Thursday, June 22, 2017

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Jer 20:10-13; Rm 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

Do not be afraid and fear no one are the phrases that best sum up the central message of this Sunday. Concealed things and darkness tend to scare kids and some adults too! Children are afraid of the dark as it conceals scary things, and look under their beds at night for the bogeyman. Even for us adults, fear robs us of our freedom to take the right direction or to be transformed. We fear the unknown. We are afraid to travel to some foreign countries mainly because we might die there. When we get our doctor’s report that shows signs of cancer, our first emotion is fear. However, we feel better when the doctor reassured us that with treatment, all will be alright. Jesus did exactly that with his disciples.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus gives us such reassurance. He tells us "Do not be afraid." Do not be afraid to speak on my behalf and to proclaim the Gospel clearly and in the open. Christ is always beside those who witness to his name; those who dare to challenge the darkness of this world by speaking out the truth of the Gospel. These reassuring words are in fact repeated, and in the second time we are told not to be afraid of death nor of being martyred for the sake of Christ. Furthermore, we are assured that if we give witness before the world, Jesus will witness for us before the Father. "So, there is no need to be afraid." During the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, these words inspired Félicité, a Rwandan woman and her friends. As the militia truck picked them up from their village, she told her friends: "The time has come to bear witness. Let us go!" They were all led away to a mass grave where they died praying and singing!

In our Christian life and work situations there are moments when we have to bear witness to the Gospel under very difficult conditions; moments when we have to work in the midst of criticism. It is in such mo­ments that we must recall these comforting words. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul". There is only one who must be feared, God, when we choose infidelity and disobedience. The message we take home this Sunday is threefold. 1) The Gospel gives us the reassurance in the words of Jesus, "Do not be afraid." 2) In our life and ministry there are moments when we have to go the right direction in the face of opposition by others. 3) In moments of threat or persecution, let us be confident that Christ is there to support us. “Do not be afraid.” 

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Deut 8:2-3,14-16; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

A real presence, communion with Christ, with each other and within the Body of Christ, spiritual nourishment, the bread of eternal life. This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Sacrament of the Eucharist that signifies and brings about communion with Christ. The institution of this solemnity developed over years mainly because of Eucharistic faith and devotion to the real presence of Christ. In 1264, Pope Urban IV issued a Decree instituting the Solemnity of Corpus Christi for the Universal Church. What do we celebrate on this solemnity? On Corpus Christi, we not only affirm our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist: Body and Blood; Soul and Divinity, but we also celebrate our unity in Christ, who is the Body, and we his members. The Holy Eucharist by its very nature signifies the unity it brings about. We know from experience that when there is unity in a family, there is a great sense of belonging and a sharing of life. Similarly, when there is harmony within a body, there is strength, joy and happiness. In the first reading of this Sunday, we are told of how God fed the people of Israel with manna in the wilderness. The second reading speaks about the effects of sharing the Eucharist together. It brings about communion with Christ and with one another. "The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in the one loaf". The Gospel reading focuses on the Eucharist as the bread of life. "Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world". Jesus is therefore our food and drink, giving us spiritual nourishment on our earthly journey and a guarantee of eternal life. The Eucharist is a great sign of unity with Christ and with one another. We believe that in the Eucharist Jesus is truly present, body soul and divinity. We also believe that by eating this heavenly food, we become one with Christ, sharing in his life, his purpose and mission. In the Eucharist we find true nourishment and source of eternal life. "Anyone who eats this bread will live forever". The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that all the Church's sacraments and ministries are oriented to the Eucharist, "the source and summit of Christian life". In the Eucharist, the whole spiritual good of the Church (Christ himself) is contained (#1324). Next in #1325-1327, the Catechism says: that the Church is kept in being by the Eucharist (the sign and cause of the unity of God's People). In the Eucharist we are united with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life with God. Saint Irenaeus sums that teaching in saying, "Our thinking is attuned to the Eucharist and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking".

