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IT SHALL COME TO PASS! 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON OCTOBER 2, 2022 (R. 1: Habakkuk 1: 2- 3; 2: 2- 4; Psalm 95: 1- 2, 6- 7, 8- 9; R. 2: 2 Timothy 1: 6- 8, 13- 14; Gospel: Luke 17: 5- 10) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Jesus said that if you have faith as little as the size of a mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains and uproot trees. Really?If this were a television show, I bet you, Jesus would have added, “Please, don’t try this at home!” Do you have faith? Have you ever uprooted any tree by word of mouth? Have you heard of the Saints or even Jesus himself uprooting a tree by word of mouth? Does it mean that they have no faith? Have you imagined how crazy it would be if we all start moving trees around with words? Maybe if I like a tree on your property, I could just command it to come to mine by night, and when you wake up in the morning you command it back to your property.

This is not a call for us to force God to do what is unreasonable. This is not a call for us to obtain cheap wonders from God. The mulberry tree has a very deep and extensive root system that is almost impossible to completely uproot and replant. The message from Jesus here is that with faith, we can achieve what might seem impossible in the eyes of human beings; with faith, we can uproot the deep-rooted system of injustice and violence in our society.

Jesus used this imagery when he was instructing his followers on the demands of discipleship. He said the punishment for leading another person into sin would be worse than being thrown into the ocean with a millstone around the neck. He added that it is the responsibility of his followers to correct those who go astray and that his followers must always forgive those who ask for pardon. It was upon hearing of the challenging demands of discipleship that his apostles asked for an increase in faith. We can understand from the response of Jesus that it is not the size of the faith that counts but how willing we are to make use of the little that is available to us. With faith, as little as the size of a mustard seed, we can achieve even what the world sees as impossible.

When the apostles heard the requirements of discipleship, they felt overwhelmed. About 600 years before the time of the apostles, the Prophet Habbakuk also felt overwhelmed by all that was going on in his community. Under the reign of King Jehoiakim, things were not going well; injustice, oppression of the weak, violence and evil of all sorts were the talk of town. Habbakuk on behalf of the people then asked God, “How long will this state of violence last?” and the Lord answered: 1. There may not be an immediate change now; 2. But the people must not be discouraged; 3. God will intervene at the proper time; 4. Then the upright and the just will live and triumph while the wicked will succumb.

We are gathered at Mass with different names and different faces; so are our stories different. What is the tree in your life at this moment that you want to be uprooted? Does it have to do with your health? Your relationship? Your family? A false allegation you are facing? The political situation in the country? Discrimination/segregation? Are you at this point asking God, How long will this situation last? How long will God be silent? How long will God remain on vacation? The Lord is speaking to you like He did to Habakkuk: 1. Wait for my appointed time; 2. While you wait, remain courageous; your courage must not take vacation. Jesus says, you must use the little faith you have, St. Paul says, “Fan into flame the gift that you have”; 3. God will intervene at the proper time.

Divine intervention is sure, but will you still be hanging in there when he intervenes? Be sure not to have given up all hope and disappeared from the scene when God will intervene. When the brothers of Joseph sold him into slavery, they thought they had killed his dreams, but he kept holding onto his God even when it seemed like God had abandoned him to suffer the consequences of false allegations; his courage did not take vacation. And when the appointed time came, Joseph was promoted and he became a governor in a foreign land (Egypt), and his brothers came to bow before him and to seek his help. You have all it takes to succeed; use whatever is available to you now; do not give up on your dream. As it is said, “Good things come to those who wait patiently, but better things come to those who pray while they wait.”

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BUT HE DID NOTHING! 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON SEPTEMBER 25, 2022 (R. 1: Amos 6: 1a, 4- 7; Psalm 146: 7- 10; R. 2: 1 Timothy 6: 11- 16; Gospel: Luke 16: 19- 31) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

My dearly beloved in Christ, how fair is the judgement in today’s parable? The rich man went to hell fire, while Lazarus the poor man went to heaven. How fair is this judgment?

Let us reexamine the facts that are available to us. Was Lazarus a good man? What did he do? He did nothing! We are not aware of any. He did not say a word, he never lifted a finger, he never took a step, he was always sitting down, and he is still sitting down. While on earth, he sat at the entrance of the rich man’s house, now in heaven he is seated beside Abraham, and even during his passage to heaven, he was carried by the angels. He did nothing; better described as “lazy bones.” Perhaps his poverty was due to his laziness. Is Laziness now a virtue? Why did he go to heaven? What about the rich man, what did he do? He did nothing! We were not told that he stole his wealth from Lazarus, we were not told that he mistreated his servants, we were not told that he cursed, neither were we told that he swore. Can we even say that he was rough with Lazarus? If he were, Lazarus would not have remained at his door. What did he do then? He did nothing!

