Thursday, March 23, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13; Eph. 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Light and darkness, sight and blindness are the contrasting images in the readings of this Sunday, also called Laetare Sunday which means Rejoice Sunday. On this Sunday, we pause to rejoice and celebrate the good news that Christ heals our spiritual blindness in our Baptism, and makes us witnesses of the truth. That is the meaning of the second Scrutiny celebrated this Sunday for those preparing for Baptism at Easter. The celebrant prays over the Candidates and anoints them with Holy Oil in a rite of exorcism, that symbolically restores their spiritual sight so that they begin to see Jesus and to follow him like the man born blind in the Gospel. For those already Baptized, Christ renews our vision as it were from 10/10 to 20/20 vision. Such a spiritual vision leads us to rejoice because we can now almost see as God sees (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). The entire liturgy this Sunday anticipates Easter Vigil in that it celebrates the mystery of Christ - the light of the world; the light that dispels the darkness of our minds and our hearts. We celebrate Christ who heals our spiritual blindness. The three readings draw a sharp contrast between light and darkness; spiritual sight and spiritual blindness.

The story of the man born blind in the Gospel is not so much about the man being healed, but about seeing as God sees. Here we meet a blind man with sight, as compared to the learned Pharisees who are spiritually blind. The Gospel reminds us that our Baptism illuminates us to see and embrace God’s vision, life, goodness and truth. Our Baptism commits us to be bearers of the truth and to confront the relativism and spiritual blindness of the world with the truth. The passage clearly contrasts light and darkness, faith and the rejection of the truth. These contrasts emerge from the controversy with the Pharisees. Because they are in the darkness of their own prejudice, they refuse to recognize Jesus as the messiah; they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus has the power to heal the blind man. The healing of the blind man gives Jesus the opportunity to show forth once again his own true divine identity for all to see and believe. In the story, Jesus not only gives the blind man his physical sight, but he also gives him the light of faith. When Jesus asks the blind man if he knows the Son of Man, he says, “Who is he sir that I may believe in him?” Jesus says to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” The man then makes his profession of faith, “I do believe, Lord.” On the other hand, the Pharisees are stubbornly blind to Christ and even attribute his miracle to Satan. The story is not simply about the healing of the man born blind and the Pharisee refusing to accept the power of Christ to perform such a miracle. Rather, the story is about you and me in moments of our own spiritual blindness and darkness. However, we need to focus on the Joy of the Gospel this Sunday, namely that in baptism, Christ has healed our blindness and given us the light of faith, so that, like the healed blind man, we may proclaim Him boldly despite the opposition from those still in darkness. The message we take home is threefold. 1) Jesus heals our spiritual blindness so we can see our brothers and sisters as God sees them. 2) Like the blind man, we have been healed. We have become fearless disciples, ready to give our time, talent and treasure in witness to Jesus Christ. 3) As faithful disciples, we must not allow relativism, dishonesty and the distortion of the truth to dim our light, because Christ is our Light.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42

Transforming people one at a time is at the heart of God’s plan for the world. The story of the Samaritan woman in the Gospel is a concrete example of how God transforms people one at a time. Lent is a season when we encounter God who not only thirsts to transform us, but also God who satisfies our spiritual thirst. This is evident in the Gospel from John which very effectively uses the symbolism of water and thirst, leading us to scrutinize our own spiritual thirst. Let me first tell you a true story.  One morning in 1888, a man was shocked to read about his own death in the obituary. It was an error. However, he was even more shocked to read in the newspaper about himself as someone who had found new ways to kill people and became rich from doing so. It was true; he had invented dynamite. That morning he decided to change and devote his energies in a new direction, to work for world peace. He left most of his estate after his death to fund the Nobel Peace Prize. That man was the Swedish Alfred Nobel.

I tell this story because Nobel, on reading a shocking story about himself, decided to change. Similarly, the Samaritan woman in the Gospel was shocked to discover that Jesus knew about her private life and her brokenness. That led to her own self-scrutiny. When she confessed that she knew the Messiah, Jesus then reveals his true identity to her. “I who am speaking to you... I am he”. On hearing this, she accepts the water of life that Jesus is offering to quench her spiritual thirst.

The Samaritan woman in the Gospel becomes aware of her own brokenness; her spiritual thirst and accepts the water of life that Jesus offers to quench her spiritual thirst. This woman who first came for a jar of water, now leaves the jar at the well and becomes a disciple and a messenger sent to her village where she tells her people: “Come and see”, come and see the person who has changed my life! This story was so convincing that the entire village came and saw and invited Jesus who stayed with them for two days!

