Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

 Proclamation, repentance, conversion and new life in Christ, are some of the words that help to capture the central message of this Sunday. We come together this Sunday to celebrate and to proclaim the risen Lord, who is our advocate with the Father. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter proclaims that in Jesus' name repentance for the forgiveness of sins is preached to all. Peter therefore underlines the message of forgiveness. Without knowing, the people had preferred a criminal to the Holy One; they had preferred death to life. They had put Jesus to death on the cross. "God, however, raised him from the dead and that we are the witnesses…Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out". Peter's proclamation of the resurrection is linked to repentance. In other words, to be touched by the resurrection is to experience God's immense love that must lead to conversion and living a new life in Christ. In the second reading, John continues the same theme of repentance. Our faith in the risen Lord implies living in fidelity to his commandments. The clearest manifestation of faith in the resurrection is found in those moments when we move from alienation to conversion and assume a new direction in life. The Gospel passage presents another post-resurrection appearance of the risen Lord to the disciples.

The Gospel starts with the experience of the two disciples who have just came back from Emmaus deeply touched by their experience of meeting the Risen Lord, and recognizing Him in the breaking of bread. While they share their story, suddenly Jesus appears to the whole group and tries to convince the disciples through their senses of touch and sight. Thus they touch him and see for themselves that he is really himself. That is why Jesus shows them his hands and his side so that they can see with their own eyes. Finally the disciples are convinced that it is really the same Jesus, the crucified one who has come back to life. The light of the resurrection enlightens the scriptures for the disciples, as Jesus explains the things he had told them about himself. "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day..." Luke tells us that the disciples were so joyful that they could not believe it. In this conviction, Peter would witness on behalf of the rest that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that they are the witnesses. We gather around the Eucharist this Sunday to proclaim and witness to the same truth of the resurrection, because this same Jesus, the Paschal Victim once offered for the sins of the world, is risen and is alive among us. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) At this celebration, we too meet the Risen Lord who speaks to us and enlightens us to understand the scriptures; 2) Like the two disciples at Emmaus, we meet the Risen Lord at the breaking of bread; 3) We too must let ourselves be touched by the resurrection and be led to live a new life in Christ; 4) Like the apostles, may we too be overjoyed and filled with the Spirit of the Risen Lord, that we may joyfully give witness to what we have seen and heard.

 ©2015 John S. Mbinda

Friday, April 10, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter Year B

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; I Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Peace, forgiveness and reconciliation are some of the key words underlying the message of this Sunday. The Second Sunday of Easter is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. Indeed the Gospel reading leads us to discover the meaning of God’s mercy. After Jesus rose from the dead, He appears to his disciples once again. On that occasion Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them." (Jn 20:22) In other words, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit who would accompany them in their mission of bringing about peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. This Sunday bears greater significance because St. John Paul II was canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014. The Pope was very instrumental in promoting devotion to Divine Mercy particularly on the occasion of the canonization of Blessed Faustina, on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30 2000.

The readings set the tone for the entire Easter season. Their purpose is to continue helping the newly baptized towards growth in the mystery of Christ who is now risen and in our midst. The readings therefore provide a meditation on the mystery of the resurrection and our own incorporation into that mystery through our initiation. In the Gospel, the risen Lord appears again to the gathered apostles. On this occasion He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit the principle of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. The focus of that event may be interpreted in terms Christ revealing God’s Divine Mercy. What is Divine Mercy? From the diary of Blessed Faustina, a special devotion began spreading throughout the world in the 1930s. The message was nothing new, but a reminder of what the Church has always taught through scripture and tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we, too, must show mercy and forgiveness. But in the Divine Mercy devotion, the message takes on a powerful new focus, calling people to a deeper understanding that God’s love is unlimited and available to everyone — especially the greatest sinners. The message of mercy is that God loves us — all of us —no matter how great our sins when we repent. God wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. The message of Divine Mercy is threefold: 1) Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world. 2) Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us. 3) Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the graces of His mercy are dependent upon our trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive. In brief, God’s name is Mercy!  The message of this Sunday may therefore be summed up in three points: 1) Today we affirm our faith in the Risen Lord who channels the greatest gift: the grace of God's Divine Mercy, won for us by the blood of Christ on the Cross and the resurrection. 2) Many Christians have discovered that God’s Mercy is not cheap. They had to struggle through a painful conversion experience and repentance. On this Sunday we are called to a conversion experience so that God’s mercy and compassion may touch us deeply. 3) Just as the Father sends Jesus to share the grace of Divine Mercy with all of us, we too are sent to be instruments of peace, forgiveness, and God’s compassion and mercy.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holy Thursday Homily Year ABC

Readings: Ex 12:1-8,11-4; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

A Model to follow; a model of service; bread broken and wine poured out for others. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, so you should also do.” Tonight we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist and the ministry through which the memorial of Christ is kept alive – the Priesthood. We celebrate the mystery of how we become “One Ohana” (family) in Christ through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and in the sharing of His Body and Blood. In the Gospel of John however, the emphasis in tonight’s celebration is on the ministry that makes the Holy Eucharist possible under the image of Christ the “servant” who washes the feet of others.