There is something peculiar to this parable. Jesus does not call his characters by name in his parables. He would say a certain sower went to sow; a woman lost a coin, a Pharisee and a Tax Collector went to pray, a man had two sons, etc. But in this case, he named one of his characters Lazarus. This tells us how the table will be turned in the next world. In this world, when we listen to the news, it is the rich that are named, while the poor are bundled up together as “others.” But in Jesus’ scheme of things, the poor are named while the rich are anonymous.  Unfortunately, the rich man does not seem to understand that the table has been turned. He thinks that Lazarus should be his servant to be ordered around to give him water and to go on an errand to his five brothers.

The name Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means “God is my Help.” This name gives us an insight into the person of Lazarus as not just a poor man but a poor man who believed and trusted in God. The good thing about poverty is that it helps us to rely on God; to be God-confident rather than self-confident. The Book of Psalms says, “Our Help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). It also says, “Those who place their trust in God will not be put to shame” (Psalm 25: 3).

Wealth, on the contrary, gives us a false sense of security. Jesus would even warn that it will be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to go to heaven (cf. Matthew 19: 23-26). One shameful aspect of wealth that is condemned by today’s first reading is complacency. Riches can make us feel very comfortable and careless about the yawning gap between the rich and the poor. The sin of the rich man in the gospel passage was that he did nothing. He was insensitive to the plight of Lazarus. The wall the rich man willingly built in this life against the poor, becomes, after his death, a chasm that no one can bridge. The time to break down barriers and build bridges is now.

My Dearly Beloved in Christ, the bad news is that the case of Lazarus and the rich man has been decided and the judgment cannot be overturned. But here is the good news: your own case has not been decided; mine too is yet to be determined. We still have the time to decide on where we want to spend our eternity; either with Lazarus or the rich man. But I don’t know how much time we have.

For the time being, how comfortable are we with the different forms of discrimination that are eating up our society? Are we less bothered because we belong to the privileged class? It may not be how much you have in your bank account; it may be that you are so likable and you have so many friends; does that make you feel less concerned about that lonely neighbor on the street who is friendless and forlorn and has no one to listen to their story? What about a situation where you are privileged to know the truth about an incidence, and you see that an innocent person has been accused and already being sentenced to prison; do you just comfortably keep quiet because the person does not go to your Church, look like you, speak like you or is not capable of rewarding you? Maybe your parent, spouse, sibling, neighbor, or a strange person offended you. Are you so comfortable about the situation because you are the righteous one, and not ready to do anything about it? Or are you bold enough to offer forgiveness even when it has not been asked of you? We have a choice to make here. Either we embrace the temporary comfort of this life and face eternal discomfort, or we welcome the temporary discomfort of this life and enjoy eternal comfort. Pope Benedict VI says, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”  Now is the time to decide!

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YOU DON’T MEAN IT! 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON SEPTEMBER 18, 2022 (R. 1: Amos 8: 4-7; Psalm 113: 1-2, 4-6, 7-8; R. 2: 1 Timothy 2: 1-8; Gospel: Luke 16: 1-13) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

A Catholic teenage boy took his Muslim friend to Church one Sunday morning. After the Mass, he decided to give his friend a tour of the Church. At the end of the tour, they were about stepping out when the Muslim friend pointed toward the sanctuary and asked, “What is in that golden box up there?” The Catholic boy answered, “Sorry, I forgot to tell you. That is the Tabernacle. Inside it is the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the God we worship.” The Muslim boy asked, “Do you believe that is your God?” The Catholic boy confidently answered, “Sure, very well, I do believe that is my God?” The Muslim boy then said, “But I don’t believe that is your God. I don’t even believe that you believe that is your God. For if I ever get to think that my God is in that box, I would not be disrespectful in the Church the way I have seen you are. I would never like to leave the Church.”

Today’s Gospel passage raises more questions than answers. How can a dishonest steward be praised by his master? Is the charge against the steward true or false? Who is the master who commended the steward; Jesus or the rich man? The steward was praised because of what he did when he discovered that he was going to lose his job. He went to his master’s debtors and reduced the amounts on record that they owed. The one who owed one hundred measures of olive oil was told to write fifty. The one who owed one hundred kors of wheat was told to write eighty. Why did the master commend him when he cheated his master by reducing the amount owed by the debtors? There are two different ways scholars look at this. One view has it that the steward cheated his master when he asked the debtors to reduce the figures they owed. The other view has it that the steward was only forfeiting his commission when he asked the debtors to change figures; he was not cutting into his master’s wealth.

