Friday, April 19, 2019

Easter Sunday Morning Year A B C

Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Col. 3:1-4; John 20:1-9 

Christ is risen! Alleluia! It was Easter morning and a man was coming out of the church after Easter Sunday Mass. The pastor was standing at the door as always to shake hands as people leave the church. He grabbed the man by the hand and pulled him aside. The pastor said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!" The man replied, "Father I'm already in the Army of the Lord." Then the pastor questioned, "How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?" He whispered back, "Father, I'm in the secret service!” Secret service or not, Christ wants us here every Sunday. That is the only way we are nourished and equipped to be in the service for Christ. Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are interwoven because what we celebrate this morning is the mystery proclaimed at the Easter Vigil. It is important therefore to see the two moments as continuous. Easter Vigil recalls and re-enacts the mystery of God's salvation for us in the resurrection of Christ. Easter Sunday not only focuses our attention on recalling the resurrection of Jesus and its impact on the first disciples, but also on the meaning of this event for our own lives and for our faith. Easter Sunday highlights not only our faith in the resurrection, but we also joyfully proclaim and witness our faith in the Risen Lord among us.

Proclamation and witness are the two central themes running through today's readings. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter speaks about his own experience and shares that experience with the listening crowds. Because of his experience of knowing with utter conviction that Jesus, who died on the Cross, is now alive, Peter is so filled with the joy of it, that he simply must share that same joy with others – so that it can be theirs, too. Similarly the experience of the resurrection by Paul leads him to advice that we keep focused on the risen Christ, since Christ is our life. For Paul, we know that his experience of the Risen Lord brought a total revolution in his life, and gave him a total new vision of things and especially of the meaning of Jesus' life and message. In the Gospel, we have the experience of the empty tomb as a sign that Jesus is risen, He is not there. This first day of the week is full of emotions and commotion. The discovery of the empty tomb by Mary of Magdala leads to her running back to tell Peter and John that the Lord's body is not in the tomb. That experience may have been very disappointing, but it was also a clear message that Christ is risen as he had said. John, who writes the Gospel, tells us that he entered into the empty tomb, “he saw and he believed”. He believed that the Lord is risen indeed. That experience strengthened the faith of the disciples in the resurrection, and completely transformed their lives. Renewed in their conviction, they were moved to witness to the mystery of the resurrection. The message we take home on this Easter day is that we too like the disciples be moved to proclaim the resurrection of Christ in our lives to others without fear. May the risen Lord give us the grace and the courage to live as people deeply touched by our faith in the resurrection, and proclaim that “Christ in risen indeed, alleluia”.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Lent Year C (RCIA Option Year A)

Readings: Ez 37: 12-14; Rm 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Life and death; hope and despair are the key words that sum up the message of this Sunday. All three readings this Sunday lead us to meet Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. It is around this central theme, that the Church celebrates the third Scrutiny with those preparing for the Easter Sacraments. In the prayer over the candidates this Sunday, the presider says: "Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving sacraments, and deliver them from the spirit of corruption." The readings remind us of real life experiences of the destructive forces of death in real families. We are reminded of the pain of death faced by millions of people every day all over the world. The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading prophesies hope for the devastated nation of Israel, urging them to look beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to a new future, when God’s Spirit will restore Israel. If you are facing grief, brokenness or strife in the family, there is good news for you. Like the prophet Ezekiel, you and I are challenged to give hope and comfort to those who encounter the shattering effects of death, despair and brokenness in the family. We are called and sent to counteract the forces of death and give hope and comfort.

