Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving Day Homily 2017

Thanksgiving Day Homily Podcast: Listen to Homily
Readings: Sir 50:22-24; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Lk 17:11-19

“Sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts, always thanking God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 5:19) Those inspiring words from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians are the Entrance Antiphon in today’s Mass. The readings we hear today weave together a wonderful theme of thanksgiving and gratitude. The second reading sums up one of the best reflections on gratitude. “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way…” Paul is deeply aware of how God has blessed him in leading him to discover his faith in Christ and that is why he often pours out prayers of gratitude and exhorts his followers to do the same.

In the gospel, all ten lepers were cleaned but only one returned thanking Jesus and glorifying God. Luke deliberately uses two different words to draw a distinction between being cleansed and being healed. Cleansing refers to the physical cure of leprosy, while healing refers to being totally transformed – being saved. It is only when one deeply experiences healing that one is deeply touched by God’s mercy and able to thank God. That is why one of the lepers returns to thank Jesus. How grateful are you for all God’s blessings?

Thanksgiving Day is a special day when we pause to thank God for all the wonderful blessings we as Americans have received from God since the founding fathers of our nation. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln did a very unusual thing. In the midst of the darkest day in American history, in the midst of the Civil War which claimed more American lives than any other war, in the midst of great trial and tragedy, President Lincoln issued the following proclamation: “It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gifts of God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November (next) as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.”
Here at St. John’s we have so much to be grateful to God and to one another. In this context I would like to express deepest gratitude for your commitment to stewardship as a way of life. Thank you for your time, talent and treasure. A letter of gratitude will soon be mailed to all parishioners who filled out commitment cards. Thanksgiving Day therefore is not just a secular holiday but deeply religious. The Holy Eucharist we celebrate today is an expression of thanksgiving for the many blessings poured upon each family in our great nation. Shortly we will enter into the center of our prayer of thanksgiving – the Eucharistic Prayer when the presider says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” and the congregation responds, “It is right and just.” Then the presider will continue, “It is truly right and just…always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father, most holy…” May this celebration today and always express our gratitude to God for so many blessings. Happy Thanksgiving Day and may peace abide in your homes.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Thirty Third Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Pro 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; 1 Thess. 5:1-6; Matt. 25:14-30

Investing our talents, taking risks, commitments, and accountability are some of the phrases that help us to focus on the message of the readings this Sunday. The readings highlight fidelity to our commitments. Whether we speak of Baptism, a career, marriage, priestly or religious life, once we have made a commitment, we remain accountable. We have an obligation to faithfulness and growth in the life we assume. Fidelity to one’s commitment is illustrated in terms of wisdom personified as the perfect wife and mother in the first reading from the Book of Proverbs. The woman of worth mentioned here is the personification of Lady Wisdom, who in her ordinary ways performs with skill, integrity and commitment. For her no chore is routine when performed with wisdom. Every event becomes an opportunity to encounter the living God. Lady Wisdom serves her husband because “he has entrusted his heart to her”. She makes use of her skills as well as being mindful and generous to the poor and needy. She is praised, not because of her beauty or charm, but because of what she does, something that we can all imitate. In the second reading, Paul once again deals with the question of the second coming, which had become a daily preoccupation in Thessaloniki. Paul’s intention this time is to comfort the fears of those who dreaded the Day of the Lord by reminding them that they were already living in the last days; they were living in the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. He reminds them and us that the Lord’s second coming must not be an excuse for doing nothing under the pretext of waiting. We must continue working for the kingdom while waiting for the Lord.