In the case of the second interpretation, landlords had their fixed amounts. Their stewards or agents were at liberty to add more numbers to the landlords’ figures, which is where they get their salary in the form of commission. So, this servant was giving up his commission to win friends when he eventually loses his job. The next question that may arise from this interpretation is, “If he did not offend the rich man by changing figures, why was he described as a dishonest steward at the end of the parable?” In answer to that I would say, he was called dishonest at the end of the parable not because of the figures he asked the debtors to change but because of whatever he did at the beginning that led to his loss of the job. 

Our take home from the parable is that there is always something good to learn from everyone and everything. Even though this steward was labeled as dishonest, we can learn from his great example of being resourceful. He was losing his job, but he did not see that as the end of life. He immediately thought about what he could do with what he had. He used the little commission he had to win friendship for the future from his master’s debtors. Rather than eat the seed he had, he planted it to yield him more fruits. He was smart to invest in friendship, yet, this friendship is earthly, which will not last forever. As Christians, we believe in heaven, we believe in eternity, we believe in God. How many temporary things are we willing to give up to gain eternal life in heaven?

Jesus says, “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” As children of light, we have something to learn from the children of this world. Even as bad as the devil is, we have something to learn from the devil, and that is perseverance. The devil does not give up. When the devil embraced the project of discouraging Jesus from doing the will of God, he expressed the quality of perseverance/persistence. After he failed in the three consecutive temptations he brought before Jesus in the wilderness; he should have given up, but he did not. He came back to tempt Jesus through Peter. Jesus recognized him and said, “Get behind me, Satan!”  At Gethsemane, he came again to suggest to Jesus to pray away the cup of suffering, but Jesus ended the prayer by submitting to God’s will. The devil came through the mouths of those who crucified Jesus and the mouth of one of the thieves urging Jesus to come down from the cross, but he would not submit. The devil still went on to suggest to Jesus that he was being abandoned by his Father. Jesus finally commended himself to the hands of his Father.

When we compare this attitude of perseverance to what we do as Christians, what happens? After praying for an intention for a few times and answers seem not to come, we give up. After confessing a particular sin and we fall into it again, we stop trying. When we come to a one-hour Mass, and it extends beyond one hour by five minutes, we stop coming to Church. We are excited about taking our children to soccer games, movies, etc., but we are too busy to bring them for religious education. When we get to sporting events or movies, we sit where we can watch everything well; we go early and stay until the end. When it comes to worship, we don’t mind going late, we can even stay outside while worship is going on, and we can leave before the end. The dishonest steward gave up his commission to win temporary friends, but we cannot give up our pride to reconcile and win back those who offend us for the sake of eternal life. After this homily, we are going to profess that we believe in God, we believe in the Catholic Church, and all she teaches; and that we believe in eternal life. However, looking at how we live our lives, can we honestly say that we mean what we claim to believe?

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

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TOO GOOD TO BE HAPPY! 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2022 (R. 1: Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; R. 2: 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Gospel: Luke 15: 1-32) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

The story of the Prodigal Son, which we have in today’s Gospel Passage was once read to some 2nd graders. The teacher then asked, “The story we just read ended with a party. In the story, who did not enjoy the party?” The answer seemed obvious, most of the children chorused, “The older son.” But one of the children raised her hand up and had a different answer, she said, “The one that did not enjoy the party was the fattened calf that was slaughtered for the party.”

A few years ago, I had the privilege of speaking to the campus ministry class of one of our Catholic High Schools here in San Diego. I asked the students to reflect on today’s Gospel passage after which I asked some questions. For example, I asked the students to tell me which of the seven Sacraments connects well with the parable in today’s gospel passage. The answer was obvious. We all agreed that it was the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But one of the students had something had something to say. She said, the story reminded her of the Sacrament of Confirmation. She explained further saying, “At Baptism, I was baptized as an infant without being consulted, but at confirmation, I made the choice myself.” Relating this to the story of the prodigal son, she explained that the younger son was born into the family without being consulted. But when he later returned home after testing some other grounds, he was convinced that there was no place like home, it was his decision to come home and confirm his membership in his family.

All the readings in today’s Liturgy celebrate God’s abundant mercy. In the first reading, God was meant to punish the Israelites for committing idolatry, but after Moses pleaded on their behalf, God forgave them. In the Second reading, Paul was writing from Macedonia to Timothy; he regretted the years he spent persecuting Christians, and he was surprised by the mercy and graces that God showered on him. Based on his own personal experience, he came to the conclusion that there is no sinner that is so wicked that cannot be forgiven, as long as the sinner listens and responds to the call of Christ.

Jesus explains more about God’s mercy using three beautiful stories in the Gospel passage. He told the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. We are all sinners in one way or the other; we have all gone astray in one way or the other, and we are all capable of going astray. If all that we have is divine justice, then we are all hell-bound, but thank God for divine mercy. In the Sacrament of reconciliation, the priest is there for us as the minister of God’s Mercy and not the minister of God’s Justice.

