Friday, September 21, 2018

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

Last Sunday readings focused our attention on the mystery of the Cross in order to understand who Jesus is. In the Gospel of last Sunday, the disciples misunderstood the identity of Jesus and so Jesus took the opportunity to tell them his true identity by foretelling his suffering, death and resurrection. This Sunday, Mark in the Gospel takes us back to the same theme of the Cross, but this time, in terms of discipleship that implies powerlessness and vulnerability. That is the best way to understand our discipleship. Rather than giving us any privileged positions, discipleship renders us powerless and vulnerable in the perspective of the cross. The Gospel is on the second prediction of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus was teaching the disciples and telling them, “the Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” But all that went over their heads. They did not understand, and Mark adds, “they were afraid to question him.” Why did they fail to understand? Mark reveals that “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Aha! They still see Jesus as a conquering Messiah who liberates Israel and establishes an earthly kingdom. In that sense, they were discussing about who would be the Vice President in that kingdom; power positions. Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them that he is a “Serving Messiah.” If we wish to be first, we must be prepared to be last; if we wish to be great, we must be prepared to be like little children; if we want to be leaders, we must be prepared to be servants of all. Jesus used the example of little children because during his time children were symbols of “non-persons”, without any power and often unprotected. Children were therefore symbols of powerlessness and vulnerability. Jesus reminds us today that rather than being concerned about positions of power in the Church, we should be more concerned about those without power and the most vulnerable in our midst.

I recently heard a story told by a parishioner. A young boy in the parish once asked how one becomes a Pope in the Catholic Church. So he was told that one has to become a priest first. The boy would not take any of that. He said no I would like to be a Pope! Not only do we want to have the top position but we are even capable of destroying others psychologically in order to make sure we get to the top!  As in today’s Christian community, ambition and jealousy were also among the close followers of Christ, making it difficult to understand Jesus’ call to a life of service and sacrifice. Jesus offers a clear catechesis on Christian leadership as humble service. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all”. As Christians, we are called to a humble service that involves a spirituality of service; a spirituality of powerlessness and vulnerability. So what message do we take home?  1) Our discipleship, our call to follow Christ the “Serving Messiah” is a call to powerlessness and vulnerability and not to a position of power and authority; 2) We are called to leadership of humble service that involves the possibility of the cross not comfort; 3) We must be very weary when discussions in the Church are about positions rather than caring for those without power and the most vulnerable.

©2018 John M. Mbinda

Saturday, September 15, 2018

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

The identity of a Messiah who will be rejected, suffer, die on the cross and rise on the third day. The reading this Sunday centers on the identity of the Messiah. In the Gospel, Jesus sets the stage by testing his disciples to find out if they really know who he is. Jesus cleverly starts by asking who other people say he is. Some say Jesus is a powerful prophet, others a great teacher, still others he is a great wonder-worker. Jesus will have none of that. He doesn't care about public opinion. He doesn't care what the "experts" say. So he asks, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter responds, "You are the Christ." Yes, that's good, but not good enough. That is not the full identity of Jesus. That is why Jesus immediately predicts his own suffering, rejection, death and resurrection. When Peter hears that, he reacts from his human perspective. How could the Christ, the Messiah suffer? That is why Peter tries to rebuke Jesus. Peter thought that Christ was a conquering Messiah; that the cross is for criminals, for evil-doers, not for Jesus. In that scene along the way, Jesus wants to remind his disciples and us too that our faith in him as a glorified Messiah is not his full identity. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah calls our attention to the fact that persecution and suffering were the destiny of the Servant of God. “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard….” In the second reading, James helps us to see clearly what genuine faith is about. He underlines the necessity of corporal works of mercy to the poor as the best expression of true faith. In other words, it is not enough to tell a hungry person “Go in peace…and eat well.” A parish that has no social ministry program is not fully responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It lacks the compassion and love of Christ as he hangs on the cross.