Rather than present the institution of the Eucharist, St. John Evangelist gives a commentary on the Eucharist – The Holy Mass in the form of Christ’s foot washing.  Tonight, Jesus first gives his final testament, then rises and washes the feet of his disciples.  He then concludes with “as I have done for you, so you should also do.”  Jesus stoops down from the height of his divinity and serves his own creatures.  He asks us to stoop down as well.  God comes to serve us, so we too may serve the least of society and care for the casualties of our society. Just as Christ becomes Food and Drink for us, we too become bread broken and wine poured out for others. On many occasions Pope Francis has shown us how we become food and drink for others.  When he washes the feet of others he symbolizes what his ministry as Pope is meant to be – “servant of all.” We too can do this by giving our time, talent and treasure: our energy, our love to those who count for nothing, those whose God-given dignity is still veiled and hidden to the eyes of the world.  We are called to reach out to the sick, the poor, the handicapped, the dying, the unborn, to those who are nobodies in the eyes of the world.  So often, our society treats them as slaves or as nothing.  Our sharing in the Eucharist is quite fruitless unless we become the bread broken and wine poured out for others. In the words of Mother Teresa, “we called to live simply so that others may simply live.” In so doing we become instruments of transforming people one at a time, leading them to be the best version of themselves.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis continues to show us what it means to stoop down like Christ. Yesterday, the Pope celebrated the Lord’s Supper at a detention center outside Rome. In all humility, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve of these neglected prisoners (male and female), who never dreamed of having any attention in the world. That is what our stewardship must do for the least – to give them dignity, to give them more humanity and hope in this world. “As I have done for you, so you should also do.” This sets the stage for the Rite of the Washing of the Feet which is a powerful metaphor for the servant Church founded by Christ. This is what you and I must do if we are to be bread broken and wine poured out for others, as we symbolically wash the feet of others. A faithful steward is one who gives time, talent and treasure in the service of others so that they may have life in abundance, and so discover the best way to live. On this Holy Thursday, may we go at the end of the celebration and reflect more on the metaphor of foot washing in our lives. How do I wash the feet of others? How do we as parish ohana serve those in need in our midst and beyond? How do I as a member of a family wash the feet of other members of my family?

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Friday, March 27, 2015

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord Year B

Readings: Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47

The Joyful mysteries that blend into the Sorrowful Mysteries, is a phrase that captures best what we celebrate today. On Palm Sunday morning, a 6-year old boy had a bad strep throat, and the family decided that he would stay in bed while the rest of the family went for the Palm Sunday Mass. When the family returned home carrying their palm branches, the boy asked what they were for. His mother explained that people held them over Jesus’ head as he walked by. “Wouldn’t you know it” the boy fumed. “The one Sunday I miss Church, and Jesus shows up!’ Yes, on Palm Sunday Jesus shows up in a dramatic event that opens the Holy Week festivities towards Easter, the prelude to the Holy Triduum. There are three parts in today’s celebration that highlight what we celebrate on Palm Sunday:

First we have the blessing of the palms in the beginning and the solemn procession. The blessing ritual simply makes sacred the natural symbols of palms to assume a religious significance. The celebrant prays, “bless these branches and make them holy.” That also explains the advance choice of a young colt of a donkey that had never been broken which could then be used for religious purposes. Once broken, such an animal would be unclean.

The second part, the procession: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that blends with the solemn entrance process today, is a prophetic event. The Gospel proclaimed before the process reminds us of the prophecy. We hear that "This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” The event therefore was not by chance. It was highly symbolic. The Gospel of Matthew refers to Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9 for that prophecy. Jesus chooses to enter the city 4 days before the Passover. Crowds are moving towards the city. As Jesus nears the city gates, more crowds join in and blend into the acclamation. The use of the donkey is also deliberate by Jesus as it was symbolic because it was mounted by kings in processions in times of peace. In this first part of today’s liturgy, Jesus wants to communicate the fulfillment of a prophecy: that he is the promised peace-loving and gentle king who has now come. He is greeted with a well known pilgrim song - psalm 118 “Hosanna (O Lord, give salvation) son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” That was an acclamation to the one who comes to bring salvation from the hands of the Romans, pointing to salvation from everything that oppresses human beings – above all sin. We therefore celebrate prophetically the triumph of Jesus over sin through his death and resurrection that becomes a reality in the Paschal Mystery of Christ.

The third part of Palm Sunday, the Liturgy of the Word, plunges us into the Sorrowful Mysteries of Christ in his Passion and Death. The Passion of our Lord according to St. Mark offers us an opportunity to be with Christ on the way of the cross, starting at the garden of Gethsemani. Yet here at Gethsemani we find those who should have watched with Christ, the disciples asleep, overcome by human weakness. They too run away on seeing Jesus arrested. They all leave Jesus completely abandoned, isolated, tormented and ridiculed as a king. Even at the cross the disciples keep their distance, afraid, and Christ seems to have been abandoned by everybody even his own Father. This isolation is dramatized by the great silence of Jesus throughout the passion story of Mark, except a few words on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me". The message we take home on this Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is threefold: 1) the passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ touches us deeply.  2) It moves us to repentance, and prepares us to follow the example of Jesus in which he completely lets go and humbles himself to the point of “assuming the condition of a slave, even accepting death, death on the Cross” for our salvation. 3) Palm Sunday points beyond Good Friday to the resurrection, but reminds us that there can be no resurrection without Good Friday; no Easter joy without entering through the Passion and death of Our Lord, in order to rise with Him on Easter Vigil.

©2015 John S. Mbinda

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent Year B: Option A

Readings: Ez 37: 12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Life and death; hope and despair are the key words that sum up the message of this Sunday. All three readings this Sunday lead us to meet Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. It is around this central theme, that the Church celebrates the third Scrutiny with those preparing for the Easter Sacraments. In the prayer over the candidates this Sunday, the presider says these words: "Free from the grasp of death those who await your life-giving sacraments, and deliver them from the spirit of corruption." The readings provide a sharp contrast between life and death; hope and despair. They also remind us of real life experiences of the destructive forces of death in real families. We are reminded of the pain of death faced by millions of people every day all over the world. The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading urges the devastated nation of Israel to look beyond the destruction of Jerusalem to a new future, when God’s Spirit will restore Israel. If you are facing grief or strife in the family, there is good news for you. The prophet Ezekiel prophesies hope for those who believe in the God of life. You and I have many times encountered the shattering effects of death in the family as I did just one year before my ordination to priesthood, when I suddenly lost my dad in a tragic highway accident in which 3 others died with him in 1966.

In the perspective of stewardship, the episode of the raising of Lazarus to life offers three challenges. The first challenge is the grace of initiative to respond to God’s grace. At times when we are spiritually dead, we need someone to roll away the stone that blocks the door of faith and trust, so that we can begin to be alive again and breathe the fresh air of God’s grace. Indeed we are our sister’s and brother’s keepers; we are stewards of our brothers and sisters. It is a sin of omission to see your brother or sister spiritually dead (in a state of sin) and choose to do nothing. Rolling away the stone that keeps such persons in the tomb is bold evangelization – the fourth sign of a dynamic Catholic. The second challenge is listening to God calling us and inviting us to come out of the tomb. Some people just prefer to remain in their sleep. We need to wake up. Anthony DeMelo sums up this point beautifully. “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don't know it, are asleep. They're born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up!” Responding to the voice of Jesus calling us to come out of our tombs leads us to be the best version of ourselves and become God’s instruments of transforming others by waking them up from their slumber of sloth to life again. “Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.” (Matthew Kelly) The third challenge is the imperative of “untying and letting others go!” This is a powerful image of stewardship. Being raised from the dead; from our spiritual slumber is not enough. Imagine if someone had not challenged us to wake up from our spiritual slumber! We would still be lying there in the burial clothes around our body unable to untie ourselves. We need stewards, who care about us; who clean our wounds, bandage them and care for us until we recover from the shock of being robbed of God’s grace, beaten up and left on the roadside to die! The message of this Sunday may be summed up in a few points. 1) Stewardship challenges us to roll the stone away for someone this week; 2) It also challenges us to help others hear the voice of Jesus calling; 3) It further challenges us to help to untie those still in bondage by sharing with them the best way to live so they can be free and be the best version of themselves.  That is evangelization, the fourth sign of a dynamic Catholic. Be bold, be Catholic, be a dynamic Catholic!  

©2015 John S. Mbinda