Saturday, December 1, 2018

Second Sunday of Advent Year C

Second Sunday of Advent Year C
Readings: Bar:1-9; Phil 1:3-6,8-11; Lk 3:1-3

Have you ever, reflected more deeply about the Advent season? Advent is indeed very revolutionary. It prepares us for the COMING; the coming of the Messiah, who overtakes all kingdoms and establishes the kingdom which will have no end. That is precisely what the readings of this Sunday underline. They speak about preparing the way, flattening the mountains, filling the valleys, all pointing to a radical change of heart. The first reading from the prophet Baruch speaks about all the elect of God assembled in jubilation because God has remembered them. The prophet further calls on God’s people to a preparation that involves a radical change of heart – flattening the mountains, the hills, and filling the valleys. The Gospel reading is much more direct in urging us to "prepare the way of the Lord". These words quoted by Luke from Isaiah are associated with John the Baptist, who summons his listeners to a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; a call that involves a complete change of heart from sin to the practice of virtue. Such a radical redirection signifies walking with God in a new way. In John's ministry, this was accompanied by water purification, signifying a cleansing of mind and heart. St. Luke bases John the Baptist's mission on the prophecy of Isaiah, which points to the radical nature of repentance in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah.

The Gospel reading sets the stage for a proclamation that something spectacular is about to take place. The opening verses giving an historical context, sound like the introduction of the birth of Jesus, but they lead to an announcement. The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. This word of God was the proclamation of “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The central message of John is a radical change of heart, a call to turn away from selfishness and sin. Advent challenges us to open our hearts so we may be radically transformed in readiness for Christ’s coming into our hearts as our Savior. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) This Advent you and I are challenged to undergo a radical transformation, by living our baptismal commitment, by walking with God in a new way. 2) We are challenged to be today’s John the Baptist, proclaiming a message of repentance and forgiveness by our lives. 3) Such a message could be given by the little things we do to others: a call to someone experiencing hard times; a stop by the hospital or life care home; a smile at someone or a friendly wink to a child. Such little things go long ways to prepare our hearts for Christ when he comes.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, November 29, 2018

First Sunday of Advent Year C

Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28,34-36

Preparation, waiting and expectation are the key words that help to focus on the message of this First Sunday of the Advent Season, as we begin the new liturgical year. During the next four weeks, the Sunday readings will focus our attention on preparation, waiting and expectation. Some years ago there was some breaking news on TV that to me would be a good example of preparation. The news was about a man in Memphis, Tennessee who accidentally walked into a store during a robbery. The gunman pointed his pistol at him and ordered him to hand over all his money. The man responded, “Go ahead and shoot. I just been to Confession and Mass and took Holy Communion.”  The robber was confused by that reaction, and the man walked away safely. I tell this story because it helps to understand the importance of being ready always to meet the Lord. That is what Jesus tells us today. “The great day will suddenly close on you like a trap. So be on the watch.” In the First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells us that in the past the Lord God repeatedly made promises with Abraham and his descendants to bless them with many descendants and prosperity. God also promised that a righteous Branch would spring up from the line of King David. The prophet tells the people that they would have a just king and his policies would bring security to the kingdom and lead them to right relationship with God.  

