Archive for April, 2009

You Are Witnesses of These Things

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Theological Reflection for 3rd Sunday of Easter (year B)

 April 26, 2009

1st Reading: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 2nd Reading:  1 Jn 2:1-5a; Gospel: Luke 24:35-48

“You Are Witnesses of These Things” (Lk 24:48)

‘Witness’ is defined as, to see, hear, or know by personal presence and perception. A witness, therefore, is someone who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard, or experienced.  In some serious cases the court requires some witnesses to testify or tell the story as it is. A witness always clarifies and helps the judge to make an adequate judgment about a cloudy situation. To be a ‘witness’ therefore is to accept a serious responsibility. In today’s gospel passage, we see the second part of the Emmaus account. The Emmaus account is the story of all those who meet Christ along the way and come to recognize Him. It shows the mysterious hidden-ness and presence of Jesus, which is very paramount to the gospel. Appearing to his disciples again Jesus gives them peace, he calms their fears, and clarifies their doubt (cf Lk 24:36-42). Finally, He opens their minds to understand the scriptures and sends them out to preach to all nations in his name. Giving them a serious responsibility the risen Lord declares; “You are witnesses of these things.” (Lk 24:48). What is the significance of this message? What challenge does it give us today?

The mysterious appearance of Jesus in the midst of His disciples shows a manifestation of some extraordinary power. Observably, the risen Lord is not constrained by time and space. He can appear anywhere, at anytime. The risen Jesus, however, cannot be confused with a ghost. In ancient belief, ghosts do appear in places but they can neither eat nor drink. Their actions also cannot have physical effect in the corporal world. The corporality of the risen Jesus as seen in today’s gospel passage shows that He is not a ghost. The resurrected (glorious) body is real, but uninhibited, by opaque bodies or things. Jesus eats fish and shows His hands and feet to prove to His disciples that He is not a ghost. He also allows them to touch him, “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:48).

Although resurrection is a matter of faith and cannot be proved scientifically it was somehow necessary for the disciples to see, and experience the risen Jesus so that may be authentic witnesses of that reality-Resurrection. In Christianity, witnessing comes from the experience of conversion. Christianity is about a personal experience of Jesus. This personal experience of unfathomable love of Jesus is what we share with the whole world in our proclamations. The apostles preached passionately and testified to the people of their time that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. Not even the threat of death was able to stop them. The apostles were arrested, jailed, and flogged several times but they were so convinced of their experience that they said to the Sanhedrin, “We would rather disobey you and die than disobey God by give up witnessing to the name of Jesus” (cf Acts 5:29).

Many of us did not see Jesus physically but (like Paul) we have encountered Him on many occasions. We continue to encounter him every day and everywhere. We meet Christ in prayers, in scripture, in the sacraments and, of course, we do encounter Him in one another. Although we might be experiencing difficulties of different kinds at this time, we should know that Jesus is always with us. The social, political, and economic problems, and the storms of secularism blowing against us today, are not enough reasons to stop us from witnessing the resurrection of Jesus. Through the sacraments we have been called, and empowered, to be witnesses and nothing can intimidate, or inhibit, us. In our moments of doubts and internal struggles, let us implore him to strengthen our faith.

Our daily tasks and struggles, sorrows and Joys are part of the witnessing we are talking about. Our Christian life is an ongoing witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The life, suffering, and death of Jesus are all together a package, and if we are witnesses of these we are not only doing that in words but also by our own lives. The Christian life can be summarized thus: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. You and I are witnesses of these things.   

Rejoice Always!

Fr. Clem Oyafemi

Divine Mercy Sunday

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Theological Reflection for Divine Mercy Sunday (year B)

April 19, 2009

1st Reading: Acts 4:32-35; 2nd Reading:  1 Jn 5:1-6; Gospel: Jn 20:19-31

 

Divine Mercy Sunday

            Today, the second Sunday of Easter, the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of Divine Mercy.Pope John Paul II made this celebration universal in the year 2000. Divine Mercy devotion, which came through the instrumentality of St. Maria Faustina, is a great treasure and blessing to the Church of our time. Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska was a polish nun who lived between 1905 and 1938. That time many of the church preachers focused more on “fire and brimstone” more than the merciful love and forgiveness of God. It was a time when many people went to church out of fear of going to hell. And Sunday Mass was more of an obligation than a celebration. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared to this simple nun (Feb22,1931) with a message of Mercy for all humankind.  Today, we are joyful to know and focus more on God’s mercy than our own weakness or faults. The Divine Mercy novena and prayers reveal the fact that the mercy of God is bigger than any human weakness or sin.   Our God is a God of mercy and we, as His children, need to know that.

