Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

The Good Shepherd, who risks his life for the sheep; who knows each by name; who leads, cares and protects his sheep. These are some of the phrases that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. As we continue to reflect on the meaning of the resurrection, this Sunday we celebrate the risen Lord, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. In the first reading, the faith of the apostles in the resurrection is radically transformed by their encounter with the Risen Lord. They realize that Jesus died for others and rose so that his followers might proclaim and witness his life to others. That faith and conviction leads them to continually witness fearlessly that Jesus Christ is risen. Peter no longer focuses on himself but on Jesus, the Risen Lord. With that radical change, Peter heals a cripple near the temple, an event that attracts much attention. He therefore uses the occasion to proclaim the uniqueness of Christ in whose name and no other the cripple has been healed. "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved", he says. In other words, Jesus is the only way to the Father. In him alone is salvation. Faith in the risen Lord means transforming death to life and sickness to health. In the name of the risen Lord, the disciples and we too of today can transform the world. Faith in the resurrection may also provoke opposition because the same forces that tried to destroy Jesus are still at work in the world today. John in the second reading gives us the reason. "The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him" (Jesus). The failure of the world to know God should come as no surprise to the Christian community since the world has failed to recognize Jesus Christ as well. There is a price to pay for giving such a witness in the secular society of today.

The passage from the Gospel of St. John on the Good Shepherd needs to be seen in the light of the resurrection, for Christ is the one who died in order to save us. The passage mainly underlines the zeal of the Good Shepherd, who is not just another leader, but one who dies for his sheep rather than seeking his own glory. In the light of the resurrection, Christ is the Good Shepherd who risks his life in order to seek and to find the lost sheep. He brings them back to the flock, into the fullness of God’s life. Not only does the shepherd give his life for his sheep, but he also establishes a mutual friendship between himself and the sheep. "I know my own and my own know me". Jesus as the shepherd shows a deep sense of commitment and responsibility towards his followers.  He is a leader who is more concerned about others, a quality needed in our Church leaders today. On this Good shepherd Sunday, we are particularly asked to pray that the Church may be provided with the committed and holy shepherds, for spreading the Gospel. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Like the apostles, may our faith in the Risen Lord so transform us to be like Jesus who died that others may have life; 2) Like the apostles, may our faith in the resurrection lead us to imitate Christ’s example by laying down our lives too for others; 3) Through our prayers, may the Church be provided with more committed and holy pastors who are credible witnesses of the gospel message by the genuine life they lead.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Third Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

Proclamation, repentance, conversion and new life in Christ, are some of the words that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. We come together this Sunday to celebrate and to proclaim the risen Lord, who is our advocate with the Father. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter proclaims that in Jesus' name repentance for the forgiveness of sins is preached to all. Peter therefore underlines the message of forgiveness. Without knowing, the people had preferred a criminal to the Holy One; they had preferred death to life. They had put Jesus to death on the cross. "God, however, raised him from the dead and that we are the witnesses…Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out". Peter's proclamation of the resurrection is linked to repentance. In other words, to be touched by the resurrection is to experience God's immense love that must lead to conversion and living a new life in Christ. In the second reading, John continues the same theme of repentance. Our faith in the risen Lord implies living in fidelity to his commandments. The clearest manifestation of faith in the resurrection is found in those moments when we move from alienation to conversion and assume a new direction in life.

