Thursday, November 20, 2014

Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe Year A

Readings: Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 15:20-26, 28; Mat 25:31-46

Jesus Christ is the King of the universe. When Christ is King He welcomes and rewards those who show compassion to the less fortunate; when Christ is King He rejects and punishes those who show no concern or do nothing for the least of his brothers and sisters. On this last Sunday of the year, as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, the theme of preparedness reaches a climax. The final judgement takes place on the basis of our compassion and care for others or the lack of it. The prophet Ezekiel in the First Reading uses the image of a shepherd to underline how much God loves and cares for his people with compassion and tenderness.  Thus God assumes the role of shepherd for his sheep, finding the lost, gathering the scattered, healing the wounded and caring for all. God as Shepherd is also presented as Judge between one sheep and another, between rams and he-goats”, – a reference to separating the good from the bad. In the second reading, Paul portrays Jesus Christ as a powerful and awesome Lord and King. Yet we know that Jesus is the “King of Hearts” not the “King of Clubs”. “In him shall all be brought to life.” Christ is presented as ruler to whom all power and authority must eventually give way; the one who eventually subdues his enemies. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. Christ gives life, life in all its fullness. Christ’s purpose is to share that life with every single person. “For Just as in Adam all die, so too all in Christ all shall be brought to life”, having subjected all evil forces. The last enemy to be subjected is death.

The Gospel passage from Matthew 25 explains how our entire salvation in the end hinges on caring or not caring for the less fortunate. We are told how when Jesus Christ is King will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  The sheep will be placed at His right and the goats at His left, which indicates the separation of the good and from the bad.   That separation is done in a way that surprises all. They discover how they did or did not recognize Jesus in their brothers and sisters. They have a greater surprise when Jesus invites them into the kingdom or rejects them right at the door, for just as you did or did not do it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did or did not do it to me.  The truth is that Jesus identifies with every person created in God’s image and likeness. We note that none of the things Jesus mentions are religious in nature; there is no direct mention of any commandments observed or violated; people are condemned not for doing anything that is morally wrong but for inaction; for failure to show compassion. Whatever we do centres round Jesus because He is truly present in every person we meet. Today’s Gospel therefore echoes the eternal divine love and justice of Jesus Christ our King, who shows his compassion to those who have shown God’s mercy and compassion to their brothers and sisters. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Jesus in the Gospel teaches us his disciples and stewards to be vigilant and prepared during the period of uncertain delay before his second coming. 2) In response to that message we are challenged to show compassion and care to Christ’s less fortunate. That is the criterion by which we will be judged at the end. 3) To put this message into practice concretely, this coming season of Advent, one might visit the sick, the elderly, prisoners or volunteer to for one of the parish outreach ministries. There at IHS or at the Waianae beach you will indeed meet Jesus Christ the King among the poor and homeless!

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

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

Investing our talents wisely, taking risks, fidelity to commitments, and accountability are the phrases that help to focus on the message of 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 in the life or ministry 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 Thessalonika. 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 their risk to wisely invest 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, who choose to 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! So 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 the gifts and resources God has given us.

©2014 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Dedication of the John Lateran Basilica

Readings: Ez 47:1-2, 8-9,12;1Cor 3:9-11,16-17; Jn 2:13-22

Zeal for your house will consume me, destroy this temple and I will raise it up. These are the key words that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. This Sunday we commemorate the Dedication of Saint John Lateran Basilica in Rome. What is the Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica? It is the feast that commemorates the oldest and principal Cathedral in the Diocese of Rome, first dedicated on November 9, 324 A.D. It is the mother church of all churches and the Seat of the Bishop of Rome. Today's First Reading from the Book of Ezekiel speaks of the stream of life-giving water. Ezekiel “saw water flowing from the temple and all to whom that water came were saved." This marvelous river contains an abundance of fish and on its banks grows every kind of fruit tree. Some of the trees have leaves which serve for medicine. The water which flows from the temple sanctuary has great power. Our parish had its Commitment Sunday four weeks ago. There is a connection between the first reading and stewardship. Your commitment of financial resources enables our parish to fulfill the mission, vision and purpose of Jesus Christ. It also brings blessings to you and your family. In the first reading, Ezekiel describes a vision of water trickling from the Temple. He goes a thousand cubits (about 500 yards) and the water reaches his ankles. Another thousand and it’s knee-deep, then waist deep and finally the river is so deep he has to swim. So it is with our stewardship of treasure. It may seem small, but if we give from the heart, if we love God's Temple, our solidarity will grow and become a mighty river whose waters bring about spiritual nourishment. Our families, our ministries will become powerful instruments of evangelization, healing and compassion.

In the Gospel Jesus sees the money changers and animal merchants, and he is infuriated by the lack of respect for the temple area. Like the prophet Ezekiel, Jesus held the temple in great esteem. He called it “my Father’s house.” More than anyone else, he fulfilled the scripture words, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” In these words Jesus makes a double claim about his own identity: 1) that the time of fulfillment has come when there will be no need for merchants in the temple area; and 2) that God is his Father. When asked for a sign to prove his claim, Jesus speaking in the temple area responds metaphorically: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” John tells us that Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body, foretelling his own resurrection. He was speaking about the new Temple, the Resurrected Christ. The feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome is truly a feast of Life. The good news that inspires our zeal as stewards is our faith and hope in the resurrection. The temple in Jerusalem was the seat of Israel’s religious life, but Jesus announces an even more abundant life – his body as temple that will be raised up after three days. This abundant Life is foretold by Ezekiel in the first reading. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The feast day of our mother church in Rome calls us to a zeal that will consume us when we as disciples and stewards give our lives for others as Jesus did. 2) Our stewardship of time, talent and treasure will help our parish become a mighty river whose waters bring about spiritual healing and nourishment. 3) The good news that inspires our zeal as stewards is our faith and hope in the resurrection. 

©2014 John S. Mbinda

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