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PASTOR’S CORNER

Because He Lives at Easter

Fada Henry Ibe

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Easter Sunday

In 1970, the American couple Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote the beautiful Easter Song “Because He lives”, and the opening lines go thus: “God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus; He came to love, heal and forgive. He lived and died to buy my pardon; An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.” This is the story of our Lord’s resurrection. Jesus is alive and because He lives, we can rest assured of our own victory over death and evil. Easter Sunday is a shining proof that “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). Because He lives, the disobedience of Adam has been overturned and our divine fellowship God is restored. Because He lives, we have become sharers in the divine nature, on our way to divinization.

Christ’s resurrection means everything to us. It gives meaning to the blood-stained darkness of the cross and validates everything Jesus said and did – his claim to be the Son of God and the power to forgive sin; his teachings and miracles; his universal call to holiness; the cleansing of the Temple, his plan to institute an economy of grace through a Church that will endure forever; and his promise to open the gateway into the eternal banquet of heaven. All these would have amounted to nothing had he not risen from the dead. Without the resurrection, Jesus would have gone down as another dreamer who lacked substance. As Scripture says: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:17).

The resurrection is a strong validation for the Christian hope in real life after death, and it is a solid guarantee of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. The resurrection of Christ is a full and clear revelation of man’s supernatural vocation. By rising from the dead, Jesus reveals our future glorious existence to us. It is a happy existence where we will no longer be bound by space and time and no longer subject to pain and suffering. In the resurrection, Jesus transcends the limits of nature, not by dissolving into nothingness, as some ancient religions believed, but by attaining the glory of complete divine fellowship. That is the ultimate vocation of every human being. In the resurrection of Christ, we become heirs of everlasting life without losing our personalities. This is the unique and wonderful revelation of Easter.

Today, therefore, we rejoice because Jesus is alive and He reigns. The tomb is empty, the stone is overturned, evil is defeated, and the shadow of death is dispelled by the bright morning star. It is the light of a new creation. Through the resurrection, Christ’s apparent defeat at the crucifixion has transformed into victory, just like a seed buried under the ground which then rises again in a fresh, new growth. Because He lives, the darkness of sin is definitively dispersed by the sun of righteousness, peace and joy. The resurrection of Christ is the basic pattern of the Christian life whereby apparent failures turn into victories. On Good Friday Christ led us all to Calvary, to crucify our sins and die to ourselves in an act of surrender to God’s will. But on this beautiful Easter Sunday, we also rise with him in a new birth to innocence. Accordingly, because He lives, we have been ushered into a life of grace and mercy and we now enjoy the freedom of the children of God.

Dear friends, Easter Sunday is day of gratitude to God for the gift of His Son our Redeemer. Thus, as we enjoy the blessings of Easter, let us thank God for the grace of sharing in Christ’s victory over death, and for giving us an unshakeable hope in the glorious life to come. However, Easter is also a moment of decision, and an invitation to change our lives. Easter is not just a day of feasting but a sign of the power of eternal life at work in us. Easter is a manifestation of the power to reconcile, to forgive and ask for forgiveness, to heal wounds and divisions, and to restore hope and trust in each other. Easter is the power to love without counting the cost; it is the power to live a life of holiness and sacramental vitality; it is the power to bear witness to our faith through our actions; and it is the power to work together in a bond of peace as a people united in love under “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).

Therefore, on this Easter Sunday, let us resolve to do something special between now and Pentecost to show our gratitude to God for the gift of Easter. Meanwhile, may this Easter song resonate in our hearts always: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives!” May the light of the Resurrection and the blessings of Easter be yours in full measure. Amen!

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PASTOR’S CORNER

Called to be Merciful

Fada Henry Ibe

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Called to be Merciful

The Feast of Divine Mercy is designed to commemorate the ever-flowing mercy of God which overshadows our unfaithfulness. The mercy of God which was perfected on the Cross of Calvary is an abundantly sufficient antidote for all our sins. As Scripture says, wherever sin increases, there is a more than proportional increase in the divine grace (cf. Rom. 5:20). In one of the revelations received by the Divine Mercy visionary Saint Faustina, Jesus said: “I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open…. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.”

