Sunday, July 30, 2017

August 6 Solemnity of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Readings: Dan 7:9-10, 14-14; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9

Transfigured, shone like the sun, Moses and Alijah appeared, listen to him and raised from the dead are some of the key phrases in the gospel of this Sunday. This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, a feast that originates from the 5th century and entered the universal calendar in the 15th century. The Transfiguration is a central mystery of Christ’s life.. The Transfiguration recalls the old covenant of Sinai and looks forward to the New Covenant. It confirms Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, but also reveals that the Messiah saves us through the exodus of the Cross. It looks back to Jesus’ Baptism and looks forward to Jesus’ Resurrection. It is a manifestation of the glory that the Son received eternally from the Father, but also looks forward to the glory he will receive through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, and is a foretaste of the glory of his second coming. It unveils the hidden glory of the Son in his first coming and looks forward to the glory we will receive from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.

The Transfiguration is also a confrontation with evil. The event prefigures Jesus’ resurrection: “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Mt 17:2) Beautiful, but what we sometimes miss is that, in order to arrive at that goal, Jesus had to first confront a great evil - everything that would happen when he faced the authorities in Jerusalem. Moses and Elijah came to Jesus to strengthen him. Moses had faced the horrible evil of slavery, the reduction of the Israelites to objects who could be used at the pleasure of the Pharaoh. Elijah confronted the Israelites themselves when they began to worship the pagan gods of temple prostitution and child sacrifice. In 2015, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass with a group of my parishioners at the Church the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor during our pilgrimage. Deacon Romeo who was on pilgrimage with the group gave the homily and after told me how deeply humbled he was to be asked to give the homily at this most sacred place where Our Lord was transfigured before the apostles. In this homily, he said that this was the closest to being in touch with what Peter, James and John experienced on that Mountain. As we hear from the gospel, the apostles had not understood what it all meant until Jesus rose from the tomb. The message of the Transfiguration may be summed up in three points. 1) Just as Moses brought three men up the mountain covered by the glory of God and the cloud (Exodus 24:9-18), Jesus brings three Apostles with him to witness his glory. 2) At the Transfiguration, the voice of the Father said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”. We are therefore called upon to listen to what Jesus is saying to us today and always. 3) The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he ‘will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.

Msgr. John S. Mbinda

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: 1 Kings 3:5,7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Matt 13:44-52

The kingdom - a treasure of great value and letting go in order to possess it, are the phrases that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. This Sunday Jesus uses three parables to help us discover how we could move from life without Christ to life in Christ by living the values of the kingdom. In other words, Jesus gives us concrete examples on personal commitment and response to kingdom values, the treasure of great value. In the first two parables, Jesus uses familiar images and commercial values of his time, which are still valid today. In the first parable, Jesus shows us that once we have discovered the value of the kingdom, we should sell all we own, in order to possess it. We are challenged to give up everything we value most, in order to be part of this kingdom. Therefore, it is not so much the treasure, but our personal conviction and commitment to do all we can to live the values of the kingdom. The decisive question for us is whether we are prepared to let go for the sake of possessing Christ fully and live in accordance with the kingdom values that he teaches. Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven is much more valuable than anything we possess. That is the treasure that Jesus reveals to us. Therefore there is much wisdom in trying to possess it. In the first reading from the First Book of Kings, Solomon asks for wisdom and discernment. Wisdom is much more than just possessing a lot of things or a long life. It gives someone discernment on what really matters most in life. We know what mattered most in St. Paul’s life. Writing to the Philippians Paul says, “I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things, and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)

The Gospel passage once again contains three parables. Let us focus only on the first one – “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which one finds and hides again….” He then goes and sells everything he has in order to buy that field to secure the treasure. The idea obviously is that when one really discovers Jesus Christ, everything else becomes secondary. The person in the parable finds the treasure as it were accidentally, while digging a field that perhaps belongs to someone else. In the same way, one may encounter Jesus Christ completely unexpectedly, and then make all efforts to secure him like the treasure of great value. This implies real personal commitment and transformation of the person. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom and discernment to make right judgments instead of possessions and long life, we too are challenged to seek such wisdom in order to know what really matters most in life; 2) Like the person who finds a treasure of great value, we too are challenged to seek Christ and his kingdom-values relentlessly, and like Paul to accept the loss of everything in order to live in Christ. 3) Finally, we are challenged to treasure Jesus Christ in our lives as something of such value that everything else is of secondary value. Similarly, our Catholic faith is so precious that we would risk everything to defend and protect it. Think about it.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Wis 12:13,16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-43

