Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Second Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 49:3,5-6; 1 Cor 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34

The Nativity scene is gone, the lights are down and the Christmas season is over. We are already in the Ordinary Season of the Year, and this Sunday we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. There is one key phrase I would like to underline in this homily: the reference to Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” What does that phrase mean? There is a story about a German artist who, centuries ago, was working on a Catholic Church roof in Werden, Germany (in Essen). Suddenly, his safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with large rocks. As fate would have it, a lamb chose that moment to have its lunch of grass between the rocks. How it happened, nobody knows, but the artist miraculously fell on the lamb, that died at once, but the artist survived. When he recovered from shock and some bruises, he sculptured a lamb and placed it on the church roof in gratitude. That lamb still stands there to this day.

I tell this story because it leads us to reflect on the Lamb of God who was slain to save us all. The phrase “Lamb of God”, sounds simple, yet it is a metaphor for the whole saving mystery of Christ. When John the Baptist describes Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, he draws the phrase from an Old Testament “lamb of God” symbolism. The blood of the paschal lamb in the Old Testament protected and saved the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt in Exodus 12. John the Baptist in the Gospel makes a prophetic proclamation when he identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God” whom the Prophet Isaiah also prophesied as being crushed for our sins; like a lamb led to the slaughter; the Lamb who was wounded for our sins, bruised for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53:2-3). There is no doubt that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus in his passion and death also prophetically in the symbols of bread and wine at the Last Supper. At that event, Jesus took the Jewish Passover ritual sacrifice and applied it on himself as he shared the Passover meal with his disciples. The symbolism of the lamb, the bread and the wine was later adopted by the Church as part of the order for the Eucharistic celebration. Therefore, when we use the phrase “Lamb of God” three times at Mass, we reflect on the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ’s death and resurrection for our salvation.

The message we take home is twofold. 1) Like John the Baptist who recognizes Jesus and points him out to his disciples as the Lamb of God, we too are invited to get to know Jesus, so we can proclaim him to others. 2) At this Mass, when we hear “Behold the Lamb of God” before Holy Communion, let us look at Him in gratitude with deep faith and humility for what he has done to save us. Let us come humbly to receive Him at Holy Communion, and go out as the end of the Holy Mass to proclaim the Good News we have experienced today.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God Year A

Readings: Nm 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

Happy New Year! On New Year’s Day we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. New Year’s Day is also associated with New Year resolutions. Some people might tell you that there is no point making one! Well, I try to make one each year: always the same, “”to spend an hour of Bible study and silent prayer each day, in order to grow into a closer union with God.” That is why I want to tell you why as Christians we need a New Year's Resolution. We must set goals and make resolutions regarding our life, our work and our family relationships. On the eve of a new year, we usually review our lives of this past year and resolve what we will do in the coming year. Most of the resolutions I have seen on TV and read from the press are not resolutions but only wishes. So what is the difference between wishes and resolutions? A wish identifies a goal one wants to reach; a resolution specifies the steps one will take to reach the goal. A wish is about where I want to be, while a resolution is about the road I will take to reach my goal. Let me give some concrete examples. A wishful student says, “I want to pass my exams this year”, while a resolved student says, “I will spend an extra hour of study every day in order to pass my exams.” A wishful person says, “I want to have more peace and love in my family this year.” A resolved person says, “I will spend more time with my family at table instead of rushing off to the TV or computer.” A wishful person says, “I want to live a life of union with God this year.” A resolved person says, “I will set aside 30 minutes everyday to pray and listen to God's word.” The difference between wishing and resolving boils down to the following question: Am I prepared to do what it takes to make my dreams come true? In other words, am I prepared to pay the cost? You are probably wondering what on earth a new year's resolution has to do with the solemnity we celebrate! Is there a connection?

