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GOD IS A FAMILY: THE MOST HOLY TRINITY YEAR A JUNE 4, 2023 (R. 1: Exodus 34:4b-6,8-9; Psalm: Daniel 3:52-56; R. 2: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Gospel: John 3:16-18) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

My friend kept complaining about her brother who according to her does not believe in God. There was hardly anytime we spoke that she would not bring up the issue of her brother and how worried she was about his lack of faith in God. It got to a point I told her I would like to meet her brother in person. She was expecting me to go and tell him about God, to tell him about the need to start coming to church, to be baptized, to believe in God, to read the Bible, and to say his prayers. However, to her disappointment, there was none of such from me. I just wanted to know her brother as a human being, and I wanted to have him as a friend. After a while of talking with him and watching him relate with other people, I said to his sister, “You reported your brother to me as one who does not believe in God, however, I discovered it is not that he does not believe in God, it is rather that he does not believe in the image of God that has been pushed down his throat.”

Further, I continued to explain to my friend that I have come to realize that there are so many people who may not go to church, who may not read the Bible, who may not say their prayers, but when you see the way they treat other human beings, you realize it is totally in line with the teachings of the gospel. On the other hand, there are people who go to church every day, they read the Bible every day, they say their prayers every day, but when you see the way they treat fellow human beings, you wonder what version of the Bible they read. The Second Vatican Council teaches that salvation is possible people, “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience (Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, no. 16). My friend eventually found peace in relating with her brother while we keep watching what God holds in place for them.

Yes, the image of God we have and portray to the world is very important. I work as a hospital chaplain and I’m also a Navy Chaplain. My ministry outside the church premises gives me the privilege to see the church through the eyes of people outside the church, to understand what people think about the church outside the church. In the hospital, for example, sometimes I walk around, I see some staff members having a nice time. As soon as I show up, they roll their eyes and say to each other, “Behave, Father is here!” Other times, I am in the breakroom, some nurses are in another part of the breakroom, and they are not aware that I am there. They make some jokes, then someone immediately tells them, “Don’t say that, Father is here.” Jokingly, I occasionally say, “Yes, that is part of my job description: I am paid to walk around the hospital to make you feel guilty.” In the Navy, I go around in my uniform, and then someone sees the cross right above my rank and then tells the others, “Watch your language, Chaps is here!” Many times, I wonder what image of religion, and what image of God we portray to the world. Why is it that when people see me as a priest outside, they think I am a police officer, who has come to give them tickets. In Jesus’ missionary mandate to his followers, he charged them to preach the good news. Why is it that when people see us as Christians, rather than think of us as bearers of good news, they see us as people who have come to judge them?

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of The Most Blessed Trinity, Three Persons in One God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This solemnity gives us the opportunity, as Christians, to reflect on the image of God that we have and the image of God that we show to the world. Our celebration of the Blessed Trinity reminds us that the God we serve, the God we worship is a family, the family of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When you think of your family, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? If the family is truly what the family should be, judgment, criticisms, and condemnation should not be the first thing that comes to your mind. Instead, in the family, you think of love, security, care, a safe place where you can be yourself and know that even if you do something wrong, you’ll be put right in a very loving way.

So the God we serve is a family. As Christians, when people encounter us, they should encounter their family and not police officers who have come to arrest them; not people who have come to judge them. In today’s first reading, God introduces himself to Moses as “a merciful and gracious God.” In the gospel passage, Jesus explains to Nicodemus how much God loves the world to the extent of giving his only begotten Son to die for the world. In the second reading, Saint Paul blesses his audience in the name of the Trinity. He did not pass judgment on them, rather he blessed them with the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. This message is not that everything goes, it is not in any way saying that God encourages us to be at our worst, the message here is the God we serve is the God of love that conquers evil. It is our responsibility as Christians then to dig into that love of God, to be bearers of this love of God, to be bearers of this good news, and when we show this love to the world, it will suffocate the evil in the world and make it easier for many more to come and enjoy the love of God in religion. My dearly beloved in Christ, I conclude this message by praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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COME, HOLY SPIRIT!PENTECOST SUNDAY YEAR A ON MAY 28, 2023 (R. 1: Acts 2: 1- 11; Psalm 104: 1, 24, 29- 30, 31, 34; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b- 7, 12- 13; Gospel: John 20: 19- 23) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Today is the solemnity of Pentecost. Today we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples. This is the third Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary. Today’s liturgy concludes the Easter Season for this year. In case there is anyone you are yet to wish Happy Easter, today is your last chance for this year.

