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THE WAY TO TRUE HAPPINESS: 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 29, 2023 (R. 1: Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13; Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12a) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

When you compare Christianity with other religions, you will discover one unique thing about Christianity, that is, Christianity is not just about a set of teachings; it is primarily about a person, namely Jesus Christ. In Christianity, the teacher and the teaching are one. Jesus is not separate from his teaching. Last Sunday, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went about recruiting his disciples saying “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did not say, “Come, let me teach you;” he called them to make them into something new, to bring about an ontological change in them, that they may become one with him. So in Christianity, three elements are one: the Teacher, the Teaching and the Student (Disciple).

Having called his followers last Sunday, today he begins their formation with the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is not about morality, it is about Jesus. Since his mission is to make us to be like him, he is drawing a self-portrait here on the mount and inviting his disciples to become like him. Archbishop Fulton Sheen notes that “Two mounts are related as the first and second acts in a two-act drama. The Mount of the Beatitude and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice what he preached.” So, the Beatitudes all form the portrait/picture of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Blessed are…” The Greek adjective used here is makarioi, which can be translated into English as blessed or happy. That explains why some translations will say “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, while others will say, “Happy are the poor in spirit…” So, the invitation that Jesus is offering his followers is an invitation to happiness, which comes not in the way of the world but from becoming one with Jesus. It is the happiness that the world cannot give to us, and cannot take away from us. After he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” he later revealed himself as an embodiment of that poverty when one of the scribes volunteered to follow him wherever he went. Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8: 20).

When he said, “Blessed are they who mourn…” it was not far from him, for the Prophet Isaiah had already described him as “[A] man of sorrows and familiar with sufferings” (53: 3). What about when he said, “Blessed are the meek…”? In Matthew 11: 29-30 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am peaceful and meek in my heart and you will find rest for your souls.” What about “Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children (sons) of God.”? Already, Isaiah prophesied, “For there is a child born for us, a son is given to us…this is the name they will give him; Wonder-Counsellor…Prince-of-Peace” (Isaiah 9: 6). And when he died on the Cross, the Centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15: 39).

So, the beatitudes are not just the teachings of Jesus but the life of Jesus himself. He makes no distinction between his teaching and his life, similarly, he makes no distinction between himself and his followers. He says his sorrows will be theirs; his joy will be theirs. His followers are to be like him in all things. He asked us to expect to be treated as he was treated, and that we should respond like he responded so we might be rewarded like he was rewarded.

Have you ever been given a kiss that blistered? Have you ever been betrayed by an insider? Have you ever helped a friend who later used the same help to harm you? Have your friends, family, classmates, co-workers ever turned against you because you stood for the truth? Have you been denied your right because you did the right thing? Compare notes with Jesus, he was there before you. One of my professors once said, “Jesus lost the only election he contested.” That was when Pilate asked the crowd (among whom might have been those Jesus healed) to choose between Jesus and Barabbas and the crowd preferred Barabbas the terrorist to Jesus the Savior. In the midst of such treatments, he said “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” And truly, he did not curse those who persecuted him, he rather prayed for them, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The Apostles and the early Christians took after him. Paul and Silas sang and praised God while in prison (cf. Acts 16: 25), and Stephen prayed for those who stoned him to death (cf. Acts 7: 60). So, Christianity is not just about head knowledge, but the transformation of life into a life lived in and as Christ.

A monk was once meditating by the riverside. He saw a scorpion being washed into the river by the flood, he then bent down and picked up the scorpion to prevent it from being drowned, but the scorpion stung him. He threw it back into the water and nursed his finger for a while. When he felt better, he went back to pick the scorpion and he was stung again. He threw it into the river and nursed his finger. When he felt better, he was about to pick it the third time when a passer-by yelled at him, “Brother Monk, are you crazy! The scorpion has been stinging you and you keep helping it.” The Monk then replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting, while it is the nature of the Monk to help. So, let the scorpion keep on stinging and let the Monk continue to help.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I am not suggesting that you go and start picking up scorpions with your bare hands after this Mass. The point is that we must never allow the bitterness of someone else to contaminate our sweetness. In order to attain the blessedness/ happiness that Jesus has promised us, two important rules we must keep: Rule 1: Never give up on doing good things. Rule 2. Always remember rule 1.

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THE WAY TO TRUE HAPPINESS: 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 29, 2023 (R. 1: Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13; Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12a) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

When you compare Christianity with other religions, you will discover one unique thing about Christianity, that is, Christianity is not just about a set of teachings; it is primarily about a person, namely Jesus Christ. In Christianity, the teacher and the teaching are one. Jesus is not separate from his teaching. Last Sunday, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went about recruiting his disciples saying “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did not say, “Come, let me teach you;” he called them to make them into something new, to bring about an ontological change in them, that they may become one with him. So in Christianity, three elements are one: the Teacher, the Teaching and the Student (Disciple).

Having called his followers last Sunday, today he begins their formation with the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is not about morality, it is about Jesus. Since his mission is to make us to be like him, he is drawing a self-portrait here on the mount and inviting his disciples to become like him. Archbishop Fulton Sheen notes that “Two mounts are related as the first and second acts in a two-act drama. The Mount of the Beatitude and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice what he preached.” So, the Beatitudes all form the portrait/picture of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Blessed are…” The Greek adjective used here is makarioi, which can be translated into English as blessed or happy. That explains why some translations will say “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, while others will say, “Happy are the poor in spirit…” So, the invitation that Jesus is offering his followers is an invitation to happiness, which comes not in the way of the world but from becoming one with Jesus. It is the happiness that the world cannot give to us, and cannot take away from us. After he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” he later revealed himself as an embodiment of that poverty when one of the scribes volunteered to follow him wherever he went. Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8: 20).

When he said, “Blessed are they who mourn…” it was not far from him, for the Prophet Isaiah had already described him as “[A] man of sorrows and familiar with sufferings” (53: 3). What about when he said, “Blessed are the meek…”? In Matthew 11: 29-30 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am peaceful and meek in my heart and you will find rest for your souls.” What about “Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children (sons) of God.”? Already, Isaiah prophesied, “For there is a child born for us, a son is given to us…this is the name they will give him; Wonder-Counsellor…Prince-of-Peace” (Isaiah 9: 6). And when he died on the Cross, the Centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15: 39).

So, the beatitudes are not just the teachings of Jesus but the life of Jesus himself. He makes no distinction between his teaching and his life, similarly, he makes no distinction between himself and his followers. He says his sorrows will be theirs; his joy will be theirs. His followers are to be like him in all things. He asked us to expect to be treated as he was treated, and that we should respond like he responded so we might be rewarded like he was rewarded.

Have you ever been given a kiss that blistered? Have you ever been betrayed by an insider? Have you ever helped a friend who later used the same help to harm you? Have your friends, family, classmates, co-workers ever turned against you because you stood for the truth? Have you been denied your right because you did the right thing? Compare notes with Jesus, he was there before you. One of my professors once said, “Jesus lost the only election he contested.” That was when Pilate asked the crowd (among whom might have been those Jesus healed) to choose between Jesus and Barabbas and the crowd preferred Barabbas the terrorist to Jesus the Savior. In the midst of such treatments, he said “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” And truly, he did not curse those who persecuted him, he rather prayed for them, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The Apostles and the early Christians took after him. Paul and Silas sang and praised God while in prison (cf. Acts 16: 25), and Stephen prayed for those who stoned him to death (cf. Acts 7: 60). So, Christianity is not just about head knowledge, but the transformation of life into a life lived in and as Christ.

A monk was once meditating by the riverside. He saw a scorpion being washed into the river by the flood, he then bent down and picked up the scorpion to prevent it from being drowned, but the scorpion stung him. He threw it back into the water and nursed his finger for a while. When he felt better, he went back to pick the scorpion and he was stung again. He threw it into the river and nursed his finger. When he felt better, he was about to pick it the third time when a passer-by yelled at him, “Brother Monk, are you crazy! The scorpion has been stinging you and you keep helping it.” The Monk then replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting, while it is the nature of the Monk to help. So, let the scorpion keep on stinging and let the Monk continue to help.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I am not suggesting that you go and start picking up scorpions with your bare hands after this Mass. The point is that we must never allow the bitterness of someone else to contaminate our sweetness. In order to attain the blessedness/ happiness that Jesus has promised us, two important rules we must keep: Rule 1: Never give up on doing good things. Rule 2. Always remember rule 1.