In the perspective of stewardship, the episode of the raising of Lazarus to life offers three challenges. The first challenge is the initiative to respond to God’s grace. At times when we are spiritually dead, we need someone to roll away the stone that blocks the door of faith and trust, so that we can begin to be alive again and breathe the fresh air of God’s grace. Indeed we are our sister’s and brother’s keepers; we are stewards of our brothers and sisters. It is a sin of omission to see your sister or brother spiritually dead (in a state of sin) and choose to do nothing. Rolling away the stone that keeps such persons in the tomb is bold evangelization – the fourth sign of a dynamic Catholic. The second challenge is listening to God calling us and inviting us to come out of the tomb. Some people just prefer to remain in their sleep. We need to wake up. Anthony DeMelo sums up this point beautifully. “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep. They're born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up!” Responding to the voice of Jesus calling us to come out of our tombs leads us to be the best version of ourselves and become God’s instruments of transforming others by waking them up from their slumber of sloth to life again. “Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.” (Matthew Kelly) The third challenge is the imperative of “untying and letting others go!” This is a powerful image of stewardship. Being raised from the dead; from our spiritual slumber is not enough. Imagine if someone had not challenged us to wake up from our spiritual slumber! We would still be lying there in burial clothes around our body, unable to untie ourselves. We need stewards, who care about others; who clean their wounds, bandage them and care for them until they recover from the shock of being robbed of God’s grace, beaten up and left on the roadside to die! The message of this Sunday may be summed up in a few points. 1) As stewards we are sent raise Lazarus to Life; to roll the stone away for someone. 2) We are challenged to help others hear the voice of Jesus calling, so they may respond and come out of the tomb. 3) We are further challenged to help to untie those still in bondage by leading them to discover the best way to live, so they can be the best version of themselves.  That is evangelization, the fourth sign of a dynamic Catholic. Be bold, be Catholic, be a dynamic Catholic!  

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Lent RCIA Option Year A

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13; Eph. 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Light and darkness, sight and blindness are the main contrasting images in the readings of this Sunday. The central message of this Sunday is that Christ heals our spiritual blindness in our Baptism and makes us bearers of the light. That is the meaning of the second Scrutiny celebrated this Sunday for those preparing for Baptism at Easter. The celebrant prays over the Candidates and anoints them with Holy Oil in a rite of exorcism that symbolically restores their spiritual sight so that they begin to see Jesus, follow him become bearers of the light. The purpose of the second scrutiny is to symbolically restore the spiritual sight of the catechumens, so that they can see Jesus and follow him. For those already Baptized, Christ renews our spiritual vision as it were from 10/10 to 20/20 vision, so that we can begin to see as God sees (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). The three readings help us to see a sharp contrast between light and darkness. In the first reading, Samuel struggles as it were in darkness, trying to find a king, but can only succeed to find the young David when he begins to see as God sees. In the second reading, Paul reminds us that we were once darkness, but now because of our Baptism we are light in the Lord. We are therefore challenged to be bearers of the light.

The story of the man born blind in the Gospel contrasts sharply the vision of the man born blind and the blindness of the Pharisees. The Gospel reminds us that our Baptism enlightens us to see and embrace God’s vision, life, goodness and truth. Our Baptism commits us to be bearers of the light and to confront the spiritual blindness of the world with the light of truth. The passage clearly contrasts light and darkness, faith and the stubborn refusal to accept the truth. In the story, Jesus not only gives the blind man his sight, physical light, but he also gives him the light of faith. The story is about you and me in moments of our own spiritual blindness and darkness. In our selfishness; our inclinations for pleasure; in our greed for material things, we become spiritually blind and lose our spiritual sight. The message we take home is threefold: 1) In baptism, Christ has healed our blindness and given us the light of faith, so that, like the healed blind man, we may proclaim Christ boldly despite the opposition from those still in darkness. 2) Just as the blind man after being healed began to witness to Christ, we too are challenged to become bearers of the light even in times of opposition. 3) Just as in the Gospel story, we must not allow dishonesty and the distortion of the truth to dim our light, because Christ is our Light.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Third Sunday of Lent Year C (RCIA Option A)

Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42

The readings this Sunday focus on Evangelization, the fourth sign of a dynamic Catholic. Thirst and water, spiritual dehydration and self-scrutiny, are the metaphors that focus on the central message of this Sunday. If you are thirsting for spiritual nourishment, there is good news for you this Sunday. The readings focus on the symbolism of thirst and water, leading us to self-scrutiny and our need for spiritual nourishment. The readings also help to connect with the first of three Scrutinies celebrated this Sunday with those elected for Baptism on the First Sunday of Lent. The Scrutinies are a time of soul-searching and repentance, during which the candidates for Baptism and us too seek to uncover all that is weak, defective or sinful in our lives. They also provide an occasion to strengthen our positive qualities. The symbolism of thirst and water is very central in all three readings. In the Exodus story, the Israelites are in the open desert. They are too thirsty and begin to complain to Moses who is instructed by God to strike a rock in order to get water for them to drink. If you have ever experienced dehydration, you know how deadly it can be. Almost 300 people in the US die annually of dehydration. 2.2 million children die of dehydration annually in the world. Body drought that causes “brain fog” is the strongest type of stress and depression. Spiritual dehydration is similarly fatal. Without spiritual nourishment we simply deteriorate from weakness to weakness until we die of sin spiritually.

