Thursday, October 30, 2014

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Readings: Wis 3:1-9; Rm 5:3-9; Jn 6:37-40

The “communion of saints and life everlasting” as we pray at the end of the Creed sums up best what we celebrate today, the Commemoration of all the Faithful – All Souls. By setting aside a day exclusively for those who have passed from this life, we affirm our faith in the life after and our obligation to pray for them. That faith and obligation is based on the teaching of the Church on the communion of saints: those in heaven, the Church on earth and the souls in purgatory. The image of the Body of Christ captures best the communion that links all three levels. The Church on earth commemorates all the Faithful Departed every year November 2, as an opportunity to pray for the souls in purgatory. The best way to understand purgatory is to think of your soul at the time of your Baptism. It was clean. You were in the state of grace; the best version of yourself, but daily due to sin (both venial and mortal sin ), we pick up grime that clutter our souls. We go to confession. We are forgiven; the sin is removed, but we still need to pay for the damages and so be purified of the scars in purgatory before we can get into heaven. Those in purgatory cannot pray for themselves; they need our prayers. That is why we continually offer Holy Masses for those who have died. Collectively and individually we help them by our prayers to get to heaven. Throughout this past month, many bereaved families have put in names of their loved ones in the Book of Remembrance so we can remember them in this Holy Mass. The list does not limit God’s love and mercy. The people we remember are not imaginary people, but real people from families in our parish that have been shattered by separation; families and spouses that are still grieving. We have all been through the pain of separation by death.  We have all had to say goodbye to someone very dear and very close to us.  It is never easy to let go of someone who is dear to us. Bereavement is a real human tragedy.

The readings offer us great consolation.  In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, we hear very comforting words that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.” Contrary to the wisdom of this world, those who have died are at peace, for the Lord has purified them like gold in a furnace and taken them to Himself. In the Gospel Jesus gives us the good news that the Father wills to save everyone who believes in him. In other words, Jesus will leave no one behind. The good news is this: because of our faith and hope in Christ who died and rose, our loved ones now rest in peace with him in heaven. Today, as we pray for our loved ones and all the faithful departed, let us pray that the Lord may continually sustain our faith and hope in the resurrection of Christ. At this Holy Mass, we pray for all our faithful departed, that God may hasten their time to get to heaven. They need our prayers for they cannot pray for themselves. What is the message? 1) This annual commemoration gives the whole parish and the Church an opportunity to share in your grief and to pray for your loved ones. 2) We remember them in a special way through this Holy Mass: the highest form of prayer we can ever offer. 3) The good news is that because Jesus will leave no one behind, our faith and hope in the resurrection means that our loved ones will be with him in heaven. May our loved ones and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40

Love of God and love of neighbor sums up best the message of this Sunday. We recall that in the Gospel of last Sunday the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus on the question of paying or not paying taxes to Caesar. Their plan failed. In today’s Gospel the Pharisees come back for “round two” with yet another plan to trap Jesus. This time, their question is not even sincere. The question is put forward by a scholar of the law. It is about the greatest commandment of the Jewish Law. The reason for the question is that the Pharisees had categorized the Jewish code of law into 613 laws! Jesus' answer was based on the first five books of the Bible, and reduced the law into two great commandments. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind", and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In this response we are told what to do to be the best version of ourselves. Simply keep the greatest commandment of love. We need not worry like the Pharisees about which is the greatest commandment if we truly love God and our neighbor. But there is a radical element in Jesus’ teaching concerning the imperative to love one’s neighbor. The Jewish understanding of love of neighbor was limited to Jewish brothers or sisters. Jesus’ teaching added the aspect of compassion which extends that meaning beyond one’s nation to include everybody without exception. If anyone is hungry, then look at them with compassion and feed them. They deserve attention because that is biblical justice based on what Jesus teaches and what the Church teaches. Failure to love another person is failure to love Jesus Christ. To love another person as oneself is to love Jesus Christ. "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me" (Mt. 25:31-46).