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BUT HOW DID WE GET HERE? 3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 22, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3; Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13- 14; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 10- 13, 17; Gospel: Matthew 4: 12- 23) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

The Church in Corinth is very dear to Paul. After he founded the Church in Corinth, he is now in Ephesus. Corinth is a port city like San Diego and so it has its own share of wealth and there are all kinds of people. The diversity of people in the city of Corinth becomes a challenge for the Church in Corinth. The Church has to learn how to live with this diversity. But not much progress is being made; things seem to be degenerating and the news gets to Paul in Ephesus that the Church is now divided based on allegiance to Paul, to Apollos or to Cephas. Paul’s response to the Corinthians shows that he is quite upset with the Christians in Corinth. He must be wondering, “How did we get here?” He then writes to them taking them back to their foundation. “Has Christ been parceled out? Was it Paul that was crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The Gospel of Salvation is not a matter of political parties within the Church, it is about our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our salvation.

But what caused the divisions in the Church in Corinth? It is certainly not far from selfishness, the desire to dominate others and impose a particular way of thinking on them. Jealousy must have also played a crucial role in the crisis. When jealousy hits good people, it does not only spoil the goodness in them but they also lose the attractiveness of the gospel. This division that stems from jealousy and selfishness, which threatens the Church was there even before the Church in Corinth. At the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, the disciples of John the Baptist were jealous of those who began to follow Jesus. Some of the Apostles of Jesus became indignant of James and John (sons of Zebedee) in their effort to obtain first places in the kingdom.

What about us? Have we outgrown what Paul is preaching against? With the different Christian denominations springing up every passing hour, antagonizing one another, can we say we are one in Christ? Let us not even talk about different Christian denominations. Focusing on the Catholic Church, do we not sometimes have different prayer groups antagonizing one another and struggling for superiority? For some, members of the Legion of Mary are holier, while others think that members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal are the sole custodians of the Holy Spirit. The one that makes me laugh, is when I find some Catholics argue about whether our Lady of Fatima is superior to Our Lady of Guadalupe or not, or whether our Lady of Lourdes is superior to Our Lady of La Salette or not. Such arguments make me wonder whether these people realize that they are talking about the same Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is quite disheartening to see a parish bitterly divided over issues like what color to paint the Church, whether to hold hands or not while praying the Lord’s Prayer, which position to place a new statue or picture and which devotion is better. How did we get here? Sometimes, we unknowingly make a god out of the liturgy, forgetting that the liturgy itself like ourselves is at the service of God. One would have expected Paul to have used the opportunity of the Corinthian crisis to win followers to himself, but he did not do that. He knew the Corinthians were missing the point. Paul did not want them to line up behind human leaders; he changed the debate, and pointed to Christ.

Stepping outside the Church, we still see people missing the point. It is no longer enough to be a Padres fan, you also need to hate the Dodgers. It is not enough to be an Arsenal fan, you must prove it by hating Chelsea or Barcelona. Did I hear you say you are a Democrat? Ok, that means you hate the Republicans. Wait a minute, you can’t be a true Republican if hatred for Democrats is not oozing out of you. But how did we get here? It has become so difficult to see any American these days, all you see are Republicans or Democrats. But how did we get here?  The light Isaiah prophesied about has found fulfilment in Jesus Christ as we see in the Gospel. Jesus has handed the light over to us to share with the world. But we can only do that effectively if we are united. It is okay to ask questions and to disagree but we must not forget our main goal. Our denominational affiliations must not supersede our common identity in Jesus Christ. In the face of disagreement, we must not forget that we are still brothers and sisters. The more the world continues to over emphasis our racial differences, the more we must correct the world that there is only one race that matters, and that is the human race. Let us build strength from our diversity. As the saying often attributed to St. Augustine goes, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” When the wise man points at the star for the foolish man to see, the foolish man focuses instead on the wise man’s finger. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see beyond our differences so as to enjoy the beauty in our diversity, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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LET OTHERS ALSO SHINE! 2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 15, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6; Psalm 40: 2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3; Gospel: John 1: 29-34) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Today is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Ordinary Time of the Church’s Year is the longest season of the Liturgical Calendar. It is broken into two parts. The first part begins after Christmas Season, that is, after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The second part begins on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday; and ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent of the following Liturgical Year. The liturgical color for this season is green.

A few days ago, a friend commented, “Thank God we are now in Ordinary Time, nothing serious is happening in the Church, so we can take time off and relax.” In response, I told her to be careful and not let the name, “Ordinary Time” mislead her. A Christian must never take time off from being a Christian. The “job” of being a Christian is 24/7. “Ordinary” does not mean that it is inferior to the other seasons. It describes a season that is not restricted to a particular aspect of the mystery of the life of Christ. Advent Season focuses on the preparation for the mystery of the Incarnation, the Birth of Christ. Christmas Season focuses on the mystery of the birth of Christ. Lenten season focuses on the mystery of the suffering, passion, and death of Christ. Easter Season focuses on the mystery of the Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, culminating in the mystery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The rest of the year falls under the Ordinary Time of the Year.

Having reflected on the specific aspects of the mystery of Christ in the other seasons, Ordinary Time becomes a time when Christians bear fruit in their lives based on their reflections on the life of Christ in the other seasons. Instead of seeing Ordinary Time as a “Christian Time-Out,” Ordinary Time is when the real work should begin for Christians. It is time to blossom in the world based on the grace we have received from the life of Christ, which we reflected on in the other seasons. The liturgical color, green, reminds us of the green leaves of plants. The greenness of leaves is a testimony to the nutrients the plant has received from the ground, from the sun, and from the atmosphere. The plant with the green leaves goes further to flower and bear fruits to feed the world.

The relationship between Ordinary Time and the other seasons of the liturgical year is like that between the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke is the author of both works. In the Gospel according to Luke, we see the life of Jesus Christ, and in the Acts of the Apostles, we see the life of Christians patterned after the life of Christ. For example, the event of the martyrdom of Stephen shows that Stephen rehearsed and lived the Crucifixion of Christ. So, Ordinary Time is when we get into the hard work of showing the world, what we received from Christ in the other seasons, it is the time we blossom and shine as Christians to sanctify the world.

In today’s first reading, God reminds the Church, the new Israel, through the Prophet Isaiah, “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The season of Ordinary Time is the time to live out this responsibility of being the light to the nations. The light does not necessarily add anything to what is in existence, it reveals the beauty that is in existence. For example, John became a light in the Gospel passage when he revealed Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He knew something good about Jesus that others did not know. He knew that would turn people’s attention from him to Jesus, but he went on to shine his light on Jesus, to reveal him to the world.

As we begin this first part of the Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year, let us examine ourselves as Christians. Do I shine my light on others to reveal the beauty in them for the world to see? Do I divert people’s attention from the beauty of others? When I read a post on social media, do I only point out what I think is wrong so as to distract people from the rest of the work? Do I describe people by their disabilities or their abilities? Am I afraid of letting others shine? Why do we persecute people when they are alive only to canonize them when they die? My dearly beloved in Christ, I have another suggestion for New Year’s resolution as we begin this New Year. Let us agree as a family, as friends, as coworkers, etc. to meet in-person or virtually once every week or every month. The agenda for the meeting is to go round the table to tell each member one wonderful thing about them, just shine your light on one of their good qualities. Let us resolve for this year that if there is something negative about them, we will not say it to anyone except to God in prayer. We will only shine our lights on their good sides, and by so doing, their good sides will suffocate their bad sides. Let us not wait until their funeral before we say how they were the best creatures of God. Let us say it while they are still alive. As we accept this resolution, may the light that shines from Christ through us dispel all the forces of darkness, until we come to our heavenly inheritance; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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WHAT A PARADOX! THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD YEAR “A” ON JANUARY 8, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1- 2, 7-8, 10-13; R. 2: Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2: 1- 12) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Shortly after my priestly ordination in Nigeria, I was assigned to the Cathedral in my home diocese as Assistant Cathedral Administrator. I invited an older priest to direct a retreat for the young adults of the Cathedral. While preaching on the first day of the retreat, he pointed out that there are four groups of people in the Catholic Church who must work harder if they must make it to heaven. I became very concerned when he listed the four groups, I found myself in two of them. He listed the following as the four groups: Altar servers, Choristers, Church Wardens/Ushers/Hospitality, and Pastoral Council. Altar Servers (I became an altar server at the age of seven), Choir (I joined the choir from my mother’s womb. She was pregnant with me and kept going to the choir, so I had no choice but join her. All through my Seminary formation, I was also a member of the choir. Two years before my graduation, I became one of the Choir Masters, and a year after my priestly ordination, I became the Diocesan Music Director of my diocese).

