THE SHEPHERD-KING (34TH SUNDAY, YEAR A: SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING)

By: Fr. Sylvanus E. AMEH

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

The 1920s saw a rise in nationalism and secularism. There was an increased rejection of religion and religious influences. Society rejected God more and more, and this trend was creeping into the Church. There was therefore, the danger of having a secularized Church.

To curtail this, Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 in his encyclical, Quas Primas. One of the principal goals of the Feast was (and still is) to remind the Church and the world that all power belongs to and comes from God in Christ Jesus. Scripture says “For in Him were all things created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” (Col 1:16). The Feast of Christ the King thus reminds us that God is our true ruler and we must all submit our hearts, our homes, our institutions, our Church and our world to his authority. And the end of time, all powers and authorities ever wielded here on earth will be subject to Jesus and submitted to him, for “at the name of Jesus, every knee must bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Lord” (Phil 2:10).

In synopsis, the readings of today’s Mass also point us to this perspective. The first reading tells us that though God has put leaders in charge of his people, many of these leaders have failed in their respective responsibilities. But God is our true leader who will never fail. From the psalm, we deduce that when we have good leaders, things will go well for the people; thus, good leadership brings about abundance in all fronts. Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that the kingdoms of the world will fail, as indeed history has shown, but the kingdom of Christ will never fail, and his reign brings life to all who subject themselves to his Lordship, just as we heard in the psalm also. And the gospel reading admonishes us that though Jesus is the king of mercy, he is also the king of justice, and he will judge and reward us all accordingly when he returns at the end of time.

There is a lesson in this Feast for all leaders, a lesson to discharge all leadership duties with diligence. And we are all leaders in different ways, so this applies to us all. In the book of the prophet Ezekiel (First Reading), God takes up the imagery of Shepherd-King. Leaders are supposed to be like shepherds who look after their sheep. God condemned Israel’s leaders for being bad shepherds (Ezek 34:1-10) and a similar fate awaits all those who tow the same line of bad shepherds. When God puts us in a position of authority and responsibility, we must strive to discharge our roles faithfully or stand the risk of being condemned.

To be able to serve diligently as good shepherds, we must heed the word of the apostle Peter who admonished that “everyone who serves should serve as though everything were done at God’s orders” (1 Pet 4:11). Having this as a guiding principle will sure help us to put God in the picture of our service to those under us. So we should ask ourselves the questions: How well have I led/served? And how well have the people under my leadership fared? Are they better off or worse off? And how much of the authority of God do I allow to guide me in my leadership role? The example of Jesus as the Shepherd-King is set before us as a model of leadership and if we must truly lead, then we must not only learn from him but also submit to his guidance too. As king, he protects, provides and deals justly with his people; as shepherd, he guides, cares for and leads his flock in the paths of abundance and of safety. This is what is expected of all leaders, and as mentioned earlier, we are all leaders in different ways. This too, is why we should be confident to follow Jesus and let him reign in our lives.

Another lesson we take from today’s Feast is that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. At birth, Jesus came as the infant king; now, he comes to us as the king of our hearts; at the end of time, he will come as the king of justice and shall reward everyone according to what their conducts deserve, and Like a Shepherd, he shall separate the sheep from the goats. He himself said, “Behold, I am coming soon! I will bring my rewards with me, to give to each person according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). Notice that he says each person will be rewarded ‘according to what he has done”. This implies that we are our own judges, for judgment day shall simply be a day of receiving awards, the awards of how we have lived here on earth. This is the point made by the gospel reading of todays’ Mass. And from that gospel text, the criterion for giving the award of eternal life or eternal death shall be quite simple: whatsoever you do to others, you do it to Christ. Therefore, the good we do today will speak for us on the Day of Judgment; in the same vein, the bad we do today will speak against us on the Day of Judgment also. Everyday, God presents us with many opportunities to do good, let us use them. May Jesus the King of peace bless us with his peace. Amen

PRINCIPLES OF DIVINE WISDOM (32ND SUNDAY, YEAR A)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

Living life can be difficult sometimes. Living the Christian life can be even more difficult and this is because through the journey of life, we constantly face situations that require us to make hard judgments. To make a wrong judgment can have very dire consequences, and no one wants that. To be able to make the right judgment, one essential thing is needed: Wisdom! It is on this theme of wisdom, more specifically, divine wisdom, that the Church has asked us to reflect today, and the three readings of today’s Mass speak to us on this subject.

