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HOW IS THE HOMEWORK? 1STSUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR B ON DECEMBER 3, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 63: 16b-17, 19b; 64: 2-7; Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Gospel: Mark13: 33-37) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Today is the beginning of a new year for the Church; a new liturgical year, Year B. Today is the First Sunday of Advent. Remember, the word, “Advent” means arrival. Advent is a time we await the arrival or coming of Christmas. We remember when Jesus Christ first came to earth in the flesh. In Advent, we also prepare for the second / final arrival / coming of Jesus Christ, no longer as our savior but as our judge. So, there are two arrivals here: the first, when he was born; and the second, when he will come at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead.

            Today, we live in the interval between the first arrival and the second arrival. What is our responsibility in this interval between the first and the second arrivals? In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gives us a hint on what we should be doing in this interval. He gave the parable of the man who was traveling abroad and placed his servants in charge of his home, each with his own work. Jesus used the parable to teach us the need to keep watch so that his return would not catch us unprepared. Keeping watch here does not mean idle gazing, but doing what he has asked us to do. Before he ascended into heaven, he said to us, “Go into the world, and make disciples of all nations… teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

            This responsibility is for all of us who are baptized. Each one of us has a role to play in bringing the world to Christ, through our words, our actions, and inactions. As Catholics, at the end of the Mass, the priest or deacon dismisses us with these words or similar words, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Recently, I have been thinking about how we are doing in terms of teaching the world about the command of Christ. I see how we still have a long way to go even in the most simple aspects of this responsibility.

            One thing I have been trying to understand these days is how I would ask some people, “Are you a Christian?” And they would say, “No, I am not a Christian, I am Catholic.” Last week, I met a young man in his late twenties. I asked him, “Do you identify with any religion?” He said, “No, I am just Catholic.” I thought it was bad enough that some Catholics have been made to believe they are not Christians. But now, some even think Catholicism is not a religion. I do not judge them. It only makes me to examine myself. Such experiences as I have shared make me ask myself: “What are you doing with the work Jesus gave you before he left?” “What will you show him as evidence of your hard work?” You may also ask yourself similar questions. As parents, should Jesus return today, can you confidently say you taught your children the love and commandments of Jesus by your words, actions, and inactions? As siblings, as friends, as co-workers, how much of Jesus do we share with others? If we are not sure of our identity as Catholic Christians, how can we live the life that flows from that identity? How can we share what we do not know?

            Some of us shy away from our responsibilities as Catholic Christians because people may say we are taking “this religion thing” too seriously. Remember, the one we are following took us so seriously that he died on the cross for us. Nothing we do to keep his message alive can be too serious. My dearly beloved in Christ, Jesus came as our savior. Jesus will come again, no longer as our savior but as our judge. Remember, he gave us a homework before he left: to keep his commandments and his love alive, and to share same with others until he comes again. May his return find us watchful and thriving in this responsibility that we may receive the reward of eternal life, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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HEAVEN MADE EASY: SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING YEAR A ON NOVEMBER 26, 2023 (R. 1: Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23: 1-3, 5-6; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-26, 28; Gospel: Matthew 25: 31-46) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

A young man was drowning in the river. An older man who was passing by, saw him, jumped into the river and rescued him. A few years later, the same young man broke into a jewelry store and stole some expensive jewelry. He was later arrested and taken to court. His joy knew no bounds when he saw the judge and recognized him as the same older man who rescued him while he was drowning a few years earlier. He said to himself, “This man risked his life to save me while I was drowning some years ago, I know, he will certainly do everything within his power to save me today.” Contrary to his expectation, the judgment was passed, the judge pronounced him guilty and sentenced him to prison. The young man cried out to the judge and reminded him of how he saved him from drowning. The judge replied, “Youngman, the day you were drowning, I came to you as your savior, but today, I am here as your judge.” 

Today, we celebrate the solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King. Today is also the last Sunday of this Liturgical Year A. Next Sunday, with the First Sunday of Advent, we shall begin the Liturgical Year B. Today’s readings present three images of Christ the King, namely Christ as Shepherd in the First Reading and Responsorial Psalm; Christ as the Risen Lord in the Second Reading; and Christ as Judge of All Nations in the Gospel Passage.

