DO NOT BE AFRAID
Twelfth Sunday of the Year-June 21, 2020
First Reading: Jer 20: 10-13. Jeremiah had the knowledge that God was with him. This enabled him to remain faithful to his difficult task as a prophet.
Second Reading: Rom 5: 12-15. Saint Paul draws a contrast between Christ and Adam. Sin came into the world through Adam and abundant grace through Jesus Christ.
Gospel: Mt 10: 26-33. Christ exhorts his disciples to be fearless witnesses to the Gospel. He assures them of God’s special care in all their trials.
When Jesus sent his apostles out to proclaim openly and to witness to him before the world, he knew that they were fearful. The apostles had good reason to be fearful, because they knew that they had to face hardship and persecution. So, not once but three times Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.”
It is normal and natural that courage will sometimes fail us and that we will be afraid. All those who have accomplished great things in the world, have known fear at one time or another in their life. We think of the Prophet Jeremiah in the first reading of today, we think of Jesus himself in the garden of Gethsemane.
Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear sometimes, has a protective function, warning us of the presence of danger. Nevertheless, fear can be a handicap. It can paralyse a person. Fear can turn a person into a coward.
Once upon a time there was a mouse that had a crippling fear of cats. God took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dogs. So, God turned it into a dog. So, it became afraid of panthers. Then God turned it into a panther. It became afraid of hunters. At this point God gave up. He turned it back into a mouse saying, ‘nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse.’
Jesus knew that the apostles were afraid. He understood their fears and took them seriously. When he said to them, ‘do not be afraid’, he was addressing their fears and trying to allay them. He was trying to give them courage. He was trying to move them beyond fear, knowing that fear could make them so timid to the point of being unable to fulfill their mission.
How did he suggest they should overcome their fears? Through trust in God and reliance on God. Jesus urged them to have trust in God. Jesus assured them that God knew every detail of their lives, and would support them in every crisis.
The prophet Jeremiah lived out his vocation during a time of great turmoil, which saw the defeat of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. He lived with constant threats to his life. Yet, in spite of everything, he remained faithful to his calling. What was it that enabled him to overcome his fears and remain faithful to his mission? It was the conviction that God was in his side: “The Lord is at my side, a mighty hero.”
God is at our side too. And while at times we grow fearful, we must not allow our fears to cripple us. To live a Christian life requires courage. But then any meaningful living requires courage. What we need in life is not so much heroism but ordinary courage. Courage is the most important virtue in life. Because without courage you can’t practise any other virtue with constancy. And Faith is a great source of courage. As men and women of faith, we believe that God will give us the strength to cope with whatever comes.
The greatest freedom of all is freedom from fear. Unless we overcome our fears, we cannot live a dignified human life. We can have political freedom, economic freedom, emancipation and the many other freedoms, if I am not free from fear, I remain slave of myself. Nevertheless, fear and courage are not mutually exclusive. They can and do coexist. Courage is never being afraid. Courage is being afraid, overcoming it, or carrying on in spite of it.
You want to be a disciple of Jesus? remove the heart of a mouse and have a brave heart. May the Lord give each and every one of us, a brave heart, a heart of Jeremiah and Paul. Amen.
ASCENSION OF THE LORD-THE OMNIPRESENCE OF OUR LORD
First Reading: Acts 1: 1-11. Jesus ascends into heaven and promises the Holy Spirit to his disciples.
Second Reading: Eph 1: 17-23. Paul gives the meaning of Ascension: God raised Jesus above all world powers and made Him the head of the Church and Lord of creation.
Gospel: Mt 28: 16-20. Jesus commissions his apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations and he promises to be with them always.
The mission of Jesus on earth is completed. Now it is time for him to ascend into heaven to take his seat on his throne for eternity. Is the mission of Jesus on earth really completed? The answer is Yes and No.
Yes, because Jesus is indeed gone to heaven to take seat on his glorious throne. No, because his mission on earth is not completed as he promised to his disciples to be with them until the end of the earth. Therefore, the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven is both the end and the beginning.
The apostles might have been frightened and confused at the same time. They were with Jesus, then he died and rose again. He appeared various time to them and finally he ascended to the Father before their eyes. But he said to them that it was better for him to go so that the advocate would come to lead them into all truth. for these, the apostles went from joy to fear, to relief and more joy, to confusion and sorrow, to curiosity and uncertainty.
Do the feelings of the apostles sound familiar? Perhaps that is the way some of us find our lives to be. Our lives are filled with ups and downs, joys and sorrows, twists and turns. Each phase of our lives reveals something new or challenging, something glorious or sorrowful. The good news is that, God is always in control of our lives if we surrender it to Him.
