Hail! Oh Pillars, and Princes of Our Faith, and Church!!
Readings: 1st: Acts 12: 1-11; Ps 33: 2-9; 2nd: 2Tim 4: 6-8.17-18; Gos Jh 16: 13-19

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

Today the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church celebrates the feast of two of the most influential icons of faith (Saints Peter and Paul), in the history of the church. We celebrate the feast of the princes of the apostle and the pillars of our faith. The Lord stood by them and gave them power so that through them the whole message might be proclaimed for the entire world to hear. During their earthly lives, all the saints are an incentive to virtue for those who hear and see them with under¬standing. This is because they are human icons of excellence, animated pillars of goodness, and living books, which teach us the way to better things. Afterwards, when they depart this life, the benefit we gain from them is kept alive forever through the remembrance of their virtues. By celebrating their noble deeds, we offer them that praise which, on the one hand, we owe them for the good they did our ancestors, but which, on the other, is also fitting for us at the present time, on account of the help they give us now. In a special way what we celebrate today is faithfulness, courage, humility, and missionary zeal. These are the qualities that characterized these two iconic figures.
The first reading of this Sunday narrates the story of how God himself mysteriously delivered Peter from prison. This is in line (as we shall see in the gospel of today), with Jesus’ promise to Peter that: “the kingdom of heaven shall not prevail against you.” Having chosen Peter as the rock, God never abandoned him. Christ remained with Peter even when he (Peter) failed by denying Him. In spite of denying Christ thrice, Peter repented, pieced himself together, and continued from where he stopped. Anyone who looks at Peter will see that through repentance and painful grief he not only adequately healed the denial into which he had been drawn, but he also completely rooted out of his soul that passion which had made him fall behind the others. Wishing to demonstrate this to everyone, the Lord, after His passion, death, and His rising on the third day, asked Peter: “Simon, bar Jonah, agapas me pleon touton (Simon son of Jonah do you love me more than these?)” Peter responded: “Nai Kyrie sy oidas hoti philo (Yes Lord, you know I love you!)” (John 21:15). What does the Lord do? Since Peter has shown that he has not lost his love for Him and has now acquired humility as well, He openly fulfils the promise made long before and tells him, “Feed My lambs”(John 21:15). It is clear from this that the Lord’s desire for us to be saved is so great, that He asks of those who love Him only one thing: to lead us to the pasture and fold of salvation. Once Peter had made this heartfelt confession, the Lord ordained him shepherd and chief pastor of His whole Church, and also promised to encompass him with such strength. Peter remained faithful till his martyrdom. He encountered Christ while trying to run away from persecution in Rome and in response to Christ’s question: “Peter, quo vadis (where are you going?), returned to Rome and courageously faced his death and martyrdom for the sake of Christ.
In the second reading, we hear the testimony of a man (Paul) who has accomplished his mission: “I have fought the good fight of faith to the end, I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness….” Of course that crown did come as his reward. Paul though initially was not among the twelve apostles, came into the scene drawn by the power of Jesus Christ. His past negative life was that of persecuting and killing Christians (Acts 9). However, after his encounter with Christ, he became an important instrument in God’s hand. His greatest weakness (zeal to persecute and kill) automatically became his greatest strength (zeal to witness to the risen Jesus, Acts, 9, 15-16). We learn from Paul that Repentance is preceded by awareness of our sins, which is a strong incentive to mercy. “Have mercy on me”, said the psalmist and prophet to God, “for I know my iniquities” (Ps. 50:1, 3). Through his recognition of sin he attracted God’s compassion, and through his confession, self-condemnation and conversion, he obtained complete forgiveness. The psalmist also tells us: “I said I will confess mine iniquities before the Lord against myself. And you forgave the ungodliness of my heart” (Ps. 31:5). This shows that acknowledgment of our sins is followed by condemnation of ourselves, which in turn is followed by that sorrow for our sins which Paul calls “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). After godly sorrow, confession and prayer to God with a contrite heart come naturally, as does the promise to keep away from evil from henceforth. This is repentance! Repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin any more, not to mix with corrupt people, and not to gape in curiosity at evil pleasures. True repentance like Peter and Paul’s, helps one to despise things present, cling to things to come, struggle against passions, seek after virtues, be self-controlled in every respect, keep vigil with prayers to God, and shun dishonest gain. It convinces one to be merciful to those who wrong one, gracious to those who ask something of him/her. It encourages one to be ready with all his/her heart to bend down and help in any way one can, whether by words, actions or money, and to all who seek one’s assistance. It helps one recognize that through kindness to ones fellow human being, one might gain God’s love in return for loving ones neighbour, draw the divine favour to oneself, and attain to eternal mercy and God’s everlasting blessing and grace.
In today’s gospel while Peter by the power of the Holy Spirit professed the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Christ in return made him the head of the church – the foundation rock. It was from this moment that Peter became the first bishop of Rome and Pope. He became the leader of the apostolic succession, the “primus inter paris”, and of course the “majo domo (holder of the key to the kingdom of God”. Although Peter was made the first among equals, he remained humble, faithful and died courageously as others did. So as we consider, and celebrate the outcome of the lives of these two iconic figures and pillars of our faith and church, let us imitate how they lived, or at least how they were restored through humility and repentance even if we cannot attain to their other great and exalted achievements, which are appropriate to great men and fitting for great men to emulate. The appearance to us this day of both these luminaries together brightens the Church, for their meeting produces a wealth of light, not an eclipse. It is not the case that one has a higher orbit and is placed above, while the other is lower down and passes under his shadow; Nor does one rule the day, while the other, the night, such that one would overshadow the other if they appeared opposite each other. In fact, some aspects of their lives are probably impossible for anyone to imitate. They teach us that amendment through repentance is more appro¬priate for us than for the great, since we all sin many times every day. Their lives teach us also that unless we lay hold of salvation through continuous repentance, we have no hope of it from any other source. Although, it is not easy to achieve all they achieved, let us ask God for the “Grace of God” which Paul tells us “is sufficient for us” (1 Cor 12, 9), to be able at least to do our best because, we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil 4, 13). May we all attain to this by the grace of the only begotten Son of God, to whom belongs all glory, might, honor and worship.
Peace be with you all!
Maranatha!!

