the judgment.” So, what are you doing with your time? How are you using your time to prepare for eternity?
  10. Now that you have time, repent sincerely of your sins and be reconciled to God.
  11. Now that you have time, serve God the best way you can with every given opportunity
  12. Now that you have time, be a laborer for God and win souls for heaven.
  13. Now that you have time, use your gifts, talents and opportunities to serve God.
  14. Now that you have time, do not postpone the day of repentance.
  15. Now that you have time, make yourself available for the Master to call you to his vineyard.
  16. Now that you have time, use it to secure your eternity.

We have today, but we are not sure of tomorrow, so, pay heed to the words of the Psalmist, “O that today, you will listen to his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:7-8).

THE TRAGEDY OF THE UNFORGIVING (HOMILY FOR 24TH SUNDAY, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

The opening words of today’s second reading (Rom 14:7), that “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself…” are very powerful words indeed. Though used in the context of our relationship with the Lord, they are also very instructive and useful in our relationship with one another, for indeed, we are entangled in the common web of humanity, that what we do have implications, not only for ourselves, but also for others. Ultimately also, most of what we do have implications for us in the sight of God. The readings of today’s Mass, more precisely the first and gospel readings, present us with one of such things: forgiveness.

The first reading tells us in very plain terms that those who take vengeance will suffer vengeance at the hands of God, and those who refuse to forgive have no moral right to ask God for forgiveness. It enjoins us to forgive the wrong others have done to us that we may receive forgiveness from God at the place of prayer. One obvious implication of this admonition is that an unforgiving mind is an obstacle to our prayers. It ended on the note of directing our minds to the end of our life, that time when we shall be utterly helpless without the mercy of God.

In the gospel text, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive an erring brother. Going beyond the conventional three times, as deduced from the Book of Prophet Amos to be the number of times God forgives sins, after which he punishes the fourth time (cf. Amos 1 & 2), Peter magnanimously multiplies this by two, and then adds one. To his surprise and that of everybody, Jesus says it is not seven times, but seventy times seven times. Of course nobody wants to be counting offences up to 490 times, so by implication, Jesus says there should be no limit to forgiveness. That was when he told the parable of the unforgiving servant to explain his point.

A deep reflection, and an understanding of the measures Jesus used in the parable to compare our debt to God and other people’s debt to us will overwhelm us. The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents while his colleague owed him 100 denarii. One denarius is a small silver coin, which is the pay for a day’s job; one talent on the other hand, is a bar of gold, which is what a labourer will earn in 15 years. So, 100 denarii will be the wage for 100 days of labour while 10, 000 talents will be 10,000 x 15 years, amounting to 150,000 years’ worth of labour. Now, that’s mind blowing! So, while the second servant can pay his debt with 15 weeks of labour, the first, unforgiving servant, will never be able to pay his debt if he worked all his lifetime, since he will most certainly not live for 150,000 years. That’s how it is between what we owe God by our sins and what people owe us by how they wrong us, for we are the first servant in Jesus’ parable, and our brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours, colleagues, parents, husbands, wives, children, etc, are the second servant.

Now, we all know that we stand in need of God’s mercy, for Romans 3:23 says “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” If all of us have sinned, then we are all owing God. And in Romans 6:23, the Bible says “the wages of sin is death…” By implication therefore, we all owe God the debt of our lives, and the only reason we are alive is because God has shown us mercy. This is why Jesus tells us that we must forgive those who have offended us, so that God will also gladly forgive us (Mat 6:14-15), and th book of Sirach 28:3 asks, “Can a man harbour resentment against another and yet seek healing from the Lord?” The condition upon which God shall show us mercy is that we have ourselves been merciful first.

Today therefore, God invites us to show mercy to those who have wronged us that we may qualify to receive mercy from him. Without the mercy of God, no one shall enter heaven, and God is saying to us today that he will not grant us that mercy unless we are ourselves merciful. So, it will be a tragedy if after running this race on earth, you stand before God on judgment day and you are denied heaven because you refused to forgive someone some people. Today, God is saying to us that the tragedy of the unforgiving is that they may do well to live good lives, but their unforgiving heart will still land them in hell. Do not let that be your portion; forgive those who offend you, that God may forgive your own sins.