As we enjoy the beauty of God’s Mercy, which is very prominent in the stories of today’s passages, it is very easy to overlook the reaction of the older son. Let us note that it was in response to such reactions among the Pharisees that Jesus took his time to tell the three beautiful stories.

The passage begins with Tax Collectors and Sinners coming close to Jesus, and the Scribes and Pharisees began to complain as they could not understand why the “Holy Jesus” should have anything to do with sinners. The Pharisees failed to realize that it was for this purpose that Jesus came, that is to draw sinners back to God. They failed to realize that the power of Jesus is capable of bringing the best even out of the most sinful.

From the stories, Jesus makes it clear that sinners primarily are lost and as such, the first thing they need from those who have not gone astray is to lead them home and not to condemn them. Unfortunately, even to this day, some Christians would prefer to conceal the sign post of the Church from those who have gone astray than to make such signs more visible. Unfortunately, some Christians would derive more joy from the condemnation of the sinner rather than their repentance.

In the parables, Jesus brings out something good about sin. As long as the sinner is still alive, when the sinner embraces the mercy of God and repents, it brings about more celebration among the Angels and Saints than over the “ninety nine others.” Our sins stink before God, but when we confess them, they sound like sweet melodies before God. Sometimes, being lost, gives us a better appreciation of what we enjoy in God. In the old English translation of the Easter Proclamation, we have, “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer.” This does not mean that we should deliberately get lost, for we don’t know how much time we have for repentance.   

Jesus intended this parable for the Scribes and the Pharisees to see themselves in the older son. The older son refused to approach his brother who was lost and found. While people gathered to rejoice and celebrate, the older son felt he was too good to rejoice. Yet, the Father was too rich in mercy to be discouraged by the older son’s attitude. The punchline of Jesus’ message today is, “In just the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” For those of us who count ourselves as free from sins and perfect, let us watch it so that we do not miss out from the final and eternal celebration as a result of our self-righteousness; and for those of us who like the younger son have realized where we have gone wrong, let us like him, continue to sing:

God of Mercy and Compassion, Look with pity upon me,

Father, let me call thee Father, ‘Tis Thy child returns to Thee.

Jesus, Lord, I ask for Mercy; Let me not implore in vain;All my sins, I now detest them, Never will I sin again.

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USE YOUR CROSS TO CROSS OTHERS: 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON SEPTEMBER 4, 2022 (R. 1: Wisdom 9: 13-18b; Psalm 90: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17; R. 2: Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Gospel: Luke 14: 25-33) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Today’s second reading is the shortest of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. It is the Letter of St Paul to Philemon. It is so short that it is not divided into chapters. It has only 25 verses. The letter was addressed to Philemon and the Christians that gathered in his home. Philemon was a rich merchant from Colossae. Paul must have met him while traveling through the province of Asia Minor. Paul converted him to Christianity, and since he was wealthy and had a large house, his house became a meeting place for the Church.

This letter that Paul wrote to Philemon was about Onesimus, who was Philemon’s slave. Onesimus stole some money from Philemon and escaped. Some suggest that he escaped to Ephesus, while others suggest he escaped to Rome where he met Paul in prison. Most likely, after escaping from Philemon, he committed some other crime, which led to his arrest and imprisonment.

While in prison, Onesimus and Paul must have had a lot of time to share their stories. After Paul won his trust, Onesimus must have shared with Paul about how he stole Philemon’s money and escaped. At that point, Paul must have exclaimed, “Philemon? The rich merchant from Colossae? I know him very well. He respects me a lot. Now that you have repented and have been baptized, would you like me to send you back to him with a letter?” Onesimus must have accepted the offer, hence the letter, which we read today as Paul’s Letter to Philemon.

Paul was not in the best of conditions while he was in prison, but that did not stand in his way of caring for others. Even though he was in prison, he did not spend his time lamenting, he did not go into self-pity; he seized it as an opportunity to be a bridge to connect others to Christ. As a bridge, he used his time in prison to convert Onesimus and connect him to Christ. When he discovered that they both knew Philemon, he also became a bridge to connect Onesimus to his former master, no longer as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus invites us to carry our cross if we must follow him. The cross is like a ladder that connects the earth to heaven. It is also like a bridge with which we can cross a river or a pit. Paul used his imprisonment as a ladder to connect Onesimus to Christ. He also used the same cross as a bridge to connect Onesimus to Philemon. Jesus began this process by using the cross to reconcile humanity to divinity. He was in pain and dying on the cross when he gave one of the thieves an express ticket to heaven. He said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” My dearly beloved in Christ, what is the cross you are carrying today? What is the unpleasant situation you have found yourself today? Maybe God allowed the cross because he wants you to use it as a ladder to lead someone back to God, or he wants you to be the link and the means of reconciliation for some people. May God grant us the grace to never suffer in vain, so that our pains may be converted to our gains until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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