CLEAN HANDS AND PURE HEARTS (SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Revelations 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Today, the church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. The church teaches that there are 3 forms of her existence: the Triumphant Church (those in heaven), the Suffering Church (those in purgatory) and the Militant Church (those still on earth, including you and I). Today, we celebrate the Triumphant Church; tomorrow, we shall remember the Suffering Church. Through the year, there are memorias and feast days of several saints, but those are the ones that are known. Many more people are in heaven than we will ever know; some may not even be Christians or even profess any religion. Today is the day when we remember all of them.

The First Reading says there are in heaven, people from all parts of the world: people of different tribes, color, nationality, religion, physical appearance, social status, economic backgrounds, and so on. This shows that heaven is a place meant for everybody, irrespective of one’s state in life or background or status. The first qualification needed to enter into heaven is that we possess the image and the likeness of God, and not who or what we are in life. In Genesis 1:26, scripture says God made man in his image, but he didn’t put differentiations. We are the ones who make such differentiations amongst ourselves. We must therefore not discriminate, because in God’s presence, we are all the same.

Celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints is a challenge to all of us on earth. Those in heaven whom we celebrate today were ordinary people like you and I, but they struggled to enter heaven. This means you and I can also enter heaven if we try. But how can we get to heaven? How do people go there? What should we do to enter heaven? What is the gate pass we need to present to be admitted into heaven? The responsorial psalm gives us the answer.

Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? The man with clean hands and pure heart.” The mountain of the Lord is heaven, and to be admitted to it, scripture says our gate pass is clean hands and a pure heart. To be clean of hands,

  • We must be involved in doing good
  • The clean hands is the one that does not give or take bribes
  • To be clean of hands, we must not cheat people
  • A clean hand is the one that is generous
  • A clean hand also gives back to God in gratitude
  • To have clean hands, we must not perform acts of wickedness
  • A clean hand is that hand that does not steal.
  • A clean hand is that hand that is not involved in doing evil.
  • A clean hand is the one that supports the sick and weary.

If we are clean of hands, we must also be pure of heart. In fact, we can’t have clean hands without pure hearts.

  • To be pure of heart, we must avoid all forms of evil (Mat 15:19 – It is from the heart that all evil proceeds)
  • A pure heart is the one that does not jealous and envy others
  • Purity of heart means we are free of lust and sexual immoralities
  • A pure heart does not wish others bad; it rejoices wit those who rejoice & mourns with those who mourn
  • Purity of heart demands that we do not gossip and slander other people
  • A pure heart does not make trouble

In summary, Jesus tells us in the gospel reading what it means to be clean of hands and pure of heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us what to do to go to heaven. Jesus says only those who are humble, who are gentle, who promote peace, who are merciful and forgiving, who are pure in heart and who are ready to bear hardship and opposition for being good that shall enter heaven. Now the question is: do you want to go to heaven? If yes, then God has told you what to do to go there but are you going to do them? Or are you going to continue carrying dirty hands and polluted hearts?

May God help us to do the right things so that we shall be admitted to the mountain of the Lord at the end of our lives. Amen.

WASTED LOVE (30TH SUNDAY, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Exodus 22:21-27; Psalm 18; I Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40

I sometimes think we owe gratitude to the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees who were constantly trying to put Jesus on the spot with their tricky questions, because in answer to their questions, he always leaves us with very valuable and eternal lessons. One of such instances is what we read about in our gospel text of today. Trying to test Jesus, a lawyer asked: “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” And Jesus’ answer, without hesitation is, to love God above all things, and our neighbor as ourselves.

There is an abundance of evidence from the pages of Scared Scripture to show that it is impossible to truly love God and not love people. This is primarily because every human being is the visible image of God that we can relate to, for every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Since we do not see God physically to show him love, God demands that we show it to him through the people around us. It is for this reason that St. John asks how we can possibly claim to love God whom we have not seen, if we do not love our brothers and sisters whom we see daily (I Jn 4:20).

The necessity of love for one another in our everyday lives as Christians is sacrosanct and non-negotiable. The seriousness of this is captured by St. Paul in his hymn of love. He says even if we are angelic, even if we possess the gifts of knowledge of mysteries, even if we can speak in tongues, even if our faith can cause incredible things to happen, even if we volunteer to become martyrs for the sake of Christ, but we do not have love for one another, it is all a waste, for such gifts and powers will do us no good (I Cor 13:1-3).

On the last day, when we stand before God’s judgment throne, many souls may receive a very shocking blow, for God shall tell them that all along, they were wasting their love, loving him without loving human beings, especially the poor and the needy.

