Category Archives: Solemnity

Homily for the solemnity of Mary, mother of God, 2019

Wow! We made it to 2019. Happy New Year to you and your family! I guess many of us are beginning the year with New Year Resolutions. We might have taken time to look at 2018 and have come up with a list of things we would like to change in 2019. There may be new dreams that we want to pursue. The New Year is pregnant with things that would fascinate and challenge us.

Typical of many of us, the language of our resolution is the “I”. I want to be that. I want to do this. I want, I want, I want. Somehow, we are driven by American self-determinism. “I am the captain of my ship and the ruler of my life. I get to decide what I want, what is right and who I would let into my life. No one can boss me around in 2019. My destiny is in my hands”.

It is interesting what Hans von Balthasar, a renowned Swiss Catholic Theologian, called this “I” language – the “Ego Drama”. He uses the Ego, the “I” Drama as a metaphor to describe life. While he acknowledges the extent to which our contemporary society is influenced by the I language, he also warned us of its danger: autocracy, and the “isms” as its aftermath. He could see at his time that the I language was leading us to absolute relativism.

So, in the light of Balthasar’s insight, I would like to caution our use of the I language. Now, this is not to state that the I is evil, and as such it should be avoided. For the Ego is part of God’s creation. And Genesis chapter 1: 31 reveals that all that God created was very good, including the I. However, after the fall, creation needed redemption. It needed to be enlightened by the light of the Gospel.

Consequently, Balthasar offers us another metaphor of life. He calls it “the Theo Drama”. “Theo” which is the Greek word for God. So, for Balthasar, “the Theo Drama” is the God Drama. It is the drama where the language changes from the I to the “we”; God and human beings. It is the drama that brings us all into dialogue with our Creator. The Drama that allows us, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Galatian 4:4-7, to call God “Abba! Father!” Affectivity!

In the Theo Drama, God is personal. He has feelings. He comes to us. He befriends us. He calls us out of our own reality, like the shepherds in the Gospel reading taken from Luke 2:16-21. It is pretty much like what the German Philosopher G.W.F. Hegel says about “the process of thinking, which entails a form of negotiation, and thus a degree of self-displacement, so that the self-examined mental life requires a move away from solipsism and self-preoccupation”.

So, the shepherds in encountering the Christ Child, were displaced. But that displacement became an opening for God’s grace. It became the path through which God led them to the bigger reality. The reality that filled them with awe and praise of the goodness of God. The shepherds as we heard in the Gospel reading couldn’t contain this awe, they had to announced it to others.

Friends, the Theo Drama doesn’t just make us exclusive characters in the drama. It sends us out; to go and tell the whole world what we have experienced, the fulfilment of God’s promises, which is an assurance that He will fulfil His promises to us too. It sends us to make disciples. It summons us, breaks us, moulds us so that God can use us to achieve His purposes in life.

So, as we make our New Year resolutions, we should be able to state clearly what we want using the I language. But we should also ask the Lord, what does He want of us in 2019. Where is He leading us? What areas of our lives does He want us to change? The benefit of the Theo Drama is that it fosters healthy relationships and it brings about the civilisation of God’s love.

Mary was civilised by God’s love. She took part in the Theo Drama from the moment her parents dedicated in the Temple. She depended on God and did what the Lord wanted of her. Thus, when the angel announced she will be the Mother of Christ, she joyfully said yes. Paraphrasing today’s Benedictus Antiphon, “in Mary’s womb, God became what He was not – man without losing what He has always being God”. Therefore, Mary is God’s Mother.

Perhaps, in the story of Mary becoming the Mother of God the drama might to have begun with the Ego. But I doubt if that was the case. Nevertheless, the language seems to have been that of the Theo Drama from the moment Mary became conscious of her life as a gift from God. This life, she gave it back to God so that she can become the person God created her to be.

Friends, this should be our journey this year – moving from the Ego Drama to the Theo Drama. For God desires our desires. He wants us to tell Him what we desire individually. But he also wants us to let Him lead us. I would conclude with a Hebrew Proverb. “God is light. Prosperity is His shadow. When you walk towards God, His shadow would follow you. But when you chase His shadow and ignore His light, His shadow would elude you”. Happy New Year!

Fr. Francis Afu

Homily for the Feast of Saint Stephen, 2018

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Martyrdom of Saint Stephen. What a day! Its tone and language seem to contradict the spirit of the season. Why on earth would the Church place this feast after Christmas day? Just when we are talking about the joy and happiness of the birth of the Christ Child, we are confronted with the reality of persecution, suffering, and death.

The language of the readings today doesn’t seem to have any undertone of joy. It is all straight talk, a sort of dungeon language. There is a conspiracy against Stephen. He is misunderstood. Perhaps, it is because he was a Hellenist Christian, that is, one who read the Scriptures in Greek and argued that the Christian Faith could only develop when it is separated from Judaism.