The four groups according to him are so close to the altar that they can easily end up being far away from God. For the altar servers, when they come to Mass, they are usually so preoccupied with what they had practiced that they do not listen to the readings, they do not pay attention to the homilies, and they do not pray. Their goal is to avoid making mistakes while serving.

Similarly, choristers can easily forget that they are to lead the congregation in worship. It is not uncommon to see choristers flipping through their singing sheets or books while the readings or homilies are going on. At other times, while prayers are going on, they keep on whispering tunes into the ears of one another or running commentaries. The instrumentalists use moments of readings, homilies, and prayers to continue their private rehearsals in low volume. It is also not uncommon to find members of the choir escaping from Mass at any point during the Mass that they are not “performing”, only to come back when it is time for their next “performance,” like the Mass is a concert.

The third group is made up of Church Wardens/Ushers/Hospitality. In Nigeria, in addition to welcoming and ushering worshippers to their seats, the ushers also help to maintain order during Mass by going round the Church to watch out for those who distract others at Mass and to wake those who sleep at Mass (I would like to say – for the record – I never allowed ushers to wake people up at Masses I celebrated. I always told them that if people fall asleep during the homily, it is a signal to me that I need to step up my game). They also direct people to the offering box in front of the altar. The priest who preached at that retreat observed that while moving around in the Church to make sure that people pay attention at Mass, these ushers themselves do not pay attention. He observed that while directing people to drop money in the offering box/baskets, they themselves do not drop any money from their pockets.

Finally, for the Pastoral Council members, they know how the Church should be run, and they make all the policies. They are quick at pointing out how the youths are not dressing properly to Church, but their own children would not even come to Church so you can’t talk about how they dress. When such council members come to Mass, rather than pray, or listen to the word of God for their own edification, they spend more time evaluating the priest, his style/length of homily, his style of administration, and to see if there is need to call the attention of the bishop to him.

Reflecting on these four groups, I have added a fifth group to the list; it is a group I glaringly belong to right now, namely the priests or the preachers. From my experience, it can be very tempting to be very preoccupied with thinking about what to preach to you that I forget to think of what to preach to myself. That is why, after the Mass, when I go back to my room, I quickly run to my mirror, I look at the “young man” in the mirror and I say to him, “I hope you heard what the priest said at Mass today.”

My Dearly Beloved in Christ, today is the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. It is the day we celebrate the revelation of the Lord to the Gentiles. On this day we reflect on the visit of the magi to the newborn King. We also reflect on their gifts to the king. They brought three gifts; the gift of gold to honor his Kingship, the gift of frankincense to honor his divinity, and the gift of myrrh to honor his humanity, which was destined for death.

From today’s Gospel passage, we see three different reactions to the birth of Christ. The first reaction is that of Herod, which is characterized by fear, hatred and hostility. Herod was afraid that this little child was going to interfere with his life, his place, his power, his influence, his comfort zone, and so his first instinct was to destroy him. We still have people who are all out to destroy Christ in the family, in Schools, in offices, even in the Church because they feel he interferes with their comfort zones. What kind of homilies do we enjoy listening to, the ones that tell us to remain in our comfort zones or the ones that challenge us to grow in the way of Christ?  

The second reaction is that of the chief priests and scribes characterized by complete indifference. They answered correctly the question posed by Herod about the child to be born, but it made no difference to them. They were so engrossed in their Temple ritual and their legal discussions that they completely disregarded Jesus. He meant nothing to them. Like the four or five groups we talked about at the beginning who can be so involved in the life of the Church yet having nothing spiritually to show for it. The Jews, who had the scriptures and the prophets foretelling them plainly about the birth of the Messiah, did not hasten to find the Messiah, but the Gentiles who only borrowed the scriptures, found the Messiah, and worshipped Him.

The third reaction is that of the magi characterized by adoring worship. They were driven by the desire to lay at the feet of Jesus Christ the noblest gifts which they could bring. In the magi, we learn the lesson that those who live at the greatest distance from the means of grace often use most diligence and learn to know the most of Christ and his salvation.

The four or five groups we talked about at the beginning was not meant to attack any group, but to draw our attention to the risk of losing out even though as Catholics we have got all the means of grace, namely the Word and the Sacraments. This challenges us to take more seriously the Christ in our spouses that we have taken for granted, the Christ in our parents, children, or siblings that we have taken for granted. This is the challenge to take more seriously the wonderful gifts we have in our country recognized by other nations, but which we have taken for granted. It is very possible to be a minister, who leads others to Jesus, and yet not find Jesus ourselves. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, but today, he continues to be born in our lives and various circumstances. Christ is our Lord, who has come to reveal the glory of God. I pray for you as I pray for myself for the grace to always recognize him, and to come to him in sincere and constant worship and adoration until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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STOP AND PONDER! SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD YEAR A ON SUNDAY JANUARY 1, 2023 (R. 1: Numbers 6: 22-27; Psalm 67: 2-3, 5, 6, 8 R. 2: Galatians 4: 4-7; Gospel: Luke 2: 16-21) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Happy New Year! This is not a new year of the Church. The Church’s New Year began since the last Sunday of last November. The New Year we are celebrating today is the secular New Year. It is the New Year of the world. It is ok for the Church to celebrate the New Year of the world because, even though we are not of the world, scripture acknowledges the fact that we are in the world. Since we are in the world, it is our responsibility to sanctify the world by the way we live our lives.

As Christians, our power to sanctify the world comes from Jesus Christ, who came not to condemn, but to save the world. During his public ministry, Jesus went about teaching, doing good works, and calling people to follow him as his disciples. As Christians, we are followers of Christ, and so we are his disciples.

On the first day of the secular year, the first of January every year, we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God. Today’s second reading, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that “God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Who is this Son? He is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is God himself. The woman is the Blessed Virgin Mary. If her son is God, then, it is not out of place to call her the Mother of God.

Why the choice of this date for the celebration of Mary the Mother of God? We can look at it from many angles. But I would like to look at it this way. As we said earlier, the Scripture that says we are not of this world, also acknowledges the fact that we are in this world. Our responsibility as Christians/disciples of Christ is to sanctify this world by the way we follow Christ, and by the way we relate to this world.

As we begin the secular year, the Church presents the Blessed Virgin Mary to us as the first and best disciple of her son, Jesus Christ. The Church wants her to mentor us as we begin a new secular year. Mary followed her son by submitting to the will of God from the beginning of her earthly life until the end.

Mary had the singular honor of being the Mother of God, but that did not prevent her from facing the challenges of this life. In spite of the difficulties she faced in this life, she pondered everything in her heart, and she submitted herself to the will of God. Her conception of Jesus Christ raised suspicions regarding her virginity. Even to this day, some Christians still raise questions regarding the authenticity of the virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After she gave birth to Jesus, she, along with Joseph and Jesus had to escape Herod’s sword by becoming refugees in Egypt, Africa. In her presence, religious leaders attacked her son; she watched her son carry a cross that was not for him; in her presence, her son died a death that was not meant for him. His lifeless body was laid on her lap, yet she pondered everything in her heart, and she continued to align her ways with God’s will.

As we begin this new secular year, the Church invites us to live our lives, to respond to the challenges of this world like the Blessed Virgin Mary, by pondering everything in our hearts, and doing God’s will. Being the Mother of God did not insulate her from the challenges of this life. Similarly, being a Christian will not insulate any of us from the challenges of this life. As we begin this new secular year, you may be considering a resolution for the New Year. Maybe this is a time to consider the resolution to ponder things in our hearts like Mary before we act. Maybe, before reacting to that rumor, before reacting to that false allegation against you, stop and ponder, and ask God, “What is your will for me in this case.” Before reacting to what you term failure in your relationships, education, business, job, health, etc., stop and ponder, and ask God, “What do you want from me at this time?” Many times, we react to things and situations, and we end up regretting because we did not seek the will of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary aligned her will with God’s will. She trusted entirely in the grace of God. Today, she is crowned in heaven. As we begin this new secular year, let us unite our prayers with the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary by saying, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

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BUT I TOLD YOU! THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (CHRISTMAS MASS OF THE DAY) YEAR A ON DECEMBER 25, 2022 (R. 1: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 98: 1-6; R. 2: Hebrews 1: 1-6; Gospel: John 1: 1-18) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

In some parts of the world, age is not just a number, it goes beyond numbers. For example, you don’t become an adult just by adding the number of years you have spent here on earth.  You become an adult by working for it. You become an adult by proving that you are worthy of that age; you are worthy of being termed an adult.

