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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IT BOILS DOWN TO LOVE: 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON OCTOBER 29TH, 2023 (R. 1: Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; R. 2: 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

One Sunday morning, Steve and his wife were driving home after Mass. Just a quarter of a mile away from the Church, his wife began the conversation, “Honey, did you notice Tessy, who sat right in front of us at Mass? She seems to be adding some weight. She is not married, do you think she is pregnant?” He replied, “I did not notice, Dear.” After a few seconds, she said, “Well, did you notice how short Diane’s skirt was? And at her age! What bothers me the most is, she dresses that way to Church.” “I am sorry, dear” said Steve, “I did not notice.” Drawing his attention to one more thing she said, “Surely, you noticed Johnson’s kids and the way they were crawling all over everything and distracting everyone at Mass?” He replied, “No, Dear, I am sorry, I did not notice that either.” At this time, she turned to him, shook her head and said, “Honestly, Steve, I don’t even know why you go to Church anymore. You don’t notice anything!”

In today’s gospel passage, one of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” When the Jews talk about the law, they might be referring to one or all of the following, the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), the entire Old Testament (the Jewish Scripture), or the 613 precepts made up by the rabbis. At the time of Jesus, the rabbis made up a list of commandments making a total of 613: 365 like the number of days in a year were prohibitions, while 248 like the members of the body were actions to be done.

There were two motives behind the question from the Pharisees: in the first place, they wanted to entrap him in heresy; they wanted him to choose one of the 613 precepts and by so doing say the other 612 are less important. On the other hand, they also saw the law as burdensome and so they wanted to reduce the burden of the law. In his response, Jesus made it clear that everything boils down to love. Be sure you love God, be sure you love your neighbor, and you will have no problem with any commandment.

This passage is just a little part of a long conversation between Jesus and the religious authorities of his own people. Their opposition to Jesus was heightened after the Triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem and the cleansing of the Temple. They began to question the source of his authority. Jesus used parables to answer them. They became angry and uncomfortable when they recognized that the parables were speaking about them. They wanted to arrest Jesus but they were afraid of the crowds who regarded him as a prophet. In their insecurity, they decided to fight back with their only weapon, namely their learning and their way with words. But Jesus was up to the task. According to Richard Swanson, “The Pharisees take their best shot and it misfires. Jesus fires back, and no one bothers to reload.”

What is unique about the response of Jesus is that instead of reducing the importance of the rest of the law, he painted a picture of them as a coherent whole that hangs together on the cord of love. For him, the laws are not just a set of burdensome rules and regulations, but are all about love. Love your God with all your being; love your neighbor as yourself, and all the commandments will be happy with you.

My dearly beloved in Christ, today, as Christians, as Catholics, let us examine ourselves. What is our attitude to the commandments? What is our attitude to worship? When we go to Church, are we motivated by the love of God and neighbor, or do we go, equipped with the commandments to entrap people?  Do we go to Mass equipped with the commandments to see how many people we can catch doing the wrong things so we can report them?

Regarding the love of neighbor, in this passage, Jesus uses the self as the yardstick. He says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Before you judge, ask yourself, “If I were to be in that position, how would I like to be talked about or treated?” The first reading lays the foundation when God said to the Isrealites, “You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” As human beings, many times, when God makes things easy for us, we easily forget how we got to where we are. And when we see other people trying to get to where we are, we begin to make life difficult for them, forgetting that we were helped by other people, once upon a time.

A way to rephrase God’s words to the Israelites is: If as foreigners, the owners of the land treated you well, pass that treatment on to others. But if you were maltreated, be sure not to pass it on to others. The same message applies to us today. We were all born vulnerable, relying on the help of others like our parents, older siblings, and neighbors to be where we are. If you are in a position to help, do not withhold the help. If today you are standing, and someone else is on the ground, happily pick them up. Each one of us needs someone else’s help. Yes, love your neighbor as yourself. In case you cannot help, in case you are not ready to help, please, do not hurt. That is what the commandment is all about. You do not even need to memorize the commandments. As long as you love God with all your being, and you love your neighbor as yourself, all the commandments will be happy with you. May the love of God be upon us as we place our hope in God, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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YOUR CYRUS IS ON THE WAY! 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON OCTOBER 22ND, 2023 (R. 1:Isaiah  45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10; R. 2: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Gospel: Matthew  22:15-21)  FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Have you heard the story of the prayerful elderly lady, who lived next to a young man, an atheist? The elderly lady would pray every day and pray out loud. Her next-door neighbor, the atheist, was not happy with her prayer routine. Sometimes, he would be thinking to himself, “This lady is crazy; there is no God! I must look for a way to stop her from disturbing our neighborhood.” Sometimes, he would even walk up to her and say, “Keep your mouth shut; you are disturbing us here. There is no God!” One day, the elderly lady was praying. She ran out of groceries. In her prayer, she listed all she needed. She prayed, “Lord God, as you can see, there’s nothing in my refrigerator; there’s no milk, no bread, no eggs, no meat, etc.” She added, “Father Lord, I know you are going to do it for me, so now, I want to thank you for the milk, for the bread, for the egg, for the meat, etc. you are going to provide for me today.” The young man heard her pray and decided to play a trick on her. He quickly wrote down all the lady requested from God. He went to the grocery store and bought everything he listed. He dropped them at the elderly lady’s doorsteps, rang the doorbell and hid in the flowers to see what the lady would do.