The Solemnity of Corpus Christi is much more remembered for its colorful procession of the Blessed Sacrament publicly proclaiming in song and prayer. The procession is a sacred moment of prayer and reflection on the mystery of Christ’s real presence. Traditionally the procession took place at four different altars symbolizing the four corners of the world. At these altars, Benediction was offered. The procession then ended at the last altar. One of the ways in which the Church celebrates its faith and devotion to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is through Eucharistic Congresses every four years. The central message of Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ may be summed up in three points. 1) In the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ reminds us of his enduring real presence in our midst, nourishing and strengthening us in our stewardship and witness to him. 2) The Eucharist is a great sign of unity with Christ and with one another especially the less fortunate. Therefore, we cannot receive the Eucharist and remain indifferent towards the poor; those without food and those without drink 3) In the Eucharist we become one with Christ, sharing in his life, his vision, mission and purpose.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Year A

Readings: Ex 34:4-6,8-9; 2 Cor. 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". That familiar prayer leads us into the mystery we celebrate this Sunday, the Most Holy Trinity. One of the optional greetings at the beginning of each Mass uses the beautiful words taken from the second reading of today:  "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you". In the gospel of this Sunday, Jesus speaking to Nicodemus highlights the reason why God is communion. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God is love by nature and desires that none of us should perish, but that all share His life of communion in eternal life. One the best description of the Holy Trinity for me is Rublev’s icon depicting the three mysterious visitors received by Abraham in Mamre (cf. Gen 18:1-8). In this icon, Rublev depicts three angels seated around a white table on which a chalice-like bowl contains a meal to be shared. Through the symbolism of the three angels, the icon intends to draw our attention to the awesome communion of the three persons in one God.

The Holy Trinity may therefore be better understood as an awesome sharing of communion by the three Divine Persons, drawing us all into that same communion shared by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist we highlight this mystery many times but more so in the doxology that concludes the Eucharistic Prayer to show that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered through Christ, in Christ, “in the unity of the Holy Spirit; all glory and honor is offered to Father. The Holy Trinity is not just a subject for theological speculation on the three divine persons in One God. The Holy Trinity is not so much about the awesomeness of God, but about an awesome lover who draws us into communion with Him. The Holy Trinity is a life of communion to be lived, shared and celebrated liturgically. Therefore, we need to go beyond talking about love, communion, sharing and putting that into practice by being instruments of reconciliation, mercy and communion. As one bishop put it jokingly, the reason why God in creating us does not put us directly into heaven, is because if He did so, we would mess life up there! Our life here on earth is a time to practice our stewardship in concrete ways by sharing, healing and living in communion with the people God has given us. The central message may be summed up in three points. 1) The solemnity of the Holy Trinity is a model of life of communion in God to be lived and imitated; 2) We are challenged to be instruments of reconciliation, healing and communion; 3) To be such instruments, we need to be nourished by prayer and scripture, for example in the family so we can grow into closer communion with one another.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pentecost Sunday Year A

Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

Courage, fearless witness, daring to be different; instruments of peace, unity and reconciliation. Fifty days after Easter, we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, when Christ filled the Church with the Holy Spirit. The word Pentecost comes from the Greek Pentēkostē (πεντηκοστή), which means the fiftieth day, but the origin is from the Jewish feast of the Pentecost which occurred 50 days after the Passover known as Shavuot. The feast marked the conclusion of the First Fruits celebrations. It also marked the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai. Fifty days after the resurrection, Christ fulfills his promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Just as Shavuot marked the birth of the Jewish Nation, Pentecost marked the birth of the Church. On Pentecost day, Christ sent the Church into the world to proclaim a message of peace, joy and reconciliation. As we listen to the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we relive the event of the first Pentecost which is quite dramatic. Paul in the second reading reminds us that the gifts of the Spirit poured out into the Church bring with them unity in the one Spirit as well as a rich diversity of gifts and services in every parish community. The Johannine Pentecost account in the Gospel is a less dramatic event, but nevertheless powerful and sudden. Here, Jesus offers the gift of the Holy Spirit to a fearful bunch of Apostles and then sends them. The Apostles are behind closed doors afraid of being arrested and killed. Suddenly, Jesus enters the room where they were gathered. There is no mighty wind, but the gentle breath of the Risen Lord. He gives them the usual Jewish greeting ‘Shalom’, ‘Peace be with you’. “When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’ This passage captures the central message to be proclaimed: peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is a message that transforms fear into courage; sadness into joy and brokenness into unity and reconciliation.

