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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A

Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21

Promise, role of the Holy Spirit, continued presence and proclamation are some of the phrases that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on the coming of Christ's Spirit of Truth on the Church, the source of the Church's proclamation of the Christian message to the world. The role of the Holy Spirit in the mission of the Church from the earliest beginnings is confirmed in both the first and the second readings. In the Acts of the Apostles, Philip had gone to a Samaritan town to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We read that the people were united in welcoming the message that Philip preached. On getting the news about the success of Philip, the apostles sent Peter and John from Jerusalem to Samaria, to pray over the neophytes and lay hands on them, "and they received the Holy Spirit". The message of the risen Lord will be kept alive and passed on from one generation to the next in this missionary spirit and action of the Church, by the help of the Holy Spirit, the advocate in times of opposition and trial. The Holy Spirit, in his own silent witness continues to secure the Church's success everywhere, even in most difficult moments of hostile attacks and trials.

The gospel passage Jesus uses two central metaphors: that of an orphan and that of an advocate in reference to himself and the other advocate he promises. Jesus reassures his disciples that he will not leave them orphans. When He is gone, the Holy Spirit will not only care for them, but will be their advocate to plead their case. That is why Jesus in the Gospel assures us that He will not leave us orphans after his ascension into heaven. He will ask the Father to give us another Advocate to be with us forever.   His love for us is the reason for sending us another helper, advocate or a comforter. He sends us another Advocate who can plead for us with the Father. Jesus uses the word another since he himself is an Advocate and the other Advocate will come and continue the work of Jesus. The word Advocate is understood as an intercessor, defender, and a witness for the accused, a best friend and a comforter in distress. In general, the word refers to a person who comes to stand by us and protect and gives us support.  The Advocate who comes will be a counselor, a monitor, and a comforter. Jesus tells them that when the Advocate comes, whom he will send from the Father, he is the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on behalf of Jesus. He would abide with the disciples to the end of time his gifts and graces would encourage their hearts. The expressions used here and elsewhere, plainly denote a person, and the office itself includes all the Divine perfections. The gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon the Disciples of Christ, and not on the world. This is the favor God gives to his chosen people. As the source of holiness and happiness, the Holy Spirit will abide with every believer forever. The take away message may be summed up in three points. 1) The Good news is that the Holy Spirit has kept alive the faith and hope of Christians over 2000 years in the midst of turmoil and trials. 2) Jesus promises his disciples and us of today that He will never abandon us. The sign of that continued presence is that we belong to a parish community that cares and nourishes our faith. 3) As we wait for the fulfillment of Christ’s promise, may our faith and hope be strengthened; may we be enabled to overcome trials in difficult moments, particularly when we find ourselves abandoned or under attack for the faith.

 ©2017 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

The way, the truth, the life and our need to let go are the phrases that lead us into the central message of this Sunday. The story is told of a man who while leaning over a cliff to take pictures, lost his balance and fell off the cliff. On the way down he managed to grab a tree limb. Peering into a deep canyon, he called out, "Help, please. Is anyone up there?" After some silence, a voice answered, "Yes, I am here." "Who are you?" the man shouted. "It's me, the Lord!" Greatly relieved, the man said, "Thank you, thank you. Have you come to rescue me?" "Yes," said the Lord. "Let go. I will catch you." The man thought for a second, then asked, "Is there anyone else up there?" Well, we can understand the man's reluctance to let go, but, in reality, there is no one else up there. In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus exhorts us to trust in God and in him. He then tells us quite plainly, "I am the way." (In 14:6) He does not say a way, but the way. If we want to go to the Father, there is no other way except through Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You will recall that in the Gospel of last Sunday Jesus used the image of the "Gate" of the sheepfold to refer to himself. This time he calls himself the "Way". In the light of the resurrection, the risen Lord is not only the Gate but also the Way to where he going and where He wants us to follow. Thomas being realistic asks Jesus, "Lord we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Thomas is thinking of the way in physical terms. He imagines that if Jesus could only give them a simple road map and directions to where he is going, they would surely get there. Jesus surprises them in saying, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me". In other words, do not ask for directions for Jesus the Way to the Father. Just let go and follow Jesus Christ. Do not speculate for he is the Truth. If you want to live, go to Jesus and remain in him who is the life itself.

The Gospel helps us to become more deeply aware that to find Christ is to find the Way, Truth and the Life. To seek the truth elsewhere is to stubble and fall. Moreover, to follow the risen Lord is to find the fullness of life in the Triune God. If we take another direction we will certainly be lost and die on the way. What the risen Lord is offering us is the Life itself and the fullness of the Truth, in terms of the hereafter. Christ also tells his disciples that to find him is to find the Father, because we can only reach the Father through Christ, because the Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son. It is because of Christ's intimate union with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, that he is able to do the things that he does. Our union with the Father through Christ will also enable us to "perform the same works" Christ does. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like the man hanging on a tree limb, the Lord challenges us to let go, to risk and trust that He will indeed rescue us no matter how deep the cliff; 2) The readings therefore invite us to a total faith and trust in God; 3) We are invited to get to know Jesus who is the truth more, for to know him is to know the Father in the Holy Spirit.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A