  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, we can make huge donations in church, but cannot help a poor widow pay her child’s school fees.
  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, we are very meticulous with the payment of our tithes and the sowing of seeds, when a neighbor’s child is dying for lack of funds to pay hospital bills and we cannot offer to help.
  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, at Christmas, we give a hamper to a priest full of things he may not need, when we cannot make a small donation to St. Vincent de Paul for the feeding of the poor.
  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, at occasions in church, we make huge donations and people clap for us, but our cooks and security and drivers and stewards are owed their salaries.
  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, everyday, we spend very long hours lying down before the Blessed Sacrament, or kneeling down in prayers in Church, with heads tilted at an angle 45º, when we cannot visit a sick church member.
  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, we join several pious groups in Church and are always active with church activities, whether we are rich or poor, and we treat the children of other people living with us wickedly.
  • It is wasted love, if as a Christian who professes love for God, you will demand to have carnal knowledge of that young girl before you help her get a job or secure an admission to school
  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, we can contribute money alongside other friends to buy a car for a priest/pastor who already has one, but cannot set up a small business for a poor widow who has children to care for.
  • It is wasted love, if for the love of God, we preach love of God, and we don’t practice love of our neighbors.

Little wonder Jesus says in the parable of the last judgment that people will simply be told: “I was a neighbor in need and you either helped or refused to help me, therefore, receive your appropriate reward” (cf Matt 25:31-46).

Today, Jesus reminds us of how not to waste our love; the first reading from the Book of Exodus (22:21-27) gives us some practical tips on how to do this. Now, it is left for us to go and put it all into practice, for it is foolish to hear God’s word and not practice it (Jam 4:22-24).

BE CHRISTIAN, BE CIVIL (HOMILY FOR 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A – WORLD MISSION SUNDAY)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21

Every human being is by nature, both spiritual and political. God has made our nature in such a manner that we are both drawn to him and drawn to society at the same time. Thus, whether we want it or not, whether we decide on it or not, whether we acknowledge or deny it, we are both simultaneously affected by God and by society. This is an inescapable reality for us for as long as we breathe. It is therefore pertinent that we give the required attention to the things of both domains of our existence. 

This reality is clearly demonstrated to us today in the readings of today’s Mass, especially the first and gospel readings, with greater clarity in the gospel reading. The first reading is a narration of how God used Cyrus, king of Persia to liberate the Israelites from their exile in Babylon. This event was both political and spiritual for the Israelites – political because it meant an end to foreign domination over them and a return to their homeland where they can continue with their political life; spiritual because it meant they were returning to union with their revered temple, the symbol of God’s presence with them. Though king Cyrus did not know the one true God, God used him to not only bring liberation to the Israelites, but also to provide for them in their effort of rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem.

In the gospel reading, we read of the plot by the Herodians and the Pharisees to entrap Jesus by asking him a dubious question with no easy answer. In fact, that question humanly speaking, has no answer. To understand the treachery of that question, we first need to know the people who were asking. The Herodians were Jews who were very okay with the Roman domination of Palestine and saw nothing wrong with the taxes the average Jew detested paying. The Pharisees on the other hand, were very religious Jews who hated the fact that the Romans were in their land and ruling them. These two groups, ordinarily speaking, were not friendly with each other; however, for the purpose of ensnaring Jesus, they formed an unholy alliance. So, when they asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not, whichever way Jesus turned would have landed him in trouble. If he said it was lawful, the Pharisees would stir up the Jews against him; if he said it was unlawful, the Herodians would bring down the might of the Romans on him. But Jesus’ answer, as we heard it, to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”, caught them off guard. Indeed, they never expected it. By asking for the coin used in paying the tax, a denarius which had the image and name of Caesar, Jesus turned the table on them, for by possessing that coin, they already accepted his rule over them.

This answer from Jesus again shows to us that even today, as we gather here this morning, God expects us to be both Christian and civil. In other words, we have certain obligations towards God, and we have certain obligations towards the State. We cannot divorce one from the other. We cannot be too religious not to get involved in the affairs of the State, neither can we be too secular not to give reverence to God. Thus, we must be Christian, we must be civil. To God, we owe the duty of reverence, obedience to his commands, faithfulness, being the face of love and mercy to our neighbours, living in righteousness, promoting the work of mission, etc. To the State, we owe the duty of payment of taxes, obedience to the laws of the land, taking active part in civil affairs, etc.