He wasn’t a conformist; dancing to the tune of the conventional wisdom of the time. He was a faithful Christian, who dared to stand out, to speak from the conviction of his new-found faith. He chose to live this faith looking backwards to the manger, where it all began. The story of God becoming man, which contradicted the mythology, philosophy and wisdom of the day.

The language even gets uglier when we read the Gospel from Matthew 10:17-22. “Beware of men”, Jesus warned. “They will hand you over to the Sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues… brothers will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men….”

This is horrible. It isn’t the kind of Gospel we should be reading after Christmas. But it is the Gospel the Church has chosen for us to listen to and to accept today. Why? Because it is part of our story. It is part of the story of the Christ Child. He didn’t come to fulfil our expectations of Him. In fact, He disappointed the people by challenging their expectations of the Messiah.

He was born in the manger, a stable that was filthy, messy and the smell was repugnant. Meanwhile, they expected Him to be born in the palace where everything was neat, perfectly kept with pleasing fragrance. He came as a helpless child, depending on His parents for protection instead of a conquering warrior protecting and defending His people. The Messiah!

He suffered. He could hear all that was happening even as a child lying in the manger. He could hear He was a threat to the powers that be, and they were after Him. He could hear the whispers of His parents: their fear, their anxiety. He could sense the helplessness of His parents who were meant to protect Him. He could feel their frustration. He witnessed their painful suffering.

So, from the very beginning, suffering has been part of the Christmas story. Thus, the joy of Christmas isn’t mere sentimentality. It is something real. It is the fruit of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The One who leads us to all truth; the truth of God’s victory over suffering. This is the cause of great joy. The joy Saint Stephen experienced in his persecution. The joy that made him to see and focus on the glory of God instead of the wickedness of evil.

It is the joy that makes sense of our suffering and helps us to look beyond its reality to the reality of God’s saving action. All this is evident in the Christmas story. Even though the Christ Child had to suffer, God had a plan. He saved Him and His parents from Herod and his evil intents. This joy, when it is experienced, it can help us to forgive our enemies and all who have hurt us in one way or another just as Saint Stephen did in Acts of the Apostles 6:8-7:59. Happy Christmas!

Fr. Francis Afu

Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2018

The language of Christianity is the language of paradox, wonder and mystery. There is always something unknown about the known, that leaves us in wonder; and sometimes we even stray from the mystery. We find traces of this language in the story of the Israelites. While they were a people of God, a people surrounded by His wonders, they were also a people that went astray.

There is a history to Israel abandoning God. It began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve couldn’t understand the mystery of God’s goodness. They couldn’t trust Him to wait for His plan for them to unfold. They were in a hurry to be like God, and independent of God. Thus, when the devil offered them what they wanted, they turned their backs on God.

This is Original Sin, that universal condition that makes us to distrust God; to say No to His Way; to choose to follow our own ways. It is the condition that betrays who we truly are. The First Reading from Genesis 3:9-15, 20 reveals the consequences of this condition: God’s voice frightens us; we realise we are naked without God; we hide from God; we blame others.

To redeem humanity from this condition, God chose a woman, Mary and granted her a singular grace and privilege that preserved her from Original Sin. This grace, according to Pius IX’s bull Ineffabilis Deus issued on December 8, 1854 was in view of the merits of Jesus Christ. It is the grace that reveals the Original Good: the capacity of humanity to trust God, abide in Him.

The Second Reading from Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12 speaks of God choosing us in Christ before the world was made. “He chose us in Christ to be holy (set apart wholly for the Lord) and blameless (unblemished), and to live through love in His presence…” This goes to confirm what Yves Congar said, “there are hints of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the bible”.

The obvious hint is found in the Gospel Reading from Luke 1:26-38. In verse 28, Luke used a Greek word Kecharitomene, which means Mary was full of grace all her life; fit for the Author of Grace. Notice how Gabriel greeted Mary, “Hail, Full of Grace”. At that time, it was normal that the greeting “Hail” was followed by a person’s title. “Full of Grace” was Mary’s title.

Typical of the time was the fact that a title or a name reveals the mission of the bearer. So, Full of Grace reveals that Mary was full of God’s Presence. She was unblemished, without any of the consequences of Original Sin. She was holy. This is confirmed by the interior freedom she expressed at the visit of the Archangel. She freely said Yes to God because she trusted Him.

So, where once distrust reigned, trust is now restored by the singular grace of God. Luke accounts for the possibility of this grace when he said, “with God all things are possible”. Friends, this is where the language of Christianity moves us from the paradox of distrust and trust, to the wonder of God’s goodness and then leaves us in the mystery of His revelation.

We are a people of mystery. To live without mystery, and to avoid participating in the paradoxes of life for want of certainty and clarity is to relive the Original Sin experience. Christ has freed us of this experience in baptism. Therefore, it is left for us to accept this freedom and participate with Mary in the mystery of the Original Good: trusting God and abiding in Him.

Fr. Francis Afu