Friday, February 27, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent Year B

Readings: Gen 22:1-2,9,10-13,18-18; Rm 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
Generosity, the third sign of a dynamic Catholic is the theme running through the readings of this Sunday. The readings help us to reflect on the generosity involved in self-surrender to the seemingly irrational demands of God. The drama of Abraham’s generous acceptance to sacrifice his only son Isaac, leads us to be aware that God asks us to give up the things we value most during this Lent to test our generosity. Lent is an excellent moment to examine how generous we are in paying the cost of our calling as disciples and stewards. Abraham's readiness to sacrifice Isaac is an excellent example of great generosity. The episode first gives us God’s request for the cost, and then the rewards of Abraham’s generosity. Yes, whenever we respond to God’s request, there are blessings in the end. "Because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you…" Paul in the second reading provides an interpretation of God's promises to Abraham and Sarah citing excerpts from the First Reading of today. But Paul is very much aware of the paradox of God's demands on us. The point Paul makes is that God in offering his only Son is out of generosity. "Since God did not spare his Son…we may be certain…that He will not refuse anything He can give". Both the story of Abraham and Paul's catechesis invite us to let our fears go and jump on that “magic carpet” of trust and self-surrender, no matter how much we might give up.

The Gospel is about the dramatic episode of the transfiguration on the mountain before the three disciples, Peter, James and John. The event is a clear manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God; an anticipation of his glory, through his death on the cross and the resurrection. Thus the transfiguration sets the stage for Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection. That prediction in Mark is the beginning of the intensifying enmity between Jesus and the religious leaders eventually leading to his trial, death and resurrection. The central message of the episode therefore is that God offers us his only Son Jesus out of his generosity, in order to save us through the Cross. There is a certain parallel between Abraham's readiness to offer his only son Isaac to God, and the fulfillment of that story in God’s generous offering of his only Son to die for our salvation. The transfiguration was a window to let the disciples see the glory of Jesus, leaving no doubt that he is truly the Son of God. The voice coming from a cloud was perhaps the most convincing. "This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him". Thus the Gospel not only leads us to the mystery of Christ, but also invites us to listen and to surrender ourselves completely to his word that Christ may reveal himself to us. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac is an excellent example of great generosity. The story gives us an idea of the cost, as well as the rewards of one's surrender to God. 2) Just as Jesus surrenders himself to the point of death on the cross for our salvation, we too are challenged to embrace the Lenten discipline by being generous with our time, talent and treasure. 3) We are therefore invited to open our hearts to be transformed by Christ. Concretely that means going through our Lenten discipline in order to be the best version of ourselves and so enter into the glory of Christ’s resurrection.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, February 21, 2015

First Sunday of Lent Year B

Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
A time of fulfillment; a time of spiritual surgery; a time to turn around; a time to be renewed by Christ. At the beginning of each Lenten Season, we are called to renew our response to God's covenant with us, the promise that God made with each of us at Baptism. Lent is meant to be a time for our spiritual surgery and tune up; a time of getting closer to the Lord. It is a time to prepare for what lies ahead. Noah's story in the first reading fits perfectly with this understanding of the Lenten season. The image of Noah building the ark and the deluge destroying humanity and all creation opens a window into the drama of human struggle with evil. The flood was the result of humankind's desire to seek security in pleasure and wickedness, despite God's warning. The people of Noah's time turned a deaf ear, and even laughed at Noah building the ark. Since they did not listen to God's invitation to conversion, God used a language people could understand best - a catastrophic deluge. The saving of Noah, his family and part of creation, points to God's salvation in Christ through the New Ark of the Covenant- the Church, in the waters of Baptism.

The Gospel continues with the same theme of repentance in the words of Jesus: "This is the time of fulfilment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel". Jesus had just returned from the wilderness where he had been fasting and in the end tempted by the devil and was able to overcome all those temptations. Jesus is tempted in order to give us his own example of putting up a good fight. We need to arm ourselves in order to put up a good fight in facing temptations. That is why Jesus makes such an urgent appeal for repentance. The idea of repentance in the Old Testament is summed up in the Greek term "metanoia", a turning way from sin and returning to right action. This is a total spiritual transformation. “God has an incredible dream for each of us.  He wants us to be the best version of ourselves.” This is a call for a radical change that involves a total transformation and assuming a new perspective in life based on the values Jesus teaches.  As we begin Lent, it is important that we sharpen our understanding of this wonderful season as disciples and stewards of Jesus. Lent is a time of inner spiritual surgery, a time when we search deep within our souls and personality to see where that surgery is needed, in order to amend, to change and transform our lives in readiness for Easter. To use another metaphor, Lent is a time we undergo a “spiritual panel beating” in order to get back into shape as God intends us to be. We undergo such a process in order to be the best version of ourselves. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) During the Lenten season, we are called to take to heart the message of Jesus in today’s Gospel “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. 2) Lent is a time of inner spiritual surgery, a time when we search deep within our souls and personality to see where that surgery is needed. 3) It is a decisive turn around in order to enter into a deeper relationship with God through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In so doing we become the best version of ourselves.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sixth Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Our Journey of Stewardship Year One

