Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Third Sunday of Advent Year B

Readings: Is 61:1-2,10-11; 1 Thess 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8,19-28

“Rejoice in the Lord always”. This Sunday we light the third candle of the Advent Wreath. Its desert rose color signifies rejoicing. For that reason today is called Sunday which means, “Rejoice!” I know some of you are saying, “Well, Father, I don’t feel all that joyful.” But we rejoice because the one who is to come is already with us. The entire liturgy creates an atmosphere of joy and we have reason to be joyful and to smile. The traditional antiphon or entrance hymn sets the theme. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near" (Phil 4:4-5). Let me start with a humorous story. There was once a preacher who was trying to teach his students how to harmonize their facial expressions with what they say. “When you speak of heaven,” he said, “let your face light up, let it sparkle with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with God’s glory. But when speak of Hell – well, then, your ordinary face will do.” I hope that my smile will match the joyful theme of this Sunday’s readings. Isaiah says: I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul. Paul in the Second Reading exhorts us to “Rejoice always.” The joy in question is not necessarily feeling good when things are going well. It is possible to feel a certain kind of joy even when things are going badly, and that is what we call joy in the Lord who strengthens us in our hope of salvation. In the opening prayer for this Sunday, we ask God that, as we look forward to the birth of Christ, we may experience the joy of salvation. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading tells us that he is sent by God to announce the joyful news of salvation to the people of Israel. He proclaims a message of salvation to a people in bondage. The familiar passage of Isaiah 61 is a clear reference to the Messiah, who is already present. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord". In the Responsorial Psalm, we use the beautiful words of Mary in the Magnificat to express our joy as we, like Mary wait for the birth of our Savior. "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior".

My joy in the priesthood over the years has been very real, and I thank God for the gifts the Lord has given me to share with so many people in my ministry. In the second reading, Paul urges us to “Rejoice always” because we have already discovered God's saving action in Christ. Thus Paul invites us to rejoice at all times and to pray constantly, and for all things to give thanks to God. It might be difficult to find the realisation of this message of hope and joy in the broken world of today, where there is so much suffering. Like Isaiah, John the Baptist prophesies change for the better, because the one who is to come after him, Christ, is already here bringing good news to the poor. The message may be summed up as follows: 1) We are called upon to live as though the Lord was near; radiating the joy of our faith and hope in Christ who is already with us. 2) Our faith and hope in Christ move us to bring about the joy of Christ in our own lives. 3) That joy can be instrumental in transforming the world around us. All it takes is a smile that costs nothing, but radiates joy.

 ©2017 John S. Mbinda

Second Sunday of Advent Year B

Readings: Is 40 1-5, 9-11; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

Patience is an Advent virtue. This Sunday, the readings challenge us to wait for the Lord patiently. We could say that the readings draw our attention to the fact that God’s time is not our time. There is a story of a lucky man who struck a conversation with God! He asked God, "Lord, I have always wondered about your idea of time. What is a thousand years like for you?" God responded, "For me a thousand years is like a second." The man then asked, "What about money? What is a million dollars like for you?" And God answered, "For me a million dollars is like a penny." The man became eager and said, "Lord, could you give me just one penny?" God answered, "No problem, but you will have to wait for one second!" In the second reading, Peter's main point is patience. "With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day." Patience means waiting, sacrificing some immediate gratification for the sake of a greater good. Impatience, on the other hand, is the unwillingness to wait, wanting it all right now. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading, after years in exile, prophecies a new dawn that is about to break in for God's people. The darkness of the Babylonian exile is about to end. The Lord will lead his people into freedom, but a messenger of the Lord is sent ahead to prepare a way for the Lord in the wilderness and to "make a straight highway for …God across the desert". These words refer to a call for a change of heart; for personal and communal transformation; they usher in an immanent liberation of God’s people.