Over two thousand years ago, we were drowning in the river of sin when Jesus gave his life to save us. Jesus will come again, no longer as our savior but as our judge. As we come to the end of this liturgical year, the Gospel passage draws our attention to what the final judgment will look like. The Gospel passage reminds me of the week we referred to as AOC (Area of Concentration)/ revision week while I was in the Seminary. The week was so important that even Seminarians with health challenges would struggle to be in class during that week. The AOC/revision Week was the week towards the end of the semester when lecturers/professors revealed the areas of their courses that would feature in the semester examination. Seminarians would always hang onto every word that came from the professors during that week.

Christ, in today’s Gospel passage, reveals to us the Area of Concentration or the marking scheme that will be used for us at the end of time, namely human relationship. Hence the sheep at the right hand of the king will share in the glory of the King because of the high mark they got in their relationship with fellow human beings, while the goats on the left will go into eternal punishment because they failed in human relationship.

Some weeks ago, Jesus Christ faced the responsibility of summarizing the Commandments of the Law and He narrowed the Law down to Love of God and Love of neighbor. Today’s Gospel passage makes it even simpler by uniting the two as it replaces the word “and” with the word “through.” Hence, it is now the love of God through the love of neighbor. I call this “Heaven Made Easy.” For those who will make it to heaven will not be judged based on the number of times they fasted and prayed. They will not be judged based on the number of passages they were able to memorize from the Scriptures. They will not be judged based on the number of degrees they acquired in Theology. They will be judged based on simple things that we can all do: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, and be attentive to the lonely. You do not need to know the definition of soteriology, Christology, pneumatology, or Mariology. You do not even need to know what we mean by Niceno-constantinopolitan creed. Of course, those are important, but they will be useless if you know them and still have no love for your neighbor.

Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers/sisters of mine, you did for me.” The implication of this is that everyone is now a suspect. Jesus might be hiding in that person you have been taking for granted. When you go home and your wife asks for a special Christmas gift, before you refuse her request, look at her very well and say “Hmmm, I smell Jesus in youuuuu; request granted.” Before you yell at your husband, remind yourself that he might be Jesus. That lonely neighbor of yours or that homeless man or lady might be Jesus in disguise. Now we know, and as they say, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

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JUST DO YOUR PART! 33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON NOVEMBER 19TH, 2023 (R. 1: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 ; Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 ; R. 2: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30 ) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Today’s first reading, from The Book of Proverbs, sings the praises of a worthy wife. It concludes by saying, “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” What is special about the city gates? What is the significance of the city gates? Of what benefit will it be to the good wife if her praise gets to the city gates?

In the Bible, city gates protected the city against invaders. Apart from that, city gates were the center of administration for the city. At the city gates, there were crucial business transactions, the court convened there, special announcements were made from there, and the elders met there to make important decisions about the city. You can call the city gates the headquarters of the city. Think of city gates like the White House in the context of the United States. When Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18), he meant, the headquarters of hell will not be powerful enough to destroy the Church.

So why is it a big deal for the good wife’s praise to reach the city gates? The biblical culture was a “man’s world.” The men called the shots. No woman got to where important decisions were made. They had no representatives there. No one noticed them. In such a context, it was easy for a woman to sit back and do nothing. It was easy to say, “Nothing I do here matters; no one cares.” But this reading brings out the importance of doing your own part, no matter how little it may seem. You may not be able to do a big thing, but you can do a little thing in a big way. So, the good wife who lives in a culture where no woman gets to the headquarters, can make her way to the headquarters through the news of her good works.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus told the parable of a man who gave talents to his servants before going on a journey. He gave five talents to one, he gave two talents to another, and he have one talent to the last one. He shared the talents to them according to their abilities. The first two traded with theirs and made a hundred percent profit each. But the last one went, dug a hole, and buried his own talent. His excuse was that he was afraid of his master, so he wanted to keep it intact for him. Upon his return, the man rewarded the two who traded with their talents, and he punished the third one who hid his talents. In the first reading, the worthy wife was in a culture that did not favor her, but she still did all the good she could do as a house wife, which took her praises to the city gates, a place women would ordinarily not be mentioned. She did not allow what she could not do get in the way of what she could do. Unlike the worthy wife, in the gospel passage, the third servant did not consider what he could do, he did not want to take risk, he gave up on himself even before he started.

