Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Is 6:1-2, 3-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

Do not be afraid; God transforms ordinary people and sends them on mission, as instruments of his kingdom.   The readings of this Sunday help us to understand how God transforms and sends ordinary people as instruments of his kingdom despite their unworthiness. All three readings lead us to one theme, namely that vocation is clearly a gift from God and that it comes to us when we acknowledge our human weakness and sinfulness. In the first reading, Isaiah is overwhelmed before the holiness and glory of God, and acknowledges his own unworthiness. “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips.” It is clear that in calling us God transforms us by his grace. That is the symbolism of the angel touching Isaiah’s mouth with live coal in order to assure him that his sin is taken away, his iniquity removed and Isaiah then responds wholeheartedly to God’s call. “Here I am Lord, send me”. In the second reading Paul is aware of having been called to preach the same Gospel preached by other apostles. He is also aware of his own unworthiness. I am “not fit to be called an apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am.”

The Gospel reading gives us another example of how God takes ordinary people and transforms them into instruments of his message. Peter is called from an ordinary fishing career, though unsuccessful the previous night. Like Isaiah, Peter too discovers his own unworthiness before Jesus who works a miraculous catch of fish. Peter falls before Jesus saying “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Just as God dealt with Isaiah, Jesus helps Peter to overcome his own inadequacy and sinfulness. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men”. We find here an obvious reference to Peter’s future apostolic ministry of bringing people into the reign of God. The positive response of Isaiah, Paul and Peter are examples of the ways in which God calls us out of different situations, but these examples also remind us of the risks involved. In the case of Peter and his companions, they are moved mysteriously to leave the security of their daily fishing career and become “fishers of men”, in other words, going out to proclaim God's message of salvation to people submerged in the ocean of today's world. Three points sum up the message of this Sunday. 1) The readings help us to see how God takes ordinary people and transforms them into powerful instruments of his message. 2) Isaiah, Paul and Peter, serve as a model for not being afraid to confess our own unworthiness, knowing that God builds on that sincere confession to make us effective messengers. 3) The readings already anticipate the Lenten Season we are about to start, inviting us not only to listen attentively to God's voice, but also to recognize our own unworthiness and sinfulness, so that God may transform us for the ministry He gives each of us.

©2013 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Jer 1:4-5,17-19; 1 Cor. 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30

Speaking the truth in love, prophetic mission, opposition and rejection are some of the key words that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on our call to prophetic mission; a call to speak the truth in love. Since the prophet is sent to speak the truth, his message risks opposition and rejection. The first reading is about the call of Jeremiah who is chosen by God even before he was born. “I have appointed you as prophet to the nations…Stand up and tell them all I command you”. Jeremiah is also warned that his mission will not be easy, because his message will certainly meet opposition. The only reason why Jeremiah accepts such an unpopular mission is God’s love and faithfulness in the midst of persecution. “They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you”. This is a clear reminder that it is not the eloquence of God’s messengers that count, but their clear witness to God’s love. Against this background we see the meaning of Paul’s message in the second reading. Without the kind of love that Paul speaks about, Jeremiah or any messenger of God will fail. Love that is patient and kind and never jealous; a love that is always ready to forgive, to trust, hope and endure whatever comes, is a powerful driving force. That love sustained Paul in his own ministry till martyrdom in Rome, and the same love inspired Jesus in His ministry. Even though rejected by his own people, Jesus endures all persecution to his own death and resurrection.

The Gospel passage is a clear reminder that when God’s messengers speak the truth in love, they risk rejection and opposition. Jesus in the Synagogue faces such rejection not because he is a local young man of Nazareth, but because his biblical message about God’s universal love and salvation contains a truth that the audience cannot deny, and that angers the religious and political leaders. He is immediately considered dangerous and subversive. “They sprung to their feet and hustled him out of the town…intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away”. What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The readings remind us that our call to discipleship like that of Jeremiah and Jesus Christ must be rooted in love. 2) The readings also assure us that God never abandons his faithful messengers when they speak the truth in love. 3) Just like Jeremiah, Jesus and Paul, we too are challenged to live our calling as Christians even if in doing so we may risk our comfort, rejection and even our lives.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Neh 8:2-4,5-6,8-10; 1 Cor. 12:12-30; Lk. 11-4; 4:14-21

Fulfillment, good news to the poor and liberation to captives, are the key words that capture the central theme of this Sunday readings. Both the Gospel and the first reading of this Sunday proclaim a message of liberation to the poor. In the first reading the Israelites have just returned from their long exile in Babylon, where they have been greatly humiliated, and so their spirits are down. They need a word of encouragement to help renew them spiritually, and offer them a strong motivation and renewal. Ezra the priest understands their situation, and uses the regular worship as a moment for spiritual recommitment as he reads from the Book of the Law of God. We are told that “all the people listened attentively”. The message seems to touch the audience deeply, and the people are ready to recommit themselves to their God, and to embark on a spiritual, moral and physical renewal of Jerusalem. Here we find a good pastoral example in the way the priest Ezra applies the Word of God in a concrete situation with great success in the spiritual renewal of the people. The responsorial psalm affirms this power of God’s Word. “Your words, Lord, are spirit and they are life”.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus like Ezra reads a Scripture passage in the Synagogue. The passage given to Jesus from Isaiah is a concrete fulfillment in his own person and ministry. He declares that “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.” The passage is a summary of Jesus’ pastoral ministry that is already accomplished. Jesus is sent “to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor”. In blending this text from Isaiah with the words of Jesus at the end, Luke highlights the fact that indeed Jesus is the Messiah foretold by the prophets. The message we take home this Sunday may be summed up in four points. 1) Jesus like Ezra the priest helps us to apply the word of God in the concrete situation of today in that the good news to the poor and liberation to those imprisoned is fulfilled. 2) We are invited to listen to the word of God in a fresh new way; to reflect on what it means in our life, families, and parish community. 3) We take home the Good News proclaimed today in response to those who yearn to hear words of comfort; those who are held captive in the modern and postmodern worldly cares; those who yearn for healing in their blindness caused by the darkness of this world; we take the Good news to set free those imprisoned by addictions to substance abuse and pornography; and to set free those downtrodden by oppressive social systems. 4) May Christ’s prophecy therefore be fulfilled in the life of the Church today in Christian communities and parishes, as the poor experience the good news, the captives set free, and the blind of all categories enabled to see again.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Readings: Is 62:1-5; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Jn 2:1-11

