Be Courageous; Stand for the Truth

Be Courageous; Stand For The Truth - Agnes Isika Blog

When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? … So there was a division among the people over him.” (John 7:40-43)

As humans, we have this inbuilt need to blend with others on a social level. Due to our desire to be accepted, praised and respected in whatever group we belong, we tend to “play by the rules” that is to say, we tend to go with the flow even when it contradicts our conscience. Reading through our Gospel passage today, we see the unusual courage of the officers who were sent to arrest Jesus. Instead of obeying orders, they were captivated by Jesus’ preaching and went back to report to the chief priests and Pharisees: “No man has ever spoken like this man.” This is an unusual courage.

Nicodemus also displayed great courage by reminding the chief priests and Pharisees of the law which states that a person is assumed innocent until he or she is proven guilty. “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” Nicodemus could have kept quiet but he knew the truth. He knew that Jesus is God. Do you often find yourself in the midst of people where it seems like you are the odd one out? Are you willing to risk the social security you enjoy from your friends and colleagues by speaking out for truth? Don’t allow the crowd silence you. Be courageous.

Jeremiah teaches us a very important lesson in today’s first reading. He did not pray for the death of his enemies, neither did he command God to send down fire to consume them. Jeremiah prayed that God who is a just judge would Himself look into the matter and execute judgment according to His Will. Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, increase my courage to stand for what is right and free me from all bitterness especially when I face persecution for your sake. Amen.  Bible Study: Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 7 and John 7:40-52).

Welcome to Life beyond the Grave

“Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:32-33). Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say to the woman at the well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Last Sunday, as we pondered on the story of the man born blind, how he received his sight, yet the Pharisees who supposedly could see turned out to be the really blind ones, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

Today as we read about the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we hear Jesus say: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). When we examine these signature statements of Jesus, three things come to mind: Firstly, Jesus is the source of living water essential for human survival; secondly, Jesus is the light leading us out of darkness and thirdly, without Jesus, there is no life in us. This immediately brings us to our first lesson today.

1. Without Jesus, we are Dead.
In today’s first reading we hear the prophet Ezekiel speaking in the place of God: “You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land” (Ezekiel 37:13-14). So long as the people of Israel dwelt in a land of captivity as a result of their sinfulness, so long as they were yet to receive God’s Spirit, they remained dead.

As St. Paul makes us understand in our second reading, there is more to being alive than merely breathing. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11). The question we must ask ourselves today is: “Am I alive?” and if Yes, “What kind of life am I living?” At the heart of all our temptations in life is Satan’s attempt to make us reject Jesus. The truth is that without Jesus, we become like the Samaritan woman struggling for water that never satisfies, like the blind Pharisees and like Lazarus, dead.

As many church buildings are closed around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, God has provided a special opportunity for us to examine the essence of our relationship with Him. Does my Christianity only begin and end within the church building? Do I believe Jesus is alive within me? In all sincerity, have I been going to the church to really commune with God or just to fraternize with friends, show off new clothes, advertise my products, obtain business contacts and so on?

2. God Sometimes Allows His Beloved Suffer
Recall that in the story of the blind man last week, the disciples of Jesus wanted to know who sinned, if it was his parents or the man himself. Jesus made them understand that his blindness was not a punishment for anyone’s sin but simply for the glory of God. The wages of sin is death no doubt, but it is not every unfortunate event that happens to us that is as a result of our sins. Today, we hear John tell us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. In Luke 10, we read a moving account of how Jesus was a guest in the home of Lazarus. Martha served and Mary sat at his feet listening to him. Jesus was told “the one whom you love is ill.” Was this message not enough for Jesus to swing into action? Yet Jesus stood behind saying this illness will not lead to death but it will bring glory to God.

Like Mary and Martha who sent word to Jesus about Lazarus’ ill health, we often pray to God when we see danger approaching only to get no response from God. There are moments God prefers to remain silent not because He hates us but because He already knows what He wants to do for us. At times, we begin to doubt if God still cares or if He even exists. There were many who came to visit Mary and Martha saying: “If Jesus was truly this man’s friend, he shouldn’t have allowed him die.” In this era of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have had to ask God similar questions. Why does God remain silent? If God is who we know Him to be, why would He let thousands of people suffer and die like this?

The truth is simple: the fact that we are friends of God, the fact that we strive every day to remain sinless and walk in the light does not make us immune to the sufferings and trials of life. As the book of Hebrews tell us: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. … God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? (Hebrews 12:5-8). Like the case of Lazarus, when God allows us suffer, it is because He has something bigger awaiting us. Not even the very disciples of Jesus knew the package Jesus had planned for Lazarus.