When people hear the word Pentecost, some think it is another name for the Holy Spirit. The word Pentecost is originally from Greek, which means fiftieth. The full phrase is, he pentekoste hemera, which means the fiftieth day. We may want to ask, “The fiftieth day of what?

Today, we can easily say it is the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that was not how it started. It began in the Old Testament as a Jewish Feast, which marked the fiftieth day after Passover. It was a commemoration of the arrival of the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. It was on that mountain Moses went up to receive the law for his people. Fifty days after their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites arrived Mount Sinai, where they laid the foundation for their relationship with God through the giving and the receiving of the Law.

Every year, the Israelites set aside the fiftieth day after Passover to thank God for choosing them out of all the peoples of the earth to enter into this special relationship with God, through the giving of the law. The Jews also observed Pentecost as an agricultural festival, which marks the beginning of the wheat harvest. In the New Testament, the twelve apostles are the new twelve tribes of Israel, and the Church is the New Israel. So, in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke situates the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day as a way or saying the Holy Spirit comes after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus to replace the Old Law with the New Law of Love.

Furthermore, Pentecost points to the universal nature of the Church. The Old Law was for the People of Israel, and it set them apart from the rest of the world, but the Holy Spirit empowered the first Christians at Pentecost to speak in a way people of all nations could understand. An indication that the redemptive work of Christ is for the whole world. The message of the gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit, pulls down all barriers of language, race, tribe, gender, and status.

Similarly, Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, is a reversal of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). At the Babel event, people could not understand one another, so there was confusion everywhere. Then, when the Holy Spirit came, tongues were reunited, people came together. There was one common language of love. The apostles preached and people from different parts of the world, who spoke different languages understood them. On that day, the Church was born. So, you can call Pentecost Day the Birthday of the Church.

The Holy Spirit comes with various gifts to the Church as a body, and to individual members of the Church. Paul in the second reading reminds us that the gifts we receive from the Holy Spirit as individuals are not for division but for unity. He uses the analogy of the body to explain that just as each part of the body uses its quality and ability for the well-being and service of the entire body, so the responsibility of each Christian is not to use their gifts and talents to oppress others or create division, but to serve others and work for the unity of all. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost today, we have two questions to answer: 1. What are your unique talents? 2. In what ways are you using them to help others and break down barriers? May the Holy Spirit come upon us to strengthen us, enlighten us, encourage us, and make us true witnesses of Jesus Christ until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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GO, MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS! THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD YEAR A ON MAY 21, 2023 (R. 1: Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47: 2-3, 6-9; R. 2: Ephesians 1: 17-23; Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Today, we celebrate the sixth of the twelve articles of the Catholic Faith. The twelve articles are contained in the Apostles’ Creed (I Believe). This is the sixth article, “He (Jesus Christ) ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” The ascension reminds us that after the human and divine natures of Christ were united in the incarnation, they were never separated. It means that Christ did not dump his human nature after his saving death and resurrection.

At first glance, the Ascension seems a sad day. Christ in his human body is leaving the world. Ordinarily, we do not rejoice when someone that we love and admire leaves us. Why then do we celebrate the departure of Jesus with such excitement and rejoicing? The liturgy shows clearly that this is a joyful feast. It is because it is the fulfillment of the salvific mission of Christ. The Ascension is the final leg of the paschal mystery: the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. The act of redemption by Christ was only completed when he ascended and returned to his Father.

