Only The Free Can Love

No doubt the saying, “I love you” is overrated today. We often say it without actually meaning it. To mean it, and to actually love, we have to be free of ignorance. We have to know what to love means. It means, first to become the best for the other. Second, it means to give or wish the other the best. Third, it means giving without any reason.

We also have to free ourselves from hatred, bitterness, anger, jealousy, envy, any grudges or any unforgiven wrong. Love entails fore-giving, giving before even the other can ask for the gift. It is a cross to say the least. But it is also the joy of the resurrection. However, what we hold against others prevents us from loving them. We have to free ourselves to love.

It is the free, those who hold nothing against the other that can see the good in them and love them. It is the free, those who are comfortable in their own skins that can make others comfortable. It is the free, those who have experienced God’s love that can love truly. It is the free, those who love without counting the cost that can say, Happy Valentine, “I love you”.

Fr. Francis Afu

Join me in Thanking God

“God must be reckless in choosing me to be a priest”, those were the words I uttered four years ago after my ordination. To date, I can’t get my head around the fact I am a priest, carrying this treasure in dirty hands. This is the height of God’s trust. He trusts me enough to allow me to serve Him. This is a privilege. Today, I ask you to thank God for this grace.

Earth is a very important Hebrew word. In fact, Genesis 2: 7 says that “God gathered the dirt and formed man, and then breathed life into him”. Notice how He gathered the dirt, which suggests, His hands were soiled. But that isn’t all, He still forms us day by day out of our own mess. Thank God for the mess and dirt. They are raw materials in God’s hands.

But life isn’t just about what we get out of it. It is also, and very importantly about what we give back. No doubt, this comes at a cost. Often, not many of us are ready to pay the price. Imagine daring to do the impossible, taking the risks and not being ashamed of making mistakes, but trusting in God. Thank God for His image in you. Thank God we are His hands and feet.

Fr. Francis Afu

Cast into the Deep

What deep? Is it God’s mercy? Not a bad attempt! For His mercy is like an ocean. We are to throw in our nets, for a catch of His goodness. Yes, we might have toiled all night and caught nothing. Perhaps, we tried to do it our own way. We felt our expertise, our skills were all we needed to find Him. But there is more – His Grace. He is the One that finds us.

He meets us where we are. Not minding how far away we have strayed from Him. There is enough water to wash us clean… enough fish to feed us… enough to catch and to share with others. See how He goes out of His way, calling us. “Come”, He says, “cast into the deep”. Cast into my heart. Take what you find. Don’t be afraid. There is no harm.

Yes, we are surprised with His kindness. We didn’t expect Him to be so good to us after all we have done. We look at ourselves. We settle for our weakness. But it isn’t all about us. It is about Him too. “Don’t be hard on yourself”, He cries. I came for you. I can see you. I know you. But I can’t remember your actions. Trust me. Let down the net. Catch!

Fr. Francis Afu

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019

Often, it is at our lowest moments, when all hope is gone that God shows up. He breaks in to reorder our lives, to do what He alone can do. This is as true of us, as it is true of biblical figures like Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James and John. In our First reading from Isaiah 6:1-8, the prophet opens with a detail that at first may appear irrelevant, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death”. But on a deeper reflection, it is Isaiah telling us something about his state of mind, his grief.

King Uzziah was a great king. He was faithful to God. He sought the Lord. He did what was right in the sight of God. He was very successful, and Israel prospered. However, he became obsessed with his successes and disobeyed the Lord. Pride set in, and he turned his back on God. He even went to the extent of offering in the Temple, the sacrifice that only a priest could offer. He was stricken with leprosy and he later died. Isaiah was caught up with all this.

He struggled with the successes, the sudden failure of Uzziah. He might have looked up to the king. He had his questions. He prayed, but there wasn’t any answer. Rather, there was silence. It was during all this that he saw the Lord seated on a high throne and he heard the seraphs cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. His glory fills the whole earth”. God revealed Himself to Isaiah who at the time might have been blaming Him for Uzziah’s plight.