There is a story from a village in Africa where a person becomes an adult through a series of initiation rites. When a twelve to fifteen-year-old boy feels he has come of age to become an adult, he enters the preparatory stage of the initiation rites. During the final stage of the rites, the hunters and warriors of the village ceremoniously blindfold and lead the boy into the forest at about 10:00 PM. They leave him in the middle of the forest blindfolded for the rest of the night. The hunters return to the forest in the early hours of the morning to judge if the boy took off the blindfold or not. If they notice that the boy took the blindfold off during the night, he is disqualified from adulthood and will be termed a baby or a little boy for the rest of his life. If the boy observed the rules, the hunters and warriors will then lead him ceremoniously into the village and initiate him into adulthood.

One of those who went through this rite of initiation shared his story a while ago. He talked about how the hunters and warriors took him into the forest and left him there all night. He said, “It was the longest night of my life.” He heard every pin that dropped in the forest. He was tempted many times to take off the blindfold and see what was happening around him, but when he thought about the shame he would face for the rest of his life, he picked his courage and kept his calm. In the morning, the hunters and the warriors came back to the forest, and took off the blindfold and led him back to the village where he was ceremoniously initiated into adulthood.

After the initiation rites, one of the warriors explained to him that he was not alone in the forest, his father, who was also a hunter and a warrior was well armed and sat by him all night.  When he heard that his father was by him all through the night, he regretted how he wasted the night in fear, and anxiety. He said, “I wish someone told me I was not alone; I wish someone told me that night that my dad was sitting by me, I would have slept like a baby. What a wasted night! I wasted the night panicking, unknown to me that my dad was protecting me. What a wasted night!”

My dearly beloved in Christ, the story I just shared was your story. Yes, it was also my story. At the end of our stay here on earth, by the grace of God, when we get to heaven, the scales will be taken off our eyes, and then, the things that are invisible to us now will become visible. Then we will be able to look back and see that at the times we thought we were alone on earth, we were not alone; God was with us. We will discover that the nights we thought we were left alone in darkness, God was with us. Then, we will understand the words of Psalm 139:5 that “Behind and before [God] encircles me and rests [His] hand upon me.” Then we will understand how much time, energy, and other resources we wasted worrying while God was protecting us. Then we will say, “What a wasted life! If only someone told me that I was not alone, I wouldn’t have given in to depression, I wouldn’t have given in to anxiety; I would have made the best of my life on earth.

Then, at that point, God will say to us, “But I told you, but I told you I was with you. I sent my prophets to tell you I was with you. When you did not understand, I went to the extent of sending my Son, Jesus Christ, to become a human being like you, but you refused to be attentive. I even gave him a name when he was born on Christmas Day, I gave him the name Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us,’ yet, you refused to listen. At the end of his public ministry on earth, before ascending to heaven, he said to you, ‘I will be with you until the end of time,’ yet, you did not listen. But I told you!” My dearly beloved in Christ, today we celebrate Christmas, the solemnity that reminds us that we are not alone, that God is with us, that God has gone to the extent of sending His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to become one like us. He was born like us. He grew up in a family like us. He experienced the good things and the difficult things of this life. There is no situation we find ourselves that is strange to him. Even when he did not sin like us, he took our guilt upon himself.  He is with us. Let us not wait until we get to heaven, to look back and regret all the time and resources we wasted in fears, worries, and anxieties. We must not wait to get to heaven before we realize how close God was to us on earth. Christmas has settled the matter: God is with us. The question still remains: Are we with God?

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EMMANUEL: GOD WITH US! 4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A DECEMBER 18, 2022 (R. 1: Isaiah 7: 10-14; Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 24: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6; R. 2: Romans 1: 1-7; Gospel: Matthew 1: 18-24) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

We are just a few days shy of Christmas day. Christmas brings a lot of joy, happiness and celebrations. As we bask in the euphoria of Christmas celebration, the Church wants us to acknowledge two of the key players that cooperated with God to bring about Christmas, namely Joseph and Mary.

Joseph’s case is like that of a man who had worked hard over the years, and saved a lot of money, but just as the time came for him to enjoy his savings, someone else comes and takes it from him. Imagine yourself in Joseph’s shoes. You are now engaged to this lady you have always longed for. You have disciplined yourself, respected her and lived a chaste life just waiting for your wedding day. Then, just a few days before the long awaited, you find out that your bride is pregnant, and that you are “innocent” of the pregnancy. The explanation that the Holy Spirit was responsible for the pregnancy is one that many still struggle with; you can imagine how it was for Joseph. Even if he accepted that, he could have wondered, “But why my own Mary?” Joseph must be commended for protecting Mary even before the angel spoke to him in a dream.

It was not an easy task for Mary either. Imagine how ridiculous it must have sounded then to claim that she was a pregnant virgin. If after two thousand years, many still struggle with it, come to think of how more difficult it was the first time it was claimed. You know how much effort we put in, to convince those around us when they doubt us; but Mary only put her trust in God and pondered all in her heart.

It is easy to praise God when things are rosy, but it is a different ball game entirely when things are rough. In the Book of Daniel 3, when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were threatened with fire should they refuse to worship idols, they said something very commendable. To the king they said, “If our God… is able to save us…he will save us; and even if he does not, we will not serve…the statue you have erected.” (verses 17 and 18). When eventually they were thrown into the furnace, they were safe while praising God in the fire. The King was amazed at what he saw. He also observed that three men were thrown into the fire, but four men were seen walking freely in the fire; and the fourth looked like a son of God (cf Verses 24ff). There lies the secret; the presence of God makes all the difference.

Mary and Joseph faced their challenges, but with God on their side, it is now a song of victory. What you are going through now may not make any sense at the moment, but in the future, you will come to see why it happened so. In case you are newly engaged, I am not promising you that you will become pregnant just by the power of the Holy Spirit; and I am not saying that stepping into fire will not hurt you. Each person’s story is different, each one of us is a special book that God is still writing; trust that God’s will is better than yours. Hold on to your faith even when things are not going as planned. Remember that when one door closes, a better one opens, but we are sometimes so focused on the closed door that we are unable to see the opened door. Scripture says, “[A]ll things work together for good to them that love God.” Do not give up on your dreams for “Whom God has blessed, no man can curse.” The responsorial psalm for today urges us to give the King of Glory the chance to come in. The truth of the matter is that, God is with us, but the question is, Are we with God?

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REALLY? 3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (GAUDETE SUNDAY) YEAR A DECEMBER 11, 2022 (R. 1: Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10; Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; R. 2: James 5: 7-10; Gospel: Matthew 11: 2-11) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

As some of you already know, I recently graduated from basic officer training. For three and a half months, I was in Newport, RI for Naval Officer Development School, and Professional Naval Chaplaincy Basic Leadership Course. For those who think they know me well, joining the navy was way out of my league. During my training, I sent pictures and short videos of some of our training evolution to friends and family. In response to some videos I sent to the WhatsApp group of the San Diego African Catholic Community Choir, one of the choristers commented, “These people didn’t explain this well to us. I thought they were just going to have you say Mass, hear confessions, and give last rites. All these pushups and other Physical Training events are getting out of hand.” In response, I sent a laughing emoji and added, “I also thought they will just issue me their fine uniforms and let people just salute me. I didn’t know I had to work hard for it.” It sounds funny, but during the training, there were days I said to myself, “Really? Emmanuel, how did you get here? Is this the Navy you wanted to join, or should we wait for another one?”

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. One prominent figure we encounter during Advent is John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. In today’s gospel passage, he sends some of his disciples to go ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Remember that in John 1, John the Baptist was the one who confidently introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” For this reason, it is surprising that the same John the Baptist is questioning the identity of Jesus. Several scholars have tried to explain what is going on here. One group suggests that the question did not originate from John. According to this group of scholars, the question originally came from the disciples of John. They heard the great things John said about Jesus before he came. For example, last Sunday (Matthew 3: 1-12) they heard how the Messiah would gather the good people (wheat) in his barn, while the bad people (chaff) will burn in an unquenchable fire. But when Jesus arrived, instead of condemning sinners, he befriended them, he ate and drank with them. He even publicly declared that he came to save them. The disciples of John then began to question the truth of what John had told them about the Messiah. It was in response that John sent them to go ask Jesus directly.