Today’s feast is an invitation for us to become channels of God’s Mercy. Many around us need our example to come to the knowledge of the truth about God, through our practice of basic Christian principles like empathy, forgiveness, and generosity. This was the experience of the first believers as we saw in the First Reading. They were of one heart and mind and none of them was lacking because they pulled their resources together. They shared an authentic bond of selfless love, and this is what the Lord wants us to do in today’s world. Whether by visiting the sick or elderly, comforting the lonely or suffering, forgiving and asking forgiveness, or listening to those needing to be heard, we have a chance every day to be instruments of God’s mercy.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shows mercy to his Apostles after they had all abandoned him during his passion. He institutes the sacrament of reconciliation and grants each of them the faculty to forgive sins and bring about divine healing. Any sin they forgive is forgiven by God and any that they retain is retained. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, the unbounded ocean of God’s mercy is poured over our iniquities, to save us from guilt and shame. The Feast of Divine Mercy is a reminder and a call to show mercy to others.

In 2002, a young man in Florida, United States, was driving under the influence of alcohol when he crashed into another vehicle, and instantly killed two young women. The driver, Eric Smallridge, was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 22 years. On the day of sentencing, he apologized to the victims’ families and they forgave him. After a while, the mother of one of the girls started a campaign against drink driving.  She always took the wreckage of her daughter’s vehicle to the campaign events and her story had a huge impact on many people around Florida.

As the years went by, she kept feeling that there was still something missing. She felt she needed to co-opt the convicted driver into her campaign to make it more effective. Accordingly, she lobbied to have him accompany her in her presentations, and the two formed an unlikely partnership for a common cause. This move opened the path to healing for both of them. The killer-driver attended the venues in his prison uniform, wearing shackles and chains.

According to this woman: “I could hate him forever and the world would tell me that I have a right to do that, but it’s not going to do me any good, and it’s not going to do him any good. I would grow old and bitter and angry and hateful. … In my opinion, forgiveness is the only way to heal.” She also grew to love the man and his family and even considered him to be like her own son. On his part, the man said he considered the woman to be an angel. He was initially due for release in 2022, but the woman pushed to have his sentence cut in half and he was eventually released in 2012. On why she pressed for his early release from prison she said: “I didn’t want him serving too long so that he would leave with a criminal mind … We live in a world with a lot of pain and heartache, I want to promote love and forgiveness and help break that cycle of hatred.”

Dear friends, mercy is an essential ingredient of peace in the world. According to Pope St. John Paul II, real peace is possible when humans learn to live harmoniously side-by-side with one another and show the willingness to forgive one another. In his words: “We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of every one of us. Forgiveness, in its truest and highest form, is a free act of love.” An unwillingness to forgive shows a lack of gratitude for the blood that was shed for us. The light of God’s forgiveness cannot shine through our lives when our hearts are locked against forgiving others.

As Christians, therefore, our greatest treasure is the gift of Christ as the perfect expression of divine mercy, the only force strong enough to penetrate the walls of pain, anger, fear, and resentment that surround our hearts. God’s mercy is sealed in the blood of his only Son, and there can be no gesture greater than that. The death of Jesus unleashed a flood of mercy on the world, and since this flood has yet to reach every heart, we are invited to become its channels. Today is a great opportunity to seek forgiveness for our mistakes, to forgive others, and to forgive ourselves. And so, with St Faustina, we pray: “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Amen!

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The Palm Sunday of the Passion

Fada Henry Ibe

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The Palm Sunday of the Passion

Palm Sunday is a day of contradictions – commemorating the triumphal entry of a king into his city, only to end  being crucified after a few days. Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday: The day of “Hosanna in the highest” is also the day of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”  The day of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is also the day of “I do not know him!” And in the unfolding drama we see different characters at play: First is Jesus, the King who enters Jerusalem on the back of a colt. The colt makes him the King of peace or else he would arrive on a war horse. The colt is also a sign of the humility and obedience by which he reverses the disobedience of Adam. Our Second Reading today extols Jesus’ kenotic (self-emptying) humility and perfect obedience unto death, for which the Father greatly honoured and gave him the greatest name ever known.