Have you heard about St John Mary Vianney? He was a French Catholic priest and is venerated in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of parish priests. His journey to the Catholic priesthood was not a smooth one. His education was interrupted by war. When he eventually got into the seminary, it was difficult for him to pass his exams. Latin was too difficult for him to understand. His mates looked down on him. Some of his teachers thought he should not continue in the seminary. But he was good at two things: he was very prayerful and he was very humble. When his formators struggled with the decision to present him for ordination, the vicar general asked them, “Is this young man pious? Does he say his rosary well?” When they answered, “Yes,” the Vicar General said, “Very well, I will receive him [for ordination], Divine grace will do the rest.” My dear friends, sometimes, we are like the third servant; we are afraid to take risk, we are afraid of what people will say, we are waiting for the best condition and so we bury our talents. We must not allow the things we cannot do get in the way of the things we can do. The good wife in the first reading was not allowed to be at the city gates, but her good works took her there. John Vianney could not pass his exams, but his humility and his prayer life took him to the priesthood. After his ordination, he became renowned for his preaching, and his holiness of life. People came from all walks of life to see him. Nobody knows everything, and nobody knows nothing. Nobody has everything, and nobody has nothing. Identify your unique talent, use it to serve others, and you will be surprised at what profit it will make for you. May the Lord continue to bless the works of our hands until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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THE BRIDEGROOM IS HERE!32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON NOVEMBER 12TH, 2023 (R. 1: Wisdom 6: 12- 16; Psalm 63: 2, 3- 4, 5- 6, 7- 8; R. 2: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13- 18; Gospel: Matthew 25: 1- 13) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

When I was in the Minor/High School Seminary, we had some teachers who gave us tests during the revision week before exams. For such teachers, we always waited for the end of the term before we began to prepare for their tests. There were other teachers who always gave us a week notice, and for them, we waited until they told us before we began to prepare for tests. But we had one teacher, who taught us Agricultural Science and Physical and Health Education. He never gave us any hint regarding when his tests would be. There were times he gave us tests on the very first day of the term, there were times he would give us tests in the middle of his class. We spent more time trying to figure out his tests schedule than the content of the subjects he taught us. At a point, we thought we got a clue. Some students observed that he always wore a particular red T-shirt to school any day he planned to give us a test. We all started looking out for the red T-shirt. Whenever we saw him in his red T-shirt, we would miss other classes before his class on that day to enable us do our last minute preparations. I remember how the red T-shirt formula worked for me many times, but after a while, we noticed he started giving us tests even on days he wore other shirts. Upon this realization, I made up my mind that the best way to pass his tests would be to presume that every day was a day of test, so I made sure I studied his subjects every day.

As we reflect on today’s Gospel passage, it is important to note that a parable is different from an allegory. In an allegory, we have a story in which each element stands for something outside the story. But for a parable, some details may just be there to sustain the attention of the audience. They may not mean anything special outside the story. The most important thing to look out for in a parable, is the punch line. The story in today’s Gospel passage is a parable, as such, we must not be carried away by the quest for the meaning of each element. Our task should be to find out what the punch line is. Jesus gives us the punchline as, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The context of the parable is that of the wedding custom of first-century Palestine. The groom goes to the house of the bride’s parents to make negotiations for the bride price and to bring his bride to his home. Meanwhile, the bridal party waits for the arrival of the groom at his home where the wedding feast would take place. More often than not, the bridegroom takes a long time in coming because of the negotiations at the bride’s home. Coming back to catch the bridal party napping was considered an achievement for the groom. Since the five wise maidens in today’s parable knew about the unpredictability of the bridegroom’s arrival, they made provisions for what was most essential, the oil, but the five foolish ones probably were distracted by non-essentials.

The primary interpretation of this parable refers to some of the Jews who were told long ago that the Messiah was coming but when the Messiah came in the person of Jesus, they were unprepared and so they lost their opportunity. The parable also applies to us today as we prepare for our individual death and for the final coming of Jesus. In spite of all human efforts, predicting the time of death continues to meet a lot of failure. Even with advancement in medical sciences, there have been cases where a doctor said a particular patient had two weeks to live, but the patient lived many years after while the doctor died a week after his prediction/prognosis. So, the way out is to be always prepared.