3. The Saints Are Not Simply Dead People.
Very often, when we talk about praying to God through the saints as Catholics, it never goes down well with our separated brethren who are often quick to remind us that Christ alone is the one mediator between God and man (1st Timothy 2:5). Several times, I have been asked: “Why do you pray to dead people?” The statement of Jesus to Martha in today’s Gospel passage perfectly answers this question. “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26).

In fact, in another passage, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-51). To say the saints are just dead people will be to assume that Jesus was lying in these passages.

There is life beyond the grave. How else was Lazarus able to hear the voice of Jesus having been buried for four days already? The Saints hear us when we ask for their intercession. They are not merely dead people. The next question I often get is: “How can you be so sure that someone is in heaven?” Simply put, when it is proven beyond every doubt that he or she caused some miracles to happen on earth. Jesus is the one mediator between God and man but our very faith in Jesus Christ accommodates asking the saints who are alive in heaven to pray for us as well.

4. With God, Nothing is Impossible.
When the Angel Gabriel Visited Mary to inform her of becoming the Mother of Jesus despite being a virgin, the Angel assured Mary to trust in power of God saying: “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:36-37). In the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Jesus reminds us again that with God, nothing is impossible. There is just no problem that is beyond God, no situation that God cannot handle.

It is never too late for God. God’s time is the best. When Jesus told them to remove the stone, Martha protested: “Lord, by this time, there will be an odour for he has been buried four days.” Dear friends, what is that you have been asking from God for so long now? Have you concluded that it is too late for God to grant it? Jesus had the power to raise the dead but first, he asked the people to roll the stone away. Perhaps, you have lost hope and put a stone over your hopes. Jesus wants to work in your situation but first, you have to roll this stone away. Like Lazarus who was bound all over, sin ties us down and keeps us stagnated spiritually. That is why we need Jesus in our lives. And it really doesn’t matter how deep sin may have crushed us. It is not too late today to repent and begin to live a new life in Christ.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, raise me from the death of my sinfulness. Amen.  Bible Study: Ezekiel 37:12-14, Psalm 130 Romans 8:8-11 and John 11:1-45).

Fr. Abu

 Seek God’s Applause, not Human Approval

Seek God With All Your Heart - YouTube

As for human approval, this means nothing to me… How can you believe since you look to one another for approval and are not concerned with the approval that comes from the one God?” (John 5:41-44)

If we are only concerned about human approval, we could end up like Aaron who bowed to the people’s pressure and went ahead to build for them a molten calf which they took as their god. This is what becomes of us when we bow to human pressure instead of putting God first. Do I simply do things because of what people are saying? Do I really put God first and try to please him even if it means losing favour with the people around me? Am I ashamed of professing my faith or of standing for the truth just because I want people to praise me? When God saw that the people had apostatized under Aaron’s leadership he became so angry that he almost destroyed the entire nation. Thank God Moses intervened for the people by begging God to change his mind. In Jesus Christ, we see another Moses in that Jesus by his blood intercedes on our behalf before God as St. Paul says in 1st Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Dear friends, let us always seek to please God rather than people. You may not be popular, don’t worry; people may not like you, no problem; even your neighbours or your family members may hate you, rejoice and be glad, your reward is great in heaven. As St. Peter would say: “But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20-21).

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, may I seek your approval only. Amen.  Bible Study: Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 106 and John 5:31-47).

 The Christian Life is a Cross.

“Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” (John 7:25-26)

Being a Christian is an invitation to a road less travelled; it is standing for what is right and having to face the ridicule, insults, oppression, pain and humiliation. Jesus, being fully human was aware of the threat against his life so he did not go openly with his disciples to the Feast but went privately. However, upon getting there, Jesus would not allow fear to close his lips. He still came out to preach in public. People were wondering how Jesus managed to get the audacity to preach when his life was at stake.

As the book of Wisdom says: “Ungodly men reasoned unsoundly saying: ‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; … let us test what will happen at the end of his life; … Let us test him with insult and torture,… Let us condemn him to a shameful death,… Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them.” (Wisdom 2:12-21). Those who wanted Jesus dead had an image of the Christ in their minds but Jesus did not fit their expectation. They knew Jesus too well as the son of the carpenter to believe that He is God. Jesus told them that if only they really knew God, they would not have had any problem believing He is the Son of God. Even today, the greatest persecution we face come from those who claim to know God but do not know Him. This is exactly the point the book of wisdom makes in its conclusion: “They (these ungodly men) do not know the hidden things of God, they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded; they can see no reward for blameless souls.” (Wisdom 2:22).