Next, we have the crowds who cheered him into Jerusalem, only to turn against him a few days later. There are also his disciples who all abandon him when the going gets tough. Even Peter who vowed to protect Jesus with his own life ends up denying him. There is Judas Iscariot who betrayed his Master in exchange for money. And next is Pontius Pilate who condemned an innocent man to protect his political career. We also have the chief priests and the scribes whose hearts were completely closed to Jesus’ message and who would stop at nothing to destroy him. Equally on stage is Simon of Cyrene, the stranger who was forced to carry someone else’s cross. And lastly, we have Joseph of Arimathaea who took the courage to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body for burial.

Dear friends, we all can easily fit into any of these characters, depending on our moral conduct. Every moral decision is a choice for or against Christ and his message. Accordingly, we play the crowds when our Christian life is of mediocre standards and we are blown about like reeds by all kinds of theological concepts or religious experiences. This is mainly caused by lapses in the sacramental life and easily leads to moral relativism. Also, we are like the fickle crowds when we have a shaky commitment to the Catholic faith – Mass in the morning and some other “miracle centre” in the afternoon. Next, we play the part of the fleeing disciples when we fail to defend the faith out of fear or political correctness – when we fail to live up to our calling for fear of criticism.

We are like Peter when we neglect our prayers and get self-assured of our own spiritual strength. This self-confidence is always bound to crack under intense pressure. Next, we are like Judas when we live a life of hypocrisy – saying one thing and doing the other. We play Judas when we exploit the things of God for personal aggrandizement or take advantage of those under our care. Also, we are like Judas when we make unfounded attacks on the Church and its leadership just because we have issues with certain teachings. Next, we are like the chief priests and scribes when we persist in our sins and refuse to utilize God’s offer of forgiveness. This is what happens when people lose a sense of sin and become presumptuous and self-righteous.

We are like Pontius Pilate when we turn a blind eye to injustice or neglect to defend the most vulnerable among us. This also happens when we cheat or lie in our dealings with other people. However, we play Simon of Cyrene when we do the right thing in unfavourable circumstances, when we willingly bend over backwards to lend a helping hand. Then, we are like Joseph of Arimathaea when we summon the courage to fight injustice or to give redress to its victims; or when we make reparation for our sins through charitable works. Let everyone judge for themselves the part they are playing at this point.

But the best character of all is that of Jesus in his humility. The infinite God taking flesh in finite humanity is humility par excellence. As Jesus rides the colt of humility into Jerusalem, so he rides on the wave of humility through this sinful world and opens for us the path to heaven. We become more like Jesus when we love and pray for those who do not treat us well – he reconciled Pilate and Herod, two men who had a mutual interest in his downfall. We become like Jesus when we wholeheartedly forgive those who have hurt us – he forgave the dying thief on the cross. We become more like Jesus when we make a total surrender to God’s will, like he did at Gethsemane. And we become like Jesus through an abiding trust in God in all situations.

Surely, trusting can be very difficult sometimes, especially where it has been violated by people close to us. As a result, many have raise protective walls around their hearts. Unfortunately, those walls also keep God out and unless we let him into our hearts, we could never experience the lasting joy that we long after. The Lord himself know this and has come up with a way to win our trust: The Passion of Christ. The Passion is a most eloquent testimony of God’s love and commitment never to let us down. Whether we reject Jesus, scourge him, crown him with thorns, betray him, or even crucify him, his response is: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Today, therefore, let us pray for the grace to become more like Jesus. And may we carry our palm branches not only in Church but at home and everywhere, as we ride our own colt of humility and obedience – the path to true greatness and lasting happiness! Amen!

