Thursday, November 26, 2015

First Sunday of Advent Year C

Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28,34-36

Preparation, waiting and expectation are the key words that help to focus on the message of this First Sunday of the Advent Season, as we begin the new liturgical year. During the next four weeks, the Sunday readings will focus our attention on preparation, waiting and expectation. Some years ago there was some breaking news on TV that to me would be a good example of preparation. The news was about a man in Memphis, Tennessee who accidentally walked into a store during a robbery. The gunman pointed his pistol at him and ordered him to hand over all his money. The man responded, “Go ahead and shoot. I just been to Confession and Mass and took Holy Communion.”  The robber was confused by that reaction, and the man walked away safely. I tell this story because it helps to understand the importance of being ready always to meet the Lord. That is what Jesus tells us today. “The great day will suddenly close on you like a trap. So be on the watch.” In the First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells us that in the past the Lord God repeatedly made promises with Abraham and his descendants to bless them with many descendants and prosperity. God also promised that a righteous Branch would spring up from the line of King David. The prophet tells the people that they would have a just king and his policies would bring security to the kingdom and lead them to right relationship with God.  

The word Advent comes from the Latin word “advenire” = to come or the coming. It is therefore a time of preparation for the coming of our Lord and Saviour. We know how anxious we can be while waiting for an important guest. Parents know how anxious they can be while waiting for the arrival of a new baby. The homecoming of a loved one or a member of the family similarly creates an occasion for anxiety while waiting for his return after deployment overseas. Advent is therefore a season of preparation and waiting for the coming of our Saviour. The second reading of this Sunday centres on spiritual preparation. Here Paul urges us to make more progress in our Christian life, “the life that God wants”. Our waiting is based on the promise that our Saviour will surely come. Promises can be a source of hope and forward looking in life. They can inject a sense of purpose and meaning in daily life. They can also enable us to endure present hardships and trials with the hope that these will come to an end. In the Gospel, Jesus challenges us to be on our guard so that our hearts are not weighed down by worldly vices and the worries of this life. He urges us to be ready, so that day of the Lord will not catch us unexpectedly, unprepared. No one knows when the end will come.  Therefore we should be prepared at all times.   This is a time of urgency and hence there is little time for complacency.  So what is the take away message? 1) Jesus in the Gospel challenges us to be on guard and like the man in the story to be prepared spiritually because our liberation is at hand. 2) Advent is an invitation to prepare a place in our hearts for the Lord’s coming. 3) If we truly believe that Christ is coming anew, we will strive to centre our lives on Christ through prayer life, asking the Lord to help us to make greater progress on the journey towards our extraordinary mission.

©2015 John S Mbinda

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe Year B

Readings: Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37

A victorious king on the Cross sums up best the message of this Sunday, the solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe. But first a humorous story. A priest was once giving a homily and as he went on, he became more animated. While making a sweeping gesture, he knocked down his papers from the pulpit. Scrambling to pick them up, he asked, "Now, where was I?" A voice from the congregation responded, "Right near the end!" Well, we are near the end - not of my homily (smile), but of the liturgical year. On this final Sunday we celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe. We acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King of our lives.  Today the readings invite us to ask some searching questions about our loyalty as disciples and stewards. Who is my king? What king do I serve?