Transformation and new relationship with God are some of the key words that help to unlock the message of this Sunday. As we begin the Ordinary Time of the Year, the readings remind us of some themes we heard over the Christmas season. At Christmas we celebrated a new era that God inaugurated through the birth of Jesus. The readings help us this Sunday to see the characteristics of this new era through the manifestations of the Spirit in the Christian community and in our lives. We are led to realize that these manifestations are brought about by the variety of Spirit-filled ministries intended to be the source of Christian unity and not of fragmentation or division. One overarching theme this Sunday is renewal. In the first reading, Isaiah uses poetic metaphors that point to the renewal of God’s people. In that call for renewal, God promises to give his people a new name: “My Delight”. The Lord will espouse you; make you his bride and delight in you as a bridegroom delights in his bride. That marriage metaphor describes a new relationship with God that transforms our humiliation and setbacks to exaltation and joyful triumph. All that newness is from God, who creates a new people; a new land out of desolation; a new Spirit-filled community.

In the Gospel passage, the miracle of changing water into wine by Jesus, is a metaphor for the transformation of the world realized in the proclamation of the kingdom, in the ministry of Jesus that now begins publicly. The Church has traditionally seen this first sign by Jesus as the fourth manifestation in sequence since Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, which is followed by the story of Marriage of Cana. In this event, God reveals his Son again in the context of a marriage relationship. He works the first miracle in order to give a temporal favor, an earthly gift to save a newly married groom from embarrassment. The miracle is also a self-manifestation of who Jesus is. Just as He can change water into wine, similarly He can change our past into a different future; our talents into wonderful gifts for the Church. Jesus transforms ordinary lives to accomplish an extraordinary mission of entering into communion with Him and the Triune God. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The marriage metaphor in the first reading describes a new spousal relationship with God that transforms our lives and makes the best version of ourselves. 2) Jesus transforms ordinary lives to accomplish an extraordinary mission of winning the war within. 3) The transformation of water into wine, points to the mystery of the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims and brings into realization in His ministry.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Friday, January 8, 2016

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. With today’s celebration of The Baptism of the Lord, Bishop Larry Silva has issued a “Decree of Promulgation.”  This decree explains that Bishop Larry is restoring the order of the Sacraments of Initiation to their original, historical order: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  During the first five hundred years or so of the history of the Catholic Church, the sacraments of Christian initiation were always celebrated in the same sequence: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. It was almost always the case that all three sacraments were celebrated together at the same time, even with infants.  Following the lead of official documents of the Second Vatican Council, more and more places are restoring this original order to the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation.

Today, Bishop Silva has decided that our diocese will soon celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation in their Original Order, which is Baptism, then Confirmation, and then First Holy Communion.  Practically, this means that children in the Second Grade will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at the same time they receive their First Holy Communion. Our priests, deacons, catechists, and youth ministers have already started to prepare for the transition.  It’s important to remember that, like Baptism, Confirmation celebrates God’s choice of us, not our choosing God. If the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us an increase of the Spirit we received in Baptism, and if it seals and strengthens us to grow in holiness, would it not be helpful to receive this sacrament sooner rather than later in life? Likewise, the Eucharist is both the culmination of our initiation as Christians and the weekly nourishment we need to grow into our identity as God’s children. Celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation earlier in life and in this order – Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist – makes God’s grace available just as children are beginning to question, wonder, and explore their relationship with God that began in Baptism. This transition is a wonderful opportunity for us to renew our understanding of the Sacraments of Initiation and how they form and sustain us as Christians.  But if Confirmation and First Holy Communion are received in 2nd Grade, some may wonder what we will do for our youth.  Our parishes will continue to have comprehensive youth ministries in ways that are unique to their age and situation in life, to help them understand more deeply and appreciate more fully the mystery of Christ present in their lives. What is the take away message? 1) Today Bishop Larry Silva announces a diocese-wide policy to restore the order of the Sacraments of Initiation to their original, historical order: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. 2) That means it becomes the policy of the Diocese for those who were baptized as infants to receive Confirmation before First Communion, not after. 3) Practically, this means that children in Second Grade will receive the two sacraments at the same Mass: Confirmation after the homily and First Eucharist. 4) The implementation of this policy will take place between 2018 and 2020.

Msgr. John S. Mbinda