Wednesday, August 29, 2018

TO WHOM SHALL WE GO!

Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
(Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18; Eph 5:1-32; Jn 6:60-69)
1.0.The Choice
Joshua was quite dramatic. He summoned the tribes of Israel at Schechem and asked them to choose whether to serve the Lord God or the other gods. The people responded that they would serve the Lord God.  Their reason being that the Lord God did great wonders for them. They made a free choice but informed by God's miracles for them. Human beings are always looking for a model; our hearts often tend to incline to something or someone. But we have the inherent capability to choose where to hang our hearts. Those who do not want to worship the One God end up worshipping many gods!

Faith in God is a free choice. In the Gospel many of the disciples of Jesus deserted him because they could not come to terms with the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Bread of life. They chose to walk away, and Jesus respected their choice. He asked the twelve, “will you also go away?” Peter answered on behalf of the rest, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life; and we have believed, and come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter's choice to remain with Jesus is based on a relationship that grasped his person as the Son of God. The miraculous deeds of Jesus could not sustain the faith of the disciples that walked away. But the acceptance of the person of Jesus kept the twelve on. Their faith was rooted, not just on the miracles nor their human understanding but on the person of Jesus. Thus they accepted his teaching even when they could not understand it all.

2.0. The Gracious Choice
Our choice has a direction! There is always a propelling force or reason behind our every choice. Though the human heart tends to be in constant search, it faces the direction where it perceives its quest to be quenched. Every human choice is influenced by a reason. Thus, the freedom of our choice is directly related to the depth of the reason behind it.

Now the Israelites declared for God because of what they benefited. It was enough reason then for them worship Him. But with time their resolution collapsed. In the fullness of time, God's mighty works have been made manifest in Jesus Christ. He manifested this gracious power even in the multiplication of bread. Those asking for mere physical bread from Jesus missed the point, that in Christ Jesus we have been chosen for God's mighty works. From the foundation of the world, God chose us in Christ Jesus for every heavenly blessings, that we might be spotless before him (Eph 1:4-14). This is God's gracious choice, which in turn gives us the opportunity to choose God through Jesus Christ.

Thus, Joshua and his people were able to choose God because God chose them first as His people. Peter and Twelve chose to stay with Christ since He chose them first.  God's gracious choice,  which worked wonders for them, gave them reason and direction in declaring for God. Maybe that is why only a fool can reject God (Ps 14:1). At the end, God's gracious choice for us must be the underlying reason that propels our choice in Faith. Hence Jesus said, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." It is by grace that we can recognise Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3). It is by opening our hearts to this gracious choice that we can say with Peter, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life...’ At the end, this gracious choice for God in Jesus leads us into a relationship with Him, where reason and human benefit is sustained by grace. Grace as the last resort, however, does not deny nor downplay reason and human wellbeing, but itself suffices as that which gives direction to our free choice. This is the only way our choice for Christ Jesus can endure. It is the Father that draws us...!

3.0.To Whom Shall we Go!
Our society today is gradually losing direction. Identity crisis leaves its mark almost on every facet of our life. Even the Religious are not left out. Marriage and human relationship are on the fast track of redefinition. We question everything, and quickly jettison what does not guarantee immediate results. In our hearts are impressed the question: To whom shall we go? 

We want to choose the direction of our lives, and choose it in freedom. Sometimes freedom is perceived as amorphous, open to anything. Such idea of freedom of choice will leave our hearts in endless search for identity and worship. Our choice in freedom is responsive. There is already a direction laid down, from which we freely respond to. Faith is defined; our choice to worship follows a directed path. The free choice between married couples for each other is a living example as given in the second reading.

One enters marriage freely. But one only marries in freedom if he/she chooses to marry the one who has chosen him/her. This freedom of choice, sealed in the Blood of the Lamb, is irrevocable. The mystery of marriage is that couples are free but bound together. Each couple plays out his/her role in freedom but modelled after Christ.

Therefore, Jesus Christ is the unifying centre that holds all things in being (Col 1:17). It is to Him we shall go! Those who walk away from Christ, depart from truth. And they will end up walking away from dignity of life and true freedom. Since we have been chosen in Christ for every heavenly blessings, our choice in faith must be centred on the person of Jesus Christ, the True Bread that Satisfies.

Fr Jude Chinwe Nwachukwu, C.Ss.R.ķ
St Louis Catholic Church,
Ekuku-Agbor, Delta State,
Nigeria.
26th August, 2018

Friday, August 17, 2018

THE QUESTION OF DIVORCE!