In synopsis, Reading 1 tells us that wisdom is readily available to those who seek her, and in Reading 2, we are told that it is only the truly wise that understand the true destiny of those who have died. Jesus tells us in the gospel that we need wisdom to be ready for our end, for his second coming, and that only the truly wise will be admitted to the festive gathering of heaven.

What therefore, is this wisdom? Wisdom is the trait or the ability to use your knowledge and your experiences to make good decisions or form good judgments; it can also be understood as keen insight into life and ways of dealing with its problems.

How do we get this divine wisdom? Does it come naturally to everyone? Is there something we ought to do to possess it? From all indications from everyday experiences, and more so, from our gospel text of today’s Mass, it is obvious that it is not everyone who possesses divine wisdom. Jesus tells of ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five of whom were foolish. Thus, while everyone has common sense (which made all ten virgins carry lamps), not everyone has wisdom (which made only five virgins carry extra oil). So, how do we get this divine wisdom? I shall present five ways to us.

  • Desire it and pray for it. No one can ever be wise who does not first desire to be wise. And all who desire wisdom seek for her. Part of our first reading says wisdom “is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her” (Wisdom 6:12-13). Because of the indispensability of wisdom in our walk through life and our walk with God, we must desire and seek it. In Proverbs 4:7, the word of God says “Wisdom is the supreme thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” But it is not sufficient to simply desire wisdom, we must also ask God who owns it and who gives it to give it to us, for the bible says in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” So, to get wisdom, desire it, and pray for it.
  • Reverence God and keep his Word. Reverence for God and obedience to his precepts is the foundation for all godly wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and in Matthew 7:24, Jesus says “Therefore whoever hears these Words of Mine, and keeps them, is like a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” To be firmly rooted in divine wisdom, we must fear God, we must obey God.
  • Keep company with the wise. To grow in wisdom, you must surround yourself with the wise. Being in the company of the wise is a sure way of maintaining and strengthening yourself in wisdom. Proverbs 13:20 says “He who walks with the wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” and in I Corinthians 15:33, the word of God tells us that “evil company corrupts good manners.” It is not possible to constantly be in the company of the unwise and expect to grow in wisdom. In 1 Kings 10:1ff, when the Queen of Sheba heard of the wisdom of Solomon, though she was a wise woman, she travelled a long distance to his palace to hear from him, and seeing that he was exceedingly wise, in vs 8, she said, “Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom!” Why did she say so? It is because to be in the company of the wise is to grow in wisdom.
  • Regular Bible study. A major prerequisite for the possession of divine wisdom is the regular study of the Word of God, the Bible. God speaks to us in his word, and his word is the source of all things, including wisdom. Any Christian who is serious about his or her relationship with God and who desires to grow in wisdom must draw daily nuggets of wisdom from the Bible. In Psalm 19:7, scripture says “The commands of the Lord are trustworthy, giving wisdom to those who lack it.”
  • Constantly think about your end. To constantly keep our death, our end in sight, is a sure path to growing in wisdom. This is one of the directions to which Jesus points our thoughts in the gospel text. After all the talk about wisdom and folly in the parable of the virgins, Jesus ended by saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” In Psalm 90:12, the Bible says “Teach us how short our life is, that we may become wise.” Realizing the brevity of life and keeping it in view helps us to avoid some of the many silly mistakes we make in life which we sometimes think we can correct much later; it also helps us to set our priorities right and place greater value on eternal things than on the transient things of this life.

Dear friends, today, the Church is asking us to be people who are wise, people who seek to grow in wisdom, people who help others to be wise. It was wisdom that got some virgins into the banquet feast of the groom, and it was the lack of it that that made some others miss out on the feast. May divine wisdom help us to always stay prepared, so that we may find ourselves inside and not shut out of the feast of heaven.

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

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

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.