You and I like the Samaritan woman have come to the well and encountered Jesus, who has told us everything about us. He has offered us life-giving water; he now challenges us to accept his offer and change our lives. As we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the candidates for Baptism, the readings invite us along with the candidates to reflect on our lives and so discover our need for conversion.

The message we take home is threefold. 1) Like the Samaritan woman, this too is our day to encounter Jesus at the well, leading us through our self-scrutiny, conversion and transformation. 2) We too have discovered our thirst and need for the Water of Life. 3) At the end of the Mass today, like the Samaritan woman let’s go out and announce the good news that Jesus whom we have encountered at the well today has transformed our lives.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Gen 12:1-4; 2 Tim 1:8-10; Matt 17:1-9

Call of Abraham, obedience, undeserved blessings, new beginning, choosing Christ, the ultimate blessing. These phrases help us to focus more deeply on the message of this Sunday. The first reading from Genesis leads us into the most significant event for God’s people in the Old Testament, namely the call of Abraham. To understand the call of Abraham we need to know the context out of which he was called. That call reveals God’s plan for the chosen people. Abraham is called into a land the Lord would show him; from a land he knew best into the unknown. The city of Ur (in present day Iraq) was a large city with spacious streets and large markets. It was a prosperous city with dazzling technology of the day. For the majority of the people in Ur the only thing that seemed to matter most was prosperity. The people’s ancient religion centered on a life-force or fertility gods. Their rites involved orgies complete with temple prostitutes – male and female. They also had human sacrifices including infants. Their gods demanded more and more blood of children. That was evidently a culture of death. It was those terrible gods Abraham was told to leave. The gods of our culture today are remarkably similar to those Abraham was asked to leave and go to a land the Lord would show him. Through the media we are daily sucked into a culture of consumerism, a culture of violence and of death. Like Abraham we are being called to leave our country and culture, to a land the Lord will show us. We are challenged to have faith like that of Abraham, who leaves everything behind in deep trust, knowing that God would never fail him. God promised Abraham undeserved blessings for his obedience, a clear manifestation of God’s mercy. The Second Reading connects well with the First Reading as Paul exhorts Timothy to accept the misfortunes that come along with discipleship; the trials that are part of a life of righteousness; a life of holiness, similar to that of Abraham, enduring his journey in faith and trust into the unknown.

In the Gospel, Jesus takes his closest disciples apart on the mountain where his glory is revealed –the transfiguration. As in the call of Abraham, Jesus calls each of us to a new land, to leave behind the pagan gods of our culture and the values of prosperity and consumerism. The way to avoid being sucked into a terrible culture of death is to go on retreat with Jesus like the three disciples. There on the mountain, Jesus will give us a glimpse of his own identity as God’s Son, leading us to listen to his teaching. During this Lenten season, we look to Jesus for inspiration; He is our model of obedience. Only through that obedience will Jesus give us what really matters most – God’s blessings. But like the three disciples, we would like to settle in the comfort of Christ’s glory on the mountain. We resist accepting the hard way through discipline to glory; we resist taking the road to through cross. Paul in the second reading helps us to understand that our discipleship is not only a journey into the unknown, but also includes bearing our share of hardship; in includes growth into holiness through discipline. The message of this Sunday may be summed up in a few points. 1) Like Abraham, we are called  to leave our country and culture of death; to be radically different from what the world around us expects: to be part of a new culture of life; a new way of life in Christ. But the question before us is: can we withstand the seductions of today’s culture? Yes, we can. Can we overcome today’s subtle persecution and mockery due to our Catholic values and beliefs? Yes, we can. 2) While it is tough being faithful Christians in today’s culture, we can live our faith because God in Christ gives us the strength to be always faithful. 3) We are called to bear our share of the cross through self-discipline and obedience. As ridiculous as that may seem to others, choosing faithfulness brings God’s blessings in the end.