Reflection for Friday of the 19th week in Ordinary Time, Year B
(Eze 16:1-15,60,63; Mt 19:3-12)

1.0.God's faithfulness
The Prophet Ezekiel exposed Israel's abominations, and showed how God remained faithful despite their unfaithfulness to the covenant he made with them. It was God who brought Israel up and adorned her with beauty. Instead of appreciating God and being faithful,  she took pride her beauty and prostituted by worshipping other gods. “Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl, and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you...I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.” God remained faithful even when Israel was unfaithful.

2.0.The Question of Divorce?
This is an ancient question. It seems to be as old as marriage itself. This question was brought to Jesus as a trap. Even today, divorce smells of dishonesty.  Jesus answers that marriage,  from its nature and foundation, does not admit of divorce.  "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate."

But they seem to have a justified reason for divorce. "Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?" Does this imply that Moses was to blame for giving such law? Shifting of blame is common with divorce. Jesus' response shows that the law that allows divorce is never founded within the nature of marriage nor its very good. Again, while marriage is rooted in the heart of God, divorce is rooted in man's hardness of heart. "Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Thus Moses merely allowed it because they would not accept the truth. In other words, there hardened heart compelled Moses, who tried to control the aberration by instituting the law of the writ of divorce. Jesus implied that divorce flows from their hardness of heart. 

3.0.Hardened Heart
It is a heart that is not open to God. The people of Israel in the first reading were hardened. All that God did for them did not turn their hearts to Him. Thus they continued to be unfaithful to Him. Also, the Pharisees approached Jesus with hardened hearts. Their minds were made up; they were only looking for a way to trap Him. A heart that is not open to God will closed to its neighbour. Only those who turn their hearts to God embrace the mystery of marriage as rooted in the Divine plan. And the question of divorce will continue to arise in hardened hearts.

4.0.Fidelity in Marriage
Marriage is partened after God's covental relationship with Israel; of Jesus and the Church. The covenant is irrevocable. It stands the test of time because God is faithful though Israel is utterly unfaithful. God continues to forgive their transgressions, keeping in mind His covenant with them.

Often times, marital fidelity is like that. One partner puts in more to keep the union going. Marriage is a bedrock of forgiveness. Couples ought to parttern their commitment to their marriage after God's steadfastness in His covenant with Israel. That is why our hearts must be open to God so we can embrace fidelity in Marriage. Every sacrifice we make to keep our marriages is worth it. 

The question of divorce is prevalent in our society today. It shows how far our hearts are turned from God. 

Fr. Jude Chinwe Nwachukwu, C.Ss.R
Church of Assumption,
Asokoro, Abuja.
Friday August 17th, 2018.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

ASSUMED TO GREATNESS

According to Benedict XVI, our first parents tried to pull themselves from God, unlike Mary who proclaimed God's greatness. This was at the core of original sin. “They feared that if God were too great, he would take something away from their life. They thought that they could set God aside to make room for themselves.”  But Mary created room for God in her life and heart. The magnificat mirrors the entire personality of Mary. “Mary wanted God to be great in the world, great in her life and present among us all. She was not afraid that God might be a "rival" in our life, that with his greatness he might encroach on our freedom, our vital space. She knew that if God is great, we too are great. Our life is not oppressed but raised and expanded: it is precisely then that it becomes great in the splendour of God.”

Whatever that is sown in God increases and multiplies. That is why Jesus described the Kingdom of God as mustard seed sown in littleness but which grows to greatness (Mt 13:31-32). Unless we died with Christ we remain our little and weak selves that cannot save. If we die with him, then we reign with him (Rm 6:8; 2Tim 2:11). Mary sowed her life in God. She lived in hope of the fulfilment of God's promises (Lk 1:45). She contemplated God's mysteries because there is space for God in her heart (Lk 2:51). Through her words, ‘let it be done to me according to your words', Mary opened up herself to contain God in her womb.  So we call her the New Ark of the Covenant,  the first Tabernacle. And the Almighty lifted up His lowly handmaid.

In us there is room for God. Through faith we open the doors of our lives to God so that God can be the power that gives our existence path and life. If God becomes great in us, we lose nothing, instead our lives become rich and great.

