Category Archives: Ordinary Season

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

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

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year c, 2019

Imagine a father who has a son Tom. He sincerely loves Tom, and he looks out for Tom. He has gone out of his way to demonstrate to Tom how much he loves him. But Tom doesn’t seem to appreciate his father’s love. Tom has consistently proven to his father that he doesn’t need him. In fact, Tom has rejected his father. He has treated him with deep seated hatred and contempt.

Tom, in a way, represents me and you. He represents the children of Israel prior to the coming of Christ, at the time of Christ and thereafter. He represents humanity’s attitude towards God. He represents the human person struggling with the condition of original sin, a sin which arises from a deep distrust of God. A sin of “self-love to the point of contempt for God”. It is a sin that cries out, “I don’t need God. I don’t need His laws. I can do it all by myself”.

The prophet Isaiah knew this condition too well. He knew that the consequences of original sin or any other sin aren’t just spiritual; they also have socio-political and economic implications. For the love of self when it is devoid of the love of God makes us less who we are. Thus, creating a valley in us; the valley of our distance from God, which St. Augustine defines as evil. It is the valley of darkness, the emptiness of our true identity, origin, meaning and purpose.

This valley is surrounded by the mountain of humanity’s pride. A condition that inflates our ego to the extent that we don’t recognise our emptiness anymore. This is the most dangerous plague of our contemporary society. It leaves us with the illusion that we are free. Meanwhile, we are everywhere in chains. This isn’t only typical of our times. The Israelites were no different. Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 exhorts, “Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low”.

How? By one who is humble enough to love God to the point of contempt of self. One “Who, though being divine in nature, He did not claim equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking on a nature of a servant, and being born in the likeness men became obedient unto death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). That is, the One who is sinless took on Himself our sins and entered our reality in order to reveal our true identity – sons and daughters of God.

By this one single act, Christ filled our emptiness with His presence. He revealed we are from God, loved by Him from all eternity and destined for love, for God. This is the meaning of our existence. This is our purpose. So, Christ’s baptism is a bold statement of God’s love. It is God loving us despite our attitude of contempt. It is God taking the initiative to show us how to live.

It is God redeeming us. Redemption here comes from the Latin word redimere, which means to regain. He is regaining our trust and also availing us the opportunity to regain His trust. For at the baptism of His Son, the Father spoke, not words of condemnation, but words of love, words that affirmed us in Christ Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”.

Thus, the effects of the baptism of the Lord reveals the effects of our own baptism. The Father declares Him to be His beloved Son, He also declares us to be His beloved sons and daughters. The Spirit descended on Him, just as the Spirit descended on us in our baptism, breathing into us the new life, the life of the Mystical Body of Christ. For baptism makes us members of His Body.

Notice the language used here – the Mystical Body of Christ. Not a mere institution nor a club as many would expect us to be, but a living Body with Christ as the Head and we the members. It is only natural that the members of a body follow where the head leads. So, it is expected of us the baptised to follow where Christ our Head is leading us. But to follow, we have to be one with the Head. We have to listen to Him. We have to depend on Him. We have to trust Him.

This is the responsibility of our baptism. It is the responsibility that regains what we have lost through pride and disobedience. It is the responsibility that enables us to experience what Paul spoke about in his letter to Titus 2:1-14,3:4-7, “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that doesn’t lead to God…” It is a responsibility that frees us to live for God.

Freedom here isn’t libertinism. It isn’t freedom to do what we like and when we like. It is freedom from all that holds us back from loving God. It is freedom that comes from our dependence on God. It is the freedom for God. Thus, baptism frees us from original and actual sins so that we can be free to be children of God and members of His Mystical Body, the Church. Until we experience this freedom, we can’t truly live out the Christian life with joy.

So, as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, let’s acknowledge the many times we have been preoccupied with ourselves to the point of rejecting God, His counsels and His laws. Let’s remember our baptismal promises and take up our responsibilities. Finally, let’s give up everything that doesn’t lead us to God so that we can be free for God and experience the freedom of being sons and daughters of God. Happy Feast Day of the Baptism of the Lord!

Fr. Francis Afu