            When the elderly lady opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise God, clapping, singing, and dancing. Then the young man jumped out from where he was hiding and he said, “You are crazy; God did not do it, there is no God. I bought the groceries with my money.” He brought out the receipt. The lady went through the receipt and discovered that everything she had in the shopping basket corresponded with the content of the receipt. The young man looked at her and said, “You see; I told you!” The lady jumped up and began to go from one house to another, inviting everybody to come and see the wonders that God had done for her. The young man was confused. He ran after her and asked, “Did you hear me? I said I bought everything for you and you are still praising God?” The lady looked at him, took a deep breath and said, “I knew it! I knew God was going to provide the groceries, but there was one thing I did not know: I did not know that God was going to make the devil pay for it.”

My dear friends, did you pay attention to the first reading of today’s Mass? Did you hear the name Cyrus? Who was Cyrus? Cyrus II the Great was the founder of the Persian Empire. In today’s first reading, the children of Israel were on exile in Babylon. It had taken some years, and they were already losing hope of returning to their homeland. Amidst the despair came a prophet who could read the signs of the times and he announced to the children of Israel that freedom was on the way. But this was a difficult prophecy to believe because Babylon seemed to be the super power that was unconquerable. The other reason it was difficult to believe this prophecy had to do with the fact that the instrument to be used to bring about their freedom was a pagan King, Cyrus. Today’s first reading is the only place in the Old Testament where a foreigner is called the Lord’s “Anointed.” This was a title originally reserved for Priests, Prophets and Kings of Israel.

Just like the prophet prophesied, the Persian king, Cyrus conquered Babylon, and In 538 BC, Cyrus permitted the Jews residing in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its temple. He even assisted them in the rebuilding of the temple. He also freed other nations that were in captivity in Babylon, and allowed them to freely practice their own religions. The prophet presented Cyrus as an instrument in the hands of God to free God’s people.

As Christians, we run into trouble and lose hope because it seems the one we thought would save us is nowhere to be found; that particular job we thought would pay our bills is not forthcoming; that dream place we want to be to be happy is not happening. So, we end up saying, “God is no longer there,” or “God has turned against us.” The story of Cyrus and the children of Israel reveals that the means does not keep God away from doing what he wants to do; the channel is not in any way an obstacle in the way of God; he does whatever he wants to do, and he can use any instrument he wants to use. My dearly beloved in Christ, if at this point you are about giving up hope because that friend you thought was the only source of your happiness is avoiding you for no apparent reason, please, wait for Cyrus. If you’re about to give up hope because that job you relied on is nowhere to be found, please, wait for Cyrus. If you are planning to give up hope because your promotion was given to someone else, please, wait for Cyrus. If your healing is taking longer than expected, please, wait for Cyrus. If all those you trusted have disappointed you, please, do not give up hope, just wait for your Cyrus. Remember, our help ultimately comes from God, and God can use any instrument to help us. In all the difficulties we are facing now, may God send a Cyrus on our way to set us free, and favor us for the glory of God’s name and the shame of the Kingdom of darkness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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SAVE THE DATE: 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON OCTOBER 15TH, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23:1-6; R. 2: Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Those invited to the wedding feast refused to show up; they refused to attend the wedding feast. But what was wrong with their refusal to attend? Were they not free to choose to attend or not to attend? Well, before we pass any judgment on them, let us look at the setting of this parable in today’s gospel passage. At that time and in that culture, whenever anyone was organizing a special occasion, the person would send out two sets of invitations. The first invitation is like what we call, “Save the Date,” which prepares our prospective invitees for the final invitation. In those days, their “Save the Date” did not have an actual date, it only told the prospective invitees that there was going to be an occasion and the nature of the occasion, but not the date and the time. The second and final invitation came whenever everything for the occasion was ready.

For today’s parable, those who refused to attend the wedding feast were culpable; the king had every reason to be upset because whenever the first invitation was sent, those who got the invitation would make a commitment, they would promise that they would attend the feast. The invitees must have already promised they were going to attend, and when the time came for the feast, they said they had better things to do.