Pentecost is as it were, the crowning of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, who now fulfills his promise of sending the Holy Spirit upon the apostles. Let us for a moment recall the words of the promise. "When the advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset" (Jn. 15:26). The fulfillment of that promise, the coming of the Holy Spirit, inaugurates the Church, and gives the apostles power from on high (Lk. 24:49). This power will enable the apostles to bear fearless witness, starting from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Liturgically, Pentecost is one of the most moving celebrations of the year. The small gathering of disciples, who had locked themselves in a room, "for fear of the Jews" (Jn. 20:19), are suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit, and led by Peter, begin to give powerful witness, "preaching in their own language about the marvels of God" (Acts 2:11). It was not a time of fear any more, but a time of proclaiming openly, what God has done in Christ. The message may be summed up in three points: 1) The gifts of the Holy Spirit fill us too with courage to go out and witness fearlessly just as the disciples did on the first Pentecost; 2) Just as the disciples went out to bring the message of God’s peace and reconciliation to the world, we too are challenged to do the same. It is the Spirit of Jesus who will be with us till end of times; 3) The gifts of the Spirit received on Pentecost and given to each of us at Baptism, free us from fear and timidity. Therefore, rather than being afraid of what might happen to us, we must allow ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into powerful instruments of peace, unity and reconciliation in the world.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Ascension of the Lord Year A

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Matt 28:16-20

Final moments with Jesus, Ascension, departure, a new presence, at the Father’s right hand, glorified. This Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. In the Creed we confess our faith in Christ who "ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father". But what exactly do we mean by saying that he ascended into heaven? We mean that the Risen Lord is not only totally alive, but also that the Father has placed Christ at His right hand, an expression that signifies the Father glorifying Christ and making him the Lord of all creation. As we hear in today’s Gospel, to him "is given all power in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28.18). Paul in the Second reading underlines the mystery of Christ being glorified. He says, God "put all things beneath his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the Church which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way". The ascension, however, does not mean that Jesus renounced his humanity. He remains one of us and head of his Body, the Church. The celebration of the ascension is an expression of our Christian hope that where, He our Head has gone before us, there we, his Body will one day follow, to live forever in the Kingdom of the Father.

We must not think of the Ascension in terms of Christ going up and away from us and from the world, in purely scientific physical terms. That is the image I had as I was growing up; the image normally presented to us by artists. The Ascension is not to be understood literally as if Jesus floated up into the sky between clouds to “heaven”, as if heaven is a physical place. The Ascension is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to be always with us; with his Church. Above all it is a relationship with the Father, and God is everywhere in the whole universe. Jesus did not have to ‘go’ anywhere to be with his Father. The Ascension needs to be seen as part of the Paschal Mystery of Christ: the suffering and death; the resurrection; ascension; and the sending of the Holy Spirit. If the resurrection points to the crucified Jesus risen and alive, the Ascension points to the Risen Lord who now enters into the fullness of Father’s glory sharing equally the glory of the Father. In the language of faith, the ascension means "the entry" of Jesus into the complete and definitive communion with the Father, and there interceding for us. Jesus Christ enters into the fullness of the Father's glory, and makes it possible for those who belong to his Body, the Church, to follow. Indeed, Jesus' entry into the presence of the Father makes it possible for his Church to receive the Holy Spirit who is God's continual presence with us. The message of the Ascension may be summed up as follows: 1) The Ascension is about being present to us in a new way. This presence is different from physical presence. It is a presence that permeates and saturates the entire cosmos. For St. Paul the ascension as has a cosmic dimension, namely the overthrow of all demonic powers by Christ, who "has put all things under his feet". 2) The Ascension invites us to reflect on that mystery terms of Christ’s physical presence that comes to an end, yet that event ushers in a new and enduring presence in the Church through the Holy Spirit, as she goes out to proclaim the Good News.  3) The Ascension too leads us to discern Christ’s enduring presence in the Church – in Word and Sacrament, particularly the Eucharist, continually challenging us to an ongoing self-surrender. His self-surrender on the Cross, His resurrection and Ascension transforms us, and gives us the capacity to bring His presence into the world, as we proclaim His message to others.

©2017 John S. Mbinda