Welcome to our new parishioners and visitors! If you can’t measure it you can’t change it. There is a story that went viral in parishes around the diocese last weekend about St. John Apostle & Evangelist on how well we performed in our Stewardship Commitment Renewal, October last year. Since I told the story to the clergy and laity last weekend, I stand here to share it with you. Apart from having a vision/mission driven timeline with intentional formation sessions on the spirituality of stewardship, Catholic Stewardship Consultants (CSC) provided us with the guidance and the materials we needed along the way. The purpose of the renewal weekend on October 18/19, 2014 was to engage all parishioners to commit themselves with their God-given gifts of time, talent and treasure. Stewardship is a way of life, but its impact can be measured. After our commitment renewal weekend, CSC put all the data together as published on page 6 of the February Newsletter distributed last weekend. Just in case you missed to notice that report, here is a brief outline on how we performed. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it.”

These are the result highlights based on 360 out of 1,035 active households in the parish. On the Stewardship of Time,

·        1,416 prayer commitments were made
·        91% of active households made prayer commitments.
·        258 Private Prayer Commitments. On the Stewardship of Talent,

·        1081 ministry commitments were made;
·        309 are new ministry commitments;
·        88 families signed up for ministries for first time. On the Stewardship of Treasure
·        286 households made a treasure commitment;
·        $213,824 pledged offertory increase;
·         There was a significant offertory increase of 9.15% during July/December 2014.

How does one explain these positive results? Growth in spiritual health through conversion leads to growth in generosity with God in time, talent and treasure. We started responding to God’s call for conversion on Ash Wednesday last year. That was a call to change and transformation at all levels of parish life: staff, leadership, liturgy and the way we run meetings. It was a call to align our vision, mission and purpose to that of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.” I found myself undergoing my own conversion in order to give a credible message on the call to conversion. I realized that I had to register myself as a parishioner and give my weekly offertory. I now give more than 10% of my income, and I intend to honor my commitment.

We attribute the significant change in our parish above all to you parishioners for opening your hearts to the message of Jesus Christ inviting us during homilies and formation sessions to be more committed disciples and stewards. We had three significant moments of spiritual formation last year.
·        The Spirituality of Stewardship by Fr. Jim Golka in June;
·        Strategic Pastoral Planning by Fr. Frank DeSiano in July;
·        The parish-wide Stewardship Formation by Fr. Tim O’Connor in September. 
The Season of Lent last year was significant in terms of stewardship formation. Similarly, Advent and Christmas seasons were important to us on this journey. In Advent we focused our homilies on the book by Matthew Kelly, Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic that outlines four key aspects of stewardship: prayer, study, generosity and evangelization. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, each household received a free gift of the book. This book is a game-changer for me and I believe for you too.

We are called to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need not just in Hawaii, but in the world. Our parish second collection gives us an opportunity to participate in the universal mission of the Church. On page 7 of the February Newsletter you will find an outline of how much was collected and who benefited from our outreach efforts in 2014.

We need to be bold and creative; we need to think of ways of being truly a welcoming parish community from the parking lot to the pews. Hospitality is a good measure of stewardship as a way of life. Next Saturday February 21, we will have our parish town hall session to plan for the episcopal visitation of Bishop Larry Silva to our parish on June 20/21, 2015. That town hall meeting is an opportunity for all parishioners to be engaged in planning the future of our parish. Following that town hall, I will take the opportunity to prepare a bulletin insert on the steps taken so far in facilities planning, and especially where we are on plans for a multi-purpose parish hall. So stay tuned.

Thank you for your stewardship heart of giving time, talent and treasure. May our stewardship journey take us to the next level of stewardship as a way of life in 2015.