The metaphor of the wheat and the weeds left to grow together till harvest is the key to understanding the message Jesus proclaims this Sunday. He proclaims a kingdom of forgiveness, compassion, justice and tolerance. The readings help us to discover our God who is full of mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we can do especially to an enemy. Yet there are many examples of extraordinary courage in forgiveness. On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II, was shot in the abdomen and on his hand by an attempt assassin, shortly after the Wednesday General Audience on St. Peter’s Square, when the Pope’s car drove by. As he was being rushed to the hospital the Pope forgave his would be assassin. On December 27, 1983 Pope John Paul II visited Ali Agca in his prison cell in Rome, and personally forgave him as they sat face to face. In this unusual act of forgiveness, the Pope gives us a great example of forgiveness. In the First Reading from the Book of Wisdom we hear that God governs with great lenience. When we repent of our sins, God always forgives us. Psalm 86 picks up that theme in a beautiful prayer: “Lord you are good and forgiving”. In Gospel Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, Jesus reveals to us the mystery of the Kingdom, which is compared to a person who planted wheat, and while asleep, some enemies came and sowed weeds. These weeds look very much like wheat as they grow.

What is the kingdom of Heaven that Jesus speaks about? The Kingdom Jesus reveals to us must not be understood as a place up in the sky. Rather this Kingdom is a state of being in which God rules and God's values prevail. Jesus in many ways lived and taught about these values. In the parable, Jesus powerfully communicates these values, namely forgiveness, compassion, justice, a sense of solidarity and inclusiveness of all human beings God has created in his image and likeness. That is why the kingdom of heaven is compared to a farmer who sowed good seed and while asleep an enemy sawed weeds. The image of the farmer leaving both the wheat and the weeds to grow up together till harvest is the key to understanding how God deals with us. Jesus challenges us to be like his Father: patient, lenient and tolerant with sinners, letting the wheat continue to grow among the weeds until the harvest. Who knows, the sinner may be touched by God's grace and repent? Who knows, between now and harvest time the non-believer might be led to the fullness of the truth in ways known to God alone. The Kingdom of God therefore is always a mixed bag of those in communion with God, and those who are not; those who have remained faithful and those led astray by the evil one. It is tragic that often times we deal with this ‘mixed-bag’ situation by judging others while justifying ourselves. Like the farmer in the Gospel, we must leave judgment to God till the end. We must leave all to grow side by side till harvest time. The parable also reminds us that we must be as tolerant as our heavenly Father who is always forgiving. We celebrate God's mercy by letting God to do the judging at the end of time. What message do we take home today? 1) Because the Kingdom of God is a mixed bag of both the good and the bad, we are challenged to be tolerant, compassionate and forgiving like our God; 2) Jesus in the parable warns that we must not take God’s tolerance as license to do what we want for there are consequences in the end –the harvest time. 3) We pray that God may give us the grace of his loving mercy and forgiveness, especially through the Sacrament of reconciliation.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 55:10-11; Rom 8:18-23; Matt 13:1-23

The sower, the seed, the soil, the harvest are the metaphors that help us to capture the central message of this Sunday readings. The readings invite us to reflect on Christ the Sower of God’s Word. The Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading speaks about the effectiveness of God’s Word. Like the rain and snow, which do not return without watering the earth, so too the Word that comes from the mouth of God does not fail. Isaiah’s message in the first reading is a prelude to the Gospel of today about the parable of the Sower. Just as the rain waters the land, showing us how God’s Word brings about the desired results, similarly the parable of the Sower reveals to us the dynamic power of God’s Word. Isaiah’s message contains an important aspect of conversion, so that the Word of God, like the rain may shower upon our hardened hearts making them “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats.” The First Reading therefore helps to interpret the parable of the Sower in the Gospel. One interpretation is that many people who hear the Gospel simply never seem to “get it.” The message is stolen from them by the enemy before it takes root. Let me illustrate that interpretation with some statistics. There are about 50% of our Catholic kids who receive the Sacraments but disappear between age 18 to 35, only to reappear later for marriage. Why is that? Inadequate faith formation fails to equip them to take the heat and pressure of our secular culture. Then there are about 89% of lifelong, regular church goers who, according to George Gallup, have values and lifestyle identical to those of their secular neighbors. Their faith has been so neutralized by inadequate faith formation and a focus on worldly preoccupation. Though they look like Catholics, their faith practice is fruitless. Then there are those who remain faithful, going regularly to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They manage to do some good for some people, but in all produce only a mediocre harvest in life. Finally there are those who yearn to learn more about their faith. They sink their roots in Scripture, Tradition, prayer and the sacraments. These produce an abundant harvest. Jesus wants all of us, not just some to yearn for more so that we all may produce a bumper crop.