              In today’s gospel passage the Lord Jesus appears to His disciples and shows them His hands and His side. The bible attests, “the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20) the resurrected Jesus confers on His disciples the mission of which He spoke in John 17:18, “As the Father sent me, even so I send you”. The mission of the Church is to perpetuate the work of divine salvation accomplished through Christ.   He breathed on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:22-23). What is the significance of this message? How does it apply to us today?

            The Holy Spirit is the agent of evangelization.  By breathing the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, the Lord Jesus gives life to them as a new creation just like God gave life to the first man, Adam, by His breath (cf Gen 2:7). In other words, by breathing the Holy Spirit into them, Jesus gives new life to His disciples. Jesus also empowers and commissions them to go and forgive sins. Why? Sin is the only thing that can prevent people from experiencing the joy of God’s Kingdom. Jesus died in order to destroy death and so by His rising he has restored us to life. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has freed us from the chains of sin. He also empowers His church to go and carry out that same mission of giving freedom, peace, and joy to every soul.  

            Today we are challenged as a church to continue to preach and bring the Divine Mercy to every soul. We who have experienced the mercy of God in Christ are challenged to bring it to others. For those of us who are not familiar with it let me use this medium to introduce to you the Divine Mercy Chaplet:

 

The Chaplet of Divine  Mercy

The Divine Mercy Chaplet is said on ordinary rosary beads. Novena intentions and prayers are encouraged to be said at 3:00pm daily. 3:00pm is known as the hour of Divine Mercy. That was the hour when Jesus gave up His Spirit.

Begin with the Sign of the Cross and say:

1 Our Father, 1 Hail Mary, and the Apostles Creed.

Then on the Our Father Beads say the following:

Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

On the 10 Hail Mary Beads say the following:
For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

(Repeat step 2 and 3 for all five decades)

Conclude with (three times):

 Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world

 Jesus I trust in you.    

           

Rejoice Always!

Fr. Clem Oyafemi

“Alleluia! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!!”

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Theological Reflection for Easter Sunday (year B)

April 12, 2009

1st Reading: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 2nd Reading:  Col 3:1-4; Gospel: Jn 20:1-9

 

“Alleluia! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!!”

 

             If you have ever attended worship in a Pentecostal church, or a properly inculturated church in Africa, or a regular worship of the Charismatic renewal group (grupo de oracion) anywhere in the U.S., you would probably observe the constant shouting of, “Halleluiah! Amen!” Hallelujah is a Hebrew expression which simply means, “Praise the Lord!” When you see people screaming and shouting, ‘Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah!” during Easter season, you might just think that they are crazy. But if you can imagine yourself being one of the apostles, who followed Christ very closely during the three years of his ministry, and watched him suffer unjustly in the hands of his own people, hanging on the cross with blood all over his bruised body; and probably watched him buried very quietly in a borrowed tomb; the news of his resurrection would probably make you more crazy than any of those people.

            Christianity is based on resurrection. Historically speaking, the apostles gathered every Sunday to celebrate the memorial of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, without resurrection there is no Christianity.

 What do we celebrate at Easter?

 At Easter we celebrate the victory of Christ over death. We celebrate the victory of light over darkness, and we also celebrate the triumph of hope over despair. What is the significance of Easter in our life today? What challenge does it give us?

When the priest lights the Paschal candle, from the new fire on Holy Saturday, he prays: “May the Light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel darkness over our hearts and mind.” Christ is the Light of the world and that is why the procession into the dark church proclaims Him three times; Christ our Light! Christ our Light! Christ our Light!

This Paschal candle stands in the sanctuary for everybody to see all throughout the fifty days of Easter Season. The Paschal candle is a symbol of the risen Christ and that is why at every baptism we light a candle for the baptized person from it. Undoubtedly, one candle is enough to dispel the darkness in a room, and when we have two or three candles like that, there is enough light to brighten the entire room. Very few authentic and active Christians are sufficient to bring the light of Christ to the darkness of our neighborhood, church, and even the entire society.

Easter celebrates the response of God to the wickedness of human beings. For those who saw Jesus on Good Friday, hanging helplessly on the cross, there may be a temptation to think that evil has got the last word. But by the resurrection of Jesus on the third day, God absolutly declares His last word. Evil has never, can never, and will never have the last word in the life of God’s children. Jesus died once and lives forever and so we are challenged to proclaim His resurrection by our own lives. Easter challenges us to allow God to respond to a situation where all human effort is powerless.   