The Gospel presents one of the most dramatic scenes in the New Testament. When asked by Pilate if he is a king, Jesus calmly responds, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”  So where is this kingdom? Where is Jesus Christ the King? There is a story about a little girl who was standing with her grandfather by an old open well. They had just lowered a bucket and had drawn some water to drink. She asked her grandfather: “Lolo (Grandfather), where does God live?” the old man picked up the little girl and held her over the open well. “Look down there in the water,” he said, “and tell me what you see.” ‘I see myself,” said the little girl. ‘That’s where God lives,” said the old man, “He lives in you.” Simple down to earth catechism, but it is true. “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). In the Gospel Jesus shows that his kingship is one that witnesses to the truth - the truth about God and humanity. Jesus defends that truth with his own blood on the Cross. Accepting such truth leads to true freedom. What king do I serve? Am I ready to let go and let Jesus invade my life? There is a story of a doctor who gave his patient six months to live. Since the patient could not pay his bill, the doctor gave him another six months to live. We are just like that doctor. We tend to postpone our full allegiance to Christ the King because God is not our top priority in our lives. We seem to have other ‘kings’ whom we serve.  The enemy within has a grip on us for pleasure that we confuse with happiness. We are not ready to let go our “gods” and “kings” until terror strikes! Are you ready to let go? So what message do we take home? 1) Jesus Christ is a King who conquers sin and death on the Cross and resurrection. From the Cross, Jesus gives himself to us, serves and cares for all, particularly the less fortunate. 2) We are challenged to let go and let Jesus transform us into his own image; to make us be the best version of ourselves. 3) Being a member of Christ’s kingdom means being ready to fight and defend the values for which Jesus died; it means letting Christ rule my life and my family. Are you ready to let go and let Jesus take the driver seat?

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Dn 12:1-3; Hb10:11-14,18; Mk 13:24-32

Reading the signs of the times and preparedness are the key words that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. The readings draw our attention to the end times and the need for preparedness. In 2009, film makers released a new movie “2012”. This apocalyptic movie was based on the prophecies of the sixteenth century French physician Nostradamus, who predicted that a comet would destroy the world in 2012. What has been so amazing about all these doomsday stories circulating is that some Catholics seem to interpret the prophecy in terms of the Third Secret of Fatima by linking that prophecy to the Mayan prophecy that coincides with that of Nostradamus. The doomsday prophets had given a specific date for the end: December 21 2012, the date of the Winter Solstice.  The Vatican had already made public the Third Secret of Fatima in 1960 and again on May 13 2000. In the first reading from the Book of Daniel we are given a preview of the final scenes of human history- the end times. We are told that the dead will be raised to life and that each will face the final judgement. The good will be rewarded with eternal life, and the bad with eternal punishment. In today’s world, it is very easy to be confused by ideas from all sorts of preachers about the end of the world. Some even give an exact date and time and place where their followers should gather, for the Lord to snatch them up – the so called rapture!

In the Gospel, Jesus first speaks about the apocalyptic events that will cause the sun to be darkened and the moon dimmed; with stars falling from the sky. Then He speaks about the Son of Man “coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” This obviously echoes the words in the First Reading, but here the Son of Man is even more victorious. All these catastrophic events are not the end but a preparation for the coming of the Lord. They are signs, that the end in near. That is why we must not interpret the so called doomsday as the end of time. If anything should happen to the world, it means that God is still in control of all He has created; for those who believe in God, God through the Church still proclaims a message of conversion and repentance in readiness of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We must not be afraid or panic. Apocalyptic preachers obviously forget the final sentence of the Gospel reading from Mark. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father".  All we are told is that the end of this world as we know it will surely come. Jesus in the Gospel therefore helps us to read the signs that indicate the coming of the end. After that Christ will appear and send his angels to gather the just. So what is the message? 1) The readings challenge us to read the signs of the times and to be always prepared because the end is hidden from all of us. 2) What is sure is that in the end the Lord of all history will finally triumph over sin and the powers of evil in all their manifesta­tions in the world. 3) As followers and stewards of Christ, we must heed the message of conversion and repentance in readiness as we wait in hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44

Generosity, the third sign of a dynamic Catholic is the overarching theme in the readings of this Sunday. The readings proclaim the good news that God provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. I once heard a story of a single mom with young children. Her ex-husband sent her only a small amount of grocery money every week--so small it couldn’t even feed 1 person, much less her family of 4. But Nancy decided to begin giving to God from her little bit of grocery money and trusting God to provide. Shortly after, she got a job with a cookbook company. The company paid Nancy to go grocery shopping and prepare meals so they could take pictures for their cookbooks. When they were done taking pictures, Nancy could keep the food she had purchased and prepared. That is an amazing story of God’s goodness. Nancy learned that even if you’re poor, you still need to learn to give from whatever you have. I tell this story because it illustrates the message of the readings of this Sunday in which we encounter two widows who give generously out of their poverty. Both like Nancy trust deeply in God who cares for them. In the first reading from the Book of Kings, the widow of Zarephath seems to hesitate first, but when reassured by prophet Elijah, she trusts and hopes in God. “She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry”. The story ends with God multiplying the meal flour and the oil in the jug, “as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.” The widow receives far much more than she gave. The major insight of the message is that the poor tend to be more generous than the rich and thus more blessed by God. Because the widow trusts in God, God miraculously feeds her because of her faith and trust. The poor seem to understand the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs. “Be generous and you will be prosperous; help others and you will be helped.” Prov 11:25