In the Gospel reading, Peter, like many of us thought that he knew who Jesus was, only to be shocked by Jesus' prediction of his own suffering, death and resurrection. Our call by Christ must involve the cross. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Like Peter, we want to live our faith on our own terms, without the mystery of the cross; without being involved in responding to the suffering in need. Certainly this is not easy, for it means denying ourselves of our own comfort. The readings remind us that the cross is the path to happiness. There is no short-cut. It means being prepared to risk dying for others like Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who on March 24, 1980, while celebrating the Eucharist, was shot and killed at the altar by a death squad assassin, paying the highest price for the commitment about which he spoke so often and so eloquently. He knew who Jesus was for him, and that is why he was not afraid to die as Jesus did. What message do we take home? 1) The best way to understand Jesus is to see him in the perspective of the Cross; 2) That is why Jesus reminds us that following him implies taking up the cross: suffering and dying with him so that he may raise us up to eternal life; 3) The way to Jesus, to happiness, and to eternal life is the way of the cross.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Friday, September 7, 2018

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year B On Clergy Scandal

Readings: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

" It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed." These wise words of Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century are still valid today as we face the most vicious scandal in the Church today. Last Sunday, as Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Archbishop of Washington, D.C.) addressed the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, he asked parishioners to pray for Pope Francis as he deals with the problem. A man stood up and yelled “Shame on you!” and then walked out. A woman who was present at that Mass was interviewed on Fox News on Monday night, and expressed her anger on how deeply hurt she had been because of the clergy abuse scandal and cover up. At the end of the interview she was asked, “are you then going to leave the Church?” She said, “Oh no, I am a committed Catholic, and intend to remain in my Church.” 

If you do not believe that the devil exists, think twice! “Satan is dancing with great joy!” as Bishop Larry Silva says in the opening paragraph of the letter addressed to the clergy, religious and all parishioners in the Diocese of Honolulu regarding recent allegations of clergy abuse of minors. This letter of August 24, 2018 may be found on the Diocese of Honolulu website: A copy of Bishop Larry’s letter is inserted in the bulletin of this Sunday. 

Bishop Robert Barron recently called the present crisis “a diabolical mastermind.” The devil has indeed come up with a plan to destroy the Church, by misleading some clergy to sexually abuse minors 

Even as we struggle to find solutions for this crisis, the readings of this Sunday could give us some hope. The Israelite leaders, prophets and priests had misled the people into the worship of pagan gods. Consequently, God let then fall into the hands of the Babylonians who took them into exile. The First reading from the prophet Isaiah announces better times to come, when God will transform their situation symbolized by the healing of the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the dumb. This vision of Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus who in the Gospel heals a deaf and dumb person with the power of one word in Aramaic “Ephphatha” (be opened).

I think the readings raise up our hopes in the midst of a serious scandal and breach of trust by some members of the clergy including high ranking leaders in the Church.
I am truly ashamed of my own Church, but I remain hopeful that our deafness and dumbness will eventually be healed. Thank you for being here. It gives me great hope in the midst of this crisis. It reminds me of our Lord’s promise: “Behold I am with you always till the end of the world.” (Mt 28:20) That’s why you and I are still here today; that is why I am here to give you hope and encouragement in this time of crisis and a sense of direction in time of confusion. “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy!”

@2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, August 30, 2018

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Dt 4:1-12,6-8; Jas 117-18,21-22,27; Mk 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23 
“You disregard God’s commandments but cling to human traditions.” The gospel this Sunday focuses on a dispute between Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes on the true meaning of God’s law. All 3 readings focus attention on the essentials of the law, namely the relation between personal holiness and observance of the Law, not the details. At the end of the day what matters most is inner personal holiness, rather than the scrupulous external ob­servance of the law. The readings therefore remind us that it is not a matter of knowing or doing the small details of the law, but rather it is a question of entering into an authentic relationship with the God. The three readings together give a balanced approach to the law. In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses presents the statutes and decrees of the Lord in a positive way. He teaches the people that by observing the decrees of the Lord, they will live and occupy the land the Lord is giving them. He also warns the people that they must not add nor subtract from God’s law and teaching.  God’s law basically consists of three parts: doctrinal teaching, moral teaching and prayer. The best criterion of every law however is the greatest law: love of God and love of neighbour. The second reading from the letter of James neatly summarises this point in terms of relating personal holiness of life to the care of the needy. We must put into action what God tells us. St. James summarizes this point well: “Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and able to save your souls”. In other words, our inner life must overflow into the service of others.