©2015 John Mbinda

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Job 7:1-4; 6-7; 1 Cor. 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39
Mystery of human suffering, brokenness, God’s compassion and healing are some of the words that help capture the central message of this Sunday. The readings proclaim God’s healing power in Christ, who heals our brokenness and restore us to wholeness. The First Reading on the story of Job leads us to reflect on the drama and mystery of human suffering. It raises the question of suffering and its relationship to our faith and trust in a God who cares for all people. As this story unveils, we realize that human suffering and misery have always remained a mystery. During the recent years of economic crisis, we heard of many stories of people who had been affected so much that they preferred to die. There are families that lost everything and experienced one misfortune after another, just like Job. We had people in our families who suffered enormously to the extent of asking: why does God allows such suffering.  Job is an upright man, whose earthly goods, his wife, family and health are completely wiped away in a short time. It is not surprising that Job is depressed, confused and even questions God. He doubts the worth of living in his condition. Job like many people who have suffered enormously, sees no hope beyond this life, and thus wrestles with the meaning of human suffering. But in the face of all this, Job in the end remains faithful to God. In all his suffering, Job did not know that he was being tested by God to see if he would remain faithful. As disciples and stewards of Christ, we believe that God knows our suffering and cares for us.

The Gospel passage reveals a sharp contrast between Job’s sorrowful and sleepless night, and Jesus’ day spent in doing good for others, concluding in a peaceful night and welcoming the dawn in prayer. Jesus starts the day at the home of Peter's mother-in-law who had fever and then continues healing the whole evening. The healing itself was not the main point. Rather it was a symbol, a sign of restoring people to fullness of life as they serve God. This is a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. At the end of the day's healing ministry, Jesus is tired. But we hear that early in the morning "he went off to a lonely place and prayed there". As disciples and stewards, prayer is central to our ministry. Without prayer we would soon run out of steam, because that is where we must go to regain our daily energy. It is in prayer that we deepen our relationship with the Lord who fuels our stewardship. Prayer keeps us focused on the vision, mission and purpose of what we are doing. Early in the morning, we too must go off to a lonely place and pray. We must find quiet time to be alone with Christ, so that Christ may speak to us in the silent hours of the morning. There Jesus will give us more energy to face the day. The central message may be summed up in three points. 1) The readings underline God’s healing power in Christ, who heals our brokenness and binds up our wounds.  2) Just as in all his suffering Job remained faithful to God, we too are challenged to remain faithful no matter what happens to us; despite our suffering or humiliation, knowing that Jesus will rescue us in the end. 3) The Gospel calls us to be instruments of healing, of God’s loving mercy and compassion in the broken world around us.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Deut 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

Best way to live, credibility, teaching with authority and healing are some of the phrases that help to capture the message of this Sunday. The readings draw our attention to the importance of credible witness from one's faith conviction. The bottom line is that if our words match our life, people would be astonished by what we do and say, because the Spirit will be working in us. The main point in the first reading is to show that a prophet’s credibility comes directly from God. As we hear at the end of the reading, there were and still there are false prophets today, who presume to speak in the Lord's name or those who “speak in the name of other gods…”, claiming to speak the truth, while at the same time embracing hostility and divisiveness. The response to the psalm calls us to soften our hearts if we hear the Lord's voice. But we must be aware that society today presents to us other "voices", and therefore the need to discern carefully. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, Paul counsels purity of body through celibacy and virginity as a sign of the Kingdom, in other words we are called to strive towards holiness. His argument: we need to dedicate ourselves totally to the Lord, because this world is passing away. While Paul does not devalue married life, he is convinced that nothing can outweigh the immanent second coming of the Lord. Living that kind of authentic life is the best way to live and gives credible witness.

In the Gospel, Jesus gives a concrete example of what it means to speak from one's faith conviction. We can always tell the difference between a written message and a message from one’s faith conviction. A message from the heart touches people deeply. That is the conviction with which Jesus speaks this Sunday. We hear in the Gospel that "the people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority”. Jesus needed no credentials. The source of his authority was his intimate relationship with the Father that evoked a sense of deep conviction behind his teaching. We also encounter the dramatic episode of chasing away an evil spirit from a person in the Synagogue. Why was Jesus able to perform such wonders and heal people of their sickness? Why did his teaching make such a deep impression? While the exorcism Jesus performed was dramatic, what really convinced the people more was his intimate relationship with the Father. He spoke from the heart. Whatever happened during those moments of teaching and healing, Jesus wanted to reveal the Kingdom of God so that people might experience life in its fullness. So what message do we draw from the readings? 1) The readings challenge us to open our hearts so that the teaching of Jesus may transform our lives and his healing power may restore us to be the best version of ourselves. 2) Just as the source of Jesus’ power to heal and teach with authority was his intimate relationship with the Father, so too our credible witness with authority is our close relationship with the Father through prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. 3) The healing of the person with unclean spirit is a metaphor for what Jesus still proclaims through the Church and through us even today. Miracles still do happen! The best proof is the power of God’s word that transforms us to live in the best way and so become effective instruments of transforming others.

©2015 John S. Mbinda