NEWS: Stolen Tabernacle from Catholic Cathedral Found

The tabernacle that was stolen earlier this week from the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral in St. Catharines, Ontario was recovered on Wednesday, September 9.

According to group news reports on the Catholic News Agency’s website, a group of parishioners from the cathedral discovered the tabernacle in Centennial Park, which is located near the cathedral. The tabernacle was partially submerged in a canal, and parts of the ciborium were missing.

The report also has it that the Eucharist that was contained in the tabernacle was not found in it at the time of the recovery, but because it was in a body of water, it may have dissolved. A host that is dissolved ceases to be a consecrated host.

After Mass on Wednesday afternoon, someone came to the rectory door with one of the tabernacle’s brass doors. The man said that he had been given the piece of the tabernacle on the street, by a man who said that someone gave it to him in Centennial Park. The tabernacle’s other door has not yet been found.

The cathedral had previously been subjected to numerous thefts and acts of vandalism, including the theft of two bronze lamp posts in 2019. The lamp posts were recovered after the thieves attempted to sell them to a scrapyard.

No suspects have been identified in Tuesday’s tabernacle theft.

NEWS: Tabernacle stolen from Canadian Catholic cathedral

The Bishop of St. Catharines, Ontario is pleading for thieves to return the consecrated Host after the tabernacle was stolen from the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral on Tuesday. 

Bishop Gerard Bergie of St. Catharines pleaded for the two people who took the tabernacle to return it, along with its contents, in an interview Tuesday afternoon with Canadian station NewsTalk 610 CKTB. 

“The tabernacle can be replaced. It’s the contents (…) that is what is so precious to us. That’s what’s irreplaceable,” said Bergie, adding that he hopes that no harm is done to the Blessed Sacrament. 

He hopes that the person or persons who took the tabernacle “realize it’s not of any monetary value, and be able to return it to us.”  “No questions asked, if they return it,” he said. 

The tabernacle is made of steel, but has two bronze-colored doors, said the bishop. Bergie suspected that perhaps the thieves thought the tabernacle was made of gold, or perhaps had a more nefarious intent with stealing the hosts.  “Who knows what goes through the minds of these people,” he said. 

Video footage captured two people, believed to be a man and a woman, breaking into the cathedral at approximately 4:30 a.m. Sept. 8. As it was dark, the footage is “kind of grainy” and it has been difficult to determine a clear image of the suspects, he said.

Source Credit: Catholic News Agency

NEWS: Queensland passes law requiring priests to break confessional seal

The legislature of the Australian state of Queensland on Tuesday passed a law requiring priests to violate the seal of confession to report known or suspected child sex abuse.  Failure to do so will be punished with three years in prison.  The law passed the Legislative Assembly of Queensland Sept. 8, with the support of the opposition Liberal National Party of Queensland. 

Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane has said such a reporting requirement would “not make a difference to the safety of young people,” and that the bill was based on a “poor knowledge of how the sacrament actually works in practice”.  Last week the Australian bishops provided the federal government with the Holy See’s observations on 12 recommendations of a 2017 report on child sex abuse in the country’s institutions. In response to a recommendation regarding the seal of confession and absolution, the Holy See reiterated the inviolability of the seal and that absolution cannot be conditioned on future actions in the external forum. 

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse had recommended that it be clarified whether “information received from a child during the sacrament of reconciliation that they have been sexually abused is covered by the seal of confession,” and “if a person confesses during the sacrament of reconciliation to perpetrating child sexual abuse, absolution can and should be withheld until they report themselves to civil authorities.”  The royal commission, a five-year Australian government inquiry, concluded in 2017 with more than 100 recommendations. 