In the Gospel, we hear that the inhabitants of Jerusalem go to John the Baptist to be baptized, and “they acknowledged their sins.” During this Advent season, we too are invited to examine our consciences in terms of patience and self-control. Almost every sin you can imagine touches on our lack of patience and self-control. For example, stealing or cheating are also sins of impatience and lack of self-control! Rather than working hard, a person grabs things or money from others; rather than working hard at school, a student cheats in the exams to get better grades. Patience and self-control are very basic virtues that imply self-discipline, hard work and sacrifice. It is not easy to wait patiently with self-discipline, but in the end it brings results. This brings us to reflect on the Advent wreath which was actually invented originally to teach us about patience. Each Sunday of Advent the candle lights increase by 25% until the last Sunday when all 4 candles are lit indicating the fullness of the true light at Christmas – the fifth candle. Advent therefore teaches us how to wait patiently with self-discipline for the fullness of the true light, Jesus Christ. The message may be summed up as follows: 1) God’s time is not our time, and therefore the need to be patient which implies self-control. 2) The Lord’s delay in coming gives us an opportunity to accept God’s invitation to personal conversion. 3) Advent is not only a season for preparation, but also for practicing our patience and self-discipline; patience with each other at home, at school and at work, and by God’s grace to resist our impatience. Think about it. I am Msgr. John Mbinda. God bless you.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

First Sunday of Advent Year B

Readings: Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7; 1 Cor. 1:3-9; Mark 1:1-8

An Advent people; watching, waiting and prepared to receive the best gift God can ever give. But first a story. Some years ago there was some breaking news on TV that to me seemed to be a wonderful example of being spiritually prepared. 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 his money. The man responded calmly, “Go ahead and shoot. I just had my prayers and Bible reading.” The robber was confused by that reaction, and the man walked away without a single shot. I have to admit that I probably would have handed over my money, but I do admire that man’s courage – and above all his apparent readiness to meet the Lord. That is what Jesus tells us today. Be prepared. Be alert and watchful. On this First Sunday of Advent, we begin a journey of preparedness; a journey to becoming truly an advent people; a people actively engaged in their faith and hope for the one who comes; a journey that leads us to understand why Jesus comes into the world and into our lives. During these four weeks of Advent, the Sunday homilies will focus on how you and I can become more involved in our parish life, and so be transformed as we wait for the coming of the Lord at Christmas. The homilies will make use of ideas from Matthew Kelly’s book: The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. The reflections and stories in this book are captivating, engaging and transforming.

In the Gospel from Mark, Jesus offers a brief parable highlighting the importance of being watchful and spiritually prepared. The point of the parable is that you and I as disciples and stewards of Jesus Christ are called to be the best version of ourselves, and so be transformed into more dynamic and more engaged Catholics. Over the next four weeks towards Christmas, the readings will focus attention on spiritual transformation. As Matthew Kelly will propose, the best way to do that is by making use of four easy ways that can transform your life as a Catholic. The four ways are prayer, study, generosity (in time, talent and treasure) and evangelization. These four ways can be a game changer for your life. In the coming weeks, the homilies will guide us on how our lives can be transformed by doing one thing at a time. Matthew Kelly asks: “How do you eat an elephant?” Bit by bit! The first question we need to ask ourselves is, how is my spiritual health? To head towards being not just spiritually healthier, but the best spiritual health, you and I need a routine of 10 minutes daily. Can you find 10 minutes? I think I can. Prayer, reading and living my faith can lead to spiritual transformation and the best spiritual health. So what is the take away message? 1) Like the man in the story, one becomes a dynamic and engaged Catholic through prayer, study of their faith, but also through generosity in time, talent and treasure, and by sharing their faith. 2) These four ways can indeed transform your life to be the best version of yourself; to be more engaged and dynamic in parish life. 3) We become the best version of ourselves by doing one thing at a time; by taking baby steps. At the end of the day, spiritual transformation is not something we achieve but a gift of the Holy Spirit. So we need to let go and allow the Holy Spirit guide our lives.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe Year A

Readings: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Matt 25:31-46

The king who welcomes and rewards those who show compassion to the less fortunate, but also a king who rejects and punishes those who show no concern or do nothing. On this last Sunday of the year, as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, the theme of preparedness reaches a climax. The final judgement takes place on the basis of our compassion and care for others or the lack of it. The prophet Ezekiel in the First Reading uses the image of a shepherd to underline how much God loves and cares for his people with compassion and tenderness.  Thus, God assumes the role of shepherd for his sheep, finding the lost, gathering the scattered, healing the wounded and caring for all. God as Shepherd is also presented as Judge between one sheep and another, between rams and he-goats”, – a reference to separating the good from the bad. In the second reading, Paul portrays Jesus Christ as a powerful and awesome Lord and King. Yet we know that Jesus is the “King of Hearts” not “King of Clubs”. “In him shall all be brought to life.” Christ is presented as ruler to whom all power and authority must eventually give way. He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed will be death. Christ represents life, life in all its fullness. Christ’s purpose is to share that life with every single person. “For Just as in Adam all die, so too all in Christ all shall be brought to life”, having subjected all evil forces. The last enemy to be subjected is death.