On the other hand, there is space for man in God. This is the message of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. That was why God tried to reconcile man after the fall, and He announced the defeat Satan through this woman (Gen 3:15). So from the first moment of her existence, Mary enjoyed this singular privilege of Immaculate Conception, and she committed her life to God in virginity. Thus she was free from sin and its burden—death and decay. Her escape from Satan, the ancient dragon, was total and complete. Assumption can be likened to the wings that was given to her to escape the fierce dragon that opened its mouth to swallow her (Rev 12:1-6).

Being assumed in God, she was raised to greatness and shares more intimately in the life of the Trinity. Thus she is closer to us and her universal motherhood shines out. Her motherhood transverses time and space. “All generations shall call me blessed” implies that what God has done through Mary cannot be relegated to the past. Her blessedness illumines every generation and culture. Assumption of Mary is, therefore, a consequence of the singular privilege she enjoyed. It is an affirmation that all generations will call her blessed,  and she, in turn, can bless all generations.

This great solemnity enlivens our hope that heaven can contain us. God awaits us. Heaven is our destination. The human life, body and soul, is endowed with a dignity beyond itself. If we model our life after Mary, being open to God, the joy of the Assumption of Mary equally awaits us. Let us open our life, family, works, society to God. There is room for us in heaven (Jn 14:2). “Only if God is great is humankind also great. With Mary, we must begin to understand that this is so. We must not drift away from God but make God present; we must ensure that he is great in our lives. Thus, we too will become divine; all the splendour of the divine dignity will then be ours. Let us apply this to our own lives.”

According to Benedict XVI, the modern generation wants to put God outside its space, thinking that without God we will be free to do whatever we want. “But when God disappears, men and women do not become greater; indeed, they lose the divine dignity, their faces lose God's splendour. In the end, they turn out to be merely products of a blind evolution and, as such, can be used and abused. This is precisely what the experience of our epoch has confirmed for us.”  The same applies our expression of our cultures.

Our collective ways of life must be open to God. This is how our ways of expression can be life-giving and sustainable. If not, we remain locked up in our individual cultures, with a localized horizon. Only if we embrace God with our culture can we appreciate the diversity of cultures. Then we can overcome the tribalism, and animosity towards people of other cultures. Like Mary, if we embrace God totally,  even with our cultures,  He will increase us.

Fr Jude Nwachukwu, C.Ss.R.
Church of Assumption, Asokoro,
Abuja.
16/08/2018
Reflection given at the parish Marian retreat in preparation for the Parish feast day and cultural day celebrations coming up on Sunday August 19th, 2018.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

TAKE MARY HOME

Mary, a gift in faith and love
1.0. A Gift in Faith
The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said to him, “Joseph son of David,  do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). After Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, his human love for her could not carry him on...But being a man faith, he listened to the instruction of the Angel and took Mary home as his wife (Mt 1:24). At this point he  acted out of obedience of faith, for he was a righteous man before the Lord (cf. Mt 1:19). In other words,  he took Mary home not on his personal decision,  but in obedience to the instruction of the Angel. Thus, he recived Mary into his home as a gift—yes, a gift he recived in faith.

St Joseph stood unbehalf of God's faithful,  the generations of believers, to receive Mary in faith. She is our Mother in faith.  The Almighty has done these great things,  and given Mary to His Church. She brings forth Jesus; she wins us salvation (Mt 1:21).

2.0.A Gift of Love
“No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). This is what Jesus did on the Cross. From this hieght of love, before totally surrendering His life, He gave His precious Mother to His beloved disciple (Jn 19:25-27). He emptied Himself for us, taking the form, not just a slave,  but even the form of an orphan on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:7) that we might not be left orphans (Jn 14:18). We have a Mother...!

John stood with love at the foot of the Cross to receive Mary on behalf  of all God's beloved Children. Mary is given to us in love; a parting gift from the Master who was determined to teach all He learnt and handover all He received from the Father (cf. Jn 17:8). “From that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:27). Thus,  when we receive Mary in our hearts with love, our relationship with Jesus becomes more joyous. Mary is our model in charity, a Gift of love. Her presence assures of our filial relationship with Jesus.

3.0.Faith and Love
Faith and love are the two wings on which God's children fly to the beatific vision. Faith is the foundation, love is the outer structure that gives beauty to the house. Without faith the structure collapses; without love the foundation is desolate. Thus, the edifice of our life in Christ is built on faith and love. It is within this edifice that we make a Home for Mary, a Gift in faith and love.