Reflecting on the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, we may ask some inevitable questions: Did Jesus really rise up into heaven? Is heaven really up there above the sky? Were there really forty days between his resurrection, and his ascension? Where was he for those forty days? What about his words to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with me in paradise”? Luke who is the author of the Gospel according to Luke is also the author of the Acts of the Apostles. At the end of the Gospel according to Luke, he gives us the impression that Jesus ascended into heaven on the very day of the resurrection, but in his later work, the Acts of the Apostles, Luke presents Jesus as ascending only after appearing to his disciples and instructing them during forty days after his resurrection.

A very important point to take note of is that these readings are not about historical information. The authors of these books use familiar images to pass across important and true messages. St. Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles by addressing Theophilus. The Greek name Theophilus means “One who loves God”. Probably, Luke was not having a particular person in mind when he wrote this book; it is very likely that he was addressing it to every person “who loves God”. It is therefore possible that he wanted to help those who want to know how the good news spread through the world and how the first Christian communities were formed. 

Luke in Acts of the Apostles speaks of Jesus instructing his disciples for a period of forty days. In general, the number forty stands for a period of waiting or preparation for a great event. In this context, it refers to the preparation of the disciples. At that time, it was a common understanding that if a student was able to stay with his master for a period of forty days or forty years, he was empowered and authorized to repeat the teachings of his master. So, saying that Jesus was appearing and instructing his apostles for a period of forty days after his resurrection was Luke’s way of saying that the apostles were the authentic disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, and they had the right to speak in his name and spread his message.

What are the fruits of the Ascension? The ascension of Jesus bears two important fruits, which can be referred to as the two advents. The first advent is the coming of the Holy Spirit, while the Second Advent is the expected Second Advent when Christ will come again. Before his ascension, Christ said to his apostles, “It is important that I go. For if I do not go the advocate will not come, if I go I will send him to you.” After his ascension, two angels appeared to them to tell them that just as they saw him ascending to heaven, so he will come again at the end of the ages”. He will come again no longer as Savior, but as Judge and Lord of all.

If Christ had remained physically on earth, sight would have taken the place of faith. In heaven, there will be no need for faith because His followers will see; no need for hope because they will possess, but there will be need for love because love endures forever.

In the incarnation, Christ took human nature to suffer and redeem it. In the Ascension, he went up with the same body so as to exalt that body that was humbled in death. Through the ascension, Christ now pleads for us in heaven with the human nature common to the rest of us. He has to be one like us to be our ambassador. We are called not to gaze at the sky but to be his witnesses in the entire world. The work of Jesus is finished and he has handed over the baton to us, it is now our responsibility to diligently hand this baton to those coming after us. The question is; do we really take this responsibility seriously? Someone once said, “Everybody seems to be talking about leaving behind a safe environment for our children, but no one seems to be talking about leaving behind good children for our environment.”

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CHRIST IN THE CRISIS: 6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR A ON MAY 14TH 2023 (R. 1: Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66: 1-7, 16, 20; R. 2: 1 Peter 3: 15-18; Gospel: John 14: 15-21)FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Last Sunday, in the first reading from Acts of the Apostles, we saw the early Christians in crisis because they grew in number. The Hellenists, Jews from the diaspora, complained that the Hebrews discriminated against the widows of the Hellenists in the daily distributions of food and probably other materials. The crisis would have been a source of disgrace for the early Church, however, the apostles listened to the Hellenists, invoked the Holy Spirit, and with the cooperation of the Hellenists, grace came forth from what would have been a disgrace; the resolution of the crisis gave birth to the ministry of deacons in the Church.

