Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16,19-21; Gal 5:1,13-18; Lk 9:51-62

Determination to follow God’s call and the cost of discipleship help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The first reading from the First Book of Kings is about the call of Elisha. The passage dramatizes the implications of responding to God’s call. Elisha does the unthinkable. What he does is madness in the eyes of the world, but a wonderful metaphor for total detachment. He slaughters the very oxen used for plowing! If you can imagine in today’s world a young man destroying all the farm machines and tools before going to the seminary that is what Elisha does by destroying the source of family livelihood.

In the Gospel, Jesus challenges some would be disciples by highlighting the excuses they give when God calls them. The Gospel applies to us too and challenges our temptation of telling Jesus “let me finish up a few things first, and I’ll follow you later when I have less responsibility”. Jesus invites us to let go everything so we may be free to follow him. Since the Proclamation of the kingdom comes first, Jesus wants us to follow him now, not tomorrow or later. Christ’s call radically implies some painful hard choices and a price to pay. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk. 10:34). In other words, following Jesus implies risking one's life, one's self-image, being rejected, ridiculed and despised. It means losing one's life, even by death, for the sake of Christ. Let me finish with a brief story.

A true story is told about a captain with 600 sailors who arrived by sail boats on the East Coast in the 16th century. The captain was so determined to stay that he took a risk by ordering the destruction of the sail boats by fire. Burning the boats meant that there was no turning back. With no other option, the sailors and their families took the risk but were now free to forge ahead and settle in the new world. This story illustrates the risk involved in freeing ourselves in order to respond to God’s call. There’s nothing like burning your boats to focus your mind on God’s call only without any other option. In God’s call there is no plan B! It means taking the risk to let go and let God take over your life. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Our response to God’s call implies doing the unthinkable like the captain in the story burning the sail boats, thereby freeing himself and the sailors to settle down in the new world.  2) Our response like that of Elisha means giving up our livelihood, family and friends in order to follow God’s call. 3) Christian stewardship implies lots of self-sacrifice including risking one's life, one's self-image, being rejected, ridiculed and despised. 4) You and I are called to let go in order to be free to follow Christ. The bottom line question is: what boats are you prepared to burn and so free yourself to follow Christ?

 ©2016 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Zach 12:10-11; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24

The readings this Sunday raise three important questions. Who is Jesus for us? What did he do for us? What is so important about coming to Mass Sunday after Sunday to thank Him? The prophet Zachariah in the first reading prophecies, "They shall look upon him whom they have pierced." In the Gospel Jesus identifies himself with the one who is pierced. "The Son of Man must suffer greatly...and be killed and on the third day be raised." At every Mass we look upon the one who was pierced for our sins. In doing so, we participate in the mystery of the One who, through his suffering, death and resurrection, has give us life. The readings challenge us to follow Jesus carrying our own cross daily. Our self-offering is a sign that we know who Jesus Christ is.

To illustrate this point, I refer to a dramatic story written by Matthew Kelly in his book Rediscovering Catholicism. The main character is a courageous dad and his only son. The story is about a mystery plague that breaks out in Asia, then spreads to Africa and Europe. The president tries to protect the United States by cancelling all fights to our country, but it is too late. The plague appears in New York and pretty soon people throughout the country fall ill and die. As more and more perish, it seems that the whole world is doomed. After days of terrible news, a ray of hope appears. Research scientists announce that they have discovered a possible cure. The antidote, however, requires the blood from uncontaminated person. Suddenly the scientists find such a person - a young boy; an only son. His dad rushes him to the hospital. The doctors explain they may need all the boy's blood. The father chokes as he looks at his son, who says, it is OK, dad. The antidote requires every drop of the boy's blood - but it stops the plague. Some months later, people around the world gather in gratitude to remember the boy. The dad attends one of the services where people’s gratefulness moves him deeply. Even though each service takes a fair amount of time, no one says, "It's too long." Or, "I feel bored." Or, "I have other things to do." No, they all realize that without the boy's sacrifice, they would all have died.

This moving story helps us to understand why in the Gospel Jesus wants us to know who He is and what he did for us. “Who do you say that I am?” This question is also addressed more directly to us today: Who do you say that I am? Who is Jesus Christ for me? In other words, what difference does Jesus make in my life? If his life, death and resurrection make any difference, then like in the story, we realize that without His dying and rising we would all have perished. The message this Sunday threefold: 1) Jesus offered his last drop of blood that we may have life. Today Jesus challenges us to give our lives that others may live. 2) At every Mass we offer our praise and thanksgiving to the One who offered His last blood, and thus we must never get tired or bored in doing so; 3) The Eucharist we receive is like the antidote in the story. All who receive it worthily are saved from the terrible deadly plague. The implications are rather serious. Not to receive the antidote, may indeed lead to spiritual death.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Friday, June 10, 2016

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: 2 Sam 12:7-10,13; Gal 2:16, 19-21; Lk 7:368:3

Royal scandal, blinded by lust, greed and pride are the key words that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on the human drama of sinfulness in the face of the mystery of God’s mercy and forgiveness. In the first reading, we see the dark side of King David, whose actions combined, truly deserve a death sentence. David’s life not only sounds like a Greek tragedy, but also like a modern Hollywood script on a celebrity with one scandal after another. Indeed it sounds like this morning’s latest celebrity gossip. David lustfully seduces Bathsheba the wife of Uria, one of his top generals and sleeps with her. She becomes pregnant, and when David tries to cover up unsuccessfully, he arranges a covert murder of Uria on the battle field. The point of the First Reading is to show us how David is blinded by lust, greed and pride and how God leads him to conversion and forgiveness. The prophet Nathan is sent by God to persuade David to see his guilt. He acknowledges his sinfulness before Nathan, who speaks for God. “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’. Then Nathan assures David, ‘The Lord for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die.” In this passage, we have the answer to why we go to confess our sinfulness to a priest like David. We need an assurance in human language to experience God’s forgiveness.