One lesson we learn from Jesus’ action today is that even when our life is under threat, we should not be afraid to continue our good works. Do not drop the cross. Be faithful to the end. Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, help me to understand that there are trials that must come and may I never give up when I face persecution for your sake. Amen. Bible Study: Wisdom 2:1-22, Psalm 34 and John 7:1-30).

Fr. Abu.

When There is No One to Defend You, God Steps in For Your Sake

 

You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and he who sent me.” (John 8:15-16)

The story of Susana is a very touching story; a story that teaches us how God will never abandon His children who remain faithful and upright regardless of the temptation they face in life. It is a true-life story that tells of the courage of a well-trained innocent woman who preferred to die rather than consent to sin. The judges felt they could blackmail her into giving in to their inordinate desire but she said something that is real food for thought: “I am completely trapped. For if I do this, it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands. I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord.” (Susanna 1:22-23 or Daniel 13)

Dear friends, it is always better to die for God’s sake than to live in sin. Nevertheless, when we stand for God, God never turns a blind eye at us. Our Psalmist today sings: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want… He is true to his name if I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil will I fear… You have prepared a banquet for me in the sight of my foes.” When all hope was lost for Susanna, God sent Daniel and endowed him with such wisdom and eloquence that no one could withstand him. The same judges who confessed to seeing this woman with a man gave conflicting answers when asked the name of the tree under which they saw the woman proving they were telling lies.

Every time we lie, we make the devil our father. This is why Jesus warned us today: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44). Always say the truth to shame the devil. Never allow evil fester in your heart. Keep your mind pure from all lustful desires and immoral thoughts. Even if there is no one to defend you, God, who is your true shepherd will not forsake you.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, clean my heart from all impurity. Amen. Bible Study: Daniel 13:1-62, Psalm 23 and John 8:12-20).

Fr. Abu

No Matter What, What You Believe is True

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“Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living.” (John 4:50-51)

“No matter what they tell you, no matter what they do, no matter what they teach you, what you believe is true, and that would keep you safe and strong and sheltered from the storm.” These lines from one of my favourite songs of all time suddenly came alive to me as I reflected on today’s Gospel passage. There was an official whose son was ill. He went to Jesus to beg him to come down and heal his son because he was at the point of death. Surprisingly, the same Jesus who was willing to go to the Centurion’s house was not willing to go with the official to his house. Jesus seemed to even test this man’s faith by saying: “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The official simply said: “Sir come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him: “Go, your son will live.” At this point, the man did not push further. Why? He believed Jesus completely. And upon reaching his home, he found his son fully recovered.

I once read somewhere, “Faith is the evidence of things not seen and the reward of faith is to see those things you believe.” Whatever you believe becomes your reality. As the song puts it, no matter what they say, your beliefs are always true. Maybe it is time to re-examine your beliefs. Positive beliefs are called “hopes, dreams, goals, visions.” While our negative beliefs are called “fears, anxieties or worries.” Don’t die before your time! Drop your fears, forget what anyone has to say, no matter what your situation may be right now, have a positive look at it again. Stop complaining and look out for the silver lining in your cloud. Start thanking God instead, start expecting better. COVID-19 is here, but Jesus is still here. Churches are closed but Heaven hasn’t stopped attending to mankind. It is reasonable to fear and exercise caution, but it is even more reasonable to pray and hope. The words of Jesus “ask and you will receive…” are still true. (Matthew 7:7)

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, help me understand I can change my reality by changing my mind. Amen.

Stop Complaining; Every Challenge is an Opportunity

When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.’” (John 5:6-7)

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There are three categories of people in this world; thinkers, talkers and doers. Thinkers understand the problem, talkers broadcast the problem but only doers apply solutions to eliminate the problem. The man in today’s Gospel passage was obviously a talker. Talkers don’t listen; they just want to be heard; they are professional complainers! Jesus asked this man a simple question: “Do you want to be healed?” (A simple yes or no question.) He burst into complaints. Are you like this man? How often do you narrate your problems to the world? Maybe it is time you repent, maybe it is time you stopped complaining and start looking at Jesus standing in front of you. Yes, you may have suffered for long but all that history is unnecessary.