 ©2017 John S. Mbinda

Sunday, March 5, 2017

First Sunday of Lent Year A

Readings: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-19; Matt 4:1-11

The Lenten Season leads us along with Jesus towards Jerusalem and to the Cross. We are called prepare for that journey by imitating Jesus who spends 40 days in the wilderness where he faces temptations. The Lenten journey will be a challenge as we face one temptation after another just like Jesus. In our case these temptations may be around food, drink, alcohol, drugs, lustful thoughts, and by possessions (money). The Devil will want us to take short-cuts on our spiritual life or even giving us the excuse for not saying our prayers or fasting. It all starts by skipping prayer or going to church. The Devil too will tempt us to use all 24 hours a day and 7 days a week for ourselves because we own them! Well, we do not own our time. That is a gift from God. In the Gospel Jesus faces temptations by the devil three times. He resists, because He not only knows the Scriptures, but He also remains faithful: "Be off Satan! For Scripture says: You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone". It is not enough for us to know God's Word or his Commandments. We must be doers of the word. In the first temptation, the devil knows that Jesus is hungry after 40 days of fasting and so tempts him to turn stones into bread - (self-satisfaction with food). Next the devil takes Jesus to the highest point of the Temple and asks him to throw himself down, which would immediately convince the people of Israel that He is truly the Son of God (shortcut to success). Finally, the devil tempts Jesus with the illusions of power and glory by taking him to a high mountain and showing him all the kingdoms of the world which the devil pretends he owns and will give them to Jesus if he only worships the devil! Jesus overcomes all these temptations one after another because he is focused on his mission. As human beings, temptations are bound to come our way. The three temptations of Jesus remind us that any shortcut without sacrifice does not last. The temptations call us to the same faithfulness that Jesus had in overcoming his temptations. During this season of Lent, we have opportunities of prayer, almsgiving and fasting to help us. Prayer in particular is a great weapon in moments of temptations. We also need to know the scriptures and live what they say. That can help us remain focused in following Jesus Christ.

The central message of this Sunday may be summed up in four points. 1) We will be tempted by food, drink and other material desires. What satisfies our hunger is not physical food but God’s word and every teaching that nourishes our faith. 2) We will be tempted to take shortcuts to achieve success; to give ourselves without sacrifice. The alms and the offertory you give must have an element of sacrifice. The temptation is always to try tip God who owns everything! God cannot be tipped! 3) We will be tempted to embrace the idolatry of power and control, rather than focusing on our baptismal faith journey that has one purpose and mission for which God created us: to be the best version of ourselves by seeking closer relationship with Christ. We do this through the Lenten disciplines of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. 4) Finally, we will be tempted to use all the 24 hours God gives us daily for ourselves and for some, only the Sunday time at Mass. To give no time to God is very selfish and even very arrogant! God gives you 24 hours a day. That is 1,440 minutes a day. This Lent commit yourself to giving at least 10 minutes a day to God. If you do not come to daily Mass, consider visiting the church near you on your way to work or after work, and pray for 10 minutes a day. At home, commit another 10 minutes to scripture reading. I guarantee you will see a change in your life, your work and family life. May God give us the grace to deepen our baptismal faith journey this Lenten Season. ©2017 John S. Mbinda

Friday, February 24, 2017

Eighth Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

Readings: Is 49:14-15; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Mt 6:24-34

The Good news this Sunday is that God cares for us. So do not worry; trust and hope in God alone. The readings challenge us to stop worrying and become more trusting and hopeful. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of such a situation in his own time when he quotes the people saying, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” That is a language of worry, despair and hopelessness. In a world of too much worry about food, health and what to wear, it seems that even the worst fears of the prophet Isaiah have come true, that a mother in our cities today would abandon her own infant. The Lord through the prophet Isaiah is quick to remind the people that even though a mother may forget her baby, God will never forget them.

Jesus in the Gospel teaches his disciples that God cares for them more than all other creatures. “Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon …was clothed like one of them.” What Jesus is driving at in this passage is to persuade us to stop worrying so that we can set our priorities right to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. God in turn will care for all our other needs. In the 1963 Award winning movie, “Lilies of the Field”, starring Sydney Poitier, there is a scene at the beginning where the mother superior says to Homer Smith, “God is good He has sent me a big strong man to build the chapel.” When Homer Smith asks for his just wages, mother superior tries to tell him not to worry about money and quotes the Bible “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin.” (Mt. 6:28). Since God cares so much for his creation, He will certainly care for us. That kind of faith and trust in God has led many women and men down the centuries to accept the invitation of Jesus in today’s passage, to leave everything and follow Him. They freed themselves from worry and relied totally on God for their needs. One example that comes to mind is St. Francis of Assisi. He removed his clothes and walked away naked to underlines the point of detachment from possessions. We are called to radical trust in God: seeking first for the kingdom of God. Another example is Mother Teresa who always trusted in divine providence. “God will provide,” she used to say. That radical trust frees us from worrying too much about the means, in order to focus on being better disciples and stewards of time, talent and treasure that God has given us. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) The Good news is that God cares for us more that we realize. 2) Freeing ourselves from worry, will help us to focus on our mission and purpose. 3) Following the example of St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa as models of seeking first for the kingdom of God, we place ourselves totally in God’s care for our needs. With God’s grace I can do that; you can do that too.

©2017 John S. Mbinda