Faith needs understanding or reason. That is why the Angel had to explain to Joseph why he should receive Mary in faith. “...Because she has conceive what is in her by the Holy Spirit...”(Mt 1:20-21). Accepting Mary, therefore, is guarantee that what the Lord said would be fulfilled (Lk 1:45). Those who accept Mary as their Mother in faith need not understand everything before believing. She steps in as a Guarantor, a living Assurance of faith.

Love needs no explanation! That is why Jesus did not explain to John why he should take Mary home. Love is its own answer; the reason for love is love. That is why immediately after handing over His Mother, “Jesus knew that everything has now been completed” (Jn 19:28). Love brings completeness. Accepting Mary in love brings us satisfaction even in the midst of lack.

Faith is necessary but love is sufficient. Take Mary home! She has been given to us in faith and love. Accepting and appreciating a gift throws one into a deeper relationship with the giver.

Fr Jude Chinwenwa Nwachukwu,  C.Ss.R
Mother of Perpetual Help  Shrine,
Ugwogo-nike,  Enugu.
August 4th, 2018.
www.nwachinwe.blogspot.com

Sunday, August 12, 2018

THE BREAD GIVEN FOR YOU

                                  Reflection for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
                                          (1Kg 19:4-8; Ps 34; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51)

1.0. “Arise and Eat”
Food tastes more delicious and palatable when one is hungry. It is then we appreciate its sweetness and value. Elijah was worn out from his journey and prayed to God to take his life. The depth of his hunger was so great that he could not continue. An Angel of the Lord brought him cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water twice. “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.” While Elijah was concerned about his hunger, the Angel was interested in the extent of the journey. The miraculous food sustained him for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

In the Gospel Jesus offers His flesh as the Bread which comes down from Heaven. This heavenly bread sustains us to eternal life; “That a man may eat of it and not die.”

2.0.The Hunger and the journey
The Eucharist is enjoyed, eaten over and over again by those who know their need of God. Deep within, we are conscious of our hunger. We feel empty, lonely and afraid. Like Elijah, sometimes we feel like quitting—quitting the job, the marriage,  the relationship or even to keep off from spirituality and morality. It seems our efforts can no more carry us on. Being self-aware of our need for strength and nourishment encourages us to arise and eat.

But where does this lead us to? We do not know by ourselves. The extent of the journey is given by revelation; the future is in God's hands. So the Angel revealed to Elijah that the journey would take him to Horeb. Jesus reveals that He the Bread of life will lead us to conquer death and enter Heaven. Therefore,  our inherent weariness and divine revelation impale us to frequently approach this throne of grace.

3.0. The Bread Given for You
“And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The bread given to Elijah was baked on hot stones, just as the bread of life given by Jesus was baked on the Cross. It comes as the greatest sacrifice. The most expensive food for nourishment and for the journey, which is given for us. Hence, the life within this heavenly bread is transferred to us who receive...

Therefore,  St Paul warns us,  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,  in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” This life-giving bread summons us to responsibility. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you...” We have the duty to pull ourselves from these negative dispositions, and direct our hearts to virtue. “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” That means we are to model ourselves after the bread given for us.

“Therefore be imitators of God,  as beloved children.” St Paul insists that we must model our lives after the sacrifice that nourishes and sustains us. We too who have been fed, must be baked on the hot stone of love. The Bread given for us energises us to offer ourselves as a fragrant offering for others—a life sacrificed to God.

Fr Jude Chinwe Nwachukwu, C.Ss.R
Holy Provincialate Chapel,
Katampe Extension,  Abuja.
August 12, 2018.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

THE END OF HUNGER

                                        Reflection for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                                                Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 17,20-24; Jn 6:24-35)

The Hunger
“The whole congregation of the sons of Israel murmured against Moses and Aeron in the wilderness.” Hunger is synonymous with desire, which can make someone restive. The discomforting nature of hunger is worse when it has no hope of being satisfied. In their hunger the Israelites complained against Moses and Aeron. The wilderness offered them no hope of satisfaction so they redirected their desire backwards  towards Egypt. “Would that we had died by the hand the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full...” In their desperation they preferred the bread of slavery to the hunger of freedom. Their desire was focused solely eating to satisfaction regardless of its consequences.

In the Gospel,  the multitude that Jesus fed ran after Him to enjoy more free bread and fish. Their desire was shifted from the person of Jesus who is the source to mere bread that satisfied their immediate hunger. This is selfishness. So Jesus said to them, “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus proposes an end to an endless regress in our quest.