The Gospel passage from Matthew 25 is referred by some scripture scholars as the “Ten Commandments of the New Testament”. The passage explains how our entire salvation in the end hinges on how we cared or did not care for the less fortunate. We are told how Jesus will come in glory, sit on the Throne where all the nations will be gathered. Then He will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep will be placed at His right and the goats at His left, which indicates the separation of the good and from the bad.   That separation is done in a special way that surprises all. They discover their ignorance of the presence of Jesus in their brothers and sisters. Now they have even greater surprise when Jesus invites them into the kingdom or rejects them right at the door, for just as you did or did not do it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did or did not do it to me.  The truth is that Jesus identifies with every person created in God’s image and likeness. We note that none of the things Jesus mentions are religious in nature; there is no direct mention of any commandments observed or violated; people are condemned not for doing anything that is morally wrong but inaction; for failure to show compassion. Whatever we do centres round Jesus because He is truly present in every person we meet. Today’s Gospel therefore echoes the eternal divine love and justice of Jesus Christ our King, who shows his compassion to those who have shown God’s mercy and compassion to their brothers and sisters. What message do we take home? 1) Jesus in the Gospel teaches us how his followers should live while on their earthly journey. 2) In response to that message we are challenged to show compassion and care to Christ’s less fortunate children, because at the final judgement, the criterion will be the very life and concern of Christ towards others and particularly the less fortunate whom we meet every day. 3) To put this message into practice, this coming season of Advent, one might choose a particular work of mercy, and do it out of Christian concern and solidarity. Concretely, one may visit the sick, the elderly, prisoners or volunteer to for one of the parish outreach ministries. There you will indeed meet Jesus Christ the King!

 ©2017 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving Day Homily 2017

Thanksgiving Day Homily Podcast: Listen to Homily
Readings: Sir 50:22-24; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Lk 17:11-19

“Sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts, always thanking God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 5:19) Those inspiring words from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians are the Entrance Antiphon in today’s Mass. The readings we hear today weave together a wonderful theme of thanksgiving and gratitude. The second reading sums up one of the best reflections on gratitude. “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way…” Paul is deeply aware of how God has blessed him in leading him to discover his faith in Christ and that is why he often pours out prayers of gratitude and exhorts his followers to do the same.

In the gospel, all ten lepers were cleaned but only one returned thanking Jesus and glorifying God. Luke deliberately uses two different words to draw a distinction between being cleansed and being healed. Cleansing refers to the physical cure of leprosy, while healing refers to being totally transformed – being saved. It is only when one deeply experiences healing that one is deeply touched by God’s mercy and able to thank God. That is why one of the lepers returns to thank Jesus. How grateful are you for all God’s blessings?

Thanksgiving Day is a special day when we pause to thank God for all the wonderful blessings we as Americans have received from God since the founding fathers of our nation. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln did a very unusual thing. In the midst of the darkest day in American history, in the midst of the Civil War which claimed more American lives than any other war, in the midst of great trial and tragedy, President Lincoln issued the following proclamation: “It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gifts of God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November (next) as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.”
Here at St. John’s we have so much to be grateful to God and to one another. In this context I would like to express deepest gratitude for your commitment to stewardship as a way of life. Thank you for your time, talent and treasure. A letter of gratitude will soon be mailed to all parishioners who filled out commitment cards. Thanksgiving Day therefore is not just a secular holiday but deeply religious. The Holy Eucharist we celebrate today is an expression of thanksgiving for the many blessings poured upon each family in our great nation. Shortly we will enter into the center of our prayer of thanksgiving – the Eucharistic Prayer when the presider says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the congregation responds, “It is right and just.” Then the presider will continue, “It is truly right and just…always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father, most holy…” May this celebration today and always express our gratitude to God for so many blessings. Happy Thanksgiving Day and may peace abide in your homes.

©2017 John S. Mbinda