This encounter blew Isaiah’s mind. He couldn’t understand why God was good to him when he couldn’t even trust God. There was God reaching out to him, not to condemn him, but to allow him to experience His goodness. This experience humbled Isaiah. It made him acknowledge his sinfulness. Thus, he cried “What a wretched state I am in! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips…” This is mercy. This is grace.

Mercy, that is God seeing more in Isaiah. He sees more than our action. He sees me. He sees you. He sees who we can be, not just who we are. As a result, He doesn’t give us the punishment our sins deserve. Grace, that is God giving us Himself and He allows us to experience His saving action. This is very evident in the life of St. Paul. For all we know, Paul deserved to die. He was a murderer. And He was out to murder more people (Acts 9). Why didn’t God kill him?

Because God in his mercy saw more than Paul’s sins. He saw the saint in the sinner. He also sees more than your sins. So, don’t give up. Like Isaiah, Paul’s encounter with the mercy and grace of God led him to acknowledge his sinfulness. He too was lost. He had lost his purpose in life. Unfortunately, he didn’t know this until the Lord found him. This is grace – God finding us, redefining our purpose. Notice, it is the Lord who took the initiative and found him.

But Paul didn’t just sit back and waste his life waiting on the Lord to find him. He also took the initiative to find God. He became a faithful Jew. He was zealous in keeping the commandment and traditions of Judaism. Although he went about it the wrong way, God found him and redirected his steps. Isiah also did the same. He took his grief, his pain to the Lord in prayer. Peter in the Gospel reading from Luke 5:1-11 was also searching for God in his trade.

Yes, fishing might not have been his calling! Perhaps, that was his mistake. But he didn’t know that for sure. He had to take the risk and trust God would direct him. He was bold enough to search for the Lord in the place where he was experienced, in something he was good at. God saw this. He saw how Peter was putting his talents and treasures to good use. As a result, Jesus met him half way and offered him a new direction in life. God wants to meet us half way too.

He wants us to take own step for He has taken the first step already. He wants us to take the risk. We don’t have to wait for the perfect moment. He has perfected all times. We don’t have to get all the details right. He is with us to guide us. All we must do is to say, “Here I am Lord, I have come to do your will”. No doubt, we may go wrong. But He will find us and redirect our steps. This is the beauty of God’s mercy. We don’t earn it, but we must be prepared for it.

Unfortunately, many of us are too hard on ourselves. We dwell more on our sins than on the mercy of God. We are like Peter who in the face of God’s mercy preferred the Lord to depart from him. The Lord didn’t come to us because of our perfection. He came to us because we, His sons and daughters had lost our way. Remember, He said, “I came for the lost sheep, for sinners”. So, don’t let your sins hold you back from the Lord. Rather, let Him have your sins.

For sin distorts our vision. It blinds us from seeing our true purpose. Thus, the Lord urges us, “Do not be afraid” to let go of your sins. Perhaps, it has been a long time since you went to confession. Today, is a good day to find a priest and confess your sins. Repent of them. No sin is too big for the Lord to forgive. Remember, “Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future”. The Lord has found you. So, cast your net into the deep of His mercy and have a big catch.

St. Pope John Paul II sums all this up when he said, “Duc in Altum (cast into the deep): these words ring for us today and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look to the future with confidence. ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). In other words, He is alive. He is calling us out of our own realities into His own reality. Let’s fall before Him in worship and follow Him.

Fr. Francis Afu

Seasons of Love

What else can we say about love? Perhaps, we could say it is a living organism. It lives and grows in seasons. In some seasons, it blossoms with fresh flowers. In other seasons, it is dead dry, with no leaves let alone flowers. In another season it is warm, bright and very charming. And still in another season, Winter, it is cold, wet and miserable.

To expect love to be always charming is to expect all seasons to be Spring, which isn’t reality. So, just as we go through seasons in life, we should be open to the seasons of love. We should prepare for these seasons. In the Autumn of love, we should get ready for Winter. We should get the warm clothes of kindness, listening and communication.

In the Winters, we should develop the patience, the hope that will keep us warm and happy despite the misery of the cold. In the Springs and Summers, we should smile, rejoice and be thankful for the charm, the romance, the special gifts received. In the rains, the storms, we should never forget the shelter of prayer: trusting that they too shall pass away.