In the Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus takes issue with the legalism and hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees. Instead of focusing on the essentials, they focus on the details of the law. When asked by the Scribes and Pharisee why He and his disciples did not observe the law of washing their hands before eating, Jesus contradicts their notion that external rituals such as washing hands and abstaining from certain foods have anything to help change the human heart for better. On the contrary, inner moral pollution comes from within the human heart. Deuteronomy helps us capture this truth when it says “the human heart is devious from youth” (Deut 6:5). The gospel therefore invites us to develop a radical self-honesty, necessary to recognize within ourselves the tendencies that come from our hearts, and thus in need of God’s grace to combat these tendencies. It is that self-knowledge that helps us to name, claim and tame the wild streak within that threatens our openness to God’s gift of life and love. We are invited to joyfully live what Jesus teaches us through the Church, not with legalism but out of a deep intimate relationship with the Father, so that we may find life and salvation, in Jesus Christ. The message from the readings this Sunday is threefold: 1) At the end of the day what matters most is inner personal holiness, rather than the scrupulous external ob­servance of the law. 2) The best criterion of every law is the Greatest Commandment: love of God and love of neighbour, expressed in terms of relating personal holiness to the care of the needy. 3) Genuine holiness is transformative and overflows into the service of others, particularly the less fortunate, which is always an overflow of our inner relationship with God.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The Gospel passage this Sunday, the final section on Jesus’ teaching on the bread of life, ends with a dramatic challenge to make a choice. Indeed all three readings speak about the necessity of making choices. Our life progresses on a path where we have to make choices as we go. Some choices are critical to survival and others not so serious. We choose to believe in persons, in institutions, in values and causes.  All our real and good relationships, our good commitments arise out of such choices. This process of faith invariably involves a certain amount of risk. Our faith too is a matter of choice. The problem is that because we have been brought up in a society that believes in freedom of choice, we tend to consider even what the Church teaches in terms of choice. What the Church teaches about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not a matter of choice. It is a teaching to be accepted in faith. Some Catholics would want to dilute the faith in such a way that they can accept it. Others would not want the Church to speak on certain moral issues, questions that require a leap of faith to accept in freedom what the Church teaches.

In the first reading, the people challenge Joshua on questions of faith and Joshua places a clear option before them. “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. After Joshua reminded the people of all that the Lord had done for them, the people said, “we also will serve the Lord”. In the second reading, Paul presents a more familiar form of choice making. He speaks of the decision made by engaged couples preparing for marriage. They must choose one partner, and that choice is sealed at the marriage covenant in the Church. Paul uses this image to describe the loving relationship between Christ and the Church, in order to underline the choice we make at Baptism to serve Christ. At the end of a lengthy discourse on the bread of life, some followers of Jesus found the teaching difficult and they no longer went with him. Jesus then turned to the Twelve and said, "Do you also want to leave?" Obviously Jesus loved them so much that he wanted to respect their freedom of choice. They in turn would respond in love and freedom through Peter. "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God". We live in a world full of life choices and a plurality of options. But when we come to matters of faith, God loves us so much that He wants us to choose in freedom to do His will. The message is threefold: 1) Like the Israelites and the disciples of Jesus, you and I are faced with the same challenge of making vital decisions in our faith commitments. 2) Like the disciples of Jesus, the options for us are narrowed down to either accepting his teaching in faith or going away; 3) This Sunday we are challenged to affirm with Joshua, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Similarly, we are challenged to profess our faith with Peter, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

©2018 John S. Mbinda