Readings: Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1 Pt 2:20-25; Jn 10:1-10

The Shepherd, the Gate, calling us by name, and hearing his voice, are some of the key the images that lead us into the central message of this Sunday. The Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”, a Sunday on which the Universal Church prays for good vocations. Those called to ministry in whatever capacity of Church life are like shepherds. They are called to care for the spiritual welfare of those they serve. The readings therefore focus on the Risen Lord, the Shepherd par excellence. There are two main images in the gospel: the image of the Gate and that of the Shepherd’s voice. The image of the Gate appears 5 times in the passage. Twice Jesus says, “I am the gate.” A gate can be an image of welcome into what is beyond. Jesus is ever the compassionate, welcoming and protecting gate. Whoever enters through this Gate is saved and finds abundant life. Psalm 23 used in the liturgy of this Sunday underlines the point that Jesus indeed leads us into verdant lush pastures, where He nourishes us in the security of His protection. The image of the Shepherd’s voice is linked to that of the Gate.  The sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd when He calls them one by one. Besides the voice of the Shepherd, the sheep also recognize the smell of the Shepherd otherwise they will run away from any stranger who does not smell like them. That is why Pope Francis has urged shepherds “to smell like the sheep.”

Why is the image of the voice of the Shepherd important? Experience show that some voices lie. Others seduce and mislead. That is why Jesus calls our attention to such voices that mislead and steal, particularly in the absence of the shepherds. We know that some voices comfort, while others encourage and speak the truth. These are the voices that lead us to abundant Life in Christ. These are the voices of faithful stewards at all levels of Church life that pass on the treasure of the faith to others. The challenge for those who hear the Shepherd’s voice is to remain close to Him so that they can continually be nourished and so grow in Christ. Choosing to listen to Jesus and following Him guarantees His care, protection and abundant life. The voice of Jesus calling us comes in various ways and through many people. As faithful stewards, we heed the cry of the poor that challenges us to be generous; we respond to the eyes of the downcast unselfishly and we welcome the stranger who may be Jesus in disguise. Choosing to follow Jesus in these ways brings new life to others and gives us a taste of the abundant life Jesus promises. That is a foretaste of salvation. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The gospel reading invites us to listen to the voice of our Shepherd who is the Gate in order to be secure and safe in our faith. 2) When we allow ourselves to be led by Jesus Christ, we find nourishment and abundant life. 3) We are all called to be shepherds and stewards in our various vocations. We are called to make our contribution in time, talent and treasure by using voices that comfort, voices that encourage and voices that speak the truth, particularly in seeking out those who may have been led astray from our parish community or simply at home inactive.

©2017 John S Mbinda

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter Year A

Capital Campaign Homily Third Sunday of Easter

As you come into the Church through the main door, there are two large design rendering on what our OCC is going to look like. What does that have to do with this Sunday readings? A lot.

During these weeks after Easter, the liturgy of the word puts us in touch with the first men and women who saw the risen Lord, in order to deepen our faith in the mystery of the resurrection. Before they saw Jesus after the resurrection, the disciples were at a loss. They could not explain or understand what had happened.

As the early believers explain in today’s first two readings, Jesus was sent according to the set plan and purpose of God; through his death and resurrection, God has worked miracles, signs and wonders in our midst. Our faith and hope as believers is centered on this mystery.

The story of the two disciples to Emmaus I believe is a metaphor for our parish life’s journey of faith, when the Risen Lord has often times caught up with us, particularly when we have over the years struggled with the idea of a One Community Center. Our road to Emmaus has not been easy and I am aware that some believe we have lingered too long in Emmaus after recognizing the risen Lord.
Our efforts to build the One Community Center are both part of that difficult walk to Emmaus, as well as the immediate decision to return to Jerusalem; the decision to go forward. At long last, it is in the breaking of bread that the Lord opens our eyes and reignites our hopes. People without a vision will perish, but people with a clear vision become a dynamic parish.

We not only have a clear vision, but also a clear mission – a plan of how we get from here to there, namely to accomplish the goal of building our one community center. We have moved from Emmaus to Jerusalem where the real witness and action begins.

As you receive the Eucharist today, find a quiet moment to let the Lord open your eyes to see how blessed you are and why; a moment to discern how you will thank the Lord for all the blessings to you and family. May God’s Word and the Eucharist open our eyes not only to recognize the risen Lord, but also to realize that Communion means union with Christ and with one another. On a practical level, it implies joining other parishioners in common parish priorities like the One Community Center.

To do that we need to walk from Emmaus to Jerusalem, where we will not only gather and reconnect with other disciples, but also relive and recount our story of the Risen Lord. Jerusalem is where the Risen Lord will reignite our faith and our joy of the Gospel. Because of our faith in the risen Lord, we must not be afraid to return to Jerusalem; to go forward with the rest of the parish because Christ is Risen and is with us. May God bless you all.

Msgr. John S. Mbinda