Thursday, February 22, 2018

Second Sunday of Lent Year B

Readings: Gen 22:1-2,9,10-13,18-18; Rm 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10

Letting go, self-surrender, no matter how much we must give up. These are some of the phrases that help us to focus on the message of this Sunday. The readings help us to reflect on the meaning of self-surrender to the seemingly irrational demands of God. The drama of Abraham accepting to sacrifice his only son Isaac, leads us to become aware that God asks us to give up the things we value most during this Lent. Lent is an excellent moment to examine those things we hold dear, and to see the extent to which we are prepared (or unwilling) to let go. Abraham's readiness to sacrifice Isaac is an excellent example self-surrender. The episode gives us an idea of the cost, as well as the rewards of one's surrender. There is suffering to be endured, but there are blessings from God too. "Because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you…". Paul in the second reading provides an interpretation of God's promises to Abraham and Sarah citing excerpts from the First Reading of today. But Paul is very much aware of the paradox of God's demand on us; a God who, like Abraham, gives us his own example by offering his only Son. "Since God did not spare his Son…we may be certain…that He will not refuse anything He can give". Both the story of Abraham and Paul's catechesis invite us to let our fears go and surrender ourselves, no matter how much we must give up.

The Gospel is about the dramatic episode of the transfiguration on the mountain before the three disciples, Peter, James and John. The event is a clear manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God; an anticipation of his glory, beyond his death on the cross in the resurrection. Thus the transfiguration sets the stage for Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection. That prediction in Mark is the beginning of the intensifying enmity between Jesus and the religious leaders eventually leading to his trial, death and resurrection. The central message of the episode therefore is that God offers us his only Son Jesus, in order to save us through the Cross. There is a certain parallel here between Abraham's readiness to offer his only son Isaac to God, and the fulfilment of that story in God offering his only Son to die for our salvation. The transfiguration was one way of convincing the disciples that Jesus was truly the Son of God. They actually saw his glory. The voice coming from a cloud was perhaps the most convincing. "This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him". Thus the Gospel not only leads us to the mystery of Christ, but also invites us to listen and to surrender ourselves completely to his word that Christ may reveal himself to us. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac is an excellent example for us, because the story gives us an idea of the cost, as well as the rewards of one's surrender to God. 2) Just as Jesus surrendered himself to the point of death on the cross for our salvation, we too are called to endure the cross of the Lenten penance in self-surrender. 3) We are therefore invited to open our hearts to be transformed by Christ. Concretely that means going through our Lenten discipline in order to enter into the glory of Christ’s resurrection.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, February 15, 2018

First Sunday of Lent Year B

Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

A time of fulfilment; a time of spiritual surgery; a time to turn around; a time to change; a time to be renewed by Christ. At the beginning of each Lenten Season, we are called to renew our response to God's covenant with us, the promise that God made with each of us at Baptism. Lent is meant to be a time for our spiritual surgery and tune up; a time of getting closer to the Lord. It is a time to prepare for what lies ahead. Noah's story in the first reading fits perfectly with this understanding of the Lenten season. The image of Noah building the ark and the deluge destroying humanity and all creation opens a window into the drama of human struggle with evil. The flood was the result of humankind's desire to seek security in pleasure and wickedness, despite God's warning. The people of Noah's time turned a deaf ear, and even laughed at Noah building the ark. Since they did not listen to God's invitation to conversion, God used a language people could understand best - a catastrophic deluge. The saving of Noah, his family and part of creation, points to God's salvation in Christ through the New Ark of the Covenant- the Church, in the waters of Baptism.