Again in the Gospel we meet another widow at the temple. Jesus challenges us to imitate her and the poor because of their deep faith and trust in God. The main point Jesus makes is not to put the widow and the poor of his time on a pedestal. Rather, Jesus draws four sharp contrasts between the widow’s simple piety and the scribes and Pharisees. First we note that some of these religious leaders tended to be arrogant in their behaviour. Second, unlike the rich who put a lot of money in the Temple treasury out of their surplus, the poor widow gives everything she possesses “her whole livelihood.” Third, this widow is not only honest with God, but she also trusts deeply in God’s providence. That is the kind of generosity God expects from us. Four, the simple piety of the widow is contrasted to the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Such behaviour is contrary to our Christian calling. The point Jesus makes is that the value of what we offer is not necessarily judged by its quantity. Rather, the spiritual disposition of the giver moved by the spirit of self-sacrifice is more important. Any parading of our contributions before others or demanding recognition, renders such gifts to be just a show. There is a striking common thread linking the two widows and Jesus in our reading. Both widows give everything they have to live on, risking their own lives. The real point that Jesus makes is to “beware” of modern day “scribes” who exploit livelihood of the vulnerable like the widow in the passage, while giving from their surplus. So what message do we take home? 1) Like the two widows, our gifts must come from the poverty of our hearts in deep love and trust in God. 2) The Lord provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. 3) Jesus warns us to “beware” of modern day “scribes” who not only give out of their surplus, but also exploit the more vulnerable. 

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Solemnity of All Saints Year B

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

Ordinary people with extraordinary mission sums up best the message of this Sunday - the Solemnity of All Saints that we celebrate this Sunday.  The purpose of this Feast is to give those on earth signs of hope as described by John Wood in his book Ordinary Lives Extraordinary Mission. These signs of hope inspire us and pray for us as we too try to pursue our extraordinary mission to be like them. Saints are not born but made over years of being shaped by God’s grace, doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. This Feast makes us aware that we are all called to holiness and to sainthood.  Every age, race, language, people and nation have produced saints, holy men and women who pleased God and now share in God’s glory. The First Reading speaks of “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, peoples and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation from our God who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb!” These are the people who suffered for Christ and “who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It is the blood of Jesus Christ that brings salvation but only to those who have united with him in sharing its effects. Many of them, of course, are martyrs and they have mingled their own blood with that of Jesus. These are the saints we remember today; the men and women who have won their fight with the enemy within and accomplished an extraordinary mission in their victory in Christ.

The Gospel on the Beatitudes offers, as it were, a charter for holiness for the followers of Christ. The Beatitudes focus on the values of the kingdom as against the values of the world. Jesus rejects what is held in high esteem by the world.  The Beatitudes are a kind of a mission statement on our call to holiness; our call to be the best version of ourselves. Blessed are the poor in spirit; those who have only God as their fulfillment in every need.  Blessed are the gentle: the people who humble themselves considering others first, constantly aware of the needs of others.  Blessed are those who mourn: those in grief or in sorrow for their sins and for the time wasted through sin; they will be assured of comfort. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, they will be satisfied, not by worldly material things, but by God’s word of life. So what message do we take home? 1) The feast of all the saints reminds us that we are all called to holiness and to sainthood; 2) You and I can become saints, if we too live the Beatitudes as our charter of holiness; 3) May we be encouraged by the many examples of the saints in heaven to walk this holy highway, the path they walked that someday we too may triumph and be counted among the saints. I am Msgr. John Mbinda. God bless you.
©2015 John S. Mbinda