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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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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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BUT WE ARE ALL GUESTS AFTER ALL! 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON AUGUST 28, 2022 (R. 1: Sirach 3: 17- 18, 20, 28- 29; Psalm 68: 4- 7, 10- 11; R. 2: Hebrews 12: 18- 19, 22- 24a; Gospel: Luke 14: 1, 7- 14) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

A while ago, I was with two parishioners, one of them said to me, “Father, each time we hear you preach, you remind us so much of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.” The other parishioner nodded in agreement. I looked at both of them, I paused for a moment, I remembered today’s first reading and Gospel passage, and I thought about what I planned to preach at this Mass.  I looked at them again, and I said to them, “May God forgive you for what you just said to me, and may God forgive me for enjoying it so much.” As you all know, I am very humble, and I am very proud of my humility. But that is the strange thing about humility, the minute you think you have got it; you lose it.

My Dearly Beloved in Christ, Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem. Once in a while, the journey is punctuated by some activities. Today, the journey is punctuated by a dinner, the last recorded dinner in Luke’s account of the Gospel before the Last Supper. A leading Pharisee is hosting Jesus for dinner. Since the host is a prominent Pharisee, it is natural to expect that most of those at the dinner are his fellow Pharisees. When Pharisees are mentioned in connection with Jesus, what comes to mind immediately is conflict.

The beginning of the Gospel passage tells us that “the people there were observing [Jesus] carefully.” The Greek verb used for this is paratereo, which has a nuance of “hostile observation.” So, they were not just observing Jesus carefully; they were observing him with hostility instead of focusing on the dinner. Sometimes, when we mention Pharisees, it sounds very remote, it is like we are talking about people who lived thousands of years ago. The truth is that we still have them among us, and the more bitter part of the truth is that in each of us, beginning with me, there is a bit of the Pharisee.

In terms of “hostile observation,” the Pharisee in a Parish is one who comes back from Sunday Mass, and when you ask such a person, “How was Mass today?” you will hear this response,

Oh, Mass was fine, except that the ushers were not authentic with their smiles at the entrance door, and you know what, the lady that sat beside me had a crying baby. The other issue is that the guy that read the first reading did not observe some of the punctuation marks, while the lady who read the second reading was reading to herself; she was not audible enough. For the homily, I have noticed that what the priest does is cut/copy and paste; it lacks originality. I was at another parish where the priest spoke from his heart, he was very eloquent, but he didn’t know when to stop, I guess he thought we were there to spend the whole day. You know something else that drives me crazy, our parish choir, those choristers sing like they are at a concert and not at a Mass. I also wonder why our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion don’t make eye contact and smile when they distribute communion…

You can see that to people like this, everything was wrong with the Mass except themselves. That is a “pharisaic” attitude.

The Pharisees were very convinced of their knowledge and observance of the law; they felt no one else could know and observe the law as perfectly as they did. Jesus saw where their pride was leading them to; he then used a simple parable to teach them about humility. He told them that when invited to a party, they should not presume that they were the most important guests. If they chose the most important seats, they might be embarrassed when more important guests would come in and take over the positions. With this parable, Jesus makes it clear that none of us is the host. We are all guests at the banquet. As such, we lack the faculty to judge the other guests. Only the host knows the caliber of people he has invited. So, he says, it is not our responsibility to judge.

The first reading and the Gospel passage teach great lessons on humility. But we need to be careful when we talk about humility as it can easily be mistaken for other things. Rick Warren notes that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Fred Smith, on same point, says, “Humility is not denying the power you have. It is realizing that the power comes through you, not from you.”

Etymologically, the word humility comes from the Latin word humilis, which means “on the ground.” It is derived from humus, which means “earth.” Hence, when you are advised to humble yourself, it is a way of saying “be grounded.” This root reminds us of our connectedness with the earth. Before you brag too much about your status, your talents, your race, your wealth, etc, remember that we are all connected to the same earth. We all are dust, and to dust, we shall return (Cf. Genesis 3: 19).

Pride has led many into trouble. Lucifer lost his glory due to pride. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, lost the Garden of Eden due to pride. Pride is the devil’s comfort zone and playground; if you want to elude the devil, be humble. There is nothing that sets us so much out of the reach of the devil like humility. It pays to be humble, for the humble are always exalted. In Mary, we have an excellent example of humility, and God exalted her. Jesus was humble, he became one like us, and so God highly exalted him and gave him a name that is above every other name that at the name of Jesus, every knee must bend and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Cf. Philippians 2: 6- 11).