The Gospel continues with the same theme of repentance in the words of Jesus: "This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel". Jesus had just returned from the wilderness where he had been fasting and in the end tempted by the devil and was able to overcome all those temptations. Jesus is convinced that it is possible to overcome temptations no matter how strong they might be; it is possible to turn away from sin and turn to God. By overcoming those temptations, Jesus gives us his own example of putting up a good fight. We too can face our temptations and put up a good fight. That is why Jesus makes such an urgent appeal. "This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel." The time has come for us to make a decisive turn around, and to enter into right relationship with God. The idea of repentance in the Old Testament is summed up in the Greek term "metanoia", a turning way from sin and returning to right action. Jesus' call comes out of this background appealing for repentance and "a change of heart"; a total spiritual transformation. This is a call for a radical change in our way of seeing life and the world. It involves a total transformation and assuming a new perspective in life based on the values Jesus teaches.  As we begin Lent, it is important that we sharpen our understanding of this wonderful season. Lent is a time of inner spiritual surgery, a time when we search deep within our souls and personality to see where and how we have offended God, in order to amend, to change and transform our lives in readiness for the Paschal mystery of Easter. Lent is a time we try to be what we should be (perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect), in order to set the world on fire through our witness of life. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) At the beginning of each Lenten season, we are called to take to heart the message of Jesus in today’s Gospel “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. 2) Lent is therefore a call for a radical change of heart in response to Jesus’ call for repentance and for spiritual transformation of our lives. 3) Lent is a decisive turn around in order to enter into a deeper relationship with God. In so doing we become one with God.
©2018 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ash Wednesday Year ABC

Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-4,5-6,12-13,14&17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2, Matt 6:1-6,16-18

We gather today to celebrate “Ash Wednesday,” the first of forty days of the Lenten Season that precedes Easter. The name “Ash Wednesday” simply comes from the fact that this first day of the 40 days of Lent is always on a Wednesday, and the symbol used to mark this day is a sign of the cross with ashes on our foreheads. Through the ritual of ashes that is symbolic of penance, we are reminded that we as sinners are but dust and ashes. The ashes also remind us that we are in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness; that we need to turn away from sin. Where did this practice come from? Church history tells us that the liturgical practice of applying ashes on one’s forehead at the beginning of the Lenten Season goes back as far as the eight century. This was accompanied by different forms of fasting, prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving. The first clear evidence of Ash Wednesday is around 960 AD, and in the 12th century people began using palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday for ashes.

Originally, ashes were imposed only on public sinners. These were excluded from the Church from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday. During that 40-day period, they did public penance outside the community of faith; they could not be present for the Eucharist. On Holy Thursday, in a very moving ceremony, they were brought back into the Church, reconciled, and ritually forgiven by the bishop in a dramatic ceremony. As time went on, ordinary sinners asked for the ashes as a sign of their repentance. The ashes given today are a sign that we want to repent; we want to turn our lives around (conversion) in preparation for Easter. The scripture readings for Ash Wednesday highlight this call to conversion. The first reading from the prophet Joel is a clear call to return to the Lord "with fasting, and weeping and mourning." We return with trust because our God is "gracious and merciful...slow to anger, rich in kindness and relenting in punishment." The prophet Joel does not call only for individual conversion. His appeal is to the entire community. "Blow the trumpet in Zion, proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast." Imitating that biblical tradition and later penitents over the centuries, we all become a community of penitents seeking to grow closer to God through repentance and renewal. With a different tone, Paul appeals to us in the second reading to "be reconciled to God." He insists that "Now is a very acceptable time; now is the day of salvation." In other words, the time to return to the Lord is now, this holy season, this very day. The Gospel for Ash Wednesday gives us good advice on how we are to act during Lent. Jesus speaks of the three main disciplines of the season: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. All of these spiritual activities, Jesus teaches us, are to be done without any desire for recognition by others. There is a certain irony used the Gospel! We are told to wash our faces so that we do not appear to be doing penance. Yet on Ash Wednesday we go around with "dirt" on our foreheads! This is just another way of Jesus reminding us not to perform religious acts for public recognition. We don't wear the ashes to proclaim our holiness but to acknowledge publicly that we are indeed a community of sinners in need of repentance and God’s mercy. May Ash Wednesday be the beginning of our spiritual transformation and reconciliation with God. May our prayer, fasting and almsgiving be effective means of deepening our relationship with God during this season.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Lev 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor. 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45

On this Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we celebrate World Marriage Day. Ironically, the readings are not about marriage, but about the mystery of Christ, a friend of outcasts, who does the unthinkable by touching the untouchable out of compassion and God’s loving care. This coming week, we also celebrate one of the legends from the third century, St. Valentine who also did the unthinkable by daring the Roman Emperor. Valentine was a young priest who was martyred in Rome because the Emperor had issued a decree delaying marriage for young men in order to send then into the military. He argued that the unmarried ones proved to be better soldiers. Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and out of compassion continued to perform marriages of young men and women, but one day he was caught and martyred. What the saint was doing out of compassion was to bring about healing of the human heart that yearns for fulfilment. The Church celebrates marriage precisely in order to bring about that deeper healing that only the Sacrament of Marriage can bring about. Marriage is a communion of two persons, a man and a woman, whose love is configured to and shaped by, the very love and compassion Jesus reveals in the healing he performs in today’s Gospel.