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PASTOR’S CORNER

The Hour Has Come

Fada Henry Ibe

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The Hour Has Come

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). What hour has come? The hour to consummate his earthly mission of defeating evil and restoring mankind into divine fellowship. Let us recall that at the wedding ceremony of Cana, when his mother told him the wine had run out, he told her that his hour had not yet come (cf. John 2:4). Also, once during the Feast of Tabernacles, when his brothers encouraged him to minister publicly in Judaea, he said to them: “My time has not yet come” (John.7:6).

Furthermore, on another occasion, when his teaching in the Temple upset some people, we are told that no one arrested him because “his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30). Therefore, by declaring today that the hour has come, Jesus is signalling that the moment is ripe for him to shed his blood for our redemption. Accordingly, he makes it clear to anyone wishing to see him that the sure and only path to glory is by self-renunciation. The notion of renouncing or dying to oneself flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that tells us that self-preservation is the first law of nature.

In 1864, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest.” This notion is that of a world of unending struggle among the species whereby the resilient ones would multiply while the weaker ones disappeared. However, Jesus turns this mindset on its head by proposing self-sacrifice as the way to go. He then draws an analogy from nature to reinforce his point: “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” It is amazing how a seed germinates. Once inside the soil, the outer skin breaks open, then the seed itself breaks into two and therefrom emerge the root and the stem. And finally, the seed slowly fades away. This is a model of the spiritual life that Christ proposes today. The seed of faith has been planted in us through baptism, and it is only by a life of total self-giving that we can produce a rich harvest. The path to glory for us is to live no longer for ourselves but for God and for others.

Dear friends, eternal life begins here on earth for those who choose to die to self – those who accept St Paul’s challenge to offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1-2). Jesus himself wants us to realise that anyone who clings to his life will lose it. We need to be aware that self-obsession is a recipe for self-destruction. We can only secure our life by spending it for God and for others, and that is the spirit of Lent. As Henri J.M. Nouwen once said: “Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life…all of our life.”

Today, therefore, the hour has come as promised through Jeremiah in the First Reading, when God will make a “New Covenant” with the House of Israel. This is the only mention of the New Covenant in the Old Testament. This New Covenant differs greatly from the Old Covenant: It is eternal and ratified not by the blood of animals but by the blood of the Son of God. The New Covenant is written not on stone-tablets or paper but in human hearts. Therefore, brothers and sisters, the hour has come. The moment is here when the Lord will grant the prayers of today’s Responsorial Psalm – to create a new heart and steadfast spirit within each of us (Ps. 51:10). The hour has come for that!

Accordingly, we are called to live in total imitation of Christ. As we see in the Second Reading, Jesus embraced suffering and offered prayers aloud and in silent tears. He accepted hardships not with bitterness but with total submission to his Father’s will. And by overcoming all the difficulties of earthly life, he became our path to eternal salvation. The same Jesus is reminding us today that the hour has come to gather all the nations into the family of God. As the Catechism says: “By his word, through signs that manifest the reign of God, and by sending out his disciples, Jesus calls all people to come together around him. But above all in the great Paschal mystery – his death on the cross and his Resurrection – he would accomplish the coming of his kingdom” (CCC 542). By his crucifixion, Jesus would reveal himself to everyone, including the Greeks who came to see him in today’s Gospel.

Thus, my people, Jesus invites us today. He wants us to seek him, to see him, to know him, and to love him – that is why he came in the first place. That is why he let himself be crucified, to show us his outer self, and his inner self as well. The crucifixion unveils his heart for all to see – a heart aflame with so much love that he is willing to die for our sake, to suffer unspeakable pain and humiliation in order to clear the way to heaven for us.

The crucifix is the great revelation of the heart of God. If anyone should wish to “see Jesus”, to see and know God, they only need to raise their eyes to behold him dying on the cross for all. There, he is most attractive to us and we should always remember that we are no less attractive to him when we bend under the weight of our own crosses. May the Lord help us with the grace to ponder and discover the spiritual meaning of self-renunciation. Amen!.

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