Mary is given to us by the Church as a model of a resolved and committed person. She was prepared to realize what God asked of her – to be the Mother of our Lord. She was prepared to pay the cost. We hear in the Gospel of today that she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19). We recall also that after the child Jesus was found in the temple, “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:51). Mary valued the word of God and treasured it. In other words, she made time to reflect, to meditate, to ponder on the word of God. Mary too had to struggle to cooperate with God's grace. She reflected on the word of God in order to discern what God was saying to her at every stage of her life.  As we begin the New Year in a few hours, let us pray that God may help us; that like Mary Mother of his Son, we too may be resolved to listen to God's word; discern God's will for us in 2017; and carry our resolve to live accordingly. Whatever situation we may find ourselves in the new year 2017: a family problem, a job loss, a disappointment, a difficult decision to make – let us remember that God has a solution and a right answer, but only if we turn to him. Tell God about it in prayer, but also listen to what God tells you about your request. On this New Year, let us resolve to treasure God's word; let us resolve to ponder upon it in our hearts. That I believe will lead us to realize a new resolution on a new life of union with God. May God bless us as we begin the New Year, resolving to do better in 2017.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Vigil Midnight Year A B C

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord". Christmas is not just a Bible Story but a miracle that takes place in our lives. On a small mountain village, the pastor invited two children to play the parts of Joseph and Mary in the nativity scene that was to take place after the Midnight Mass. The scene was set to be in a cave behind the parish church. The original idea was to use a doll for the Baby Jesus, but the two children, Joe and Marie wanted a real infant among the families of the parishioners. No parent wanted to give their baby. As Christmas approached, the two kids were so desperate, but never gave up. They end up praying to the Holy Family for help, and the story comes to a climax when the Virgin Mary invisibly places the real Infant Jesus in Marie’s arms. No one in the village realizes what has happened, but a miracle of conversion takes place in the hearts of all present that Christmas Night! As the Christmas Nativity play starts, parishioners are in tears with joy and so deeply touched. Before that Christmas night, the kids just like the adults in the village had been so mean to each other, with lots of anxiety at home and at school. That night they were all transformed. The kids become great friends and kind to each other. They changed because the Baby Jesus was not just a story, but real and born in their hearts that night. They had been disobedient and rude to their parents, but that night they felt so loved that they promised to be not just nice, but the best version of themselves to their parents and to each other. The Baby Jesus had changed them all, because they realized that Christmas was not just about getting Christmas presents, but about Jesus being born in the hearts of everyone.

Like the story on that mountain village parish, the event of the nativity tonight transforms us miraculously into a joyful sharing community; into letting go our selfishness and allowing Jesus to be God-with-us, Emmanuel. The miracle of Christmas is about God finally finding room in the inn, in our hearts where Jesus can be born; it is about opening our hearts so that Jesus may fill them with his life, peace and joy. Christmas is about being like the shepherds who open their hearts to the Good News of the angel, and going in haste to share that good news. We are therefore called to go in haste to Bethlehem and share the good news with the world around us. The one message we take home this Christmas is simple. “Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world.” Jesus is born in Bethlehem today in order to transform us just like that village parish community in the story. Christmas is about opening our hearts so that God in Christ born of Mary, may touch our hearts and lives with his transforming Grace. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Mt. 1:18-24

Does doing God’s will and the messiness of life have anything in common? That is one question we need to think about seriously this Sunday. In the last two Sundays we have focused attention on John the Baptist. This Sunday, only days from Christmas, we change our focus from John the Baptist to Saint Joseph. The main reason for this shift is that Matthew writes his Gospel for the Jewish people. He wants to show that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the prophets in Sacred Scripture, and that He comes through the line of David.  Joseph is a direct descendant of David.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph names the child.  He gives his own spirit and all he is to the child – the carpenter’s son.  The child is Son of God and Son of Mary, but also, through the action of naming the child by Joseph, He is Son of David. Paul, in the Second Reading argues that Jesus becomes the Son of God through the resurrection that fully manifests his divinity. The readings therefore place before us the mystery of the Incarnation foreshadowed in the Old Testament, and fulfilled in the New Testament. In the first reading, Isaiah offers a sign to king Ahaz confirming that the line of David would survive the attacks from neighboring nations. The sign is that “a maiden shall conceive and bear a son.” Very true to the prophecy, the young wife of Ahaz bears him a son, whose name would be “Emmanuel.” Matthew in the Gospel uses that story to show the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus the Messiah, out of the line of David.