The Gospel passage presents another post-resurrection appearance of the risen Lord to the disciples. The Gospel starts with the experience of the two disciples who have just came back from Emmaus deeply touched by their experience of meeting the Risen Lord, and recognizing Him in the breaking of bread. While they share their story, suddenly Jesus appears to the whole group and tries to convince the disciples through their senses of touching and seeing. Thus they touch him and see for themselves that he is really himself. That is why Jesus shows them his hands and his side so that they can see with their own eyes. Finally the disciples are convinced that it is really the same Jesus, the crucified one who has come back to life. The light of the resurrection enlightens the scriptures for the disciples, as Jesus explains the things he had told them about himself. "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day..." Luke tells us that the disciples were so joyful that they could not believe it. In this conviction, Peter would witness on behalf of the rest that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that they are the witnesses. We gather around the Eucharist this Sunday to proclaim and witness to the same truth of the resurrection, because this same Jesus, the Paschal Victim once offered for the sins of the world, is risen and is alive among us. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) At this celebration, we too meet the Risen Lord who speaks to us and enlightens us to understand the scriptures; 2) Like the two disciples at Emmaus, we meet the Risen Lord at the breaking of bread; 3) We too must let ourselves be touched by the resurrection and be led to live a new life in Christ; 4) Like the apostles, we too are so overjoyed and filled with the Spirit of the Risen Lord, that we cannot but give witness to what we have seen and heard.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Peace, forgiveness and reconciliation are some of the key words underlying the message of this Sunday. The Second Sunday of Easter is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Indeed the Gospel reading leads us to discover the meaning of God’s mercy. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appears to his disciples once again. On that occasion Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them." (Jn 20:22) In other words, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit who would accompany them in their mission of bringing about peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Pope John Paul II was very instrumental in promoting devotion to Divine Mercy on the occasion of the canonization of St. Faustina, on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30 2000.

The readings on this Sunday set the tone for the entire Easter season. Their purpose is to continue helping the newly baptized towards growth in the mystery of Christ who is now risen and in our midst. The readings therefore provide a meditation on the mystery of the resurrection and our own incorporation into that mystery through our initiation. In the Gospel, the risen Lord appears again to the gathered apostles. On this occasion He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit the principle of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. The focus of that event may be interpreted in terms Christ revealing God’s Divine Mercy. What is Divine Mercy? From the diary of a young Polish nun, a special devotion began spreading throughout the world in the 1930s. The message was nothing new, but a reminder of what the Church has always taught through scripture and tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we, too, must show mercy and forgiveness. But in the Divine Mercy devotion, the message takes on a powerful new focus, calling people to a deeper understanding that God’s love is unlimited and available to everyone — especially the greatest sinners. The message of mercy is that God loves us — all of us —no matter how great our sins when we repent. He wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy. The message of Divine Mercy is threefold: 1) Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world. 2) Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us. 3) Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive. In brief, God’s name is Mercy!  The message of this Sunday may therefore be summed up in three points: 1) Today we affirm our faith in the Risen Lord who channels the greatest gift: the grace of God's Divine Mercy, won for us by the blood of Christ on the Cross and the resurrection. 2) Many Christians have discovered that God’s Mercy is not cheap. They had to struggle through a painful conversion experience and repentance. On this Sunday we are called to a conversion experience so that God’s mercy and compassion may touch us deeply. 3) Just as the Father sends Jesus to share the grace of Divine Mercy with us all, we too are sent to be instruments of peace, forgiveness, and God’s compassion and mercy.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Friday, March 30, 2018

Easter Vigil Year ABC\

“He is not here but has been raised!”; "I believe, I can never be the same again" These two phrases lead us into what we celebrate on Easter Vigil; the Vigil of all Vigils; the solemnity of all solemnities. No one can encounter the Risen Lord without being transformed.

In the 2016 movie Risen, the burial is over, the stone is rolled over the tomb and the guards are in place 24/7. The Roman soldier Clavius (played by Joseph Fiennes) is summoned by Pilate and asked to make sure the body of Yeshua remains in the tomb. But mysteriously Yeshua's body has vanished from the tomb without a trace. Pilate orders Clavius to “Find the corpse of Yeshua before it rots in order to stop the rumors of his resurrection.” Clavius sets off in search, and what he finds is certainly not a corpse. He had supervised the crucifixion and so he knew exactly what Jesus looked like. When he finally discovers the Upper Room where the disciples were hiding, Clavius is shocked to see Yeshua the man he had seen die on the Cross right there, showing the marks of nails on his hands and the wound on his side. Clavius becomes an eye witness to Jesus' resurrection just as the disciples are. At first, he is skeptical of the resurrection, but the movie ends with Clavius accepting the fact that Jesus is indeed risen. In amazement, he chooses to follow Jesus and the disciples to Galilee. On the eve of the Ascension, Clavius is completely transformed by his personal encounter with the risen Lord. On his way home at a guest house, Clavius removes his Roman ring (his worldly symbol of power and authority), telling the innkeeper, "I believe, I can never be the same!"