Homily for 3rd Sunday of Lent – Year A

Refreshing Our Life With Christ The Eternal Living Water!

Readings: (1st: Ex 17: 3-7; Ps 94:1-2.6-9; 2nd: Rom 5: 1-2.5-8; Gos: Matt 4:5-42)        

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com.

The Psalmist echoes thus: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God…”; “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation…”(Ps 42:1; 62, 1), while St Augustine corroborates and affirms him in his Confession: “O Lord, our heart is restless until it rest in you!” (Lib 1, 1-2, 2.5, 5: CSEL 33, 1-5).In other words, just as water quenches our physical thirst, only Christ the spiritual and Eternal Living Water can quench our spiritual thirst and give rest to our forlorn souls. Today the Holy Mother Church encourages us as we continue our journey this Lenten season to quench our spiritual thirst with the Eternal Living Water which is Christ. She also calls us to break all cultural barriers, prejudices and segregation in order to let the eternal living water flow into all hearts.

In the first reading and gospel of today, one finds that water was mentioned explicitly. Whereas in the second, it was implicitly referred to by Paul’s use of the verb: “to pour.” What is water and why is it important to us on this third Sunday of Lent? One of the most important requirements for the sustenance of all lives on earth is water (Greek – νερό, nero), a compound with one of the simplest chemical and structural formulae (H20). Studies have shown that it makes up to 60-75 percent of the total body fluid of the human person. The case is not different for most other living organism especially, plants. This means that complete withdrawal or dehydration of water from any living organism is the fastest means of killing it. Although, water in itself has close to zero energy value, its importance cannot be over flogged for the continuous existence of living organisms. The most important functions of water include that it lubricates and activates the cells which contains the energy and power house of life in living organisms, it flushes toxins, boosts immune systems, helps to relieve headache, prevents cramps and strains etcetera. Water is a common Old Testament metaphor for the satisfaction of spiritual needs (Ps 23:2; 42:1; Is 12:3).  Jesus’ use of the phrase, “living water,” has its roots in the OT (Jer 2:13; 17:13). This is also paralleled by his later reference to “the bread of life” (Jh 6:35) and “living bread” (Jh 6:51).