Mark Ryan, the Queensland police minister and a member of the Australian Labor Party, said that “the requirement and quite frankly the moral obligation to report concerning behaviours towards children applies to everyone everyone in this community” and that “no one group or occupation is being singled out.” 

Stephen Andrew, the sole Queensland MP of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, said that “the bill poses a real danger for public trust and cohesion in our community,” and asked: “How confident can the people of Queensland be that they live in a free and open democracy governed by the rule of law, where the state jails its bishops?”  Archbishop Coleridge has also said the law would make priests “less a servant of God than an agent of the state” and raise “major questions about religious freedom.” 

Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have also adopted laws forcing priests to violate the confessional seal, while New South Wales and Western Australia have upheld it.  Attorneys-general in Australia’s federal and state governments agreed in November 2019 on reporting standards that would require priests to break the sacramental seal or violate Australia’s mandatory abuse reporting rules. Further, priests would not be able to use the defense of privileged communications in the confessional seal to avoid giving evidence against a third party in criminal or civil proceedings. 

Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane commented Sept. 4 that Australia’s bishops “are keen to support the ongoing public conversation about policies, practices and protocols which will ensure that children and other people at risk are safe in our communities.”  The Holy See told Australia’s bishops earlier this year that the seal of confession is inviolable, and that it includes all the sins known from the confession, both of the penitent and others.  The Holy See added that this is the “long-standing and constant teaching of the Church on the inviolability of the sacramental seal, as something demanded by the nature of the sacrament itself and thus as deriving from Divine Law.”  It added that the confessor “certainly may, and indeed in certain cases should, encourage a victim to seek help outside the confessional or, when appropriate, to report an instance of abuse to the authorities.” 

The Holy See also said that “the confessional provides an opportunity – perhaps the only one – for those who have committed sexual abuse to admit to the fact. In that moment the possibility is created for the confessor to counsel and indeed to admonish the penitent, urging him to contrition, amendment of life and the restoration of justice. Were it to become the practice, however, for confessors to denounce those who confessed to child sexual abuse, no such penitent would ever approach the sacrament and a precious opportunity for repentance and reform would be lost.” 

It added that “it is of paramount importance that formation programmes for confessors include a detailed analysis of Church law, including the ‘Note’ of the Apostolic Penitentiary, together with practical examples to instruct priests concerning difficult questions and situations that may arise. These may include, for example, principles for the kind of dialogue a confessor should have with a young person who has been abused or appears vulnerable to abuse, as well as with anyone who confesses to having abused a minor.”

Source credit: Catholic News Agency

THE WATCHMAN’S DUTY (HOMILY FOR 23RD SUNDAY, YEAR A)

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Scripture says in Genesis 1:31 that God saw everything he had created, and they were all very good. This means that while God created everything in a state of goodness, he did not make them to be perfect in the strict sense of the word, not even man. Perfection is thus, reserved for God alone; hence, no one is perfect, except God. It is thus, as a result of this imperfection that people sometimes make mistakes. However, some people sometimes do not even realize they have made a mistake. To their mind, they are doing well. This is what the Latin adage expresses which says Bonum currere, sed extra viam (A good race, but out of track).

In 1955, two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham propounded a simple but very useful theory for self-awareness which they called the “JoHari Window” and which psychologists still use today. In brief, the JoHari Window simply says that there are four sides to every human being by which they can be understood, which they called windows. These windows are the Open (known to the individual and to others), Blind (known to others but unknown to the individual), Hidden (known to the individual but unknown to others) and Closed (unknown to the individual and to others).

From this analysis of the human person and from the reality of human experiences, it is clear that as a result of our blind windows, there are times when people may be on the path of error without even realizing it, but this error is open and known to others. At such times, when we are the ones who are seeing the faults of others, we are bound by the obligation of good conscience, to show them the error of their ways. This is where today’s readings come to play, and the summary of each reading leaves us with at least one lesson.