Let us pray for this virtue, saying, “Teach us humility, Lord and we shall be humble. Burn out of us, in this life, all that displeases you, so that we may not have to suffer the burns of the life to come. Amen.”

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ENTER NOW WHILE YOU CAN! 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON AUGUST 21, 2022 (R. 1: Isaiah 66: 18-21; Psalm 117: 1, 2; R. 2: Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13; Gospel: Luke 13: 22-30) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

When I was in the major (college) seminary, one of my formators, a priest, came into the classroom one day and asked my class, “My dear seminarians, what is the easiest way to heaven?” We were not sure of what to say, so he answered, “The easiest way to go to heaven is, become a catholic priest.” We were all impressed and applauded. He then asked another question, “What is the easiest way to go to hell?” We had no idea, so he answered, “The easiest way to hell is, become a catholic priest.” Seeing the confusion on our faces, he went on to explain that as a catholic priest, you have all it takes to go to heaven; however, misuse of those graces can lead to hell. He also added, “The fact that you have the recipe, and the ingredients does not mean that you cannot go hungry; it is still possible for you to die of starvation if you don’t use them.”

Sometime ago, there was a catechist in a rural parish. Some parishioners told the parish priest of some of his bad behaviors. The priest was not courageous enough to confront him directly, so he decided to use the pulpit to address him. On the first Sunday, the priest preached against all the things the catechist was guilty of without mentioning his name. After the Mass, he was so happy with himself having given the catechist a piece of his mind. But the catechist came up to him and said, “Father, that was a great homily; I just hope the people listened; they needed to hear what you said today.” On another day, it rained heavily, so only the catechist and the priest were at Mass. The priest took advantage of that to repeat the same homily so the catechist would know the message was for him. After the Mass, the catechist came to the priest and said, “Father, I think today’s homily is your best homily so far, but unfortunately, those who were supposed to hear it were not at Mass today.”

Luke continues to give us the account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. At this point, someone comes up to Jesus to ask, “Lord, will only a few people be saved? This is supposed to be a question requiring a “yes” or “no” answer, but Jesus is known to turn such a hypothetical question into a personal challenge. So, he avoids talking about the number of people to be saved and challenges each listener to strive to enter the Kingdom of God. Each person has to strive because many will want to enter, and the gate is narrow. Earlier in Luke 10: 29, a lawyer came to ask Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In answer to him, Jesus avoided the hypothetical question and redirected his attention to the lawyer by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. The story was meant to challenge him to think of how to be a neighbor like the Good Samaritan rather than asking about who his neighbor was. In Matthew 16: 13ff, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” The disciples quickly began to answer telling Jesus about other people’s opinions, but when Jesus further asked, “But who do you say that I am?” They became silent; only the voice of Peter was heard. The main challenge of religion lies in the practical application to individual lives and real-life experiences. When it comes to the theory, so many are active, but when the light begins to shine on individuals, only few will remain standing.

Jesus continues to explain that on the last day after the master has locked the door, the people outside will be showing their credentials saying, “Lord, open the door for us…we ate and drank in your company, and you taught in our streets.” But the master will deny ever knowing them; their credentials will be of no benefit. Rather than help them, their credentials will even get them into more trouble. Remember, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” So those who claim Jesus taught in their streets will be in for more trouble because they knew better, but they did less. Therefore, the priesthood will not be an automatic ticket to heaven. Being a nun, a Catholic, a theologian, attending a catholic school, etc. is not an assurance for heaven; if anything, such may even get us into more trouble if we don’t act accordingly.

Jesus adds that the pain of the people outside will be much when they see the caliber of people inside. Those people inside will include people from the east and the west, from the north and the south. This will be a fulfillment of the first reading from Isaiah that God will gather people from every language. People will not be judged based on their race or language, but on how much love they showed. Those who thought they were in charge on earth will be surprised to see themselves outside, while those they looked down on while on earth will be enjoying inside. This warning is real; those who think they are standing now must be careful; those who sit in judgment against others must re-channel their efforts into loving more and judging less, for not only is the door narrow, but the door will be permanently closed one day, so, enter now, while you can!

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I HAVE COME TO TROUBLE YOUR PEACE! 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON AUGUST 14, 2022 (R. 1: Jeremiah 38: 4- 6, 8- 10; Psalm 40: 2- 4, 18; R. 2: Hebrews 12: 1- 4; Gospel: Luke 12: 49- 53) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

There were many prophecies about Jesus before he was born. Some were very direct, and others not so direct. The Prophet Isaiah said he would be called “Prince of Peace” (Cf. Isaiah 9:6). When eventually Jesus was born, the angel broke the news to shepherds who were watching their flock by night and the host of heaven sang with the angel, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth” (Cf. Luke 2: 9- 14). But in today’s Gospel passage, as an adult, Jesus comes up to say, we should not think he has come to establish peace on the earth, but rather division. Earlier on, he said, he had come to set the earth on fire. This is serious! The Prince of Peace now declaring himself the “Chief Trouble Maker?” Is Jesus out to contradict what was prophesied about him before he was born? Did his parents not tell him what was expected of him? Did he not read his job description?

This is no contradiction. Jesus remains the Prince of Peace. He has come to give us peace. But this is not peace as we know it. He has come to rescue us from pseudo peace and to give us perfect peace, which no one can take away from us. He has come to challenge us to step out of our comfort zones. He has come to meet us where we are so as to take us to where we are supposed to be. This is not an easy process for us, it comes like fire, it troubles our pseudo peace, but it liberates us.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I don’t look forward to corrections. I don’t look forward to feedback that tell me what I did wrong. Now, let me tell you what I look forward to: I look forward to the end of this Mass when some wonderful parishioners will come to tell me how great my homily was. I love it when you tell me that I did a great job. But once in a while, I have one or two parishioners pull me aside to say, “Father, that was a good homily, but…eeeem…” At such points, my heart begins to pound, and I begin to wonder, “What is it again? After all the efforts I have put in?”  But I must confess that, if you think I do well today in my homilies, it is also thanks to people like that who gave me hard times. At such moments, they troubled my “peace”, but as a result of such troubles, I have greater peace; I have grown. That is the kind of trouble/fire that Jesus is talking about; it is the fire that tears us down to build us into our best version.

Jesus also talks about causing division. This is the division that stems from the incorruptibility of Truth. It is about the revealing nature of the truth. Jesus is the Truth, and he has come to share the Truth with us. No one can destroy the Truth; you are either for the Truth or you are against the Truth; that is where the division comes in. When Christ went to the cross, with his hands outstretched it signaled what he came for. With his hands outstretched, he ruled out all forms of political correctness; all forms of mediocrity; it was a call to choose between his left and his right. Choosing the path of Truth also implies paying the price. Jeremiah payed the price in the first reading. Those in power cannot withstand the truth, they use every means including death to silence the messenger of Truth. The same was done to Jesus and his disciples. Even to this day, think of what happens to those who dare to challenge the status quo.

The second reading assures us that we are not alone in the race. Many “have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” The second reading refers to them as “[A] cloud of witnesses.” The Greek word for witness is martus. From this word we have the English word “martyr,” which refers to one who witnesses to the Truth to the point of shedding blood. Those who have gone ahead have their lives to prepare us for the persecution their-in; and to encourage us, they have the crown of glory they now wear.

My dearly beloved in Christ, I am not sure of what you are going through at the moment because of the Truth. Maybe your family has turned against you because they know you have no place for falsehood; maybe, you are a lone ranger in your place of work because your colleagues know you will always stand by the Truth. We are challenged today to receive the Truth and to stand by the Truth come what may. The Truth cannot be destroyed; it may take some time, but it will always defeat. The Truth is like a seed, when you bury it, it germinates and turns out greater and better than it was. Etienne Gilson is quoted to have said, “It is not hard to find the truth. What is hard is not to run away from it once you have found it.” But the choice is yours!  

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INVEST WISELY 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON AUGUST 7, 2022 (R. 1: Wisdom 18: 6- 9; Psalm 33: 1, 12, 18- 19, 20- 22; R. 2: Hebrews 11: 1- 2, 8- 19; Gospel: Luke 12: 32- 48) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

There was a very rich and stingy man. He had one wife, a son and a daughter. He was the sole beneficiary of his wealth. The only thing his wife and children benefited from his wealth was the name (that is the wife/child of the richest man in town). He eventually became sick and bedridden. It got to a point where he could no longer sign checks, so he authorized his wife to sign checks on his behalf only when the money was to be used for him. When his death became imminent, he made his wife to write an undertaking that at his funeral, he would be buried along with all his savings to make provisions for the next life.

At his funeral, shortly before his internment, his wife went into her car to bring a big box to be interred with him. Her husband’s friend, an attorney who witnessed the undertaking signed by the woman, “knew” the content of the box. He tried to dissuade the woman from burying such a huge sum of money, but the woman reminded him that she was a devout Christian and so must honor her husband’s wish.

The day after the funeral, the attorney returned to the woman to express his disappointment in her. She smiled and said to the attorney, “I did not put any cash in the box; I only signed enough checks and put in the box so that the stingy fool can make all the needed withdrawals in the next world.”

Today’s gospel passage is the continuation of what we read last Sunday about the rich farmer. The rich man in that parable was considered foolish because he did not invest wisely. He did not enrich himself in the sight of God, and he allowed death to surprise him. He labored in vain. He did not live to enjoy the fruit of his labor, and he had nothing saved to withdraw in the next world. At the end of the homily last Sunday, we noted that the rich farmer’s story was already concluded in the Bible, but not yours and not mine. We added that now is the time for us to decide our destiny. How can we avoid going the way of the rich fool who had such a disastrous end?

To answer this, Jesus begins by telling us in today’s Gospel passage not to be afraid because God plans to give us a place in His Kingdom. The next step on our part is to invest wisely and become rich in the sight of God. “Sell your possessions and give to those in need…” (Luke 12: 32- 33). When you give to the poor, you are lending to God so you can lay claim to it in the next world. The rich man in last Sunday’s parable kept everything for himself, and he was, unfortunately, unable to take anything with him to the next world.

On the question of how to avoid being caught by surprise like the rich fool, Jesus gives the parables in today’s gospel passage challenging us to be like servants who are prepared to welcome their master back from a wedding feast, not taking anything for granted. After the first two parables, Peter wants to know those who need to be vigilant. Is Jesus referring to the apostles alone or to everybody, including those yet to be born? Jesus, in his response, makes it clear that the call to vigilance is on everybody. He then gives the third parable where he compares us to stewards. He identifies two kinds of stewards: (1) The faithful and honest ones who give food and allowances to members of the household at the proper time; (2) The lazy and arrogant ones who deny the members of the household their food and allowances and even beat up other members of the household.

Identifying us as stewards here reminds us that our Time, Treasure and Talents have been given to us on trust and that we are to be at the service of our brothers and sisters, to uplift those who are not as privileged as we are. That is the best investment to make while we are still in this world. We have been blessed to bless; we have been given to give; we have been helped to help. It is not enough to count our blessings; it is also essential to share our blessings.

Let us make a brief examination of conscience. As a husband, why do you struggle to earn more money than your wife? Is it to support your family or to dominate, control, and manipulate your wife? As a wife, why do you work hard to earn more money than your husband? Is it to uplift or to disrespect him? Is it merely to be able to call the shots? Why do some people want to further their education? Is it to offer better services to humanity or to talk down on those who are not as educated? What about those of us who answer the call to the priesthood and religious life, do we intend to be faithful servants of the children of God or do we see it as an opportunity to become “sacred cows” and demi-gods? One of the titles of the Pope is Servus servorum Dei (Servant of the Servants of God). Those who seek prestigious political positions; how pure is their intent? I think there will be fewer people vying for political offices if they genuinely intend to serve and not to embezzle money and bully those they are called to serve. My dearly beloved in Christ, a good way to invest for eternity is to help others. The best way to avoid being surprised by death is to see every moment as a possible moment of death, and so be at our best always. We must not use our privileges to bully others. The real Master will come at an hour we do not expect, and he will ask for an account of our stewardship. Remember, to whom much is given, much will be expected.

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LET GO AND LET GOD! 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON JULY 31, 2022 (R. 1: Ecclesiastes 1: 2; 2: 21- 23; Psalm 90: 3- 4, 5- 6, 12- 13, 14, 17; R. 2: Colossians 3: 1- 5; 9- 11; Gospel: Luke 12: 13- 21) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”

Igala is one of the Nigerian languages that I speak. A few years ago, after reading today’s gospel passage from an Igala translation of the Bible, I became interested in the Igala word for “fool.” I wanted to know how the Igala-speaking people came up with the word. As a matter of interest, I like finding out the etymology of words in different languages. It gives me a good knowledge of people’s history and culture. 