Notably, we have handled very well the quiet, reflection, discipline, and penance of Lent. It is my hope that we can also handle the joy, the shouting of Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! during the seven weeks of the Easter season. This is the season of Alleluia but it seems to be too much for many Catholics to handle. But there is nothing wrong in being crazy for Jesus who died for our sake! If the apostles and the women of the early church were unenthusiastic like some of us today, the faith would have died in the first century! No one can meet or experience the risen Christ and refuse to be passionate and crazy about him. This is time for us to evangelize, to proclaim the risen Christ, like Peter did in today’s first reading. This is time for us to go out like Mary of Magdala and the other women who proclaimed enthusiastically, and passionately, that Christ is risen.

May the unending power of light dispel the darkness of every human heart. May the joy of Easter continue to sustain the church now and forever. The Lord is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!! Alleluia!!!

           

Rejoice Always!

Fr. Clem Oyafemi

The True Gospel of Jesus

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Theological Reflection for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (year B)

April 5, 2009

1st Reading: Is 50:4-7; 2nd Reading:  Phil 2:6-11; Gospel: Mk 14:1–15:47 (Yr A)

The True Gospel of Jesus

            Life is full of terrible sufferings, hardships, and dark events. From antiquity to present, every culture across the globe has stories of woes to tell. In this day and age when people are preaching the ‘gospel of prosperity’ and propagating the image of a God who has nothing to do with suffering, the liturgies of the Holy Week invite us to see the reality of human life through the lens of Jesus. They invite us to reflect on the reality of life and see suffering as part of it.

Today’s readings tell us about the sufferings of the innocent Servant of God manifested and fulfilled perfectly in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Why do the innocent suffer? There are no adequate answers to this question as it appears to be more philosophical than theological. Reason alone does not provide any adequate justification for suffering. But a deep reflection on the passion narratives brings us some relief and appreciation of the Mystery of human life.

Jesus did not just talk or teach about betrayal, persecution, injustice, oppression, suffering and death. But he really experienced these phenomena first hand.  Consequently, in order to look at life from the right perspective, the church invites us today to do so through the lens of Jesus, the Innocent Victim of human redemption. The Church invites us to latch onto the mysteries of this Holy Week so that we who share in His suffering may also share in His glory.

The passion narratives shows Jesus as an innocent man who was misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted by almost everyone who lived in His time. He was unjustly treated, arrested and punished. During this time, he was abandoned by all, except his mother and a few loyal women. Mark describes vividly how Jesus was abandoned by his own disciples. One of them described as a young man in order to escape arrest ran away naked, leaving his cloth behind (cf Mark 14:50-52). Some theologians identified that young man as Mark himself. The ‘flight’ of this young man has been interpreted to mean a dramatization of the universal flight of the disciples and a symbol of those who oppose the will of God in the passion. What does that mean for us?

In catholic circles A&P does not refer to a grocery store, but rather, it is a term that refers to those who go to church on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday only. A similar term CEO refers to Christians who go to church at Christmas and Easter Only. Where are these people the rest of the year? Christianity goes beyond taking ashes and palms, running around and showing off. Maybe if we rename Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday we might be helping people a little bit. The purpose of Ash Wednesday is to bring people to repentance otherwise the ashes mean nothing. Similarly, the purpose of Palm Sunday is to reflect on the suffering (passion) of Jesus Christ. It is not about the palms. Showing up on Palm Sunday and not going back for an entire year makes us no better the disciples who abandoned Jesus in today’s gospel passage.

If we take nothing away from today’s liturgy we at least know we have a God who identifies with us in all things including suffering and death. What is going on in your life right now? What are the hardships and sufferings you are going through? Are you depressed? Having emotional agony? Someone you least expected just betrayed you? Do you feel abandoned by family and friends? We can go on and on, but today’s liturgy shows that Jesus has been through all of that. It is good to know that we have a God who experienced indescribable suffering. Thus, even when we are silent like a lamb, the prayers of our hearts can be louder in His ears than the sound of a trumpet.

The Liturgies of this week reveal to us that suffering is part of human life. The true Gospel of Jesus is not just about the messiah who went around performing miracles. It also includes the story of an innocent man who was falsely accused, suffered, died and was buried. If Jesus, our model, could go through all that suffering, then why are we (His disciples) expecting anything different? May the Lord give us the grace to handle the most difficult situations without having to abandon Him for a moment.

Rejoice Always!

Fr. Clem Oyafemi