Jesus sits now in the driver’s seat of our lives in heaven. From his heavenly kingdom, Jesus descends into our lives to fulfil his mission. The Ascension does not mean, Jesus is gone, rather it means that Jesus is now omnipresent, continually present in us, with us and through us. Jesus is permanently present to everyone who turns to him and surrenders his/her life to Him. From heaven, Jesus is now able to be present to us all. This feast is the new beginning of the Church in which we await the coming of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven and his omnipresence on earth, let us reflect upon the abiding and intimate presence of Jesus Christ in our life. We have been invited to share in Jesus’ mission and in baptism, we have the mandate to preach the Gospel. Jesus wants you to do your part of His Father’s plan of evangelisation and that all shall be saved. what is your part? Ponder this question today and remember that every time you say Yes to Jesus, he is with you and accompanies you always. The first Christians understood this very well. They knew that Jesus was still with them, even not in the same way as before. They believed Jesus shared their lives and that after death, they will be united with Jesus in his glory forever. Jesus is still with us in the Eucharist, Jesus is still with us in his Word, Jesus is still with us in the neighbour, the sick, the needy, Jesus is still in us every time we call upon his name. Amen.
Happy Feast of the Ascension to you all dear sisters and brothers.
Jesus, I trust in You.
Rev. Fr. Jean-Marie Kuzituka Did’ho
Saints Maria Goretti & Joseph Parishes
JESUS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE
Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 10, 2020
First Reading: Acts 6: 1-7. The first Christian community grew in faith and in number. They sorted out their problems in peaceful manner the problems that arose among them.
Second Reading: 1 Pet 2: 4-9. The second reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles describes the responsibility and special dignity of the members of the Christian community.
Gospel: John 14: 1-12. Friends and followers of Jesus became distressed over his words that he is going away. Jesus then consoles them.
Today’s Gospel begins with these consoling words, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” These words are very consoling words for our current situation around Coronavirus. These words are not blindly claiming to end all our troubles. Very often we think, happiness is the absence of suffering. And some people become very negatively reactive to the consoling words offered in the context faith. They behave like the bad thief who hanged with Jesus on the cross and who asked him to remove himself from the cross and them if Jesus was the Son of God. Sometimes in the name of faith we could be insensitive and impractical! It is easy to convince ourselves that we have a strong faith when things are going well. When a crisis arises we discover what kind of faith we have, or if we have any faith at all. By faith here, I mean trust in God. However, the consoling words in the faith can also give us assurance of the presence of God.
What these words of Jesus mean is that, amidst the troubles of life, such as the current situation of this global pandemic of Coronavirus, even as we find solutions to this pandemic, even as we reach out to each other to alleviate suffering, our hearts can still be at peace.
How is it possible? some would claim. It is impractical to be at peace amidst this trouble, they say. Keeping our hearts at peace does not mean, I am not concerned about the problem. But Jesus invites us to be concerned about the situation in a graceful way. After all, if there is a solution why worry? And if there is no solution, why worry?
In the first reading of today we have an interesting story of conflict resolution in the early Christian community. we heard a story of neglect of the minority group in the access to the resources of the community. Hellenist Christians were Greek speakers; perhaps they were the minority. Hebrews, of course, being the majority in the community in Jerusalem, and priding themselves that Jesus himself was a Hebrew, they seemed to have the lion’s share in the daily distribution of the common goods. One can say, there were a little bit of xenophobic discrimination in the distribution of goods.
This situation was brought to the attention of the apostles, who realised that they were not capable of the administration of the temporal goods, since they were busy with “the service of the Word”. So they wanted to delegate the administration to a team of 2nd level managers (who would be later known as ‘the deacons’). It is important to note that even in the selection of these candidates the criteria used were not merely temporal: Deacons should be “men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom.” This delegation of duty was done so that the apostles themselves will continue to fully devote themselves to “prayer and the service of the word.”
Among those men chosen to distribute temporal goods was Stephen, a man filled with grace and power and who worked miracles and great signs among the people. Then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, They found they could not stand up against him because of his wisdom, and the Spirit that prompted what he said.
In short, though Stephen and his companions were basically appointed for “service at table” – for the administration of the temporal goods, they were not just tied down to administration. We see Stephen entering powerfully into the “service of the word”. And because of this, he will become the first martyr. A bursar becomes the first martyr for Christ. The story of Stephen always intrigues me. Why am I intrigued by this?
Stephen and his companions who were elected for the service of the table got immersed in the service of the word; a lot of priests complain when they are sent to do administration work, they argue to be ordained priests for pastoral ministry. I pray that the story of Stephen inspires us.