Fr. Francis Afu

Love Never Ends

It is a line we hear all the time, especially at weddings. Couples promise each other their undying love. “I will love you and my love for you will never end”. Isn’t that romantic and beautiful? Yes, we mean it when we say, “my love for you will never end”. But I’m tempted to believe not many of us know how to keep love alive and let it stand the test of time.

Our biggest challenge is seeing love as an ideal, as perfection: there ought to be no problems, no opposition nor reaction. But the reality is that love is messy. It isn’t always nice and romantic. However, it is always beautiful and good. The beauty of love is revealed in the very ordinary and basic acts of “fore-giving”; giving the other the good for no reason.

From this comes forgiveness. In practical terms this means becoming the best for the other who at a time may be at his or her worst. It means not treating the other based on his or her actions, but seeing the other person as good enough to be loved and affirmed. This is hard and countercultural. But it is what keeps love alive to stand the test of time.

Fr. Francis Afu

Love is Reckless

“I am not quite sure Fr. Francis if that is true”. Perhaps, I used the wrong word Maggie. But what would you say about Christ loving and dying for us, not when we were for Him, but when we were outrightly against Him? There wasn’t any certainty when He died for us that we would love Him in return. Isn’t that recklessness; to act without calculating the consequences?

In the movie Hunter Killer, we find the US Commander Joe Glass being reckless. He loved without counting the cost. For what else could be more reckless than for him to rescue and protect the lives of four Russians including their president to the extent of putting the lives of 105 US crew and the US at risk? Nothing! But that is love, trusting, hoping, taking the risk.

This is what is so confronting about love and makes it difficult for us to love. For all it’s worth, who will risk his or her life to save another man with a gun at his head? It is only someone who is reckless like Christ. One who is able to dare, to hope that love conquers even the hardened of heart. Joe Glass had this hope, at the end, he made friends of his foes.

Fr. Francis Afu

Called to Love

What love? Is it erõs, the love that is self-centered? The love that is appetitive, that is, the love that seeks to derive pleasure or satisfaction for oneself. The love that has the tendency to take advantage, that uses the other without necessarily giving oneself. The love that is erotic. The love that could leave the lover empty, addicted and broken.

Or is it philía, the love that is mutual? The love that exists between friends, family with common interests. The love that is open to the other, that seeks the good of the other provided the other in turn seeks the good of the lover. Is it the love that is calculating? That keeps records, that leaves the lover bitter because he/she hasn’t been loved in return.

Perhaps, it is agapē, the love that is free of the self. The love that seeks the good of the other solely for the other. The love that has the capacity to bear all things, to trust, to hope and to be patient. The love that keeps no records, that readily excuses and that forgives. The love that hangs on the cross, that overcomes all things even death itself.

Fr. Francis Afu

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of In Ordinary Time, Year C 2019

Contemporary society seems delusional when it comes to approval ratings. There is a growing trend for acceptance, for popularity. Perhaps, these are symptoms of the deep-seated loneliness or the indifference that bedevils society. Ask anyone on social media, politician or even Church leaders, the slogan is similar “be careful not to ‘rock the boat’ lest you lose their approval”. So, for want of approval, we avoid confronting reality. We compromise the truth.

While this trend seems to be a growing concern in our time, it was also common in the time of Jesus. The Chief Priests, the Elders and the powers that be never wanted a figure that will upset the polity. They never wanted the Romans to come in and question them again. For the last time there was an uproar, the Romans warned them sternly. So, this accounts for their total approval of Christ. Unlike the prophets before Him, His words at first didn’t stir the polity.

But Jesus could see through the uneasiness growing among them. The uneasiness that comes from a false peace. The peace of avoiding issues, the truth. He could read their falsehood and their sheer hypocrisy. He could hear the unspoken story, which the fear of the Romans has silenced. However, unlike His contemporaries, He wasn’t afraid to lose their approval. For He knew what is lost in time, is gained in time and even better. Thus, He challenged the status quo.