This man had so much faith in the curative power of the pool of Bethzatha when it is stirred. That this water could heal when stirred shows the power of God as Ezekiel testifies in today’s first reading. Have you concluded that there is only one type of solution to your problem? Jesus saw a lot of people there but his attention was drawn to this man because he had been there for a very long time. The truth is that even our problems are “blessings” in disguise. Stop complaining, there is still a brighter side to your situation. After Jesus had cured this man, Jesus said something quite striking to him: “See you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.” John 5:14. What could be worse than suffering from sickness for 38 years? Living in sin! There are a lot of scary information out there supposedly coming from experts concerning COVID-19. If God wishes to cleanse humanity once again, who are we to question Him? Why not run into Noah’s ark today! Repent.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, increase my hatred for sin. Amen. Bible Study: Ezekiel 47:1-12, Psalm 46 and John 5:1-16).

Powerful Things Happen when we Say “YES” to God

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

Today is March 25. It is exactly 9 months before Christmas. On this day, Mary gave her consent, her fiat, her “I do” to God’s Divine Proposal. On this day, that great miracle happened; through the powerful overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, the baby Jesus, the word of God, became flesh right inside Mary’s womb. Today’s feast is a reminder that God does not force his way in our lives. He works in us only with our consent. As one Saint said, God created us without our consent but He will not save us without our consent. We always have a choice either to say “Yes” or “No” to God’s plans for our lives.

Great things happen when we allow God have His way in our lives. The book of Hebrews says: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, burnt offerings and sin offerings you take no pleasure but Behold, I have come to do your will.” Nothing makes God more pleased as seeing His children doing His will. “You shall conceive in your womb and bear a Son and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.” How happy God must have been when Mary said “Let it be done!” Mary’s acceptance became the beginning of the fulfilment of God’s promises to the people of Israel which the all prophets spoke about.

Mary is that Virgin Isaiah spoke of as a sign to the people of Israel that God has finally sent them the Saviour they have been expecting. Yet, God requested for her consent. God wants to do great and wonderful things through you but He needs you to say “Yes.” Yes to righteousness, yes to the will of God. Another lesson we learn today is that we are not merely products of biology. God knew us before we were formed in our mothers’ womb. Respect life. Respect the unborn. Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, use me like Mary to bring your word to life. Amen. Bible Study: Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10, Psalm 40, Hebrews 10:4-10 and Luke 1:26-38).

Fr. Abu

 Stop Looking Down on what is Yours.

 

I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah…. Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:25-27)

In truth, the grass always looks greener on your neighbour’s lawn. There is a natural human tendency amongst humans to look down on what they have. There is the saying in pidgin: “pikin wei say he mama soup no sweet nai dey chop poison outside.” The people that saw Jesus grow up from his childhood days could not bring themselves to the realization that Jesus is God among men. They looked down on Jesus. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Jesus did not even do many miracles there. When he went to their synagogue, Jesus had to confront them with the bitter truth. “Why is it that you cannot appreciate a prophet from your town? Why do you always look down on what is yours? It is because of this attitude that Elijah was sent to Zarephath. There were many lepers in your town but none of them was healed except Naaman the Syrian.” This did not go down with Jesus’ audience. They took Jesus out of the city and led Him to the brow of the hill on which the city was built intending to throw him down headlong. But Jesus escaped. This is always the fate of those who are bold enough to tell people the truth. The question now is: “Do I value what is my own?”

Even Naaman almost lost out of his supernatural healing because he looked down at the Jordan River. Of course, it was not the cleanest river in the world. Thanks to his servants who spoke sense into his head; it wasn’t the water itself that would cleanse him but his faith in God. There are some people who argue that unless baptism is done in the river, it is not valid since Jesus was baptised in a river. Following the strength of this argument, one may say unless baptism is done in the very river that Jesus was baptised, it is not valid. And we may even further extend it by saying unless it is John the Baptist himself that is performing the baptism, then it is not valid. Dear friends, baptism is valid so long as water is used. Just as it wasn’t the river that cured Naaman, water by itself does not wash our sins but God.

Dear friends, do not make the mistake of the people of Nazareth. Be content with what is yours. Value your own. Value the Church, understand its sacraments. Deepen your faith.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, increase faith in me. Amen.  Bible Study: 2nd Kings 5:1-15, Psalm 42 and Luke 4:24-30).

 Employ your Gifts for one another.

“Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1st Peter 4:9-10)

Every human being is a bundle of potentials. Made in the image and likeness of God, there is virtually no limit to the range of human positive possibilities.One of my favourite quotations goes thus: “It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us the most.” When we actually consider what we are capable of doing if we let our light shine, we become scared of ourselves. There is so much good inside of us waiting to be explored, waiting to be shared, waiting to be discovered and used by the millions of people out there. There is so much you can do for God. We exist to be good. We are alive to touch people positively. It all begins with allowing our inner light to shine.

If you have the talent of speaking, let your words be uplifting, if serving is your talent, serve as though you are an Angel from heaven, if it is writing, then write what is true and beneficial to your readers. Whatever is your gift, use it to build up the community. Peter was shocked when his net caught such a huge catch of fish on a broad daylight. He had worked all night long without any success but only reluctantly threw his net into the sea at the command of Jesus. Peter represents a lot of people in our world who have no idea of their potentials until they meet Jesus. And just as Peter obeyed the word of Jesus to cast his net into the sea, we would all be surprised what we are capable of doing, if only we decide to obey God’s words every day of our life.

We remember St. Patrick today, a man who like Peter fully explored his spiritual potentials making such a huge catch of souls in Ireland. So much so that the faith was firmly established in that country. Virtually every family had a priest or sister. And by extension, we are eternally grateful to the Irish missionaries who evangelized our country Nigeria. Through one man St. Patrick, millions have been touched. Do you know what you are capable of doing if you just let your light shine???

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, use me till nothing else is left of me. Amen. Bible Study: St. Peter 4:7-11, Psalm 96 and Luke 5:1-11).

Fr. Abu

Love is the Essence of Worship

 

“And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to ask him any question” (Mark 12:34). Reading through the Gospels, we are not used to seeing Jesus commend the scribes and Pharisees, but today we hear Jesus say to a Scribe that he is not far from the kingdom of God. So what is that thing that can make us close to heaven? It is our ability to make love a priority in our lives.

As Jesus told the Scribe, the first and most important of all the commandments is: “To love God with all your heart, soul and mind” and “to love your neighbour as yourself.” The truth is that once we are committed to loving God and our neighbours as ourselves, we cannot sin. How? Loving God demands that we keep the first three commandments and loving our neighbour entails keeping the remaining seven. If we love our neighbours as ourselves, we would obey our parents, we will not kill or steal or commit adultery. We would not lie or covert our neighbour’s goods or spouse. Loving God demands that we do not serve other gods; that we keep His name holy and we honour the Sabbath day.

The prophet Hosea speaks to us today in our first reading: “Return to the Lord your God” that is to say, leave your idols, stop worshipping false gods and come back to God. Has the love of God died in your heart? Are you finding it very difficult to pray? Do you consider time spent in church as wasted? These are clear signs that your heart has found another love and if you check very well, you have started bowing to other gods such as money, position, prestige, pleasure, achievement and the likes. Love is not just a feeling, but a decision. Love is a sacrifice. Jesus praised the Scribe because he understood that: “to love our neighbour as ourselves is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” What you love is what you sacrifice for.Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, break my heart of stone so that I can love you and my neighbours better. Amen.  Bible Study: Hosea 14:2-10, Psalm 81 and Mark 12:28-34).

Stop Competing with Others; God Sees the heart

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

There is a widespread dis-ease affecting many of us today. It is called “comparing ourselves with others.” The symptoms of this disease include: using other people to measure one’s progress in life, doing everything in one’s power to put people down, and make them look small and unimportant, talking about people in a bad light and praying against others. In my country, there is a type of generator called “I beta pass my neighbour.” This philosophy of “beta pass neighbour” is so entrenched in our psyches that we never appreciate anything we have unless we are sure it is bigger, better, more sophisticated or more expensive than that of others. Until we learn to complement rather than compete with people, the world would forever remain a place of enmity; a jungle of some sort; an animal kingdom where the strongest survive at the expense of the weak. Knowing the weaknesses of others should not make us puffed with pride, it should make us think of ways to help them up. This requires humility; humility to know that your level in life came not by your power but by the grace of God and others who helped you in the past.

The second man in the parable of Jesus came before God to pray and without raising his eyes to heaven simply said: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” In the end, his prayer was accepted but the Pharisee only prayed to himself. As the Prophet Hosea makes us understand: “God desires mercy and not sacrifice.” Examination of conscience does a lot of good for us; not only does it draw us closer to God (who loves the sinner but hates the sin), it also helps us forgive those who hurt us. Do you consider yourself better than anyone in anyway? Then it is time to start examining your conscience. Above all, stop comparing yourself with others. Acknowledge your sins and each day strive to be a better you than what you were the previous day. Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to be content and help me examine my heart diligently. Amen.