The Gospel message, helps us to understand that despite apparent ineffectiveness of some of the seeds planted, in the end the Church will be successful in its evangelization. In the midst of disappointments, our labor will in the end bear abundant fruit. Despite the obstacles the Church faces in America and elsewhere, mysteriously the Church continues to grow. One good example is China where the Catholic population continues to grow. A recent Catholic News Service story reported that the number of Catholics in China has risen from 3 million in 1950 to 15 million today. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings intend to inspire us to look beyond failure even in our own lives, because God’s Word will in the end bear fruit despite failure; despite obstacles. 2) The readings also challenge us to be effective instruments of God’s Word by nourishing our faith, so that God’s transforming power may work through us and bear fruit even in our weakness. 3) Despite apparent ineffectiveness, our efforts will in the end bear abundant harvest for Christ, because God is in charge.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Zach 9:9-10; Rom 8:9, 11-13; Matt 11:25-30

Living not in the flesh, but in the Spirit; living not as debtors of the flesh, but under the yoke of obedience, having a “joint account” with Jesus. The readings this Sunday help us to understand the value of living by the Spirit of Christ. Saint Paul in the Second Reading shows us the difference between living by the spirit and living by the flesh. The words that captured my imagination in Paul’s Letter to the Romans are the following: “Consequently, brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh to live according to the flesh.” Mark Twain, the great American humorist once described a banker as “a person who loans you an umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the moment it starts raining!” (cf. The Quotations Page website) While Mark Twain was trying to be humorous, his description might help us to understand what Saint Paul means by being “debtors to the flesh.” One of the most foolish things we can do is to take a “loan” from the devil. Some people even try to bargain with the devil. They may only want just some gratification; just a little fun – like trying illicit drugs just once, or some forbidden pleasure just once! The devil however is a clever and cruel banker. Once a person has taken out the smallest loan, the devil demands interest and charges in terms of guilt feelings, sadness, anger, misery and eventually bitterness and despair. When the devil takes us that far, he forecloses our debt and takes over our souls. Does that sound familiar?

That is why Saint Paul warns us to owe no debt to the flesh, to devil. What exactly does Paul mean when he speaks of “the flesh” as opposed to “the spirit?” By the word “flesh” Paul refers to our weak human nature; our human desires that continually pull us down. Because of our human nature, we are either advancing towards God or sliding backwards away from God. The devil being a clever fellow, tries to manipulate our weak human nature. At times the devil gives us a loan we cannot pay back and then we are stuck; we are trapped; we are enslaved by that debt burden, like some third world countries who now seek debt cancellation from the IMF and the World Bank. However, for us Christians there is Good News regarding our debt. Thanks be to God, his Son Jesus Christ is capable of paying off our debt burden. God in his Son Jesus Christ has cancelled our debt. The best way to understand how God in Christ cancels our debt is to imagine having a “joint account” with Jesus who offers us the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we are no longer debtors to the flesh, but living by the Spirit. That gift of the Spirit is offered only to the little ones; those who by God’s grace become better versions of themselves. That state of life comes from the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead. It was out of this innocence and intimate relationship with the Father, that Jesus was able to overcome death and all powers of the flesh. It is in this sense that Jesus in the Gospel invites us saying: "Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." In other words Jesus invites those burdened by the yoke of the flesh and disobedience to embrace the yoke of the Spirit and obedience to His Word. They will then find relief from their burden and debt. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings invite us to live by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, so that we may have life in him as his faithful disciples and stewards; 2) It is only by living in Christ that Christ can cancel our debt burden and lead us to live by his Spirit; 3) We pray for God’s grace that we may live by the Spirit and resist taking any “loan from the devil.” Think about it.

©2017 John S. Mbinda