In the Gospel, the mystery of God’s mercy and forgiveness is dramatized in the story of a woman who seeks God’s mercy and forgiveness from Jesus. Besides crashing a dinner party, the woman is willing to break all protocols of Jewish customs by uncovering her head and loosening her hair in public. She does the very opposite of what Simon the Pharisee should have done according to Jewish hospitality. All Simon could do was to express displeasure for Jesus allowing the woman to wash his feet with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with costly perfume, all symbols of profound love and an expression of real sorrow for her sins. That is why Jesus tells the story of the two debtors that points to the woman’s forgiveness of her many sins. Jesus assures her that her “sins are forgiven…..” and her faith has saved her. Like the story of David and Bathsheba, the story of the woman in the Gospel captures our imagination. What is important is that we see ourselves in the two stories of sinfulness, conversion and forgiveness. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as the Lord is quick to forgive David, so too the Lord is quick to forgive us once we acknowledge our sins. 2) God does not condemn or alienate the sinner, but leads them towards repentance and acceptance of mercy. We too must welcome those alienated by the Church, thereby being instrumental of their conversion, forgiveness and reconciliation. 3) The readings give us a summary of the human drama of sinfulness as well as the reason why we need to confess to a priest.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Tenth Sunday Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:17-24; Gal 1:11-19; Lk 7:11-17

A funeral procession is transformed into a joyful celebration of life; a mother’s tears of sorrow transformed into tears of joy! In the Gospel, we have an emotionally charged story of Jesus meeting a funeral procession at the city gate of Naim. The dead person happens to be the only son of a widow in the city. The mother is in front as the funeral procession meets Jesus. On seeing the sorrowful mother Jesus raises the young man to life when he unexpectedly says, "Young man I say to you, get up!" Suddenly, the dead man sits up on the stretcher. Getting off the stretcher in the midst of deep emotions, he embraces his mother. A funeral procession is transformed into a joyful celebration of life; a sorrowful mother’s tears are changed into tears of joy! It is no surprise that the people immediately exclaim: “God has visited his people.”  That is the Good News.

The Church’s ministry of healing through Holy Anointing and the compassionate ministry of bereavement touches the people affected deeply. In 2011anointing, I was engaged in hospital ministry for six months from January to June. In those few months I was deeply touched by the way families and those in hospitals appreciate our priestly ministry of healing. I witnessed people recover even from extreme danger; I noticed real conversion of patients deeply touched by God’s grace and led to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That might explain why Pope Francis on Holy Thursday exhorted us all to go out to the people and use the Holy Oil of the sick; to go out to the sheep and even smell like the sheep! Anointing with the Holy Oils has a healing as well as a soothing sacramental effect. Going to the sheep similarly is sacramental. When the shepherd visits the sheep, Jesus the Good Shepherd is there assuring, comforting, securing and nourishing the sheep. That is the Good News of God visiting his people!
So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings reveal to us our God of life who transforms death into life and sickness into wholeness; 2) We are challenged to care for the sick, the suffering and the bereaved, and to be instruments of God’s gift of life and healing; 3) We become servants of those who need our care by being instruments and sacraments of God’s presence to them! Being instruments and sacraments to others is precisely what St. Teresa of Avila meant when she said,

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
With compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” (St. Teresa of Avila, Poems and Prayers)

That is the Good news, God visiting his people!

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Monday, May 23, 2016

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ Year C

Readings: Gn 14:18-20; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Lk 9:11b-17

Eucharistic communion, social justice and inclusiveness are the key words that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ underlines our unity with Christ - the Body, and we - his members. Christ is the source of our communion with one another and with the Father. But while the Body and Blood of Christ unites and nourishes us spiritually, we can easily forget or neglect the social justice dimension of the Eucharist. Yes, there is a social justice dimension of the Eucharist. On the Occasion of the Year of the Eucharist (2004 to 2005), Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Stay with us Lord proposed that diocesan and parish communities commit themselves in a particular way to responding to one of the many forms of poverty present in our world. He said that “The criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged, will be our mutual love and in particular our concern for those in need”. The Apostle Paul teaches that it is “unworthy” of a Christian community to partake of the Lord’s Supper amid division and indifference towards the poor (1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-34). Our Catechism (#1397) underlines this point in reminding us that “To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren”. When the Eucharistic meal is shared equally by the faithful there is no division. The solemnity draws our attention to the continued injustice, discrimination and other forms of structural injustices that reflect either a lack of understanding of the social dimensions of the Eucharist or a lack of willingness to act on the social imperatives of the Eucharist. Our celebration of the Eucharist therefore cannot be divorced from its social implications. The US Catholic Bishops in 2003 said that, the Eucharist challenges us “to seek a place at the table of life for all God’s children” (cf. A Place at the Table).

The Gospel reading from Luke on the miracle of the multiplication of loaves underlines this social-justice dimension pointing to Christ’s compassion and love that is renewed every day at Eucharistic celebration. By eating this heavenly food, we become one Ohana in Christ, sharing in his life, his strength, his purpose and mission. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The Eucharist is a real memorial of the sacrifice Christ offered for the liberation of everything that oppresses human beings, but above all liberation from sin. 2) Our Sunday celebration of the Eucharist cannot be divorced from the injustices around us because by its very nature, the Eucharist is a proclamation of communion and inclusiveness. 3) There is an essential relation between our sharing of the Eucharist each Sunday and the food items we bring for distribution to the poor through our parish social ministry. Our Eucharistic faith is essentially linked to feeding the hungry.

©2016 John S. Mbinda