 Hosea 6:1-6, Psalm 51 and Luke 18:9-14).

Fr. Abu

The Blind Man, COVID-19, Jesus and the Rest of Us

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FILE – This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9:2-3).

When bad things happen, we humans remember God. We turn to God for solution, but when it seems as though God is not providing fast solutions, we conclude that God does not exist; we behave like the Israelites who almost stoned Moses in the wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land. We say all kinds of things against God, against His Church and against those who still believe.

In the wake of COVID-19, millions of unbelievers across the world have risen up to attack the body of Christ with everything they can. Being a priest, I have heard so much already. The summary of what they are saying is: “It is either there is no God or God is using this virus to punish you all for your sins.” This was exactly the position of the disciples of Jesus when they asked Jesus about the man born blind. They simply wanted to know if it was the man’s fault or his parents fault. This brings us to our lessons for today:

1. God Has a Purpose for Everything.
God alone knows why the world is facing this pandemic. As Jesus said: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that God might be made manifest.” We should not be too quick to conclude that COVID-19 is as a result of this or that person’s sin. We do not know if the virus is a biological weapon manufactured in a laboratory by terrorists, if it was a result of eating raw animals as food, if it was because of a snake or a bat or if it was specially designed to fight a trade war between world economic powerhouses. We have heard several theories, but God alone has the answers and who are we to question God?

For those who have concluded that churches are merely business centres set up just to milk gullible people of their hard-earned money, the COVID-19 has further strengthened their position. For them, if the church cannot miraculously end the pandemic or cure its victims, if even priests could die of the virus, then the church has failed and does not deserve their membership ever again. Note that this was the same attitude of those who mocked Jesus on the cross: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. (If) he is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42). As many are laughing at the church today, do not lose your trust in God. We are yet to see the full story.

2. Jesus is More Than Just a Miracle Worker.
If you believe that Jesus is just a mere miracle worker, it means that you can afford to toss Him away when your expected miracle does not come. If you consider Jesus as nothing more than a miracle worker, it means that Jesus is just one out of many options you can try. This is the reason why despite the avalanche of miracle-centres, millions of miracles and testimonies in our churches, evil, immorality, corruption, decadence and vice continue to increase. We come to church to ask the miracle worker for help only to return to our vices just as we visit the hospital for treatment only to return to our former unhealthy habits.

Did Jesus work miracles? Yes. Did Jesus come only to work miracles? No. Every miracle Jesus worked was a sign, a pointer to some deeper reality. Jesus was never content with just being a miracle worker. Jesus disappointed those who came seeking for a sign to believe. He called them an evil and adulterous generation (Cf. Matthew 12:39). Jesus often told the beneficiaries of his miracles not to broadcast it (Cf. Mark 7:34). Jesus lambasted the towns where most of His miracles were worked because they refused to repent afterwards (Cf. Matthew 11:21, Luke 10:13). Note that there were some people who could not receive miracles from Jesus, these were his townsfolk (Cf. Mark 6:5). In fact, Jesus never claimed He was going to end world poverty (Cf. Matthew 26:11).

To walk away from the church because your miracle did not happen or because of COVID-19, it means you never knew Jesus. In our Gospel passage, we see that Jesus was not merely interested in curing this man’s blindness. His principal mission was to open the eyes of the Scribes and Pharisees who were blind to the Divinity of Jesus. The curing of the blind man was symbolic of the revelation that Jesus is the Light of the world. Jesus cured the blind man so that through Him the religious leaders in the temple (the blind guides) may see. Hence, Jesus met the man later to convert him by asking: “Do you believe in the Son of man?” A true Christian does not depend on miracles to believe. A true Christian knows that miracles are merely signs, stepping stones, helps provided by God to deepen our relationship with Him. Just as in the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, Jesus showed that He is the Living Water, the curing of the blind man was simply an occasion for Jesus to show that He is the Light of the World.