The word of God today challenges us to revisit our reason of being of the believing community, the church: the Church exists to continue to experience God in Jesus, and to mediate that experience in the world. In the Second reading of today, Peter tells us: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God…” Being a community of believers is, therefore, a privilege and a challenge: privilege to experience God; challenge to share that experience with the rest of humanity.
In the Gospel of today, Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” This is the core of our Christian faith: to experience God in Jesus. Everything else is mere decoration. Thomas-a-Kempis wrote in the 15th century, “Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living.” The world today, as ever, needs the Way, the Truth and the Life. Are we ready to set our priorities right - as individuals and as the Church?
Gandhi once said, a person with a seed of faith in God never loses hope, because he believes in the ultimate triumph of truth. so dear brothers and sisters, when things are bad, may we hear the gentle words of Jesus, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.”
Rev. Fr. Jean-Marie Kuzituka Did’ho
Saints Maria Goretti & Joseph Parishes
KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTS
Sixth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 8: 5-8. 14-17. The Samaritans received the Gospel with lots of enthusiasm.
Second Reading: 1Peter 3: 15-18. Peter encourages Christians to remain steadfast under pressure in their following of Christ.
Gospel: John 14: 15-21. To love Christ is to listen to His word and to put them into practice in our life with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Many people obey God’s commandments out of fear of punishment in hell or hope of reward in heaven. They do not obey them for the reason Jesus gives in Today’s Gospel. They do not obey them out of love as Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
What commandments was Jesus talking about? Clearly Jesus was not talking about the Ten Commandments. What commandments then was he talking about? If we look at closely to the Gospel of today, we find some clues as to the answer. There in today’s Gospel, we find certain Do’s and Don’ts Jesus talked about. I can say, Jesus is giving us more of guidelines than commandments. Jesus is giving us new values on how to stay in the presence of God, new attitudes on how to live with the neighbour and with ourselves. Let us look at first the Don’ts found in today’s Gospel:
If you love me:
Do not return evil for evil. You want to be great and powerful in life? You want to be humbled and loved? Avoid retaliation. Nothing in this world is achieved by retaliation. Retaliation only brings darkness in one’s life.
Do not judge or condemn your neighbour. We live in a world of full of evil. When you neighbour commits evil. Do not jump quickly into judgement because you do not know all the facts that led your neighbour to commit that evil except God. Therefore, leave judgement to God. Then if you are not to pass judgement to your neighbour, neither are you to condemn him/her.
Do not store up treasures for yourself here on earth. Many people have turned their treasures here on earth to be their small gods: money, properties, cars, goods and so on. You hear a person calling his/her car, ‘my baby’. And when you look at the person’s arms, there’s no baby. And you wander if really this person will one day desire to have a real true baby. People do all sorts of jobs or dirty businesses just to become rich and travel the world. all these are like chaff in the eyes of God especially when we turned them to become our gods.
Do not look back once you have decided to follow Jesus. In our language as Catholics, we use often this word to those who do not come to Church anymore: ‘Lapse Catholics’. Why are you lapsed? Who or what made you run away from Church? If you love me, says the Lord, keep my commandments.
Do not give up hope when times are rough and tough. Our world is crossing a turbulent zone of rough and tough moments with the global pandemic of Covid-19. Nothing in your life will be like before. What do you do in moments like these? Keep on trusting in Jesus and in his Father. Remember that you are worth more than thousands of birds in the sky.
Let us now look at the Do’s.
If you love me:
Let the light of your goodness shine before people. As a Christian, you are the light of those around you. You need to help others around you to find the way of life. That’s the mission you received when you were baptised.
Love your enemies. I know that to be kind to those who do not like you is hard. But if you do this, you will be the salt of the earth as Christ commanded us.
Give generously and forgive those who sin against you. In our current situation of confinement or lockdown, many find it difficult to share with those who do not have enough. Remember the measure you give to others, will be the measure you receive from God. And if you forgive those who harm you, your Father in heaven will forgive your own sins.
Today’s Gospel, dear brothers and sisters, invites us to check our motives. Why do we obey Jesus’s commandments? do we do it more out of fear of punishment? Do we do it more out of hope for reward? Or do we do it more out of love for Jesus?
Let us love one another, the way Jesus has loved us. Then the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples. We can’t call ourselves Jesus’ disciples if we do not listen to his words and make an effort to live by them. Love seeks only to be of service. Amen.
CHRIST THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2020
First Reading: Acts 2: 14. 36-41. Peter proclaims Jesus as the Risen Lord and he urges his listeners to repent and accept baptism.
Second Reading: 1Peter 2: 20-25. Peter preaches to the slaves and he begs them to endure their unjust sufferings with patience as Christ, the Good Shepherd, bore his sufferings for the love of humanity.
Gospel: John 10: 1-10. Jesus compares his love for his followers to the love of a shepherd for his sheep.