The first reading of today tells us of the ordeal of the Israelites in the wilderness on their way out of their captivity after 430 years (Ex 12, 40). They grumbled against Moses and of course, indirectly, against God because they were thirsty. Moses was instructed by God to strike the rock from which water came forth. They drank and were satisfied. Both the rock Moses struck and the water that gushed out from it allegorically and metaphorically prefigure Christ who is both our rock and the eternal living water. Though the Israelites felt only the need for their physical thirst, but the water that flowed from the rock was spiritual and thus played the dual role of quenching both their physical and spiritual thirst. Like the Israelites, most of us Christians do not know what we actually want, and because we are confused, we end up complaining about everything, and gallivanting from one adoration ministry, fellowship, night vigil, etcetera, to another. Unfortunately for most of us, we often times end up where there is no solution to our spiritual thirst. What we need is not just “miracles”, but a spiritual drink of the living water that flows from the Rock of Ages. Like St Augustine, we must allow our souls to rest in God if must be satisfied. Hence, we must:“With joy…draw water from the well of salvation” (Ish 12: 13), in order to quench our spiritual thirst on our own journey this Lenten season.

In the second reading, Paul employs one of the properties of water or fluids, that is, ability “to flow” or “to pour,” to describe how the Love of God (Christ the Eternal Living Water) “is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” He reminds us also of how helpless our life was and could still be without Christ the Living Water upon which our continuous existence depends. In other words, through his death, Christ made himself the source of our own life, because through the water and blood that flowed from his side when he was pierced on the cross (Jh 19: 34), he became the living spring and the source of our life. Cut off from this spring therefore we can do nothing (Jh 15: 5), because it is the water that flows from it that lubricates and gives life to the “spiritual cells” of our own life.

In the gospel of today, Jesus presents himself to the Samaritan woman as the Eternal Living Water. This underscores His importance in our life. Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman today is an eye opener to us Christians. Through it, he was able to prove to us that he is the spring, source and sustainer of our life. It suffices to note that the woman was surprised that Jesus asked her for a drink and says, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Here Jesus is given the label “Jew” by the Samaritan woman, while at John 8:48, He was labeled a “Samaritan” by His fellow Jews. Both of these labels are given to him in less than a friendly manner, to say the least. He is a stranger to both groups, and this is a confirmation of what the scripture says about him: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (Jh 1: 11). This hostile relationship between Jews and Samaritans apparently goes back to post-exilic times, and after so many centuries the wounds still festered. The use of racial slurs continues to drive a wedge between the two groups. In spite of all these, Christ was not discouraged but pressed on with his mission and feeding on his “food” which as he told his disciples is: “To do the will of the One who sent me!” The lesson from this is that we like Jesus, must not discriminate against people especially in helping to bring them to the Eternal Living Water. Jesus knew quite well who the woman was and what she needed the most in life just as he knows us. He knew that she was a Samaritan, “an enemy” of the Jew. Yet, he approached her to ask for a drink. It also suffices to note that while the proximate aim of Jesus in approaching the woman for a drink might be to quench his physical thirst (though John did not tell us whether He drank the water or not after all), his remote aim was to convert her by drawing her closer to Himself the Eternal living Water. By breaking the silence and going against the social customs, conventions, prejudices and the hostilities between Jews and Samaritans, Jesus becomes the gift of God to this woman and her people.

Like Jesus therefore, we must be ready to take a risk, challenge the unspoken rules of social structures and norms, break down walls that alienate people, open up possibilities to others so that they can experience and quench their spiritual thirst with the gift of God- the Eternal Living Water. Finally, the argument that ensued between Jesus and the woman represents the obstacles, question and hurdles that we must be ready to scale before we can succeed in convincing people about Christ, the Eternal Living Water. In other words, they represent the “rational” or “philosophical Stubbornness” that the society will present to us before they finally yield to the gospel message. However, if we ourselves are connected to the Eternal Living Water, we shall have a better and more convincing witness to bear to them without getting weary.

Peace be with you all!

Maranatha!!

Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation: The Shock, the Disappointment and the Way Forward

Is He Resigning From The Catholic Priesthood Or From The Catholic Church?

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details contact him on:canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com 

The world woke up on Monday, 11 February, 2013 to embrace the shock, surprise and disappointment orchestrated by the news of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. This news of the Pope’s resignation has since been the talk of the town as a result of what many considered the “breaking of an age long tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.” In as much as this may sound true, the factor that needs adequate consideration is whether he violated the canonical norms of the church amongst other factors. Many have tried to suggest other possible reasons for the resignation of the Pope other than the one the Pope himself gave, as if they knew him better than he knew himself. This is another moment in the history of the Church and should be seen as such. It is only by the help of the Holy Spirit can this sign be adequately interpreted and understood.

A reverend Monsignor once said that “the priesthood is a celebration of courage”. There is no doubt that the news of the imminent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on the 28th of February was sudden and has left many surprised and shocked. Yet, I do not consider it unthinkable, if for no other reason, for these two that I wish to look at here. First, at least the whole world acknowledged the fact that he is not the first pope to resign from the position. History has it that some seven hundred and nineteen years ago a Pope resigned. The Pope in question is Pope Celestine V who resigned in 1294. The former Benedictine hermit Celestine had never wanted to be pope. After just five months in office he issued a solemn decree declaring it permissible for a pope to resign and then promptly did so himself, citing “the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people and his longing for the tranquility of his former life as his reasons for resignation”. Some might say he did it for a different reason or that he did it under pressure, but whatever the reason, the most important thing is that there must always be a reason for something to happen or for a decision to be taken. If Benedict XVI says he feels “physically incapacitated to carry on with the demand of his munus and ministry” is it not reasonable enough?

Second, by resigning did Benedict XVI violate or contravene any Church law? Though I am not an expert in canon law, but to the best of my little knowledge, I do not think he did. In fact, canonically, there is room for the supreme authority of the church and in particular the supreme pontiff, to resign. Hence, Can.184.SS 1 states that: “an ecclesiastical office is lost on the expiry of a pre-determined time; on reaching the age limit defined by law; by resignation; by transfer; by removal; by deprivation;” Can. 187 also states that: “Anyone who is capable of personal responsibility can resign from an ecclesiastical office for a just reason (see also Can.188-189). His reason is that he recognized his incapacity to carry on with the demands of his munus. Going by these facts before us, one can see that in spite of the “unprecedented action of Benedict XVI” (i.e. recalling the words of an Aljazeera correspondent on February 11, 2013), that canonically Benedict VI did not err safe, that he made history by bridging an old aged tradition.  Furthermore, Can.333 SS 2 states that: “Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone.” In fact canonically, there is room for resigning, and I am yet to see any aspect of the canon law which says that the head / leader of the Catholic Church MUST DIE in the position. As shocking and as “unprecedented” as the news of Benedict VI might seem to most of us Catholic Faithful and the entire world, I think we really need to see the positive lessons his action teaches us in our modern world. This however is not to say that those who died in their munus as Popes were not sincere to themselves. They are equally heroes of faith no doubt, but the fact is that Benedict has simply proved to us that he is different and unique. This lesson is for us living in the modern world and especially, in African where both religious and secular leaders prefer to remain in power or on the throne until they rot away.

Instead of sniffing for, and speculating on any other reasons other than the sincere truth this courageous man has told the world for his resignation, we should appreciate the fact that in his eight years of pontification as the pope he made significant impacts in the church and the whole world at large. He was a theologian per excellence, a spiritual leader, a disciplined, courageous and charismatic leader. Today, it has gone down in the annals of history that he is the 2nd pope to resign for a very good reason (Cf. Can 187). The reason this historic action looks and sounds bizarre to us is that we have not experienced it before. After all, the death of Pope John Paul II was equally a shock to many of us not necessarily because we did not know that as a man he will die, but because, most of us had never experienced the death of a pope before in our life time. Six hundred years is quite an eon and am sure none of us living today experienced the resignation of pope Celestine V in 1294. History repeats itself once in a while. Though this one took many years before repeating itself, we must let it be.