All this was not without very serious consequences. As the Gospel reading from Luke 4:21-30 relays, “When they heard this (the truth they have been avoiding that He is the Messiah not just the son of Joseph), everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled Him out of the town; and took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw Him down the cliff, but He slipped through the crowd and walked away”.

Interestingly, today’s Gospel reading opens with verse 21“This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. While this text is referred to Isaiah prophecy of the Messiah, it could also be read in the context of today’s celebrations as referring to the First reading (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19). Here, God called the prophet Jeremiah to “Stand up and tell the people all that He has commanded him to say”. Note, this call comes with a burden and a promise.

The burden is that “Jeremiah is to tell the people all God had commanded him to say without fear. For if he is dismayed at their presence, in their presence God will make him, Jeremiah dismayed”. By extension, this burden rests on all of us who by baptism are prophets. Thus, we, like Jeremiah, are called to tell ourselves first, and then the people around us what God is saying or asking of us. We are to speak the truth of our origin, meaning, morality and destiny.

This is a heavy burden with grave consequences. For when we say what God is saying about marriage, we may lose our spouse. When we say what God is saying about politics, we may lose our job. When we say what God is asking of us in terms of how we shall live our lives, we may lose our friends, we may no longer be cool, and our approval ratings may go down. So, there is a crisis of conscience. We are caught between what God wants and what is safe for us.

On the other hand, the call also comes with a promise. In verses 18-19, the Lord promised Jeremiah, “I, for my part, today will make you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze to confront all this land: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the country people. They will fight against you but shall not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you – it is the Lord who speaks.” We are sharers in this promise by virtue of our baptism.

Thus, we can’t afford to be afraid of the consequences of standing up and telling ourselves and others what God is saying or asking of us. For God fulfilled the promise He made to Jeremiah by making it possible for Jesus to slip through the crowd and walk away. He will deliver us too from any situation we may find ourselves in when we speak on His behalf. Besides, the promise God made Jeremiah, He signed it in His Name. And God honours His Name.

But there is something more, something endemic in our society. It could be said that it is the main cause of our delusion in seeking approval. That is, the absence of love. We talk of love. We write about it and we even sing about it, but not many of us love. Perhaps, this is because we have not experienced love. St. Paul in the Second reading draws us to the reality of love. First, he tells us what love is not. It is not jealous nor rude. It doesn’t take pleasure in the sins of others.

Second, he tells us what love is. Love is patience. Love is kind. Love delights in the truth. Love is ever ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure all. Love never comes to end. Interestingly, Paul’s discourse on love was counter-cultural. It was met with violent reactions from the Corinthians. But Paul was still bold enough to speak of love despite their reactions because he had experienced God’s love. This experience drove away the fear of their disapproval.

For love isn’t afraid of disapproval since it has the capacity to endure all things. Love also has the capacity to trust all that God has promised. It has the capacity to wait on God to fulfil His promises even when the odds are against it. Love is bold because it is free of self-preoccupation. It doesn’t desire anything for its own gain. But it wishes, says and does all for the good of the other. Love is the only remedy for society’s delusion of approval. Love is our calling, our destiny.

Fr. Francis Afu

When the Odds are Against You

When the odds are against you, it is very common to conclude that you are the problem. Even your close friends may begin to question your integrity. Why you? Why must it always be you that have to go through the oddities of life, rough patches and ugly experiences? The Biblical Job was caught in this dilemma. The odds were against him.

But what his friends didn’t get was that, “he wasn’t the problem”. And what he too didn’t realise was that God was proud of him. In fact, God bragged about him before Satan. God knew Job too well. He knew He could trust Job with the privilege of going through bitter experiences. At the end, Job didn’t disappoint God. He remained faithful to God.

Come to think of it, the odds aren’t really against you. They are for you, to test and reveal your character. They may cut you back, but they can also set you up for God’s blessings. Job’s story (Job 42:1-17) confirms it. St. James puts this way, “My brothers, you will always have your trials but, when they come, try to treat them as a happy privilege…” (James 1:2-4).

Fr. Francis Afu

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