For the second group of scholars, the question originated from John the Baptist. For them, the question was an expression of doubt from John himself. John came to prepare the way for the Messiah. He was very convinced of his mission as the forerunner of the Messiah. But many things seemed not to add up. John lived a very austere life, not eating and not drinking, but the Messiah came eating and drinking, even with sinners. John preached the reward for the righteous and the imminent damnation of the unjust, but now John is in prison, while Jesus is out dinning with sinners. As a human being, it is understandable for John to do a reality check at this point, and to ask Jesus, “Are you really the One I have been working/waiting for, or should we wait for another?”  

Let us now turn our attention from John the Baptist to ourselves: Are we asking Jesus the same question? Is Jesus meeting your expectations in life? What were your hopes before you became a Christian? What were you expecting to gain from your marriage? Have you found the fulfillment you were looking forward to in the religious life and in the priesthood? Are you at a point where you are now asking yourself, “Really, is that all…?

Saint James beckons on us in the second reading to be patient; to learn from the farmer’s patience, and trust the process. Whatever we are going through now may not make any sense to us at this moment, but God is at work in each one of us. It is ok to raise questions, but we must be attentive to the answers that come from God. John raised his question, waited for his answer, and he did not give up on his mission. I had my doubts during my basic training. There were days and evolution that seemed meaningless, but thanks be to God, upon the completion of the training, I look back, and everything now adds up, everything now makes sense. Friends, I have no idea of what you are waiting for in your life; I do not know the doubts you are raising about your family, your education, your job, your health, your relationships, etc. One thing I am sure of is, if God permits it, it is because he has a reason, and it will all make sense in the end. In all your doubts and struggles, may God grant you the grace to never give up, until the will of God for you is actualized, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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STAY IN YOUR LANE! 2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A ON DECEMBER 04, 2022 (R. 1: Isaiah 11: 1- 10; Psalm 72: 1- 2, 7- 8, 12- 13, 17; R. 2:  Romans 15: 4- 9; Gospel: Matthew 3: 1- 12) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

A young man was jogging very early in the morning. He noticed a young lady about two blocks ahead of him. She was also jogging, she seemed to be slower than him. So he decided to increase his pace and catch up to her. He had about half a mile before turning right to his street. He started running faster, and he was getting closer and closer to the lady. A few minutes later, he found himself just about half a block behind the lady. He increased his pace again, he continued until he eventually caught up to her and passed her. He was so proud of himself, and he said to himself, “Yes, I am faster, I beat her!” He continued to jog ahead of the lady. He was so much focused on catching up to the lady and going ahead of the lady that he went beyond his turning point by about five blocks. He then made a U-turn. The lady on her own path continued to maintain her pace, and she had no idea that the young man was competing with her.

My dearly beloved in Christ, this story is what happens to some of us, if not all of us. Many times in life, we focus so much on competing with others that we forget our destination. We compete with classmates, with coworkers, with family members, with friends, with neighbors, or even with strangers and eventually undermine our destiny. The problem with unhealthy competition is, competition never ends; unhealthy competition is an unending cycle. Whether you like it or not, you will always find someone, who is better than you in one thing or the other. Someone is taller than you, someone is more handsome than you, prettier than you, richer than you, or smarter than you. Other people can be inspirations to us, but never allow yourself to be invited into an unhealthy competition, if you must live a happy life.

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. Today’s Gospel passage presents John the Baptist to us as a good example to inspire us. John the Baptist was a cousin to Jesus. He was six months older than Jesus Christ, so he came ahead of Jesus. In today’s gospel passage, he describes himself as “A voice of one crying out in the desert.” Remember that Jesus is the Word, the Word of God made flesh. What is the relationship between voice and word? The voice is the vehicle that brings the word; the word lasts, but the voice disappears. For example, if you are listening to me now, you can remember my words, you can repeat my words, you can write down my words, but my voice disappears. So, John the Baptist compares himself to the voice that speaks the word, and Jesus is the Word of God that lasts forever. Going further, John the Baptist explains that his baptism was by water, but Jesus will come with a superior baptism, which would be baptizing by the Holy Spirit and by fire. John adds, “I am not [even] fit to undo the straps of his sandals.” Yet, John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus Christ. He knew his mission, he respected his destiny, and he focused on the path divinely prepared for him. He was satisfied knowing himself and being himself.

The season of Advent gives us the opportunity to reflect on our lives as we prepare for the birthday of Jesus, as we prepare for the second Coming of Jesus, and as we reflect on the coming of Jesus every day in our lives. The magnitude of our mission is not what counts but our commitment to the mission, the love with which we do what we do. Your contribution to the Kingdom of God could be as simple as a smile that makes people comfortable around you. Your smile as an usher in the Church may win more people to the Kingdom of God than the preaching of the pastor, who has so many degrees in Scripture and Theology. My dearly beloved in Christ, remember as they say, “Everyone else has been taken, you are the only one left, so be yourself. The best person you can be is yourself.” On this Second Sunday of Advent, let us pray that the Holy Spirit may enlighten us to be focused on our divinely assigned mission, to keep our eyes on our destination, and never undermine our destiny. May the Holy Spirit empower us to remain in our lane that we may get inspirations from others, and never get into unhealthy competitions with them, that we may be the best of ourselves until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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NOW IS THE TIME! 1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR A ON NOVEMBER 27, 2022 (R. 1: Isaiah 2: 1-5; Psalm 122: 1-9; R. 2: 2 Romans 13: 11-14; Gospel: Matthew 24:37-44) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

A devout Catholic got a ride to work with his non-Christian friend. The car in front of them had a bumper sticker with the word, “Maranatha.” The non-Christian friend asked the Catholic, “What does that word mean?” The Catholic answered, “Maranatha means, Oh Lord, come!” The non-Christian friend interrupted angrily, “Ah, I don’t believe any of those nonsense you talk about the coming of the Lord.” The Catholic friend then replied, “Don’t worry about that, after all, he is not coming for you.”

My dearly beloved in Christ, I welcome you to the beginning of a new liturgical year. Today is the First Sunday of Advent Year A. Every liturgical year begins with the season of Advent. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming.” The season of advent reminds us of the three different senses of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have the First Coming, the Second/Final Coming, and the Third Coming.

For the First Coming, we commemorate the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, which we celebrate on Christmas day. In the sense of the Second Coming, we prepare ourselves for the final coming of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead. He came at his First Coming as our Savior, but he will come at his Second Coming as our judge. In the sense of his Third Coming, advent reminds us of the daily and every moment coming of Christ between the First and the Second Comings. Here, he comes to us through the Scripture, through the sacraments, through his ministers, through our neighbors, through the daily events of our lives, and through our individual deaths.

We sometimes tend to question the truth of the Second/Final Coming of the Lord, but we cannot doubt individual deaths. People die every day. As a hospital Chaplain, one thing I experience frequently is how family members welcome reconciliation when a family member is actively dying. People say, “Over my dead body for me to reconcile with this person,” but when death becomes imminent, it dawns on them that they do not have all the time in the world, so they soften their hearts, and they welcome reconciliation. But it does not take too long before they get into another quarrel with another family member and repeat the words, “Over my dead body…” How quickly we forget that each breath we take in and out reduces the number of breaths we have left. Each step we take in life reduces the number of steps we have left in this world. Each one of us is closer to our death now than when I began this homily. If only we remember how short this life is, we would be more careful and loving in our relationships with ourselves and others.

The season of advent reminds us that time does not wait for us. What then should be the Christian response to the passing nature of this world? In answer to this question, St. Paul says in today’s second reading, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to wake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; and conduct ourselves properly as in the day…” So, we must not welcome procrastination as Christians.

This passage from St. Paul to the Romans contributed greatly to the conversion of St. Augustine. One day, Augustine was troubled about his lifestyle and he was taking a walk in the garden. In his misery, he was exclaiming to himself, “How long? How long? Tomorrow and tomorrow – why not now?” Then he heard the voice of a little child saying to him, “Take and read; take and read.” He then remembered that he left some copies of the writings of St Paul nearby. He hurried back to where they were, he grabbed one of them, and randomly opened a page, and the first passage that caught his eyes was today’s second reading. He read St Paul’s words urging the Romans to put away the things of darkness/the flesh and put on the things of Christ. Augustine took those words personally and turned his life to Christ at that moment. My dearly beloved in Christ. Time does not wait for us. Christ came, he will come again, and he comes every day. We are not sure of the next moment. “Procrastination,” they say, “is the thief of time.” So, if you have any good thing to do, just do it now!

Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent Year A 2022

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THE WAY TO TRUE HAPPINESS: 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 29, 2023 (R. 1: Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13; Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12a) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

When you compare Christianity with other religions, you will discover one unique thing about Christianity, that is, Christianity is not just about a set of teachings; it is primarily about a person, namely Jesus Christ. In Christianity, the teacher and the teaching are one. Jesus is not separate from his teaching. Last Sunday, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went about recruiting his disciples saying “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did not say, “Come, let me teach you;” he called them to make them into something new, to bring about an ontological change in them, that they may become one with him. So in Christianity, three elements are one: the Teacher, the Teaching and the Student (Disciple).

Having called his followers last Sunday, today he begins their formation with the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is not about morality, it is about Jesus. Since his mission is to make us to be like him, he is drawing a self-portrait here on the mount and inviting his disciples to become like him. Archbishop Fulton Sheen notes that “Two mounts are related as the first and second acts in a two-act drama. The Mount of the Beatitude and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice what he preached.” So, the Beatitudes all form the portrait/picture of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Blessed are…” The Greek adjective used here is makarioi, which can be translated into English as blessed or happy. That explains why some translations will say “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, while others will say, “Happy are the poor in spirit…” So, the invitation that Jesus is offering his followers is an invitation to happiness, which comes not in the way of the world but from becoming one with Jesus. It is the happiness that the world cannot give to us, and cannot take away from us. After he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” he later revealed himself as an embodiment of that poverty when one of the scribes volunteered to follow him wherever he went. Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8: 20).

When he said, “Blessed are they who mourn…” it was not far from him, for the Prophet Isaiah had already described him as “[A] man of sorrows and familiar with sufferings” (53: 3). What about when he said, “Blessed are the meek…”? In Matthew 11: 29-30 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am peaceful and meek in my heart and you will find rest for your souls.” What about “Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children (sons) of God.”? Already, Isaiah prophesied, “For there is a child born for us, a son is given to us…this is the name they will give him; Wonder-Counsellor…Prince-of-Peace” (Isaiah 9: 6). And when he died on the Cross, the Centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15: 39).

So, the beatitudes are not just the teachings of Jesus but the life of Jesus himself. He makes no distinction between his teaching and his life, similarly, he makes no distinction between himself and his followers. He says his sorrows will be theirs; his joy will be theirs. His followers are to be like him in all things. He asked us to expect to be treated as he was treated, and that we should respond like he responded so we might be rewarded like he was rewarded.

Have you ever been given a kiss that blistered? Have you ever been betrayed by an insider? Have you ever helped a friend who later used the same help to harm you? Have your friends, family, classmates, co-workers ever turned against you because you stood for the truth? Have you been denied your right because you did the right thing? Compare notes with Jesus, he was there before you. One of my professors once said, “Jesus lost the only election he contested.” That was when Pilate asked the crowd (among whom might have been those Jesus healed) to choose between Jesus and Barabbas and the crowd preferred Barabbas the terrorist to Jesus the Savior. In the midst of such treatments, he said “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” And truly, he did not curse those who persecuted him, he rather prayed for them, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The Apostles and the early Christians took after him. Paul and Silas sang and praised God while in prison (cf. Acts 16: 25), and Stephen prayed for those who stoned him to death (cf. Acts 7: 60). So, Christianity is not just about head knowledge, but the transformation of life into a life lived in and as Christ.

A monk was once meditating by the riverside. He saw a scorpion being washed into the river by the flood, he then bent down and picked up the scorpion to prevent it from being drowned, but the scorpion stung him. He threw it back into the water and nursed his finger for a while. When he felt better, he went back to pick the scorpion and he was stung again. He threw it into the river and nursed his finger. When he felt better, he was about to pick it the third time when a passer-by yelled at him, “Brother Monk, are you crazy! The scorpion has been stinging you and you keep helping it.” The Monk then replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting, while it is the nature of the Monk to help. So, let the scorpion keep on stinging and let the Monk continue to help.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I am not suggesting that you go and start picking up scorpions with your bare hands after this Mass. The point is that we must never allow the bitterness of someone else to contaminate our sweetness. In order to attain the blessedness/ happiness that Jesus has promised us, two important rules we must keep: Rule 1: Never give up on doing good things. Rule 2. Always remember rule 1.

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THE WAY TO TRUE HAPPINESS: 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 29, 2023 (R. 1: Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13; Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; Gospel: Matthew 5: 1-12a) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

When you compare Christianity with other religions, you will discover one unique thing about Christianity, that is, Christianity is not just about a set of teachings; it is primarily about a person, namely Jesus Christ. In Christianity, the teacher and the teaching are one. Jesus is not separate from his teaching. Last Sunday, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus went about recruiting his disciples saying “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He did not say, “Come, let me teach you;” he called them to make them into something new, to bring about an ontological change in them, that they may become one with him. So in Christianity, three elements are one: the Teacher, the Teaching and the Student (Disciple).

Having called his followers last Sunday, today he begins their formation with the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is not about morality, it is about Jesus. Since his mission is to make us to be like him, he is drawing a self-portrait here on the mount and inviting his disciples to become like him. Archbishop Fulton Sheen notes that “Two mounts are related as the first and second acts in a two-act drama. The Mount of the Beatitude and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice what he preached.” So, the Beatitudes all form the portrait/picture of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Blessed are…” The Greek adjective used here is makarioi, which can be translated into English as blessed or happy. That explains why some translations will say “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, while others will say, “Happy are the poor in spirit…” So, the invitation that Jesus is offering his followers is an invitation to happiness, which comes not in the way of the world but from becoming one with Jesus. It is the happiness that the world cannot give to us, and cannot take away from us. After he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” he later revealed himself as an embodiment of that poverty when one of the scribes volunteered to follow him wherever he went. Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8: 20).

When he said, “Blessed are they who mourn…” it was not far from him, for the Prophet Isaiah had already described him as “[A] man of sorrows and familiar with sufferings” (53: 3). What about when he said, “Blessed are the meek…”? In Matthew 11: 29-30 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am peaceful and meek in my heart and you will find rest for your souls.” What about “Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children (sons) of God.”? Already, Isaiah prophesied, “For there is a child born for us, a son is given to us…this is the name they will give him; Wonder-Counsellor…Prince-of-Peace” (Isaiah 9: 6). And when he died on the Cross, the Centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15: 39).

So, the beatitudes are not just the teachings of Jesus but the life of Jesus himself. He makes no distinction between his teaching and his life, similarly, he makes no distinction between himself and his followers. He says his sorrows will be theirs; his joy will be theirs. His followers are to be like him in all things. He asked us to expect to be treated as he was treated, and that we should respond like he responded so we might be rewarded like he was rewarded.

Have you ever been given a kiss that blistered? Have you ever been betrayed by an insider? Have you ever helped a friend who later used the same help to harm you? Have your friends, family, classmates, co-workers ever turned against you because you stood for the truth? Have you been denied your right because you did the right thing? Compare notes with Jesus, he was there before you. One of my professors once said, “Jesus lost the only election he contested.” That was when Pilate asked the crowd (among whom might have been those Jesus healed) to choose between Jesus and Barabbas and the crowd preferred Barabbas the terrorist to Jesus the Savior. In the midst of such treatments, he said “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” And truly, he did not curse those who persecuted him, he rather prayed for them, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The Apostles and the early Christians took after him. Paul and Silas sang and praised God while in prison (cf. Acts 16: 25), and Stephen prayed for those who stoned him to death (cf. Acts 7: 60). So, Christianity is not just about head knowledge, but the transformation of life into a life lived in and as Christ.

A monk was once meditating by the riverside. He saw a scorpion being washed into the river by the flood, he then bent down and picked up the scorpion to prevent it from being drowned, but the scorpion stung him. He threw it back into the water and nursed his finger for a while. When he felt better, he went back to pick the scorpion and he was stung again. He threw it into the river and nursed his finger. When he felt better, he was about to pick it the third time when a passer-by yelled at him, “Brother Monk, are you crazy! The scorpion has been stinging you and you keep helping it.” The Monk then replied, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting, while it is the nature of the Monk to help. So, let the scorpion keep on stinging and let the Monk continue to help.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I am not suggesting that you go and start picking up scorpions with your bare hands after this Mass. The point is that we must never allow the bitterness of someone else to contaminate our sweetness. In order to attain the blessedness/ happiness that Jesus has promised us, two important rules we must keep: Rule 1: Never give up on doing good things. Rule 2. Always remember rule 1.