Rather than feeling disappointed concerning Benedict XVI’s resignation, we should hail him for teaching us that our health is not ours; that physically we will all go down someday or sometime (Benedict was strong yesterday, but today he is weak. If we appreciated him when he was strong and toiled for the church, should we not appreciate him now that he is weak?); that we are different functionally and essentially. Furthermore, he has taught us that nobody is indispensible in the Church; that the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ who himself instituted her and sustains her; that without Benedict XVI, Christ will continue to take care of his Church. This is evidenced in the fact that a few minutes after the news of his proposed resignation on 28th of February, 2013 which is still two good weeks away from the date of his announcement, the question that occupied the minds of many faithful and “sympathizers” is WHO NEXT, WHO WILL REPLACE HIM? This question is for the Holy Spirit in whose hands Benedict has returned and entrusted the Church to answer. We can only speculate about the answer to this question, but only the Holy Spirit has it in its fullness.

My dear friends and people of God let us not feel disappointed or allow un-necessary sentiments tear our Church apart. Instead, we should go on our knees to ask God at this crucial moment of the Church’s history to appoint for Himself the next Pope to lead his flock. Let us not lose sight of the fact that at various points in time in the Church’s history, the Holy Spirit has moved the Church in directions that defiled human understanding. At such moments, Christ has moved the Church forward instead of allowing it collapse. The Church has witnessed many and great upheavals in the course of her journey yet, she is still stands. This one also shall come to pass for good. Let us remember what St. Paul tells us: “all things work for good for those who love / trust God” (Rom. 8, 28). One very important truth that must not elude us all in this is the fact that Benedict XVI is going to resign from his position as the Pope on 28th February, 2013 but not from his Eternal Priesthood or even from the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Our Church is a Church in the modern world where there are endless possibilities and Pope Benedict’s resignation is only but one of such possibilities. It is a reality we must come to terms with if we must move forward as a Church.

Let us pray:

 Oh Lord, here is your Church, watch over her whether we are asleep or are awake. Amen! Come oh Holy Spirit and fill the Hearts of the faithful! And enkindle in us the fire of your love!

Daily Reading of Friday, 9th February, Year C

“Useless Success”: What Did Herodias Do With John’ Head Head?

 Mark 6, 14-2

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com    

While preaching in the convent chapel of the Immaculate Heart Sisters retirement home Onitsha on Tuesday 9th of February, 2013 I put up this question to the elderly sisters: “What did Herodias do with the head of John the Baptist (JB)?” This question was occasioned by the fact that after the gospel reading which narrated the account of the beheading of John the Baptist, I discovered that many of the elderly sisters were touched by this reading as though they were hearing it for the first time in their life time. This question was attempted by only one sister, and her opinion was that Herodias dug a pit and buried the head of John the Baptist. Definitely, it seemed a difficult nut for them to crack, as of course it was for me and perhaps for most biblical scholars since there is no known further mention of Herodias in biblical accounts, especially, with regards to the issue at hand. The only thing the bible mentioned is that John the Baptist’s disciples came and carried his headless body and buried (v.6).  Any answer to this question is only but a personal opinion or mere guess. What did Herodias do with the head of John the Baptist? May be she prepared “pepper soup or “nkwobi” with it and savored its sweetness with her daughter. May be she dug a pit in the ground and buried it there as our sister suggested. Another possibility is that she could have embalmed it, thus turning it into a mummy and placed it somewhere in here cupboard so that occasionally she could take a look at it and mock John the Baptist her victim. Of course, these are all opinions.

Once, during one of the English football club’s championship, one of the frontline clubs, “A” needed a must-win in their next match (even with a lone goal) to advance to the next round of the championship. This qualification however depended on another match where their fellow contenders club “B”, for the same slot in the next round must lose if they (“A”) must qualify after their expected win. As usual, at such occasions, both matches were played simultaneously at the same time at different locations. At their center club A defeated their opponents with a very wide margin of 6-0 goals in their favour. Without knowing the outcome of the other match they jubilated because of their wonderful display. Unfortunately, their fellow contender club B, who needed just a draw to grab the slot, defeated their opponents with a 1-0 goal margin. Thus, making the number of goals scored by club A, useless and eventually leaving the players devastated and worn out. I call their six goals “useless goals” because they did not help club A get the slot they were looking for in the next round. This story is employed to help us appreciate how a success can be useless and unprofitable. Such is the case of Herodias’ “success” or “triumph” over John the Baptist.