That is why the Gospel begins by saying “This is how Jesus Christ came to be born.” He will be named Emmanuel, a name that means “God-is-with us.”  Two persons are at the center of this mystery. First we have Mary who responds to God’s message through the angel with unconditional faith and trust. In so doing, Mary risks so much: her future marriage and family reputation, placing everything in the hands of God. Then we have Joseph who at first is confused and afraid. We often hear that Gospel passage, and perhaps we wonder what Joseph was afraid of. He must have thought of the messiness of his own situation.  He must have thought of a greater mess if he went ahead with the marriage. He does not know what to make of Mary’s conception before their marriage, but then divine intervention comes. An Angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals the mystery of the conception. The angel advises him to proceed with the marriage, because Mary “has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.” Basically, Joseph is told to celebrate this unexpected birth. When he awakes from his dream, Joseph decides to follow his faith; to do God’s will and take Mary as his wife. In so doing, Joseph saves her reputation. The Gospel tells us that Jesus is born of Mary who was betrothed to Joseph son of David. In connecting Jesus to the line of David, Matthew wants to underline the fact that Jesus is fully human and is also the fulfillment of God’s promises to David. Jesus is also “Son of God”, a point explained by Paul in the second reading. The Gospel also gives us a model to follow in Mary and Joseph. Both faced a tremendous challenge to their faith when God asked them to open their hearts to welcome Jesus into their lives. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just as Mary and Joseph accepted to welcome Jesus into their lives with deep faith and trust, we too are challenged to do no less; 2) As we get to Christmas in a few days, let us open our hearts so that in doing God’s will like Mary and Joseph, Christ may be born in our lives this Christmas. 3) Both Mary and Joseph remind us that doing God’s will at times may lead us into the messiness of life; into situations or even countries we never dreamed of.

 ©2016 John S. Mbinda

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Third Sunday of Advent Year A

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; James 5:7-10; Mt. 11:2-11

Signs of hope, joy, new life and fulfillment of promise characterize the message of this Sunday. Last Sunday the readings focused on a peaceful kingdom in the future, when the wolf and the lamb would lie down beside each other. This Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice Sunday. We are invited to pause and rejoice. We are told that salvation is near; the Messiah is in our midst. The Sunday takes its name from the opening words of the Entrance Antiphon of this Sunday taken from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians which begins with Gaudete in Domino semper (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). That is why today we light a desert rose candle symbolizing joy, because our salvation is already here in our midst. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah announces to the people in exile that the Messiah will come; their situation is about to change; they will soon be free to go back home. Isaiah shows the people a poetic picture of how the desert will become fertile and all the foliage will sing out the goodness and glory of God. Then in the final section, the reading recounts how the change will affect those who long for salvation; those who look for real joy and happiness. There would be nothing as joyful as a blind person seeing, nothing as beautiful as a deaf person hearing; nothing as uplifting as a lame person walking and a mute speaking. The reading therefore invites us to rejoice because the promised Messiah is coming soon to make that vision a reality; to bring real joy and happiness into our lives. In the Second reading from the Letter of James, we hear the same message: “Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

The Gospel starts with John the Baptist in prison. John sends his disciples to ask Jesus whether he is really the Messiah or would there be another to come. Jesus refers to what Isaiah had prophesied in today’s First Reading, and says that there is no need to keep waiting for salvation. It is already in our midst. There are already clear signs of joy, hope and new life. Jesus tells the messengers: "Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, the lame walk, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor". That is why we need not wait. That is why we need to rejoice and be happy. The deeper question we need to ask on this Sunday is what constitutes real joy and happiness in our lives? I am a lover of high tech and cool gadgets, but once I have them, I enjoy using them, but at the end of the day, they do not give me real joy and happiness. The joy and excitement that many had in having the latest cool gadgets on Black Friday is already over. In other words, material possessions, no matter how cool, never give lasting satisfaction and joy. That is why St. Augustine once said: Our heart is restless until it rests in God. This Sunday, the readings help to see what Christ is already accomplishing in our midst, through the Church and through our own witness that makes the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk! Miracles do happen in our parish: just open your eyes and ears! Let me sum up in a few points. 1) The readings proclaim joy because our salvation is closer than when we began this season. The air of Christmas is all around us. 2) The readings draw our attention to the Messiah who is already in our midst. There are many signs of hope: the saving action of Christ is present in our parish. 3) The readings lead us to rejoice as we encounter the hidden “miracles” of today. Yes, “the blind see, the lame walk, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.” 4) Let us pray that the Lord may open our eyes and ears of faith to see and hear what Jesus is already doing in our midst; that we may go and tell others what we have seen and heard.

 ©2016 John S. Mbinda