The word Advent comes from the Latin word “advenire” = to come or the coming. It is therefore a time of preparation for the coming of our Lord and Savior. We know how anxious we can be while waiting for an important guest. Parents know how anxious they can be while waiting for the arrival of a new baby. The homecoming of a loved one or a member of the family similarly creates an occasion for anxiety while waiting for his return after deployment overseas. Advent is therefore a season of preparation and waiting for the coming of our Savior. The second reading of this Sunday centres on spiritual preparation. Here Paul urges us to make more progress in our Christian life, “the life that God wants”. Our waiting is based on the promise that our Saviour will surely come. Promises can be a source of hope and forward looking in life. They can inject a sense of purpose and meaning in daily life. They can also enable us to endure present hardships and trials with the hope that these will come to an end. In the Gospel, Jesus challenges us to be on our guard so that our hearts are not weighed down by worldly vices and the worries of this life. He urges us to be ready, so that day of the Lord will not catch us unexpectedly, unprepared. No one knows when the end will come.  Therefore we should be prepared at all times.   This is a time of urgency and hence there is little time for complacency.  So what is the take away message? 1) Jesus in the Gospel challenges us to be on guard and like the man in the story to be prepared spiritually because our liberation is at hand. 2) Advent is an invitation to prepare a place in our hearts for the Lord’s coming. 3) If we truly believe that Christ is coming anew, we will strive to center our lives on Christ through prayer life, asking the Lord to help us to make greater progress on the journey towards our extraordinary mission.

©2018 John S Mbinda

Saturday, November 17, 2018

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14,18; Mark 13:24-32

As the Liturgical Year approaches the end, the Church directs out attention to the end times and the need for preparedness. In 2009, film makers released a new movie “2012”. This apocalyptic movie was based on the prophecies of Nostradamus (1503-1566) who prophesied that a comet would destroy the world in 2012. What is so amazing about all these doomsday stories circulating is that some Catholics seem to interpret the prophecy in terms of the Third Secret of Fatima by linking that prophecy to the Mayan prophecy that is said to coincide with that of Nostradamus. The doomsday prophets therefore give a specific date for the end: December 21 2012, the date of the Winter Solstice.  In the first place, the Third Secret of Fatima was already made public in 1960 and again by the Cardinal Secretary of State on May 13 2000. In the first reading from the Book of Daniel we are given a preview of the final scene of human history- the end times. We are told that the dead will be raised to life and that each will face the final judgement. The good will be rewarded with eternal life, and the bad with eternal punishment. In today’s world, it is very easy to be confused by ideas from all sorts of preachers about the end of the world. Some even give an exact date and time, and to make it even more exciting, they indicate a place where their followers should gather, for the Lord to take them up – the so-called rapture!

In the Gospel, Jesus first speaks about the apocalyptic events that will cause the sun to be darkened and the moon dimmed; with stars falling from the sky. Then speaks about the Son of Man “coming in the clouds with great power and glory”. This statement obviously echoes the words in the First Reading, but here the Son of Man is even more victorious. All these catastrophic events are not the end but a preparation for the coming of the Lord. They are signs, that the end in near. That is why we must not interpret the so-called doomsday of 2012 as the end of time. If there is a galactic alignment in the heavenly bodies on December 21 2012, the message is that God is still in control of all He has created; for those who believe in God, God through the Church still proclaims a message of conversion and repentance in readiness of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We must not be afraid or panic. In March 2000, about 1000 people followers of the “doomsday cult” in Uganda were murdered by their leaders under the pretext of the end of the world. Such apocalyptic preachers obviously forget the final sentence of the Sunday Gospel reading from Mark. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father".  All we are told is that the end of this world as we know it will surely come. Jesus in the Gospel therefore helps us to read the signs that indicate the coming of the end. After that Christ will appear and send his angels to gather the just. So what is the message? 1) The readings challenge us to take note of the signs to the times and to be always prepared because the end is hidden from all of us. 2) What is sure is that in the end the Lord of all history will finally triumph over sin and the powers of evil in all their manifesta­tions in the world. 3) As followers of Christ therefore, we must heed the message of conversion and repentance in readiness for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
©2018 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, November 10, 2018

052Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44
The Lord provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. The readings of this Sunday reveal to us the Lord who provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty. In the readings we encounter two widows who give generously out of their poverty. Both have great trust in God who cares for them. In the first reading from the Book of Kings, the widow of Zarephath seems to hesitate, but when reassured by prophet Elijah, she trusts and hopes in God. “She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry”. Therefore, the story ends with God multiplying the meal flour and the oil in the jug, “as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.” The widow receives far much more than she gave. The major insight of the message is that the poor tend to be more generous than the rich and thus more blessed by God. Because the widow trusts in God, God miraculously feeds her because of her faith and trust. Even though she only had a little bit of food left in a time of famine, she completely trusts in the words of the prophet. The poor evangelize us so much.

