Fr. Jacob Dankasa – My Blog

Archive for the ‘Homilies/Sermons’ Category

We celebrate Pentecost to commemorate the action of the Holy Spirit as He stirs the people of faith and removes their fears in order to empower them to live out their faith with pride. As people of faith, when we allow the Holy Spirit to stir us, we fly without wings to become His instruments, to allow Him to use us to stir others to holiness. To live out our Pentecost answers a call to take action and live out our faith. As we celebrate Pentecost this weekend, I want to re-share these updated thoughts of mine.

There are various ways to live out our faith in the spirit of Pentecost. Here, I will recommend one way to demonstrate our faith particularly — using the social media, a refreshing trend that is changing the face of our society today. The social media today are one of the largest platforms for finding and interacting with thousands of humans within the shortest period of time without regard to geographical boundaries. Hence, there is arguably no better platform today for a broader outreach in evangelization than the social media. Whether you succeed in evangelizing a soul or not is another issue. But never underestimate the power of trying!

Sharing pictures is one of the activities users engage in on social media for different good reasons, though there are some who tend to be uncomfortable when people frequently share their pictures and activities on Facebook. They criticize them as just trying to show off. I wonder why there is such criticism when one of the chief purposes of Facebook is to encourage sharing (I add: decent sharing). If you’re uncomfortable with people who share their pictures and stories on Facebook, then I think you probably are in the wrong place.

Having said this, if you’re a person of faith, here is another good reason for sharing. I want to invite you to bring into social media an experience of Pentecost. As part of living out our Pentecost experience, I recommend that people of faith consider developing a practice of taking photos of themselves at beautiful locations around their church facilities as they attend weekend masses (or worship) and post these photos on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any social media they belong to. Let the world know that you are at church. This is not hypocrisy, this is not mere showing off — this is evangelism. The world should know how much you cherish your faith and how proud you are of the God you serve. No shame, no regrets! If there is anything to show off, let your God be first.

If we’re all convinced of who we worship, then we must demonstrate that we belong to Him. And no place can be more appropriate for showcasing this today than the social media. One thing is certain: I may not be able to see the inside of your heart, but what I see from the outside can either cause me to move toward God or away from Him. You cannot know how much influence you have on others and what the Spirit can do through you on social media. Don’t undermine the work of the Holy Spirit, because He lives — even on social media! You never can tell how many people will begin to go to church because you do. