Sunday, January 13, 2019

Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord Year C

Readings: Is 40:1-5,9-11; Titus 2:11-14;3:4-7; Lk 3:15-16,21-22

Baptized, anointed, revealed and commissioned to give comfort to God’s people are some of words and phrases that help us to understand the Solemnity we celebrate this Sunday - the Baptism of the Lord. The first reading from Isaiah is a prophecy: the promise of good news that salvation is on the way. It is also about the commissioning of God’s messengers who are then sent to announce the Good news: “Comfort, give comfort to my people.” The reading speaks of a voice that cries out in the desert, exhorting God’s people to be ready for their salvation from exile. The people are urged to remove every obstacle by preparing the way of the Lord. That sounds like an Advent theme. Yes, it is an Advent theme, ushering in the fulfillment of the promise of salvation which is at the very heart of the Christmas message. The promise of salvation is fulfilled in the Gospel passage that moves us from anticipation of the coming of the Messiah to His manifestation when Christ is baptized, anointed and revealed. What happens at the Baptism of Jesus by John reveals Jesus and fulfills the promise. But the event also raises the question of why Jesus had to be baptized since he had no sin. One reason given is that God wanted Jesus to begin his ministry by symbolically identifying himself with sinful humanity, in order to save it. Jesus therefore identified with humanity not as a sinner, but as a fellow human being. Jesus knew what it was to be human. Thus Jesus is the one who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of bringing salvation to the nations. The dove that descends upon Him symbolizes the nature of His mission as an agent of peace and reconciliation in the world. Jesus is the one who fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of comforting God’s People and speaking tenderly to them. He is the one who heralds the good news of salvation; the one who comes like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering the lambs in his arms, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care. The reading from Titus proclaims the same mystery of the appearance of Jesus and promises future fulfillment of salvation. Jesus is thus “the grace of God” that has appeared, saving all…” and justifying us by his life, God’s grace. Jesus is the “kindness and generous love of God” that has appeared because of God’s mercy. He saves us and renews us by the Holy Spirit.

All three readings therefore clearly announce that the Lord is coming; the Lord has come and that the Lord will continue to come. That is where we come in. First we are given the good news that our salvation is not only coming, but already here in Christ anointed and sent by the Father to comfort His people; to shepherd them, nourish them and lead them with compassion. By virtue of our baptism we become messengers: anointed, commissioned and sent by Christ to continue his presence and proclaim his good news of salvation until he comes again. In this Year of Faith, we must proclaim that good news with conviction by living lives that manifest the presence of Christ in our lives. We must be the good news of salvation to those alienated; those caught up in the web of modernity and postmodern values of satisfying human desires only; those that question the fact that you still go to Church. May they at last be led by our example to come back to the faith and find joy and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The message we take home is threefold. 1) The Baptism of the Lord is the fulfillment and manifestation of God’s promise of salvation revealed in Jesus at His Baptism. 2) We celebrate Jesus who is anointed and sent by the Father to proclaim God’s good news of salvation: mercy, compassion and forgiveness. 3) By virtue of our baptism we become Christ’s messengers: anointed, commissioned and sent to continue his presence and proclaim his good news of salvation until he comes again.

©2019 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Papal Audience Wednesday December 5 2018

Papal Audience Wednesday December 5 2018

From December 2 to 12, 2018, I led a group of 27 pilgrims from St. John's and Our Lar Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) to Rome, Assisi and Sienna. We were at the General Audience of Wednesday, December 5. The following is a summary of Pope Francis' catechesis on that day.

“The Gospels have given us a very vivid portrait of Jesus as a man of prayer,” the Pope said in the introductory catechetical instruction. Despite the importance of His mission, and the demands placed on Him by the people, Jesus often felt the need “to withdraw into solitude and pray.” This was evident from the very beginning of His mission, after the initial success of his ministry in Galilee.

“In some places in the Scriptures,” Pope Francis continued, “it seems that it is Jesus’ prayer above all, His intimacy with the Father, that governs everything.” This is particularly evident during the agony in the garden, before the Crucifixion.
The Holy Father said that, although Jesus prayed like other people do, there was also a profound mystery about His prayer to His Father. That is why His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Jesus does not want to keep His intimacy with His Father to Himself, but “came precisely in order to introduce us into this relationship with the Father.”

We too must make our own the prayer of the disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray.” “Even if we have been praying for many years,” Pope Francis said, “we always have something to learn.” Recalling the parable of the publican and the Pharisee, the Holy Father said the first step in prayer is to humble ourselves before God.
Pope Francis concluded his first reflection on the prayer of Jesus with the advice to repeat often, during Advent, the prayer of the disciples: “Master, teach us to pray.” If we do this, he said, then God will certainly not let our prayer go unanswered.
Msgr. John S. Mbinda

Third Sunday of Advent Year C

Readings: Zep 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

The key to unlock the central message this Sunday is found in the second reading where Paul urges us to “rejoice always” in the Lord. In addition Paul tells us the reason for such joy. He argues that “there is no need to worry” because the Lord is near. This Sunday we light the third candle of the Advent Wreath. Its desert rose color signifies joy because we are now halfway towards the birth of our Savior. That is why this Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday which means, “Rejoice!” I know some of you might say, “Well, Father, I don’t feel all that joyful.” But we rejoice because the one who is to come is already with us. In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah offers us the same message. “Shout for joy”; rejoice and exult because the Lord in his mercy has removed judgment against us; in his compassion he has driven our enemies away. Zephaniah like Paul assures us not to worry because the Lord our God is our hope and source of joy.

In the Gospel from Luke, John the Baptist responds to a basic question his listeners are asking: “What must we do?” In other words, how can we become the best version of ourselves and so find true joy in life. John’s response is threefold. We must find ways of sharing goods with those who are deprived. We must engage in honest stewardship of common goods, and finally we must be content with what we possess. John the Baptist challenges us to seek ways of sharing the little God has given; ways of being honest and grateful for what God has given us. There is no better preparation for Christmas than letting go and letting God transform us and prepare us to be the best version of ourselves as Christmas approaches. We will then discover the Lord in our midst in those we serve, and the Lord will fill us with true joy and peace. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Serving others and sharing with those who have nothing overflows into great joy. 2) Genuine peace and joy is found in a just stewardship of common goods and being content with what God has given us. 3) Finally, we are called to open our hearts this Advent and so discover the best way to live. We will then find true joy and peace this Christmas. Joy is infectious. It overflows from us to those we serve.

©2018 John S. Mbinda

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