The early Christian community chose seven men, and the apostles ordained them deacons to serve the needs of the community. The first reading from last Sunday mentions Philip as one of the deacons. This Philip is different from Philip the Apostle. Some refer to him as Philip the deacon or Philip the evangelist. Today’s first reading centers on the missionary activities of this Philip in Samaria. In the city of Samaria, Philip proclaimed Christ to the people, he delivered those with demonic possession, and he healed the sick. How did Philip find his way to Samaria?

Recall that Stephen was one of the seven men that were ordained deacons along with Philip. Chapter 7 of Acts of the Apostles tells how Stephen was persecuted and killed. The beginning of Chapter 8 tells us that after Stephen was martyred, great persecution of Christians broke out in Jerusalem. All the Christians, except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Even though the Christians were running for their lives, they preached the good news wherever they went. That was how Philip made his way to Samaria, and he, like the rest, continued to make more disciples for Jesus.

It is true that when Jesus became a human being, he was born once upon a time. He was born in a particular town to a particular family and a particular tribe. However, his mission was to the whole world. Even though he began with the Jews as his launching pad, he came for the salvation of all. Before his ascension, he gave his followers the responsibility to preach the good news to the whole world, and to baptize those who believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. After his ascension, it seemed his followers remained in their comfort zone; they remained in Jerusalem. It was when the persecution of Christians broke out in Jerusalem that the Christians began to scatter from Jerusalem. In that process, the good news went with them to other parts of the world.

The pattern we see here reveals Christ in the crisis; it reveals grace in disgrace. It was the conflict between the Hebrews and the Hellenists that brought the grace of the ministry of deacons. It was the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem that took the message of Christ to the rest of the world.

For the most part, as human beings, we love to be comfortable. We want things to happen according to our plans. We try to avoid crisis. When we apply for school or job, we want to receive “Yes” as our answer. When we write an exam, we want to pass with distinction. We want to make gains in our businesses. We want our marriage to be perfect. We want people to like us and speak well of us. When these things don’t happen the way we want, we are tempted to give up easily. As Christians, we think that it is our right to have everything work in our favor. But from the story of the early Christians, we see that remaining in their comfort zone would have prevented the actualization of the growth of the kingdom. In case you question whatever is frustrating you now, don’t give up! Seek the help of the Holy Spirit to help you discover the grace in that disgrace; to help you discover Christ in that crisis. The difficulty you are facing now may be preparing you for something great. Don’t just go for comfort, don’t be attached to your comfort zone. Remember the words of Benedict XVI, “The world gives you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”

Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter Year A 2023

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BEWARE OF YOUR BLINDSPOT!5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR A ON MAY 7, 2023 (R. 1: Acts 6: 1-7; Psalm 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19; R. 2: 1 Peter 2: 4-9; Gospel: John 14: 1-12)FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Three Sundays ago, we reflected on the wounds/scars of Jesus after his resurrection. We wondered why he kept the wounds/scars after his resurrection. If he could heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and rise from death himself, why did he not clean himself up after the resurrection? We concluded the reflection by noting that he knew better; he knew that the wounds would serve as testimony that he came, he saw, and he conquered. He knew that his disciples would recognize him by the wounds, so he kept them. There is power in the scars. They tell the story of a Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, the Lord who loved unto death.” As a lesson from Jesus, we concluded that being ashamed of our backgrounds is not the right approach to life. For we are who we are today either because of or despite our backgrounds. Whatever God permits in our lives is for a reason, and our responsibility is to see whatever comes our way as an opportunity for growth.

The Church is the mystical Body of Christ. Just like Jesus rose from death without denying the reality of Good Friday, the Church tells her story, including the “shameful” aspects of her story. An example of such “shameful” parts is in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. This reading tells the story of apostles and disciples who saw Jesus in person, listened to him, ate with him, witnessed the resurrection, etc. Some others who did not directly witness, heard from first-hand witnesses. One would have expected them to be the best-behaved of all people, yet, they were fighting over food. What a shame! And to make matters worse, instead of sweeping it under the carpet, the early Christians put it into writing for us to read as if there is something heroic about the followers of Jesus fighting over food.