Even though our point of interest in a parable is the punch line, there is one element in today’s parable that continues to raise questions. It is the refusal of the wise maidens to share their oil.  We need to make it clear at this point that Jesus is not encouraging selfishness here. The point is that there are some things that cannot be shared. There are some things that we must work out ourselves without relying on others. The personal aspect of our relationship with God cannot be borrowed from others. You cannot go to confession on behalf of your family member or friend. You cannot receive any of the Sacraments on behalf of anybody. My family members and my friends cannot stop praying because they have a priest in the family or because they have a priest friend whose duty it is to pray. In Nigeria we say, “Every goat must learn to carry its own tail.” Martin Luther is quoted to have said, “You are going to die alone. You had better believe alone.”

As we approach the end of this liturgical year, let us pray for the grace to live each moment as if it were our last so that the coming of Jesus, the bridegroom, may not be a surprise, through the same Christ out Lord. Amen.

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OUR MEETING POINT: 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON NOVEMBER 5, 2023 (R. 1: Malachi 1: 14b-2:2b, 8-10; Psalm 131: 1, 2, 3; R. 2: 1 Thessalonians 2: 7b-9, 13; Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

A young man was talking about his family; he said, “I am from a very wealthy family, my ancestors were great warriors. Some of my ancestors founded the biggest companies and industries in this city.” He went on bragging about his ancestors and his family. Then a poor man, who was listening to him said, “Well, I don’t know much about my own ancestors, but one thing is sure, (he bent down and got a hand-full of sand and showed to those around saying) my ancestors met his ancestors here.”

The month of November is dedicated to the memory of the dead. On 2nd November, we commemorate All Souls. It is an opportunity to pray for the dead and to remind us of our own mortality. This reminder of our mortality should challenge us to be humble and be in good terms with God and His creation. Etymologically, the English word humility comes from the Latin humilitas and also related to the word humus (earth/soil), so the humble person is one who is grounded or conscious of his/her connection to the same earth as others. We also get this same reminder every Ash Wednesday when the minister signs our foreheads with ashes and says, “Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” It is very significant to note that the same ashes is used for everybody: young and old, rich and poor, democrats and republicans, immigrants and non-immigrants, black and white.

In the past few Sundays, Jesus was talking to the religious leaders directly; today he is talking to the crowds and his disciples about the problems of the religious leaders whose bad examples the crowds must not follow. Jesus condemns the Scribes and the Pharisees for their bad examples. The Scribes were the lawyers and served as interpreters and teachers of the law among the Jews. The Pharisees were members of a sect within Judaism. Their name (Pharisees) comes from Aramaic, meaning “separated”, the “separate ones” or “separators. They saw Judaism as a religion centered upon the observance of the law and they interpreted the observance of the law in the most severe manner. They were not priests like the Sadducees, but they were proudly exclusive because of their strict observance of the law and their self-righteousness. They focused on the external formalities of religion as they get their ultimate reward from being seen by others. They thought religion should revolve around them and they could not imagine the possibility of God’s saving activity and God’s power going beyond them.

There is nothing wrong with being different from others. “Variety” they say “is the spice of life”. But the question is, what is our attitude toward the differences? How proudly exclusive are we? As priests, do we see ourselves as “sacred cows”, special breeds and the “only go-to priests”? As Catholics, do we have some kind of spirituality that makes us think less of other Catholics? Does our class, talent, race, etc exclude others from our good thoughts? If yes, then we are modern day Pharisees. The problem is not with being different; the problem is with the pomposity and exclusivity that go with it.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and pride. The English word “hypocrisy” comes from the Greek hupokrisis, which means acting of a theatrical part. So, in theater, the hypocrite is one who plays a role or pretends to be what they are not. When we come to Mass and eat of the same body and from the same blood on the same table, and then find it difficult to share our meals with others after Mass, we are nothing but hypocrites.  If after praying the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, we go home to tell our spouses, families or friends that we can’t forgive them, we are nothing but hypocrites; it means we were only part of the Mass as actors. If after praying the “Our Father” at Mass, we go outside to segregate and discriminate based on people’s origin, it means we do not believe God is our Father, we were only play-acting at Mass. The Mass does not end with the dismissal; the dismissal only sends us out to go practice what we have celebrated.

My dearly beloved in Christ, God is our true source. We have been blessed in various ways. It is ok to be different; but if we feel we are better than others, we must express it not in the way we oppress others, but in the way we use our talents to help others. Someone once said, never look down on anyone unless when you are admiring their shoes. Jesus concludes today, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Remember, “Pride” they say “goes before a fall.”

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