It also seemed the king was preparing this feast for his only son since there was no mention of his siblings in this passage. So, the king had to put in the best he had in preparation for this feast. The passage shows not everyone in town got the invitation; he must have invited his most trusted and respected friends to the feast, but when the time came, they disappointed him. The king then decided to consider those who did not get the first invitation, those who probably, were not even as worthy as the original invitees. He had to do so because he had promised his son this feast; he must keep his word.

There are many layers to this parable. However, let us focus on a layer that affects us today. The first invitation was a “Save the Date.” The invitees did not know exactly when the feast would be. God created the universe; he created each one of us as a unique part of his creation. This world has so many questions; this world has so many problems. Each of us is a unique answer to a specific question of this world; each one of us is a unique solution to a specific problem of this world. But like the “Save the Date” that does not have a date, we do not know the specific time God will need us, and we do not know the details of the need.

There are times we find ourselves better than others. If we fail to offer help when we can, we become like those who refused to attend the wedding feast. They had the opportunity to bring joy to the king and his son simply by their presence, but they withheld those. Sometimes, all a person might need from us is as simple as an affirmation, an acknowledgment, a listening ear, a loving, compassionate and non-judgmental presence.

On another occasion, we may be that son whose wedding feast is the subject of the parable in the gospel passage. God has prepared everything for you and for me; however he needs a guest to attend that feast he has prepared for you and for me. If those he has trusted to attend, to be the answers and the solutions to our questions and problems refuse to assist us, God will still make sure it happens, but he will choose other people to be the answers to our questions and solutions to our problems. So do not give up when those you rely on disappoint you; God will still make it happen.

And if you are the one that God has chosen to be the solution to someone else’s problem and you decide to hold back your talent, and you decide to hold back that which you can offer, I have news for you: God will push you aside and pick someone else who is not even as talented as you, who may not even be as qualified as you, and accomplish that which he wants. No one can stop the will of God; no one can stop the plans of God; we are only privileged channels, for our help ultimately comes from God. That is why, like I have shared with you many times, it is not enough for you to count your blessings, it is necessary for you to share your blessings because you have been blessed to bless. My dearly beloved in Christ, we now have the “Save the Date,” we are not sure of the specific date; we have our talents, we are not sure of the specific people, the specific events that God has called us to serve. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to discover our talents, grant us the grace to use such talents for the good of all and the glory of God, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE? 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON OCTOBER 8 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20; R. 2: Philippians 4:6-9; Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

A math teacher walked into the classroom one morning and she asked a five-year-old boy, “If you had five dollars and you asked your father for another five dollars, how much would you have?” The boy answered, “Five dollars.” The teacher shook her head and said, “You don’t know your math at all.” The little boy shook his head and said, “You don’t know my father at all.”

When a father looks straight into the eyes of his teenage son and asks, “Who is in charge here?” you know that there is trouble. When a teacher walks into the classroom and asks the students, “Who is in charge here?” it means there is trouble. Whenever the one who is obviously in charge comes up with the question, “Who is in charge here?” we can only guess right that it is not a question, but a reminder to the listeners that the one who is speaking is the one in charge.

The three parables that began last Sunday after the triumphal entry, and the cleansing of the Temple, are meant to ask and answer the question, “Who is in charge here?” Last Sunday, in the parable of the two sons who were asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard with one who said “no” and did “yes”, and the other who said “yes” and did “no,” Jesus wanted to remind the elders of the people and the chief priests that God and not they is the one truly in charge.

In today’s parable, the landlord who stands for God is the one in charge. The question of who is in charge came up when it was time for harvest. He sent his servants to collect his produce, but the tenants thought they were the ones in charge, and so they maltreated the servants: beat one, stoned one, and killed one. They gave same treatment to another set of servants, and finally when the landowner sent his son, the tenants made known their motives in the words, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” By these words, it became very evident that they wanted to take over the ownership of the land. But according to G. K. Chesterton, “A man walking, comes to the edge of the cliff, and keeps walking, he will not break the law of gravity, he will prove it.” All the efforts of the tenants could not change the ownership of the land; they only ended up proving the right of the landowner and losing the little influence they had over the land.