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BUT HOW DID WE GET HERE? 3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 22, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 8: 23- 9: 3; Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13- 14; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 10- 13, 17; Gospel: Matthew 4: 12- 23) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

The Church in Corinth is very dear to Paul. After he founded the Church in Corinth, he is now in Ephesus. Corinth is a port city like San Diego and so it has its own share of wealth and there are all kinds of people. The diversity of people in the city of Corinth becomes a challenge for the Church in Corinth. The Church has to learn how to live with this diversity. But not much progress is being made; things seem to be degenerating and the news gets to Paul in Ephesus that the Church is now divided based on allegiance to Paul, to Apollos or to Cephas. Paul’s response to the Corinthians shows that he is quite upset with the Christians in Corinth. He must be wondering, “How did we get here?” He then writes to them taking them back to their foundation. “Has Christ been parceled out? Was it Paul that was crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The Gospel of Salvation is not a matter of political parties within the Church, it is about our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our salvation.

But what caused the divisions in the Church in Corinth? It is certainly not far from selfishness, the desire to dominate others and impose a particular way of thinking on them. Jealousy must have also played a crucial role in the crisis. When jealousy hits good people, it does not only spoil the goodness in them but they also lose the attractiveness of the gospel. This division that stems from jealousy and selfishness, which threatens the Church was there even before the Church in Corinth. At the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, the disciples of John the Baptist were jealous of those who began to follow Jesus. Some of the Apostles of Jesus became indignant of James and John (sons of Zebedee) in their effort to obtain first places in the kingdom.

What about us? Have we outgrown what Paul is preaching against? With the different Christian denominations springing up every passing hour, antagonizing one another, can we say we are one in Christ? Let us not even talk about different Christian denominations. Focusing on the Catholic Church, do we not sometimes have different prayer groups antagonizing one another and struggling for superiority? For some, members of the Legion of Mary are holier, while others think that members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal are the sole custodians of the Holy Spirit. The one that makes me laugh, is when I find some Catholics argue about whether our Lady of Fatima is superior to Our Lady of Guadalupe or not, or whether our Lady of Lourdes is superior to Our Lady of La Salette or not. Such arguments make me wonder whether these people realize that they are talking about the same Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is quite disheartening to see a parish bitterly divided over issues like what color to paint the Church, whether to hold hands or not while praying the Lord’s Prayer, which position to place a new statue or picture and which devotion is better. How did we get here? Sometimes, we unknowingly make a god out of the liturgy, forgetting that the liturgy itself like ourselves is at the service of God. One would have expected Paul to have used the opportunity of the Corinthian crisis to win followers to himself, but he did not do that. He knew the Corinthians were missing the point. Paul did not want them to line up behind human leaders; he changed the debate, and pointed to Christ.

Stepping outside the Church, we still see people missing the point. It is no longer enough to be a Padres fan, you also need to hate the Dodgers. It is not enough to be an Arsenal fan, you must prove it by hating Chelsea or Barcelona. Did I hear you say you are a Democrat? Ok, that means you hate the Republicans. Wait a minute, you can’t be a true Republican if hatred for Democrats is not oozing out of you. But how did we get here? It has become so difficult to see any American these days, all you see are Republicans or Democrats. But how did we get here?  The light Isaiah prophesied about has found fulfilment in Jesus Christ as we see in the Gospel. Jesus has handed the light over to us to share with the world. But we can only do that effectively if we are united. It is okay to ask questions and to disagree but we must not forget our main goal. Our denominational affiliations must not supersede our common identity in Jesus Christ. In the face of disagreement, we must not forget that we are still brothers and sisters. The more the world continues to over emphasis our racial differences, the more we must correct the world that there is only one race that matters, and that is the human race. Let us build strength from our diversity. As the saying often attributed to St. Augustine goes, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” When the wise man points at the star for the foolish man to see, the foolish man focuses instead on the wise man’s finger. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see beyond our differences so as to enjoy the beauty in our diversity, until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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LET OTHERS ALSO SHINE! 2ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JANUARY 15, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6; Psalm 40: 2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; R. 2: 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3; Gospel: John 1: 29-34) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Today is the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Ordinary Time of the Church’s Year is the longest season of the Liturgical Calendar. It is broken into two parts. The first part begins after Christmas Season, that is, after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The second part begins on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday; and ends on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent of the following Liturgical Year. The liturgical color for this season is green.

A few days ago, a friend commented, “Thank God we are now in Ordinary Time, nothing serious is happening in the Church, so we can take time off and relax.” In response, I told her to be careful and not let the name, “Ordinary Time” mislead her. A Christian must never take time off from being a Christian. The “job” of being a Christian is 24/7. “Ordinary” does not mean that it is inferior to the other seasons. It describes a season that is not restricted to a particular aspect of the mystery of the life of Christ. Advent Season focuses on the preparation for the mystery of the Incarnation, the Birth of Christ. Christmas Season focuses on the mystery of the birth of Christ. Lenten season focuses on the mystery of the suffering, passion, and death of Christ. Easter Season focuses on the mystery of the Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, culminating in the mystery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The rest of the year falls under the Ordinary Time of the Year.

Having reflected on the specific aspects of the mystery of Christ in the other seasons, Ordinary Time becomes a time when Christians bear fruit in their lives based on their reflections on the life of Christ in the other seasons. Instead of seeing Ordinary Time as a “Christian Time-Out,” Ordinary Time is when the real work should begin for Christians. It is time to blossom in the world based on the grace we have received from the life of Christ, which we reflected on in the other seasons. The liturgical color, green, reminds us of the green leaves of plants. The greenness of leaves is a testimony to the nutrients the plant has received from the ground, from the sun, and from the atmosphere. The plant with the green leaves goes further to flower and bear fruits to feed the world.

The relationship between Ordinary Time and the other seasons of the liturgical year is like that between the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke is the author of both works. In the Gospel according to Luke, we see the life of Jesus Christ, and in the Acts of the Apostles, we see the life of Christians patterned after the life of Christ. For example, the event of the martyrdom of Stephen shows that Stephen rehearsed and lived the Crucifixion of Christ. So, Ordinary Time is when we get into the hard work of showing the world, what we received from Christ in the other seasons, it is the time we blossom and shine as Christians to sanctify the world.

In today’s first reading, God reminds the Church, the new Israel, through the Prophet Isaiah, “I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” The season of Ordinary Time is the time to live out this responsibility of being the light to the nations. The light does not necessarily add anything to what is in existence, it reveals the beauty that is in existence. For example, John became a light in the Gospel passage when he revealed Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He knew something good about Jesus that others did not know. He knew that would turn people’s attention from him to Jesus, but he went on to shine his light on Jesus, to reveal him to the world.

As we begin this first part of the Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year, let us examine ourselves as Christians. Do I shine my light on others to reveal the beauty in them for the world to see? Do I divert people’s attention from the beauty of others? When I read a post on social media, do I only point out what I think is wrong so as to distract people from the rest of the work? Do I describe people by their disabilities or their abilities? Am I afraid of letting others shine? Why do we persecute people when they are alive only to canonize them when they die? My dearly beloved in Christ, I have another suggestion for New Year’s resolution as we begin this New Year. Let us agree as a family, as friends, as coworkers, etc. to meet in-person or virtually once every week or every month. The agenda for the meeting is to go round the table to tell each member one wonderful thing about them, just shine your light on one of their good qualities. Let us resolve for this year that if there is something negative about them, we will not say it to anyone except to God in prayer. We will only shine our lights on their good sides, and by so doing, their good sides will suffocate their bad sides. Let us not wait until their funeral before we say how they were the best creatures of God. Let us say it while they are still alive. As we accept this resolution, may the light that shines from Christ through us dispel all the forces of darkness, until we come to our heavenly inheritance; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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WHAT A PARADOX! THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD YEAR “A” ON JANUARY 8, 2023 (R. 1: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1- 2, 7-8, 10-13; R. 2: Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6; Gospel: Matthew 2: 1- 12) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Shortly after my priestly ordination in Nigeria, I was assigned to the Cathedral in my home diocese as Assistant Cathedral Administrator. I invited an older priest to direct a retreat for the young adults of the Cathedral. While preaching on the first day of the retreat, he pointed out that there are four groups of people in the Catholic Church who must work harder if they must make it to heaven. I became very concerned when he listed the four groups, I found myself in two of them. He listed the following as the four groups: Altar servers, Choristers, Church Wardens/Ushers/Hospitality, and Pastoral Council. Altar Servers (I became an altar server at the age of seven), Choir (I joined the choir from my mother’s womb. She was pregnant with me and kept going to the choir, so I had no choice but join her. All through my Seminary formation, I was also a member of the choir. Two years before my graduation, I became one of the Choir Masters, and a year after my priestly ordination, I became the Diocesan Music Director of my diocese).