Against this background, we reflect on the first reading from the Book of Exodus, which recalls the old Jewish code of law for daily life. The passage tells us that strangers, orphans, widows and the poor in general are very special to God, and therefore must never be neglected or mistreated. It is the Lord who speaks in this passage in defense of foreigners, the widows and the orphans. We hear very harsh words regarding the way the Lord will deal with us if we neglect or mistreat them. As a worshiping community and as individual Christians, we are challenged this Sunday to take a hard look at the way we treat the less fortunate and those who are different from us. We are challenged to evaluate the way we carry out our parish social ministry. Failure to treat the poor and disadvantaged with compassion drives them away, and that has eternal consequences. In the First Letter of John the Evangelist, we are told that love of neighbor has to do with truthfulness. “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, he is a liar, for whoever does not love the brother whom he sees cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Our stewardship, love of God and our relationship with Christ is measured by the way we treat others. 2)We are challenged to take a hard look at the way we treat the poor, the stranger, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and those who are different from us because of their race, culture and values. 3) The Lord deals severely with our negative attitudes and actions towards others, particularly the poor, strangers, the disadvantaged and those different from us. The good news is that the readings challenge us to seek repentance and forgiveness in order to once again be the best version of ourselves.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 45:1,4-6; 1 Thess 1:1-5; Mt 22:15-21

Repaying to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God is the punch line that sums up the message of this Sunday. Taxation was controversial at the time of Jesus because the ruling government was a Roman colonial invader. Moreover, taxes had to be paid with an imperial denarius. That coin had an image of Tiberius Caesar on one side, and on the other side there was an image of the female goddess of Rome. Such images were considered idolatry according to Jewish Law. Even more sensitive were the words under Caesar’s image, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” Any debate on taxation was therefore delicate as it could be even today. The readings of this Sunday touch on the delicate relationship between Church and state; between Christian commitment to God and loyalty to one’s country. A good example of this is what we hear in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah. The context is that the Jews are in exile in Babylon. The Lord then speaks through Isaiah to Cyrus, King of Persia (modern Iran), who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. The King then allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 537 B.C. He also gave state money from the royal treasury for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews quickly hailed King Cyrus II as the “anointed” in terms of being used by God to conquer the Babylonians. The first reading therefore reveals that at times, God may even use civil initiative to accomplish his own purpose. Isaiah uses the example of King Cyrus to illustrate this point. Isaiah shows that the king was ultimately subject to the hand of God in delivering Israel from the bondage of exile in Babylon, and restoring them to their homeland.

In the Gospel, Jesus is in the Temple. The Pharisees have plotted to trick him into saying something that would be treason against the Romans. So they send some spies, the Herodians, who had maintained loyalty to king Herod, and therefore supported the payment of taxes to the Roman Emperor. The question is carefully crafted to solicit a positive or negative answer. Jesus knows the malice and hypocrisy of his questioners. In fact they are carrying coins bearing Caesar’s name and image. Jesus’ reply leads his opponents to entrap themselves. “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s”, they replied. Then comes Jesus’ punch line. “Then, repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” The response of Jesus has many implications for the Church today. Jesus does not commit himself to either side. Similarly the Church must never take sides, but has the stewardship role of guiding the faithful through formation, to know their rights, in order to fulfill their civic duties as informed loyal citizens, who are committed to God alone. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus does not commit himself to either side of the debate, for he is committed only to the Father. Similarly, we too his disciples and stewards are committed to God alone. 2) As Christians we must be truthful and honest in all matters of civil life. 3) The readings challenge us to be good stewards by giving to God what belongs to God because all our being and all we have is from God.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Is 25:6-10; Phil 4:12-14,19-20; Mt 22:1-14