Therefore, the love that forms the communion between husband and wife is the same healing and compassionate love of Jesus who joins every couple together for the healing of their body and spirit. That is why we call marriage a sacrament. Marriage as a sacrament makes the love and compassion of Jesus Christ intimately present. Christian marriage is in fact a participation in God’s economy of healing love that comes from Jesus Christ in the sacrament of marriage. In married love, God’s grace continually brings about that mutual healing and compassion that Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel. It is not just about healing of sickness, but about the healing of our human yearning for communion that is anticipated through the sacrament of marriage. The Sacrament of Matrimony is therefore a foretaste of God’s eternal love, which is the goa of all human beings. We all yearn for love, and we will only be completely fulfilled in love when we rest in God.

On this World Day of Marriage, the Church offers an opportunity to all married couples to strengthen their bond of communion in a society where marriage is under attack from all sides. Whatever it takes to strengthen your union with each other and with Christ, do it. The old saying of Father Patrick Payton is still valid today as it was in the nineteen fifties. “The family that prays together remains together.” 1) The central message of this Sunday is that Jesus out of compassion can touch, heal and strengthen every marriage with his grace. 2) But like all the people who were touched and healed by Christ in the gospels, we must never be ashamed of our weakness and need to be healed in our married relationships. 3) If ever we find our marriage on the rocks, we must never remain there but go forward seeking healing from Jesus, and he will once again pour out into your hearts the Father mercy and that youso badly desire. I am Msgr. John Mbinda. God bless you.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Deut 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

Best way to live, credibility, teaching with authority and healing are some of the phrases that help to capture the message of this Sunday. The readings draw our attention to the importance of credible witness from one's faith conviction. The bottom line is that if our words match the life we live, many people would be astonished by what we do and say, because the Spirit will be working in us. The main point in the first reading is to show that a prophet’s credibility comes directly from God. As we hear at the end of the reading, there were and still there are false prophets today, who presume to speak in the Lord's name or those who “speak in the name of other gods…”, claiming to speak the truth, while at the same time embracing hostility and divisiveness. The response to the psalm calls us to soften our hearts if we hear the Lord's voice. But we must be aware that society today may indeed present to us other "voices", and therefore the need to discern. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, Paul counsels purity of body through celibacy and virginity as a sign of the Kingdom, in other words strive towards holiness. His argument: we need to dedicate ourselves totally to the Lord, because this world is passing away. While Paul does not devalue married life, he is convinced that nothing can outweigh the immanent second coming of the Lord. Living that kind of authentic life is the best way to live and would give convincing witness.

In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus gives a concrete example of what it means to speak from one's faith conviction. We can always tell the difference between a written message and a message given from faith conviction. A message from the heart touches people deeply. That is the conviction with which Jesus speaks this Sunday. We hear in the Gospel that "the people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority”. Jesus needed no credentials. The source of his authority was his intimate relationship with the Father that evoked a sense of deep conviction behind his teaching. We also encounter the dramatic episode of chasing away an evil spirit from a person in the Synagogue. Why was Jesus able to perform such wonders and heal people of their sickness? Why did his teaching make such a deep impression? While the exorcism Jesus performed was dramatic, what really convinced the people more was his intimate relationship with the Father. He spoke from the heart. Whatever happened during those moments of teaching and healing, Jesus wanted to reveal the Kingdom of God so that people might experience life in its fullness. So what message do we draw from the readings? 1) The readings challenge us to open our hearts so that the teaching of Jesus may transform our lives and his healing power may restore us to the best version of ourselves. 2) The source of Jesus’ power to heal and teaching with authority was his intimate relationship with the Father. We too can give credible witness with authority if we have close relationship with the Father through prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. 3) The healing of the person with unclean spirit is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus still proclaims through the Church and through us even today. Miracles still do happen! The best proof is the power of God’s word that transforms us to live in the best way and to share our faith with conviction.

©2018 John S. Mbinda