The four groups according to him are so close to the altar that they can easily end up being far away from God. For the altar servers, when they come to Mass, they are usually so preoccupied with what they had practiced that they do not listen to the readings, they do not pay attention to the homilies, and they do not pray. Their goal is to avoid making mistakes while serving.

Similarly, choristers can easily forget that they are to lead the congregation in worship. It is not uncommon to see choristers flipping through their singing sheets or books while the readings or homilies are going on. At other times, while prayers are going on, they keep on whispering tunes into the ears of one another or running commentaries. The instrumentalists use moments of readings, homilies, and prayers to continue their private rehearsals in low volume. It is also not uncommon to find members of the choir escaping from Mass at any point during the Mass that they are not “performing”, only to come back when it is time for their next “performance,” like the Mass is a concert.

The third group is made up of Church Wardens/Ushers/Hospitality. In Nigeria, in addition to welcoming and ushering worshippers to their seats, the ushers also help to maintain order during Mass by going round the Church to watch out for those who distract others at Mass and to wake those who sleep at Mass (I would like to say – for the record – I never allowed ushers to wake people up at Masses I celebrated. I always told them that if people fall asleep during the homily, it is a signal to me that I need to step up my game). They also direct people to the offering box in front of the altar. The priest who preached at that retreat observed that while moving around in the Church to make sure that people pay attention at Mass, these ushers themselves do not pay attention. He observed that while directing people to drop money in the offering box/baskets, they themselves do not drop any money from their pockets.

Finally, for the Pastoral Council members, they know how the Church should be run, and they make all the policies. They are quick at pointing out how the youths are not dressing properly to Church, but their own children would not even come to Church so you can’t talk about how they dress. When such council members come to Mass, rather than pray, or listen to the word of God for their own edification, they spend more time evaluating the priest, his style/length of homily, his style of administration, and to see if there is need to call the attention of the bishop to him.

Reflecting on these four groups, I have added a fifth group to the list; it is a group I glaringly belong to right now, namely the priests or the preachers. From my experience, it can be very tempting to be very preoccupied with thinking about what to preach to you that I forget to think of what to preach to myself. That is why, after the Mass, when I go back to my room, I quickly run to my mirror, I look at the “young man” in the mirror and I say to him, “I hope you heard what the priest said at Mass today.”

My Dearly Beloved in Christ, today is the solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. It is the day we celebrate the revelation of the Lord to the Gentiles. On this day we reflect on the visit of the magi to the newborn King. We also reflect on their gifts to the king. They brought three gifts; the gift of gold to honor his Kingship, the gift of frankincense to honor his divinity, and the gift of myrrh to honor his humanity, which was destined for death.

From today’s Gospel passage, we see three different reactions to the birth of Christ. The first reaction is that of Herod, which is characterized by fear, hatred and hostility. Herod was afraid that this little child was going to interfere with his life, his place, his power, his influence, his comfort zone, and so his first instinct was to destroy him. We still have people who are all out to destroy Christ in the family, in Schools, in offices, even in the Church because they feel he interferes with their comfort zones. What kind of homilies do we enjoy listening to, the ones that tell us to remain in our comfort zones or the ones that challenge us to grow in the way of Christ?  

The second reaction is that of the chief priests and scribes characterized by complete indifference. They answered correctly the question posed by Herod about the child to be born, but it made no difference to them. They were so engrossed in their Temple ritual and their legal discussions that they completely disregarded Jesus. He meant nothing to them. Like the four or five groups we talked about at the beginning who can be so involved in the life of the Church yet having nothing spiritually to show for it. The Jews, who had the scriptures and the prophets foretelling them plainly about the birth of the Messiah, did not hasten to find the Messiah, but the Gentiles who only borrowed the scriptures, found the Messiah, and worshipped Him.

The third reaction is that of the magi characterized by adoring worship. They were driven by the desire to lay at the feet of Jesus Christ the noblest gifts which they could bring. In the magi, we learn the lesson that those who live at the greatest distance from the means of grace often use most diligence and learn to know the most of Christ and his salvation.

The four or five groups we talked about at the beginning was not meant to attack any group, but to draw our attention to the risk of losing out even though as Catholics we have got all the means of grace, namely the Word and the Sacraments. This challenges us to take more seriously the Christ in our spouses that we have taken for granted, the Christ in our parents, children, or siblings that we have taken for granted. This is the challenge to take more seriously the wonderful gifts we have in our country recognized by other nations, but which we have taken for granted. It is very possible to be a minister, who leads others to Jesus, and yet not find Jesus ourselves. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, but today, he continues to be born in our lives and various circumstances. Christ is our Lord, who has come to reveal the glory of God. I pray for you as I pray for myself for the grace to always recognize him, and to come to him in sincere and constant worship and adoration until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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STOP AND PONDER! SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD YEAR A ON SUNDAY JANUARY 1, 2023 (R. 1: Numbers 6: 22-27; Psalm 67: 2-3, 5, 6, 8 R. 2: Galatians 4: 4-7; Gospel: Luke 2: 16-21) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO

Happy New Year! This is not a new year of the Church. The Church’s New Year began since the last Sunday of last November. The New Year we are celebrating today is the secular New Year. It is the New Year of the world. It is ok for the Church to celebrate the New Year of the world because, even though we are not of the world, scripture acknowledges the fact that we are in the world. Since we are in the world, it is our responsibility to sanctify the world by the way we live our lives.

As Christians, our power to sanctify the world comes from Jesus Christ, who came not to condemn, but to save the world. During his public ministry, Jesus went about teaching, doing good works, and calling people to follow him as his disciples. As Christians, we are followers of Christ, and so we are his disciples.

On the first day of the secular year, the first of January every year, we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God. Today’s second reading, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that “God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Who is this Son? He is Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is God himself. The woman is the Blessed Virgin Mary. If her son is God, then, it is not out of place to call her the Mother of God.

Why the choice of this date for the celebration of Mary the Mother of God? We can look at it from many angles. But I would like to look at it this way. As we said earlier, the Scripture that says we are not of this world, also acknowledges the fact that we are in this world. Our responsibility as Christians/disciples of Christ is to sanctify this world by the way we follow Christ, and by the way we relate to this world.

As we begin the secular year, the Church presents the Blessed Virgin Mary to us as the first and best disciple of her son, Jesus Christ. The Church wants her to mentor us as we begin a new secular year. Mary followed her son by submitting to the will of God from the beginning of her earthly life until the end.

Mary had the singular honor of being the Mother of God, but that did not prevent her from facing the challenges of this life. In spite of the difficulties she faced in this life, she pondered everything in her heart, and she submitted herself to the will of God. Her conception of Jesus Christ raised suspicions regarding her virginity. Even to this day, some Christians still raise questions regarding the authenticity of the virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After she gave birth to Jesus, she, along with Joseph and Jesus had to escape Herod’s sword by becoming refugees in Egypt, Africa. In her presence, religious leaders attacked her son; she watched her son carry a cross that was not for him; in her presence, her son died a death that was not meant for him. His lifeless body was laid on her lap, yet she pondered everything in her heart, and she continued to align her ways with God’s will.

As we begin this new secular year, the Church invites us to live our lives, to respond to the challenges of this world like the Blessed Virgin Mary, by pondering everything in our hearts, and doing God’s will. Being the Mother of God did not insulate her from the challenges of this life. Similarly, being a Christian will not insulate any of us from the challenges of this life. As we begin this new secular year, you may be considering a resolution for the New Year. Maybe this is a time to consider the resolution to ponder things in our hearts like Mary before we act. Maybe, before reacting to that rumor, before reacting to that false allegation against you, stop and ponder, and ask God, “What is your will for me in this case.” Before reacting to what you term failure in your relationships, education, business, job, health, etc., stop and ponder, and ask God, “What do you want from me at this time?” Many times, we react to things and situations, and we end up regretting because we did not seek the will of God. The Blessed Virgin Mary aligned her will with God’s will. She trusted entirely in the grace of God. Today, she is crowned in heaven. As we begin this new secular year, let us unite our prayers with the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary by saying, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

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