In the first instance, the parable was meant to express the relationship between God and the people of Israel. The landowner stands for God, the tenants stand for the chief priests and the elders of the people, the servants stand for the prophets, the Son stands for Jesus Christ, and according to the responsorial psalm, “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” God, out of love, chose the children of Israel as his special people, and he entrusted them to the care of the chief priests and the elders of the people. When He sent prophets to the children of Israel to ensure that they were bearing good fruits, their leaders maltreated the prophets. Eventually, God sent His son, Jesus, whom they were already planning to kill. After Jesus told the parable, just like last Sunday, his listeners did not recognize themselves in the parable, and so they were very quick in passing judgment against themselves. Jesus then took it from there to inform them that since they failed to recognize who was in charge, the Kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

How is this parable relevant to us today? We have all received life from God as a special gift on trust, and it is our responsibility to bear good fruits with this life. The landowner’s preparation of the vineyard before leasing it out shows that before God entrusts a responsibility to us, he makes provision for all that we will need in carrying out the responsibility, that means “the will of God does not take us to where the grace of God cannot take care of us.” When the landowner leased the land out, he went away. This shows how much God trusts us. God does not police us or micro-manage us when he gives us responsibilities. Sending a second set of servants, shows how patient God is with us. He gives us a second chance when we fail; but in sending His Son, God shows that there is also the last chance when judgment is to be passed.

Since we have received all that we have on trust, we must use them for the good of all, to the glory of God, and bearing in mind that we are not the landowner. We begin to get into trouble when we decide to live our lives based on our own rules instead of the rules of the one who gave us life. Such attitudes as “I can do whatever I like with my life/body/talent/husband/wife/sibling/friend/the earth” etc. will only get us into trouble. Every morning, when I wake up, I say to myself, “Emmanuel, you are not in-charge,” and before I go to bed, I say to myself “Emmanuel, you were not in charge.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I say to you too, “Keep calm, you are not in charge.”

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CONSISTENT? 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON OCTOBER 1, 2023 (R. 1: Ezekiel 18: 25- 28; Psalm 25: 4- 9; R. 2: Philippians 2: 1- 11; Gospel: Matthew 21: 28- 32) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

There was a case against a forty-five-year-old man in court. The judge asked him, “How old are you?” The man replied, “It is not a secret; everybody knows I am forty years old.” The judge removed his glasses, wiped his eyes, steered at the man for a few seconds and said, “But five years ago, you were also in this same court. When I asked you how old you were, you said forty. How is this possible? After five years you are still forty.” The man said, “I am a consistent man, Your Honor. Once I say I am forty, I will remain forty forever. You can rely on me.” Yes, there is a sense in which consistency is virtuous and desirable, but not in all cases.

Two Sundays ago, we talked about the first disciples of Jesus who left everything and followed Jesus. We added that most times, when we think or talk about what they gave up, we focus on the material things, the physical things they gave up; we forget the nonphysical things they gave up. One nonphysical thing they gave up was their point of view, their way of doing things. In place of their point of view, they accepted that of Jesus. That was the secret to their success. Thank God, they were not consistent with their point of view. Holding on to the same point of view at some point becomes dangerous.

In today’s Gospel passage, there were two sons. Their Father told the first, “Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.” He said in reply, “I will not,” but afterward changed his mind and went. The man gave the same order to the second son, who replied, “Yes, sir,” but did not go. Jesus directed this parable to the chief priests and elders of the people. He asked them to judge who among the two sons did the will of his father. They all agreed, the first son.

Jesus interpreted the parable for them: Like the first son, who said, “No” to his father, Tax collectors and prostitutes, said “No” to God, by their profession. And just like the first son changed his mind and did what his father wanted, Tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus along with prostitutes, heard the good news, and they changed their opinion, they changed their points of view and started doing God’s will.

On the other hand, the chief priests, and the elders of the people, like the second son, said “Yes,” to God by their professions, but their way of life was not in line with the will of God. Jesus gave this parable in response to the attack of the chief priests and the elders of the people against him. Instead of praising God for the miracles Jesus performed, they were jealous; they saw him as a threat to their position of power. They remained consistent; they did not want to change their minds; they did not believe in Jesus. They were consistent; that was the source of their downfall.

Even though Jesus was God, he did not hold on to that position. The second reading today tells us that he gave up his position and submitted himself entirely to his Father’s will, even to the point of accepting death. He did not only accept death but also a shameful death on the cross. For this, God has highly exalted him and given him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee must bend; and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

My dearly beloved in Christ? Are you consistent? Are you consistent in the right things? Remember, before his ascension, Jesus did not claim to have completed the job. He said, “I will send you the Holy Spirit to lead you to the complete truth.” How open are we to the Holy Spirit? Do we truly worship God, or do we worship Church and doctrine? Sometimes, we can be so consistent in our fidelity to the Church, that we do not hear when the Church begins to tell us, “My Dear Children, this is where the Holy Spirit is leading us now.”

According to Fr John Shea, “Consistent thinking, holding the same position now as we did earlier, has a high price tag. It often entails denying our participation in the river of life.” And the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, “There is no such thing as being a Christian; there is only becoming a Christian.” None of us can claim to know it all, we all need daily reexamination of what we think we know. Christianity is not a destination; it is a journey.

May God grant us the grace to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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