3. To Live in Sin is to be in Darkness.
If Christ is the Light of the world, then we who claim to be Christ-like should also shine as bright stars in the world. We should have no business with the works of darkness. St. Paul tells us in our second reading today: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” Once upon a time, I saw a short video clip on YouTube. A lady was taking her bath and a young man started spying on her from his balcony upstairs. The young man was sure that nobody was looking at him and the lady had no idea that this young man was watching. The young man must have considered himself lucky to be spying on her at that time and he kept looking until he lost control of himself and fell from the balcony breaking his head and his bones. The video ended with the note: “Your secret sins will always expose you in public.”

If we say we belong to the light, then our hearts must be filled with light. We cannot partake of darkness secretly and then pretend to be children of light in public. When Saul disappointed God and became rejected as King of Israel, God told Samuel to go and anoint a new king for Israel from the house of Jesse. This is where our first reading today comes from. Jesse presented his sons before Samuel. Like the Pharisees, they were all good looking in sight but God said: “Do not look at appearance because the Lord does not see as men see; man looks at outward appearance but God looks at the heart.” In terms of outward appearance, David was like the blind man in our Gospel reading, he was not tall and did not look like a person who could be king but inwardly David had the heart of a king. Do I radiate light from my heart? Am I so filled with darkness inwardly?

4. You Have a Calling to Evangelize.
Despite seeing that an obvious miracle had happened, the Scribes and Pharisees in their blindness were determined by all means to tarnish the image of Jesus Christ. First they threatened the parents of the man who was born blind, then upon meeting the man, they tried to make him deny Jesus because for them, Jesus is a law breaker (He healed on a Sabbath Day). COVID-19 has created a world where non-believers do all they can to dismiss Jesus as the Saviour of the World. Many of those whose faith are not strong will find it very hard to return if we fail to evangelize the world. This is a time for us to encounter the Scribes and Pharisees of our world and share our story. This is a time for us to proclaim like the blind man: “One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25). Like the Samaritan woman who ran into the village to proclaim Jesus, we who can see (we who have the light of Christ in us, we who have been cured of our blindness of unbelief) must go out and proclaim Christ to the world.

Conclusion
We are living in a perilous moment. The world as we know it is experiencing changes never imagined before. The world may never be the same again. This is not a time to panic as if catching the virus is itself a death sentence. Why are we afraid to die? Who can escape death when his or her time comes? Have we suddenly forgotten that this world is not our home? This is not a time to start complaining like the Israelites who forgot the great deeds of God in Egypt all because they found themselves in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. God alone knows why COVID-19 pandemic is spreading the way it is. Only God knows why the man was born blind. This is a time for us to remember the deeds the Lord has done for us in the past, a time to count our blessings and not lose hope.

This is a time to worship God in spirit and in truth. Christianity is not all about Church, Church, Church. If the Government says we should not gather in the church (even though they failed to ban public transportation, markets and other forms of gathering) then, let us now enter the Church that is inside our hearts and worship God. Let us repent from the darkness of sin and walk in the light of Christ. Sin is a virus far worse than COVID-19 because it destroys us quietly from within. God takes no delight in punishing us for our sins, rather God seeks above anything else that we repent and come back to Him. As we repent, let us evangelize not just with our words, but with our good examples.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, open my eyes that I may come out of my darkness. Amen. Bible Study: 1st Samuel 16:6-13, Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-38).

Fr. Abu

Just Trust and Obey God’s Words

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Give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, gives you” (Deuteronomy 4:1).

We live in a digital age, a world of limitless possibilities; a world where knowledge about any subject is so readily available at the snap of one’s finger. The classroom has been completely revolutionized by the smartphone.

Dear friends, long before the internet, long before the smartphone, long before life became so complicated; God has already given us the greatest and simplest do-it-yourself manual. A complete guide on how to achieve the very best life possible. It is the word of God; the commandments given to us for life. The most unfortunate reality is that we tend to see God’s laws as burdensome or difficult to keep. Why is it so easy for us to trust a do-it-yourself-video on the internet believing we would build that machine, but we do not trust God enough to follow His instructions step by step? The key to achieving the life that God so desires for us is simply to TRUST God enough that He means well for us by giving us these instructions and OBEY them with all our mind, with all our heart and with all our soul.

Jesus in our Gospel passage today adds: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them…. till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” This statement of Jesus is very heavy. One, it reveals that there would surely come a time when heaven and earth will pass away. Recent events around the world leave us with no doubt that this earth can actually crumble like a pack of cards and all we have ever trusted pass away within a twinkle of an eye. Secondly, it reveals that the law is for a purpose, there is a mission that must be accomplished on earth.Jesus then concluded by making us realize that it is not enough that we obey the commandments of God, we must be generous enough to teach others to obey these commandments. We must show good examples. This is how we become great in the kingdom of heaven.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, increase my trust in you and help me to obey. Amen. Bible Study: Deuteronomy 4:1-9, Psalm 147 and Matthew 5:17-19).