According to the first reading from Acts of the Apostles, “As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distributions.” The early Christians did not write it down because they were proud of the conflict. They wrote it down for us because they were proud of how they resolved the conflict through the power of the Holy Spirit. They wrote it down to teach us many lessons. This conflict came as part of the result of success. It was because they were growing in number and Christianity was expanding beyond the Hebrews that this conflict came up. So, when you progress, do not be surprised when you begin to face new challenges. Instead of allowing them to be a source of discouragement, work with the Holy Spirit to turn them into stepping stones to help you achieve higher success.

This early conflict was between the Hebrews and the Hellenists. Who were they? Both of them were Jews. The Hebrews were the Jews born, raised, and lived all their lives in Palestine. They followed the Law of Moses; and kept their fathers’ traditions. They also attended the synagogues and read the scripture in Hebrew language. On the other hand, the Hellenists were Jews who were born and raised abroad. Their contact with different cultures made them embrace and practice some customs the Jews condemned. They were not familiar with Hebrew. They mainly spoke Greek, read their scripture in Greek, and did not follow some of the traditions of their fathers. You can now imagine the tension between the two Jewish groups. It is in a way like the relationship between the various generations of immigrants in the U.S. Imagine immigrants like Mexicans who were born in Mexico, Philippinos born in the Philippines, or Nigerians born in Nigeria and the relationship between them and their children, grandchildren born in the U.S. You hear a lot of, “Stop it! That is disrespectful to our culture;” in response, you hear, “No, Mom! This is America! This is 2023.”

Why did the Hebrew neglect the Hellenists? Based on the apostles’ response, it is safe to assume that it was not deliberate. Probably, the Hebrews were in the majority, so it was easy for the Hellenists as a minority to fall into the blind spot of the Hebrews; it was easy for them to be forgotten since people naturally think of themselves first.

Today, we have great lessons to learn from the two groups. First, instead of murmuring at the back, the Hellenists confronted the leadership with the injustice they were experiencing. To the credit of the apostles, they did not go into self-defense. Their immediate response was, “How can we work together to solve this problem? Because they were humble enough and involved others and the Holy Spirit, the Church was blessed with the gift of a new ministry, the ministry of deacons. The sincerity of the apostles shows in the fact that at least one of the deacons, Nicholas of Antioch was a Hellenist.

The scars of the early Church come to us today as a lesson and blessing. If you are in the minority and you suffer any form of injustice, in charity, bring it up to the one behind the injustice. It may not be deliberate; it may be an effect of their blind spot. If you are in authority or in the majority, as Christian, always go out of your way to be sure you are not responsible for the pains of the minority. And when you are confronted with any form of injustice that may be coming from you, self-defense must not be your first reaction. Look into it in humility while seeking the help of the Holy Spirit and others to find a solution and grow from it.

I am a Roman Catholic Priest. In my Church, until now, ordinarily, only men (priests and deacons) preach at Mass. I had always taken it for granted that explanations of the readings mean the same for all, men and women alike. One Sunday, I preached how we can turn our failures into new opportunities for growth. After the Mass, a young lady approached me and said, “Father, that was a great and inspiring homily.” I was so happy to hear that. But she continued, “You gave three contemporary examples of people who grew from failure to success. I was disappointed that there was no female example. As a woman, I feel there was nothing for me.” I apologized to her, and I saw how I could easily preach as a man without paying attention to how a woman in the pew may feel about it. After that day, I resolved to always share my homily with at least one female for feedback before I delivered the homily. It is my way of minimizing my blind spot regarding my female listeners when I preach. My dearly beloved in Christ, as human beings, we will continue to have our scars, our wounds, and our blind spot. Let us pray to God to grant us the grace that such may not lead us to final damnation, but that the Holy Spirit may assist us to turn them into opportunities for growth until we come to our heavenly inheritance through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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