These last Sundays in the liturgical year purposely focus our attention on the end of time, final judgment and Christ’s second coming. The parable of the talents in the Gospel at first seems to underline fidelity and faithfulness. The two good and faithful servants are praised for taking a risk to invest wisely the money given them. The parable however goes on to underline the final judgment, when we will each be called to render an account of how we used or did not use the gifts God has given us. We will be called by the Lord to give an account of how we have made use of the grace, the talents, and the opportunities given us, to deepen our relationship with the Lord. The parable reminds us that there are those who use their time on earth wisely and invest their gifts and opportunities in spiritual growth. But there are also those who, like the person in the Gospel, do nothing with their gifts and talents. Let us focus for a moment on this last person. What exactly happened? Why did he choose to do nothing with his talent? In his own words he says, "I was afraid" of being punished by the hard master in the end. It was fear that led him not to do anything except foolishly hide the talent in the ground until the master returned. Fear could prevent us from making a step towards the Lord, towards a change of heart and conversion, keeping us away from multiplying the gifts given us by the Lord. None of us would want to wind up before Jesus like this fellow! What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings call us to be faithful to our commitments. That call is illustrated in terms of wisdom personified as the perfect wife and mother in the first reading from the Book of Proverbs. 2) Paul underlines that same message by urging us to live our baptismal commitment as children of the light and of the day by staying alert and ready. 3) The Gospel exhorts us to take risks, to be more creative and bold in using our gifts and resources God has given us.

©2017John S. Mbinda

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Thirty Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Wis 6:12-16; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Matt 25:1-13

Staying awake, preparedness, being vigilant and wise are the key words that lead us into the message of this Sunday. Over the next 3 Sundays, the readings will focus our attention on the final days marked by the second coming of Christ. This Sunday the readings underline the importance of preparedness to meet the Lord at all times. In the first reading, wisdom is described as the spirit which enables us to anticipate the unforeseen and to be prepared. We hear that “Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim”. It is the fuel or the oil that keeps our lamps lit, in order to give witness wherever we are. Wisdom is used in contrast to foolishness which makes us sloppy and negligent in our Christian life. Wisdom on the other hand gives us a kind of a sixth sense in our faith and hope, in order to be alert and prepared. In the second reading, Paul deals with the question raised by the Christian Community in Thessalonica on what happens to those who die before the “second coming”. Paul assures them that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, all who die in Christ “God will bring them with him…Then we who are alive…will be caught up with them” on the last day. The alleluia verse before the Gospel continues the same theme of being prepared. “Stay awake and stand, because you do not know the hour when the Son of Man is coming”.

The parable of the ten bridesmaids is used as a concrete expression of wisdom that enables us to stay awake, vigilant and prepared. There is a sharp contrast between the five wise bridesmaids, who take extra oil with them for their lamps, and the foolish ones, who only take their lamps, completely unaware of a possible delay. It can be quite easy for young bridesmaids to slip into foolishness as in the Gospel story. The main point of the parable is that through our baptism, we have received an invitation to the heavenly wedding banquet, but the arrival time of the bridegroom is hidden from us. But why the stress on oil? Some scripture scholars tell us that the oil stands for our good deeds that shine out like light for others to see. The Master of the house locks out those foolish bridesmaids because Jesus has already warned his disciples saying, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter…but only the one who does the will of my Father” (Matt 7:21). The parable is one of Jesus’ teaching about good and bad servants, and the two groups are people that we probably know too well. There are those folks who are always prepared come what may, and there are others who are never there or never on time! You meet them at school, at work, at the airport and at Church. As someone has said, they are the ones who will be late even for their own funeral! We notice that the Master does not send them to hell, but scolds them. Taken this way, the parable is an invitation to conversion. Wisen up! Next time, come with your own oil. Being wise in terms of Jesus means being vigilant for He will surely return and so we need to be ready. It is not a waste of time, but a time of patient waiting. So, when Christ comes along with his bride the Church, he will go straight in with those prepared into the banquet hall, and the doors will be closed. So what message do we take home? 1) The first reading challenges us to be wise rather than being foolish in matters of faith and morals and thus be patiently prepared. 2)  Paul in the Second Reading urges us to remain in readiness for the second coming, when all who died in Christ will rise with Him on the last day. 3) The Gospel passage is a challenge to conversion and transformation in readiness for Christ; it is a challenge to be wise; to remain truly faithful till the end, making the right choices; staying awake till the Lord comes.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thirty First Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Mal 1:14-2:2,8-10; 1 Thess 2:7-9,13; Mt 23:1-12

Faithfulness to God’s covenant, honorary titles and humble service are some of the phrases that help us to capture the message of this Sunday. The readings invite us to a deeper awareness of the need for humble service and authentic Christian life. There is no room for arrogant leadership, idolatry and hypocrisy. In the first reading from the prophet Malachi, God gives the strongest warning to the religious leaders for their failure to be faithful to God’s covenant. They have not only been personally unfaithful, but they have also misled and misguided the people they were called to lead. As we listen to this passage, we realise how relevant it is even today. These strong words clearly accuse those who fail to live up to their responsibilities of Christian leadership. By contrast, in the Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul presents himself as a model of Christian leadership. He is eager not only to hand over the Good News to the people of Thessalonica, but also ready to hand over his life, a sign of total commitment. The passage is a reminder of how Paul worked tirelessly for the sole purpose of letting the Gospel message take root in the communities he founded.