Commitment to God’s invitation sums up best the message of this Sunday. The readings speak about the Kingdom of heaven, compared to an invitation to a wedding banquet. All three readings clearly highlight a stewardship theme of our God who cares and provides for his people. The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah offers one of the most beautiful images of this Kingdom. Isaiah uses very clear graphic description of the great banquet that the Lord will prepare for his people. There will be good food and fine wines; there will be neither mourning nor death for the Lord will destroy death forever. “The Lord will wipe away the tears from every face”. There will be exultation and rejoicing, because the lord “has saved us”. This is all placed in the future. Paul in the Second Reading speaks indirectly of the same feast provided by the Lord for his people. Paul had learned to be content with whatever God provided generously. He had learned the secret of being well fed, referring to spiritual food. As a faithful steward, Paul found strength in the Lord Jesus. The response to what God generously provides for his people, for Paul and for us of today is expressed in Psalm 23. The psalm is clearly song of thanksgiving to the Lord and a prelude to the Eucharist we celebrate.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the Parable of the Wedding Feast. The banquet is now ready and the king sends his servants twice to invite the guests, but those invited are too busy to accept the invitation because they are too selfishness with their free time. Their business is so important that they snob a royal invitation. The negative response to that invitation is tantamount to rebellion and disloyalty. We are told that the king dispatches troops to destroy those murderers and their city. But the king does not give up. He makes a final invitation to everyone his servants can find, an allusion to God's universal invitation to salvation. In the banquet hall, an image of the Church, everyone has a place - "the bad and the good". You and I have accepted God’s invitation to come to the wedding banquet, namely the Eucharistic celebration. However there is one main requirement. All must wear their best in order to share the meal in the royal banquet. The garments are provided freely through the Sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of reconciliation. God invites us out of a free act of generosity. The message may be summed up in three points. 1) The parable in the Gospel is a challenge to commit ourselves to God’s invitation to be the best version of ourselves. The question is, are we too busy doing stuff that do not matter instead of responding positively to God’s invitation? 2) The good news is that God never gives up even when we say no. God sends out his messengers with another invitation. All are welcome to God’s Banquet of the Lamb at which there is free lunch. The only condition is to wear the wedding garment of grace provided freely through the sacraments. 3) We are challenged to commit ourselves to God’s invitation or to reject it; to give time to God or to pretend we own time! We can also go to the banquet hall and decline to wear the garment provided freely through the sacrament of reconciliation. The choice is mine; the choice is yours!

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

Inclusion, exclusion, lust, betrayal and failure to produce fruit are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on the Mystery of the Church as the vineyard of the Lord. In the Gospel, Jesus gives us yet another vineyard parable. In contrast to the past two Sundays the parable has a violent character. On one level we can say the parable has been fulfilled in the Passion and death of Jesus on the cross. On another level, the parable applies to every generation of Christians, including our own. Jesus prophesies the rise of servants who will rebel against the vineyard owner (God himself), and attempt to take it over by force for their own purposes. In the first reading we listen to Isaiah's song about a friend who had a vineyard. Isaiah uses poetic imagination to describe God’s disappointment with his vineyard – the People of Israel. Instead of yielding good grapes they yielded only sour grapes. Therefore God will no longer protect them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel fell in 722 BC about twenty years after Isaiah began his ministry. The southern kingdoms also fell after two centuries. The message of Isaiah is that the Lord looks for faithfulness to his Covenant, but only finds infidelity and betrayal. We can hardly listen to the prophesy of Isaiah without thinking about what is happening in many nations in the world today: rejection of Christian values, corruption in high places and the disregard for human rights.

The similarity between the Gospel and the first reading is striking. Jesus builds the parable of the vineyard around the vineyard song of Isaiah. The parable begins with inclusion and ends with exclusion and replacement of tenants because of infidelity, betrayal and failure to produce fruit. It is a powerful message from Jesus on the consequences of infidelity and betrayal. Just as in the case of the prophecy of Isaiah, one cannot read the Gospel of this Sunday without identifying ourselves as being the tenants who rebel and betray the owner of the vineyard. The parable underlines the root causes of such betrayal: greed, lust, ambition, betrayal of public trust and incredible mismanagement. Both the first reading and the gospel challenge us to examine our own lives as Christians on how we live out our stewardship entrusted to us by Christ.  By virtue of our Baptism we have been entrusted to work in his vineyard - the Church. We are expected to produce the fruit of holiness at the proper time. Yet we rebel against God. To help us produce fruit, the Lord sends us teachers and prophets, who lead us to God’s mercy and compassion, and so become the best version of ourselves. So what is the take away message? 1) Today as in the past, the prophecy of Jesus in relation to the Church is fulfilled. There is no shortage of rebellion, betrayal, corruption and disloyal workers in the vineyard. 2) The gospel parable calls our attention to the temptations of greed, lust and deception, which often lead to betraying God the owner of vineyard. 3) The good news is that God’s mercy is greater than our unfaithfulness. God has once again entrusted us to work in his vineyard - the Church. He gives us a second chance to produce fruit by becoming the best version of ourselves