Again in the Gospel we meet another widow at the temple. Jesus challenges us to imitate her and the poor because of their deep faith and trust in God. There are four striking contrasts between the widow’s simple piety and the scribes and Pharisees. First we note that some of these religious leaders tended to be arrogant in their behavior. Second, unlike the rich who were putting a lot of money in the Temple treasury out of their surplus, the poor widow offers everything she possesses “her whole livelihood”(life). Third, this widow is not only honest with God, but she also deeply trusts in God’s providence. That is the kind of generosity God expects from us. Four, the simple piety of the widow is contrasted to the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Such behavior is contrary to our Christian calling. Jesus draws our attention to the times we tend to misuse external symbols to draw attention to ourselves or to remind people of how much we have contributed. The point that Jesus makes is that the value of what we offer is not necessarily judged by its quantity. Rather, the spiritual disposition of the giver moved by the spirit of self-sacrifice is more important. Any parading of our contributions before others or demanding recognition, renders such gifts just a show. There is a striking common thread linking the two widows and Jesus in our reading. Both widows give everything they have to live on, risking their own lives. Similarly, Jesus sacrifices Himself on the Cross, giving up his life for others, that we may live. So what is the message? 1) Like the widows, our gifts must come from the poverty of our hearts in deep love and trust in God; 2) The Lord provides to the generous; to those who give from their poverty; 3) What we give depends on our spiritual disposition of risk-taking and self-sacrifice like the two widows. There is no better example of such risk-taking and self-sacrifice than what our Veterans have done and continue to do. May God bless all our Veterans.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, November 3, 2018

31st Sunday Ordinary Time Year B

Readings:  Deut 6:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28-34

Love of God is inseparable from our love of neighbor. The readings of this Sunday focus our attention on our duty to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Our Christian vocation is compared to Israel’s response to God’s covenant of love in the first reading. God loves Israel and in return God demands that his people too give their undivided love and commitment to God. The reading is a reminder that our love of God is not about going to Mass on Sunday, nor is it about saying our prayers. It is about being faithful to God in everything we do. In a sense we are called to daily faithfulness to the Lord our God. In return God will bless us with long life and prosperity according to his promises. The only condition is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. In the Gospel Jesus quotes from Leviticus to reminds us that our love of God is inseparable from our love of neighbor. God makes us participants in his divine life on condition that we love our neighbor. When we live the two commandments, then like the scribe in the Gospel we are not far from the kingdom of God. In other words, in loving others as we love ourselves, we clearly show that we love God whom we see in our neighbor.

The gospel passage follows upon the theme of commitment and obedience introduced in the first reading. Here a learned scribe asks Jesus to identify the first commandment of the law. The reason for the question was that not all 613 laws had the same weight and importance. Thus the scribe genuinely wanted some clarity from Jesus. His answer was very faithful to the Jewish faith. Jesus does not offer one commandment, but two: 1) the affirmation of faith found in the first reading (Deuteronomy 6:5); and 2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (quoted from Leviticus 19:18). Jesus in this passage teaches us that our communion with God is achieved through the two commandments love: love of God and love our neighbor. These are the two Commandments that summarize all the other Commandments of God. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that there are no other Commandments greater than these, for they are more important than any offerings or sacrifices. The failure in love of neighbor is dramatic in many parts of the world. We can say without doubt that, apart from selfish economic reasons, the failure to love neighbors in many countries is clearly one of the major causes of conflict. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) We are reminded that failure in love of neighbor is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 2) Our love of God is inseparable from our love of neighbor. 3) We are challenged to see the image and likeness of God in the faces of those different us, no matter who they are. Think about it.

©2018 John S. Mbinda