“Lord, give us this Bread Always”
God cares for His people. He rained bread for the Israelites, as Jesus multiplied bread and fish for the multitude. Last week we recognised that this miracle points to Jesus Himself, who is the Bread of Life. This is where our hunger should be directed.  It's only when we are fed by God are we satisfied and free. The Israelites desired selfishly, without faith, and longed for the bread of slavery.

That is why St Paul warns us not live like unbelievers, chasing futility—a life marked with deceitful lusts that cannot be satisfied.  Our minds must be constantly renewed by focusing them on God in true righteousness and holiness. There is a freshness of life that comes when we enter into the silence of our hearts and direct our innermost thoughts and sentiments to God. From this depth, God bestows satisfaction and freedom.

This sweet and serene freshness,  which Jesus gives from the silence of our hearts, shines out to bestow calmness on our every other temporal hunger. But it increases our hunger for Jesus, whom we have come to recognise as our only source of satisfaction. Then we frequently seek for Jesus, like the multitude, but for His own sake, and to say to Him, “Give us this Bread always.”

The End of Hunger
Every hunger has an end in view. Unfortunately,  if in our hunger for well-being, our hearts are turned from God, we enter into an infinite regress. Then we are enslaved. Jesus offers Himself as the end of our hunger, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” This implies that only our hunger for Jesus can satisfy, and can be fully satisfied. In other words, the hunger for Jesus brings us satisfaction in our every other temporal hunger such that these others are mere signs. That means our hunger for health, wealth, status, family, etc are pointers to our desire for Jesus since acquiring them does not fully satisfy. But when we encounter Jesus all these others begin to satisfy, no matter how little we might have them.

Therefore, it is only our desire for God that can be fully satisfied in Heaven. However,  even now, our hunger for God is satisfied because it is the only hunger that is its own satisfaction; it is the only  desire that is quenched merely by desiring...Deep calling on deep.

Thus, the end of hunger comes as an exchange—that point of encounter where our thirst jams Jesus' thirst for us.

Fr Jude Nwachukwu, C.Ss.R
Holy Ghost Father's Chapel,
Katampe Abuja.
August 5th, 2018.



Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Seed of Life

                                  (Reflection for Monday of the 17th week in Ordinary Time)
                                                         Jer 13:1-11, Mt 13:31-35.
Why did God tell the Prophet Jeremiah to hide his new linen loincloth among the rocks, where termites destroyed it! He used it to give example of what would happen to the wicked who do not abide in God's word. In the Gospel this morning Jesus described the Kingdom of God like a mustard seed and like the yeast that leavens the flour. 

The Seed and the Yeast
A seed sown can germinate if it has life within it. The Kingdom of God is alive! Once sown, it germinates and grows to greatness. Like little mustard seed, the Kingdom of God grows from little acts of righteousness. The man who sows this seed in his farm automatically enjoys this rise to greatness. Similarly, a yeast has an inherent capacity to increase the volume of the flour, to produce smooth and tasty bread. Hence, once it is mixed with the flour, the yeast acts according. The kingdom of God increases us...Thus, Jesus gives this parable that might plant the seed of God's kingdom in the farm of our endeavours, and mix the flour of our lives with the yeast of the Kingdom.

The Loincloth and the Kingdom
God spoke Jeremiah that as a waist cloth clings to loins of a man, so close did he bring his people to Himself.  But they refuse to hear His word, instead they their own hearts and other gods. Therefore,  they would end up like the loincloth that was eaten by termites,  having no beauty, no life and useless.

“For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rm 14:17 KJV). God has given us opportunity to grow to greatness like a mighty tree by sowing the seeds of the righteousness of the Kingdom. And to mingle our lives with His righteousness such that it increases us automatically from within. “The Kingdom of God is within you”(Lk 17:21).

The Seed of Life
Then the ultimate seed of God's kingdom is sown, and has grown to greatness. Jesus is the Kingdom of God among us. He is that Seed of the Kingdom that was sown in littleness but in three days He burst the earth and germinated to the highest glory. The life within Him could not be conquered by death nor held down by the grave. Such supra-abundance of life is now available and accessible to us in Christ Jesus.  Like birds of the air, we take shelter on Jesus, the true Vine.


Fr Jude Nwachukwu,  C.Ss.R
Our Mother of Perpetual Shrine,
Enugu
30/07/2018