Herodias succeeded in getting a revenge which culminated in the beheading of John the Baptist. The head was given to her on a platter of gold but was not useful to either her or her daughter who could have got a better price for her “good seducing dance”. Reflecting on the possible answers proffered above, one still finds out that John the Baptist’s head brought her more pain and trouble, and as such, she lost out completely. For instance, let us take it for granted that she felt some joy and relieved for few minutes after receiving John the Baptist’s head. How long did this joy last? After few minutes, it must have dawned on her that she was handling an inanimate and useless object from which she could get no further revenge or derive any joy keeping it. If she decided to embalm John the Baptist’s head for keeps in her cupboard, it will certainly become for her and her entire household an object of fear each time they enter the room and remember that a human head lies therein. In other words, their home is now a morgue. Horror will continue to be Herodias’ best companion as long as John the Baptist’s head is with her. Also, if she decided to dig up the earth to bury John the Baptist’s head, it will also cause her some stress doing this. At least, she will waist her time burying her own enemy. The last but not the least, if she decided to allow it decay while she watches on, we all know that this is the most unthinkable thing to do because, a few days later she will definitely become tired, sick and uncomfortable as a result of the pungent smell that will ooze out from the decaying head and the can of worm she has made for herself. What a pity! It all boils down to what the Preacher laments about: “vanity upon vanity, all is vanity” (Ecc 1, 1-2).

Revenge is useless, that is why God tells us “vengeance is mine” (Isa. 34, 8; Lev 19, 18). Often times we spend more time plotting revenge, than we do in reflecting upon the truth we are told. If we try alone and fail we look for those who will directly or indirectly help us achieve it. It does not matter to us at such occasions what it will cost us. Unfortunately, we hurt ourselves the more. Instead of the happiness we are expecting to get, we end up sad and miserable, while our target continues to triumph. Herodias thought that life ended here and that killing John the Baptist will bring her joy. But she was wrong, because she and those who played out her script only helped John the Baptist to advance to the next stage of eternal glory. They made his journey faster and easy, while they all remained sad and miserable in this world, of course, with their punishment for their actions awaiting them. William Shakespeare’s story revolving round Shylock becomes relevant here. Shylock must take his pound of flesh, no problems, but he must not shed the blood of his victim. What happened? He lost everything, his money, his pound of flesh and the time he would have used to advance his life and business.

It is really a shame that many of us both religious and lay faithful, spend years looking for our opportunity to revenge or hurt those who we feel at some point in time in our life were obstacles to us.  Paul admonishes us thus, “Do not seek revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, it is written: ‘it is mine to avenge’” (Rom 12, 19). Irrespective of the torture we undergo bearing this burden in our hearts, we endure it with such courage that we will never display when the clarion call to do good comes calling. The thought of revenge make us vulnerable to different vices. It exposes how weak we are at being in control of our own lives and forging ahead in spite of all odds. It perpetuates our pains and our sorrow. Most times we burn our own fingers while seeking revenge. The Igbo’s refer to it as “O bia ra igbu m, gbuo onwe ya” or what the new generation fanatical Christians will refer to as “back to sender”. Revenge most times, usually ends as a boomerang. Even the “success” we achieve in the whole endeavour of revenge is usually a “useless success” as it was for Herodias, because they profit us nothing.

The head of John the Baptist is with God. John the Baptist is whole and hearty in the Eternal City – The New Jerusalem, enjoying the endless beatific vision. No part of his body is missing there, because, the creator has made all things new for him. Fashion out for yourselves my dear friends where Herodias, her plot and her crew are! May they almighty God help us to drop those negative plots in our hearts so that we do not waste our precious time plotting revenge and achieving a “useless success.” Amen!

Peace be with you!

Maranatha!

Ash Wednesday

It Is Not An Easy Road, But Jesus Walks Besides Us. Courage!