In the Gospel from Matthew, Jesus condemns the Pharisees for using the titles of rabbi, father and teacher. These were religious leaders who insisted on being addressed by their proper titles, such as Rabbi or Master. There are four reasons why this Gospel passage needs to be well understood. 1) Based on this passage, some Christians have taken it out of context and said that no one should be called father, not even the priests. 2) The reason why Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees is that while they sought to be called father, their actions fell short of coming close to what was expected of a spiritual father to the people. They simply did not deserve such a title. 3) Jesus argues that we have one Father, one God who created them us all. Therefore as followers Christ we belong to the one family of God who makes us one, for we have “one teacher”, and we “are all brothers” with “one Father” and one “master, the Christ”. 4) Jesus cautions his followers regarding the use such honorary titles: master, father, and teacher, because they can become symbols of idolatry. Let me explain. If I make a person more important than God, I am treating the person as an idol. To use Jesus' example, someone might be a good teacher. You feel like you could just sit and listen to him all day! But the question is: Does that teacher lead you to himself/herself or to something beyond? A good teacher does not make a student dependent. Rather, he or she teaches the student the best habits of learning, methods of inquiry, a sense of wonder and imagination. Those things can lead a student to a love of learning. The love of learning can eventually lead a person closer to God.

What Jesus teaches about titles must not be taken literally, otherwise we will be unable to use the terms, doctor, master or teacher in ordinary usage of life. The main point Jesus makes is that we must not hide behind our titles, our clerical or religious garbs. Sure they are symbols of honor and respect, but those who bear these titles and symbols have the obligation for greater humility. They must never insist on them. Therefore, Jesus cautions us on the misuse of titles for mere showing off and arrogance. That is why He repeats His teaching on humility: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  St Augustine captured this meaning in saying, there is something in humility that exalts the mind, and something in exaltation that abases it (cf. The City of God, 14.13). In a similar way St. Benedict speaks of “a ladder of humility” by which we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility (cf. Rule 7.7). So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) In the first reading, God gives the strongest warning to religious leaders for their failure to be faithful to God’s covenant. 2) In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us to be aware that honorary titles such as master, father, and teacher can become symbols of idolatry and an obstacle to true humility. 3) The bottom line is that true holiness is found in humility rather than in titles or external symbols. Think about it!

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Thirtieth Sunday 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; a summary of all laws; all others flow from these. We recall that in the Gospel of last Sunday the Pharisees had a plan 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 put forward by a scholar of the law is about the greatest commandment of the Jewish Law. It is important to know that the Pharisees 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 find a summary of Jesus’ central message in Matthew’s Gospel. The greatest commandment is love. The law of love is a summary of God’s plan of salvation. 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. While the Jewish understanding of love of neighbor was limited to Jewish brothers or sisters, Jesus added the aspect of compassion which extended that meaning beyond one’s nation to include everybody irrespective of religion, race, party affiliation and even across class boundaries, with no one seen as an insider or outsider. Jesus did not discard the other commandments, but said that all others flow from the law of love, which places demands on his followers. If anyone is hungry, then feed them; go help 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 Christ. To love another person as oneself is to love 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 thus must never be neglected or mistreated. It is the Lord who speaks in this passage in defense of these categories of people. 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 poor, foreigners, people of another color, the disadvantaged, and those who are different from us in culture and values. We are challenged to evaluate the way we carry out our social ministry. Our attitude towards the poor and disadvantaged touches the very center of the Commandment of Love of God and neighbor. 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) The Authenticity of our faith, our 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, strangers, 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 readings today challenge us to seek repentance and forgiveness for our negative attitudes towards others and the way we tend to treat them.

©2017 John S. Mbinda