In the light of the above, these last two weeks have been full of events in our country calling us to be Christian and civil. Issues bothering on our national life have taken the center stage of almost everything with the #ENDSARS campaign. With thousands of youths taking part in the protests sweeping through the country like a train on fire whose brakes have failed, youths who, with the slogan of #ENDSARS are demanding for a better Nigeria, I say there is no better time as Nigerians to be Christian and be civil than now. A lot of Christians have questioned the rightness of the ongoing protests, especially after the perfidious kangaroo move by the government through the Inspector General of Police claiming to have disbanded SARS, only to hurriedly rename it SWAT. The protesters have remained undeterred and have refused to be deceived, especially by a government that has a proclivity for lies and deceit. Fortunately, the religious and ethnic cards with which they have always kept the masses divided have been burnt to ashes, so the unity of purpose is now the strength and life-wire of the protests.

In his message for World Mission Sunday (2020), Pope Francis wrote, “We are indeed frightened, disoriented and afraid. Pain and death make us experience our human frailty, but at the same time remind us of our deep desire for life and liberation from evil.” These words are indeed divinely inspired because they speak directly to the situation of the times in our country. These words remind us that as a people, we are truly “frightened, disoriented and afraid”, battered by the systemic evil of maladministration we have experienced for decades under people whose individual interests have consistently superseded the common good. These have brought us nothing but pain and death, and because we are not only Christians but also civil, we ought to raise our voices and condemn the evil of bad leadership in our land, expressed in its worst form under this present regime. The #ENDSARS campaign/protests should therefore be our collective resolve to demand for a better life and liberation from evil, as the Holy Father said.

Today, dear friends, we are reminded that our religious inclinations do not take away our social responsibilities. That we are Christians does not mean that we should not be involved in the activities of the State. If we do not play our roles as responsible citizens, then we, by our inactions, pave way for the creation of an atmosphere in which even worship of God will prove difficult. Today, we remember the souls of all those who have lost their lives to the brutality of all security agents; we pray for the many more who have died due to executive rascality and legislative wastefulness, that God may grant them eternal rest and console their families. And for all those on the streets protesting, may God keep them safe. For the many people behind the scenes who are providing support and sustenance for the protesters, may God bless them all. And for those who feel it is a sin to join the protest, may God forgive them for keeping quiet when they should be speaking out. Amen.

PARTY AFTER PARTY (HOMILY FOR 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

A very common imagery Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of heaven is that of a banquet, especially a wedding banquet. The immediate message these parables communicate to us is that of heaven as a place of endless joy and celebrations where there is party after party. Both the first and gospel readings of today’s Mass also paint this picture for us where the prophet Isaiah talks about the vision of a feast of rich foods and fine wines while Jesus tells the parable of the marriage feast a king threw for his son. Little wonder that song says “Heaven is full of joy.” These readings present us with several lessons, but we shall take just three.

Heaven is a place of Joy: There is something about feasts and banquets and parties that bring joy to the attendees. In itself, every feast is a joyful occasion, which is why people look forward to them. By the way, who doesn’t want rich foods and fine wines? The first reading, responsorial psalm and gospel reading of today all talk about feasts prepared for us by God himself. These are all pointers that unlike the thought the devil wishes to communicate to our minds that heaven is boring, where all we shall do is sing the praises of God, heaven on the contrary, is a place of joy, where there is party after party. Little wonder the petty catechism says “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.” When Saint Peter caught a glimpse of this heavenly party, he never wanted that vision to end, so he told Jesus, “Let us build three tents…” and remain here (Mt 17:4). If this be so, as indeed it is, then we must do all that is necessary to spend our eternity there. One of the greatest pains of not going to heaven is the pain of realizing the joys that we will miss.

Some of the things that will make some people miss heaven are legitimate concerns: According to the parable of Jesus, some of those invited by the king but who made excuses were for legitimate concerns – one went off to his farm, another to his business, and according to Luke’s gospel narrative, one wanted to be with his new wife and another to try his plough on his new pair of oxen on the farm (Lk 14:16-24). It is from this parable that we get the song I cannot come. So we see that in themselves, these are not bad reasons/excuses; and what this goes on to say to us is that many people too are too busy with other legitimate concerns of time that they neglect the necessity of preparing for eternity. Anything that we will be too busy doing such that we do not have time for God needs to be re-evaluated. As Jesus says, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his soul” (Mk 8:36), thus, whatever we do, we must never be too busy to have time for God or to prepare for our eternity. In the seminary, a priest once told us never to be too busy doing the work of God that we forget the God of the work. These are few words, but very powerful words. I therefore say to you too, never be too busy with your work, your business, your education, your family life, your recreation, your career pursuit and your general concerns for life to the point that you no longer have time for God and to take care of your soul. A very common excuse I get from people who have not being to confession for a long time is that they have been very busy! Can you imagine that? Too busy to have a spiritual bath! Today, child of God, as God reminds us of the joys of heaven, let us keep in mind that it is great folly to be busy pursuing our everyday life’s concerns to the point that we miss heaven. Whatever it is we are pursuing today is for time, but heaven is for eternity.