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details contact him on: canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com 

This week the major feast according to the Church’s liturgical calendar is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the Lenten season of the Church’s Liturgical Year. According to the Church’s teaching, the weekdays of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Saturday before Palm Sunday take precedence over the memorial of saints. This goes to highlight the significance of this feast. As we know very well it not just another opportunity to fulfill one of those obligations that the Church has imposed on us during this period of the year. Rather, it is truly the beginning of the re-living or re-enacting of the experience of the entire Paschal Mystery of Christ.

On Ash Wednesday, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and remind us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told  Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice. We allow ourselves of our own accord to bear the ash on our forehead as a sign that we are ready to follow Christ as he walks the rough path. We bear the ash which though a sign of shame and defeat at the same time signifies for us true Christians the beginning of our Salvation. We bear the ash which though a sign of death is for all true Christians a sure hope that we shall rise with Christ.

Lent does not begin and end with Ash Wednesday as many of us suppose or portray by simply rushing to the church either in the morning or evening of the Wednesday to have the ash placed on their forehead and disappear, only to re-appear perhaps again (if at all they do), during the Easter Vigil Mass. No, this is not the right way to follow Christ this season. It involves periods of fasting especially, on Fridays; abstinence; attending liturgical functions especially, Stations of the Cross; taking good advantage of the sacraments especially, the sacraments of reconciliation and reflection which prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption. To do this requires discipline, courage, perseverance, faith and tranquility of mind. Let us remember the trustworthy saying that: If we die with him, we will also live with him (2Tim.2, 11).

Peace be with you!

Maranatha!!

Homily for 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

God Chooses & Makes Us Worthy!

This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details contact him on:canice_c_njoku@yahoo.com, canicechukwuemeka@gmail.com 

A close look at all our readings today reveals one phenomenon common to all of them. This is the feeling and expression of unworthiness of all the subjects (Isaiah, Paul and Peter) towards God’s call and choice of them for His work. Truly speaking, these personalities were not worthy before God going by what scripture tells us that: There is none as holy as the Lord, and there is no one besides him (I Sam. 2, 2). Also, that: our righteousness is like a filthy rag before the Lord (Ish. 64, 6). Of course, any person who grasps this truth and fact of life is already on the path of salvation, because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Pr. 1, 7). This feeling and expression is a mark of a down-to-earth humility on the path of Isaiah who says: I am a man of unclean lips… (Ish. 6, 5); Paul who admitted his unworthiness (I Cor. 15, 9) and finally, Peter who said: leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man. They acknowledged their unworthiness, weakness and vulnerability before God. They acknowledged the fact that by all standards they were not worthy to bear the sacred message of God. Somehow, their humility was an indirect way of drawing God’s attention to the fact that they needed his grace, and blessing in order to succeed. Of course, God knew all these before choosing them, but to this same God, it did not matter whether they were weak or strong. He is the one who calls us, sanctifies and makes us worthy for his work.

In today’s gospel, one question that needs attention is: How can Peter a professional fisherman who in spite of his experiences could not catch any fish throughout the whole night be able to catch men for God? Men who are the most difficult and stubborn of all the species created by God? Of course, of his own accord he was not worthy, but the one who called him knew him better than he knew himself, yet He went for him. He chose him in spite of his unworthiness and made him worthy for the mission. In short, looking at these three figures in today’s readings, the lesson we need to learn is that it is the grace of God that makes us worthy for his mission rather than any special qualities of ours. They only aid us.

At times we feel like Isaiah, Paul or Peter in today’s readings. We feel so unworthy of our call that we can hardly do anything for the sake of the Gospel. Rightly, we should feel so perhaps because of our inadequacies and fear. However, we should realize that it is God who through his grace calls us his sons and daughters, sends us out to work for him and also sustains us in the ministry. Therefore, we are not to be afraid. Rather, we should be docile to the spirit of Jesus Christ and abandon ourselves completely to him for him to make us whole, worthy and useful for spreading the Good News of God’s kingdom. He makes only those who are available worthy and capable for his mission. Let us therefore say like Isaiah Here I am, Lord send me, and Jesus Christ will definitely make us all “fishers of men.”

Peace be with you.

Maranatha!