In the Gospel, Jesus is at Jacob's well seated there in the mid-day sun and he is thirsty. A Samaritan woman arrives to draw water. Jesus who sees her spiritual dehydration asks the woman for some water to drink, but his intention is to use water to lead her to discover the best way to live; to discover her own spiritual thirst; her need for new life in Christ, the water of life. Jesus knows that she has quite a reputation in her village, having been married five times and living with a sixth man! In the course of an interesting dialogue, Jesus thirsts for her conversion, and gradually leads her to scrutinize herself, but goes further to tell her about her secret life. Though embarrassed at Jesus’ scrutiny and insight into her private life, she is led gradually to confess that she knows that the Messiah – the Christ is coming, and when he comes he will tell us everything. At that point, Jesus reveals his true identity to her. “I who am speaking to you... I am he”. She is first surprised and then becomes completely converted and accepts the water of life that Jesus offers to quench her spiritual thirst. This woman who first came for a jug of water, now discovers the best way to live. She puts the jug down and becomes a disciple and an apostle sent to her village where she tells her people: “Come and see”, come and see the person who showed me the best way to live! So she goes home not only transformed but also refreshed after drinking the life-giving water that only Jesus can give. As we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the candidates for Baptism, the readings invite us too to scrutinize ourselves and so discover our spiritual thirst for the water of life before we become spiritually dehydrated. The message we take home this Sunday is threefold: 1) Like the Samaritan woman, this too is our day of Scrutiny, conversion and change. 2) Like the Samaritan woman we are led to discover that only Christ, Water of Life satisfies our spiritual thirst. 3) At the end of the Mass today, we too like the Samaritan woman are sent to invite others to “Come and see”, to come and see someone who has shown us the best way to live so that they too may become the best version of themselves. Now, that is evangelization.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Second Sunday of Lent Year C

Readings: Gn 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28-36

Transformation and transfiguration into Christ’s glory are the key words that help us to focus on the central point of this Sunday readings. The readings focus on the mystery of God’s action that transforms us and gives us a glimpse of future glory. In the first reading, God reaches out to Abram and through Christ to people of all nations with a covenant of blessings and prosperity. The covenant with Abram is sealed in the context of a sacrifice while Abram is transfigured in the presence of the Lord. “Now as the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep and terror seized him”. Abram puts his faith in the Lord, and therefore God affirms his covenant of future blessings and glory. Paul in the second reading urges us to become deeply aware of the purpose of our life if we trust in God’s promises in Christ, because “Our homeland is in heaven”. We must therefore look forward to the time when Christ will transform our bodies into his own image. Paul concludes by appealing that we remain faithful in the Lord to the end. This is because God “is not finished with us” but still working on us, transforming us into the best version of ourselves.

In the Gospel, Luke links the account of the transfiguration to the paschal mystery of Christ. "Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face changed..." Luke in this episode underlines the link between the passion and the transfiguration; the difficult journey towards Jerusalem and Jesus' entry into glory through his death and resurrection. Jesus is transfigured because of his intimate relationship with the Father. The transfiguration takes place as Jesus enters into prayer before the Father, to reflect on his vision and the ultimate fulfillment of his mission in the world. The Gospel reminds us that we too must not forget our extraordinary mission in this world, namely our own final transfiguration. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like Abraham in the first reading, God takes us aside during this Lenten Season to speak to us, so that like Abraham our faith and trust in God may be deepened as God reveals himself to us. 2) As we continue our journey through Lent, Jesus invites us to accompany him on the mountain; a place where we too will encounter a deeper experience of his glory, and so be transformed into more effective instruments of his message 3) Like Jesus, on this mountain of prayer, we reflect and refocus on our journey, training our minds to focus on heavenly things, for “our citizenship is in heaven”. In other words, during this season of Lent we are invited to walk toward our extraordinary mission of holiness so that Christ may in the end transfigure us into his own image.

©2019 John S. Mbinda