The disposition with which we come before God is of great importance: In the parable of our gospel reading, one man appeared in the banquet hall without a wedding garment and he was ordered to be bound and thrown out, meaning he came to the party but left with nothing from the party. The lesson from this goes deeper than mere outward appearance and the kind of garment worn, which is only symbolic for something far greater. Ordinarily, the way we appear for an event shows our inner disposition for that event. A person who goes to a job interview dressed shabbily communicates a deeper message to the interviewers by his appearance; a person who goes to a party dressed for sports also communicates a message to every guest there, and more so, to the host. By implication therefore, our inner disposition as we appear before God determines what we get out of God’s feast of rich foods and fine wines. And here, God expects that as we come into his banquet hall, we should come in the garment of humility, the garment of faith, the garment of sincere repentance, the garment of submission to the will of God, the garment of true desire to worship God. Anyone who appears before God without these garments shall leave as empty as he/she came. It is for lack of these garments that many people appear before God in prayers and leave empty, as it were, bound hand and foot, then they complain that God does not answer their prayers. The parable of the publican and the Pharisee who came to the temple to pray is very instructive here (Lk 18:9-14). So if we must enjoy God’s feast and join in the party after party, then we must put on the necessary garments.

Today, most importantly, the message of the Word of God for us is that heaven is place that is worth it, one worth all the sacrifices it demands of us, and we must do all in our power to get there. We pray for the grace to readily accept the Master’s invitation. Amen

WASTED INVESTMENT? (HOMILY FOR 27TH SUNDAY, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

There once was a woman whose husband died and left her with three young children. The woman had to struggle very hard to ensure that the children neither starved nor went naked or wore rags. Despite the fact that though the husband did not leave much for them to go by and the society in which she lived was unkind to widows, she did her best to make sure her children did not lack the basic necessities of life. Apart from working multiple menial jobs, she also had to sell her belongings of high value just to make ends meet and ensure her children went to school and have a good life. Eventually, they all grew up and went out to live on their own. They got good jobs and they were each doing well. One time, their mother fell ill and words was sent to each of the three children to come take care of their mother, but they all had one excuse or the other to not go. And their mother lamented bitterly, telling her friend that after all she did for them, they could abandon her. And so she asked her friend, “What more was I supposed to have done for them that I did not do?” So to her it was like all her love and resources she committed to raising them was wasted investment.

This story reflects the picture painted in the readings of today’s Mass, especially the first reading in which God complained about the house of Israel that after all he did to make her fruitful, when he looked for grapes, she produced only wild grapes. And God asked the question, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done it?” In the gospel reading, Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard tenants who, instead of turning over the produce of the vineyard to the owner, turned around to kill his messengers and his son. So to God it was like all he did and all he committed to making the house of Israel fruitful was wasted investment. And children of God, we are that house of Israel.

One of the reasons God created us and continually endow us with his graces is so that we can be productive and bear the fruit of souls won for the kingdom of heaven. This is what Jesus meant when he described himself as the vine and we, his people, as the branches (cf Jn 15:1-8). Jesus emphasized there, the need for us to be fruitful and how the unfruitful branch will be cut down by the Father. This means, dear children of God, that God shall hold us to account for the graces he invests in us. As with the servants in the parable of the talents, and as we heard in the first and gospel readings of today’s Mass, so shall God demand account from us for all of the graces he has given us. When that day comes, will it be that what God has entrusted to us will be counted as wasted investment? All that we need to live righteously and also win souls for God, he has already given us, but the question is, how are we using them? Saint Paul said in his First Letter to the Corinthians that the grace of God in him has not been fruitless (15:10). What about us? Can we say the same of ourselves, that the graces of God in us have not been wasted? Or are the graces of God in us wasted investment?

Today, we must resolve, dear brothers and sisters, not to waste the opportunities that God offers us to be good, to do good, and to win souls for heaven. We must do well also, not to waste the grace of God upon our lives. We must therefore make effort to see that when God comes knocking on our doors, he will not have any cause for complaint. Live your life well, dear friend, that you may not be a wasted investment of grace. Amen