Tonight, the women going to anoint the body of Jesus, are shocked on finding an empty tomb. Two angels announce that: “He is not here, but has been raised.” The experience of empty tomb and the good news from the angels transforms the women from not believing to faith in the resurrection, confirmed that evening by the appearances of the risen Lord. The experience of the resurrection touches everyone who encounters the risen Lord. We started this celebration in darkness because darkness is the first movement of the Easter Vigil liturgy. Tonight, the contrast between darkness and light is highlighted in the fire-lighting ritual that is only a preparation for the lighting of the new Paschal Candle, which symbolizes the dispelling of our spiritual darkness by Christ, the Risen Lord. The celebrant uses the following prayer before the procession into the Church: “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds”. To underline the dispelling of darkness, our candles flicker to life in the darkness, as we walk in procession together singing the “the Light of Christ”.

Tonight, the Church makes use of other liturgical symbols to celebrate the mystery of our salvation. The dramatic symbolism of burial with Christ and rising with him is highlighted in the blessing of the Baptismal Water, when the Paschal Candle is dipped three times into the Baptismal Font. Shortly, we will have the baptism of our candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation. This ritual is a clear expression of dying and rising with Christ. Tonight, dear friends, the message we take home is threefold. 1) Like the women and the disciples in the gospel, like Clavius the Roman soldier in the movie Risen, our lives can no longer be the same again after encountering the risen Lord. 2) The transforming power of the resurrection is real. It makes us so convinced witnesses of the risen Lord, that our lives touch others people deeply. 3) As St. Augustine in the 4th century said, “we are an Easter People and alleluia is our song!” May this be our song throughout the Easter season. “Christ is rise! He is risen indeed!”

©John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the LordYear B

Readings: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
It was Palm Sunday, and the family's 6-year old son had to stay home from church because of strep throat. When the rest of the family returned home carrying palm branches, the little boy asked what they were for. His mother explained, "People held them over Jesus' head as he walked by." "Wouldn't you know it," the boy fumed. "The one Sunday I don't go to church, and Jesus shows up!  Yes, Jesus shows up on Palm Sunday morning. He makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That entrance becomes prophetic: the one who enters the city in triumph is the same one who is led out of the city by jeering crowds to be crucified. That is what we celebrate and commemorate on Palm Sunday - the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This is where Jesus will accomplish the Paschal mystery through his passion, death and resurrection. The Palm Sunday procession opens the Holy Week festivities towards Easter. The procession proclaims Jesus, who through his death returns into the glory of the Father. As we carry green branches and joyfully acclaim Jesus, we become part of the crowd accompanying Jesus on his prophetic entry into Jerusalem in order to pass from this world to the Father. We thus become part of the pilgrim people of God on their way to the New Jerusalem. There are two sides of the Palm Sunday liturgy: the joyful mystery and the sorrowful mystery. There is the joyful entry into Jerusalem and the immanent passion and death on the cross. The one who is joyfully acclaimed is the same one who is soon to be condemned by the crowd to die on the cross for our sins. Thus Jesus becomes a perfect model of what our journey of faith must finally involve - being humiliated, persecuted to the point of accepting death on the cross, so that God may raise us up on the last day.

The Passion of our Lord according to St. Mark offers us an opportunity to be with Christ on the way of the cross, starting at the garden of Gethsemani. Yet here at Gethsemani we find those who should have watched with Christ, the disciples asleep, overcome by human weakness. They too run away on seeing Jesus arrested. They all leave Jesus completely abandoned, isolated, tormented and ridiculed as a king. Even at the cross the disciples keep their distance, afraid, and Christ seems to have been abandoned by everybody even his own Father. This isolation is dramatized by the great silence of Jesus throughout the passion story except a few words on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me". What message do we take home on this Passion Sunday of the Lord? 1) The greatest drama of our faith today is the ease with which Christ is abandoned suffering on the cross and in the lives of so many people. 2) Just as the joyful entrance into Jerusalem soon ends into the sorrowful mystery of the Lord’s passion, we too are caught up in that mystery as we accompany Jesus in his final hours of suffering. Discipleship is never without the passion and the Cross. Therefore, we must not run away from the scene like the disciples. Rather, we must remain with our Lord, isolated and abandoned, which is the central point of Mark’s account of the passion.

©2018 John S. Mbinda