When we read the history of shepherds in the Old Testament, we see that God had an uncontested predilection for shepherds. To name but a few: Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Prophet Amos, and the list can go on. When I was a little boy in high school, during school holidays, I used to look after my father’s cattle as a shepherd boy. We see that, God seemed to have a predilection for the shepherds, because shepherds made very dedicated leaders. When it comes to taking care of their flock – their people – they can even put themselves at risk.
Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter. Every year, this Sunday is celebrated as the Good Shepherd Sunday and Vocations Sunday. We reflect on the love of God made visible in Jesus, as we also pray for vocations to priesthood; priests are the ‘pastors’ of the church. We also pray for vocations to religious life.
In the Gospel text of today, Jesus makes two more of his “I am” statements: “I am the Gate” (Jn 10:9), and “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11). I would like to pick up two themes from the section of John 10 that we heard read today, and reflect together with you.
1. I am the Gate
“I am the gate of sheepfold” (Jn 10:7); “I am the gate” (Jn 10:9).
This seems a strange analogy. Let us look at it in some detail to get a deeper meaning of what perhaps Jesus means. It is customary among shepherds at the end of the day to gather their sheep in the kraal. The kraal itself is often an open area enclosed by branches. It has just one narrow entrance, which is barricaded by wooden logs. When the shepherds bring the sheep to the pen/kraal at the end of the day, they would let the sheep in as they count them to make sure all of them are in; they would then return the logs at the ‘gate’; and one or two of them after their own ‘dinner’ would sleep just outside the pen/kraal at the gate blocking the way. If wild animals like the hyenas or even thieves would enter the pen, they would have to trample the shepherds at the gate to get in. This is a standard way of guarding the sheep at night. This was the case for shepherds in Bethlehem, the night Jesus was born. The angel of the Lord appeared to them at night, as they were guarding their sheep.
Jesus borrows this image from the shepherd setting, and takes it a step further. He says, “I am the Gate”. He does not say, I am a shepherd who sleeps at the gate to guard the sheep – that would be just normal; but he says, “I am the gate.” This is extra-ordinary. He is not just the guardian of his flock. He is the Way to the community.
Jesus is making this assertion in the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John. By this time his community of disciples is slowly growing. And perhaps some people in the community are there without having a personal encounter with Jesus. Or perhaps there are others who want to be part of the community, part of the flock but do not know how. So, Jesus’ statement is simple and clear: “I am the gate”, as if to say: “if you want to become part of the fold, you need to have a personal encounter with me.”
2. Fullness of Life
“I came so that they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
Is Jesus talking here only about eternal life or also about this life? I have no doubt that these words of Jesus also are to be applied to our life here on earth as much as to our hope of eternal life. There is a legend that goes like this: when a person dies and arrives at the gate of heaven to enter, they meet Saint Peter at the gate and he asks them: Did you take advantage of all earthly joys which God in his goodness made available to you while you were on earth? If a person replies no. Saint Peter will shake his head sadly and sends the person back on earth saying, how can you expect to be ready for the heavenly joys if you have not prepared yourself for them through the medium of earthly ones?
In the past, Christians tended to be identified with restrictions and prohibitions. Many of us were brought up in the spirituality of detachment from the world and all its joys. This earthly life was seen as nothing. This kind of spirituality discouraged enjoyment of life. It led many to live a life of fear, cautiousness and misery. We ought to enjoy life to the fullest while at the same time being devout and religious at the same time. However, let us remember that, to live fully is not the same as to live it up. Life is a very fragile gift. Every moment of life is unique. We need to concentrate our attention in everything we do at a time. Jesus the Good Shepherd wants us to have life. Let us live whatever presents itself to us, because everything and every moment is a gift from God. Life will always be generous to those who seize it with both hands.
We are not in this world simply to exist, because mere existence is not enough for us. People do not seek for meaning in life, but rather the experience of being alive. We are meant to live life not simply to exist. Live life fully and intensely; so that you do not feel cheated at death. An unknown writer once wrote, “fear not that your life will end; rather fear that it may never have begun.”
When Jesus began his earthly ministry, he started it in these words: Believe in the Good News”. What is the Good News? The Good News is what we have heard in today’s Gospel: “I came that you may have life and have it to the full.”
What is our response to the invitation of God made manifest in Jesus the Good Shepherd?
today’s gospel text invites us to experience the unconditional love of God, made visible in the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us. If I follow Him it is good for me, because this is what will ultimately make me happy, where I will find fullness of life.
May the experience of the love of God in Jesus become a reality for us, especially during this Eastertide, so that we may have life and life to the full.
Rev. Fr. Jean-Marie Kuzituka Did’ho
Saints Maria Goretti & Joseph Parishes