The first reading leaves us with the lesson that we are our brothers’ keepers and must help each other live rightly. This is the call God puts to us when he said to the prophet Ezekiel that he is making him a watchman for the house of Israel with the task of pointing out the error of a sinner to him or her. And by extension, this applies to us too. This does not mean that we should become fault-finders, but that when we notice a fault, we should do well to point it out with the intention of helping the erring brother or sister retrace his or her steps to the right path. It was Edmund Burke who said that “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good men to keep silent.” So, if you see someone doing wrong and you keep quiet about it, then you, by your silence, affirm and encourage that evil to go on. We can draw from the first reading too, the caution that God will judge us, not only for our own deeds and/or misdeeds, but also for that of others which we failed to correct, if they die in that error. We are therefore watchmen for each other and must strive to keep one another in check.

In the gospel reading, Jesus admonishes us to spare no effort in helping someone in error to return to the right path. This is why he says if you have a misunderstanding with someone, go alone to him or her first; if that does not work, take two or three people with you; if that too fails, report it to the church. The reason for this emphasis is because every soul is precious to God and all that can be done to save a soul from damnation must be done. And if all that does not work either, treat the person like a pagan or a taxman, meaning, love such a person all the more. Jesus himself gives us a clear example on how to treat someone like a pagan or a taxman from the way he treated them. The pagans and tax collectors were regarded as sinners by the Jews, and when these same Jews murmured about how Jesus was relating with the tax collectors, he told them he came not to call the righteous but to call sinners (Mat 9:9). However, if all our human effort fails, we must not forget to commend them to the grace and mercy of God.

Finally, Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that even while making the effort to win back a brother or sister to the right path, we must do it in love. Hence, when correcting someone in error or reconciling with an offender, do it in love. Christian charity will most likely win an errant brother or sister over while any other thing may be met with resistance. Therefore, in correcting someone, do it the way you will yourself want to be corrected.

As a last word, to do the watchman’s duty, we must ourselves do well to live above board. You will not have any moral voice to correct anyone when you yourself are living in error. A typical watchman’s duty post is either on a high tower, a high city wall or a raised platform. Watchmen never stay on the same ground level with the people they are watching out for. Thus, if we must watch out for our brothers and sisters, like the typical watchman, we must stay on the high tower, the high city wall or the raised platform of moral rectitude. Anything short of this is a calamity waiting to happen. This is why when Jesus said we are the light of the world, he likened us to a city set on a hill (Mat 5:14). Thus, let us individually make efforts to live good lives so that when God puts the burden of correcting a brother or sister in error and win him or her back to God on us, we will not be held back by the voice of a guilty conscience. Amen

NEWS: ABUJA ARCHDIOCESE INAUGURATES 11 COMMISIONS

Eleven Commissions have been inaugurated by the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja for the proper administration of the Archdiocese. The Commissions, which were announced by the Archbishop, His Grace, Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama during the closing Mass of the First General Assembly of the Archdiocese held from 4th – 5th September 2020, are arms of the Archdiocesan Curia, which shall assist the Local Ordinary in the governance of the Archdiocese.

While naming the Commissions and their respective Chairpersons, the Archbishop charged them to diligently discharge their duties for the common good of the Archdiocese. The Commissions are Education, Justice Development and Peace (JDPC), Health, Pastoral and New Evangelization, Family and Human Life, Youths and Catechetics. Others are Liturgy, Communication, Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism.

We commend them to the grace of God as they take up their work in the Archdiocese.

NEWS: ABUJA ARCHDIOCESE COMMISSIONS COMMUNION MINISTERS

As part of activities of the First General Assembly of the Archdiocese of Abuja, the Local Ordinary of the Archdiocese, Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama today, commissioned 15 Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

The ccommissioning ceremony which took place during the closing Mass of the Assembly saw 15 men and women drawn from different parishes across the diocese.

In a brief remark before the commissioning, the Archbishop highlighted the roles of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to include assisting priests in the distribution of Holy Communion during Mass and assisting to take Holy Communion to the sick. He also charged them to be faithful their ministry and live up to the expectation of God and the Church of them.