St. Joseph: Perfect Example of a Just Man

“… and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)

Whenever we take a closer look at the person of Joseph, the husband of Mary, we soon realize that we tend to take St. Joseph for granted not because we like to ignore him but because we naturally assume Jesus alone deserves all our attention. There are a lot of lessons to learn from this great man, Joseph, some of which we would now try to itemize:

1. St. Joseph was a just man.
The Bible refers to Joseph as a just man. (Matthew 1:19).This means he was a man of integrity. He was well respected in the community. He had a good name. He was a man of justice. He was not a wayward person and he believed in doing what is right at all times. Can it be said about me that I am a just person? Do I practice selective integrity?

2. St. Joseph did not take joy in seeing the Pain of others.
St. Joseph was unwilling to put Mary to shame despite learning of her pregnancy before they came to be together as husband and wife. When I happen to suspect others of doing wrong, what is my immediate reaction? Do I keep things to myself or begin to gossip and announce to others?

3. St. Joseph was Obedient to God at his own expense.
We are told that when Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the Angel of the Lord had commanded him. He agreed to play the role of a foster father to the Son of God. This meant that he agreed to live as a celibate for the rest of his life for the sake of Jesus Christ.

His own form of celibacy would even be more demanding given that unlike other celibates, he would have to live in the same house with a woman not related to him. Can I make a sacrifice for God? Am I only interested in what I can get from God rather than what I should give to God? Am I faithful to the demands of my calling in life? Do I keep my vows and promises to God?

4. St. Joseph was a Man of Faith.
It takes great faith to agree to do what Joseph did for Jesus and Mary. Do you notice that God only spoke to him through dreams? Unlike the case of Mary and Zechariah who had an Angel appear to them in broad day, Joseph had to depend on his dreams.

It takes great faith to believe that what we see in our dreams is not simply a figment of our imagination. It takes Faith to believe that a young woman would actually conceive without knowing a man. Do I put a limit in my mind to what God can do? Do I really believe that with God, all things are possible? Am I willing to act based on what God reveals to me daily through my study of the scriptures?

In today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds us of Abraham, a man of faith, who hoped against hope that he would be the father of many nations and he was not disappointed in the end. St. Joseph too is a kind of Abraham in that he believed the message of the Angel and agreed to be the earthly Father of Jesus Christ, this way giving credence to the prophecy of Nathan which we read about in today’s first reading. An offspring from the house of David whose house shall be established forever.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, may your earthly father, Joseph intercede for me. Amen. Bible Study: 2 Samuel 7:4-16, Psalm 89, Romans 4:13-22 and Matthew 1:16-24).

Fr. Abu

The Measure You Give is the Measure You Get Back.

 

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“Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” (Luke 6:38)

I am sure you are quite familiar with this verse of the Bible; “give and it shall be given unto you.” You hear it at fund raising events, you hear it sang by the choir when your donations are requested. It may interest you to note that Jesus was not even talking about money when he said these words.

Jesus was talking out being merciful to others, forgiving people, refraining from passing judgement and condemnation on others. Jesus was talking about loving our enemies. By giving so that it will be given unto us, Jesus was actually re-echoing the words of the prayer which he taught us: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” For if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses.

Our first reading today contains the prayer of Daniel for and on behalf of the nation of Israel. The bottom line of this prayer is a plea for God’s mercy over the sins of the people. “To the Lord belongs mercy and forgiveness because we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.”

If God forgives us our faults, we too should forgive others. On Saturday, we heard Jesus say “be perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect” and we noted that the essence of this perfection is loving our enemies. Today, Jesus is saying: “be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” If we say God is our Father, we must resemble Him by treating people with mercy, kindness and compassion.

The opposite of mercy is condemnation. To condemn is to write off a person as good for nothing, irredeemable, beyond repair and disposable. If God never gives us on us, why should we give up on our fellow human beings. As our responsorial psalm sings: “O Lord, do not treat us according to our sins.” If this is our prayer, then we too should not treat people according to their sins.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, give me a merciful heart like yours. Amen.  Bible Study: Daniel 9:4-10, Psalm 79 and Luke 6:36-38).

Fr. Abu