The Igala word for fool is idada. In my research, I discovered that the word idada comes from two other Igala words, namely, ide, which is the verb “to guard,” and ada, which is the noun “trap.” The word for “fool,” therefore, is ideada later modified to idada, which can be directly translated into English as “To guard a trap.” Through further research, I came across the story that tells how the word idada came to mean fool in Igala Language.

A very prominent Igala man, Agbonika had ten children, a daughter, and nine sons. The time came for his only daughter Amichi to be given in marriage. The whole city gathered in preparation for the wedding feast. Friends and well-wishers made great contributions. When all was almost set, they discovered something very crucial was lacking, namely meat. Agbonika’s first son volunteered to provide the meat. He borrowed a trap from a friend and went into the forest to hunt deer. When he discovered the footpath of deer, he decided to set his trap. He then sat close to the trap guarding it to catch a deer. He remained there from sunrise until almost sunset. His family became apprehensive when he was not forthcoming, so they sent his immediate younger brother to go in search of him. When he found his brother sitting, he asked to know what was going on. The older brother explained to his younger brother that he was guarding the trap. Without asking a further question, he sat down beside his brother to guard the trap.

After a few hours, when both were not forthcoming, another brother was sent to go in search of the two brothers. When he found them, he asked to understand what was happening; the oldest brother explained as he did before, and the latest arrival joined his brothers to guard the trap. So it continued until the ninth son joined his brothers. When the villagers got the news that the nine sons of Agbonika were missing in the forest, the best hunters and warriors went in search of them. When they found the nine of them sitting in a semi-circle, they asked to know what it was all about. The oldest son explained as he had done to his brothers. The hunters and warriors were shocked beyond telling. For them, it was unprecedented. They explained to the boys that no one ever sets a trap and sits there to guard the trap; for his presence would deter the animal from coming near the trap. The right thing is to set a trap and go away from the area. The trapper must learn to let go of the trap to be successful.

The story of the nine boys went round the village. With time, whenever a person did anything that appeared silly, stupid or foolish, such a person would be told, “Stop behaving like the nine sons of Agbonika.” Thus, the nine sons of Agbonika became synonymous with foolishness. And so, for the Igalas, to be foolish is like guarding a trap.

The same word, idada or fool, was used for the man in the parable that Jesus told in today’s Gospel passage. He was like the nine sons of Agbonika. He could not let go of the trap. He thought he was the one in charge, he forgot that “It is not by might, nor power but by my spirit, says the Lord of host” (Zechariah 4:6). His wealth tricked him. He made no reference to God. He was quite convinced that his well-being with his security was totally under his control. And just when he thought he had got everything in check, God came to take him away from his wealth.

Be sure not to get this wrong. Do not go and submit your letter of resignation to your HR tomorrow. That will make you more foolish than the fool in today’s parable. Do not forget about your retirement benefits. Remember that laziness is a sin, so this is not meant to encourage laziness.

Jesus told the parable in answer to the man who requested Jesus to ask his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Rather than treat the symptom, Jesus went to the root of the matter. For him, covetousness was the issue at stake. Covetousness springs from the tendency to identify life with the abundance of possessions. The problem does not reside in his brother’s presumed refusal to divide the inheritance but in his own attitude toward the inheritance. The parable shows the futility of amassing material wealth for the future when the future could be cut off at any time.

It is not how much possession I have that will count against me, but how much my possession has possessed me. There will be multi-billionaires in heaven just as many poor will miss heaven. Our attitude counts more than what we have. Sharing with those in need and giving to God all that is His due secures the future for us.

Today’s readings are concerned with one of Philosophy’s most crucial question, namely, “What is the meaning of life?” The first reading sees vanities all around. The second reading urges us to focus more on the things above, while the Gospel sees as foolish, anyone who places his trust in his material wealth.

The rich man’s case in the Bible has been concluded, but not yours and not mine. We still have time to reevaluate our priorities. We still have time to stop building larger barns and to turn our attention to collecting treasures for heaven through sharing with the less privileged and giving to God the worship that is His due. It is time to let go and let God.

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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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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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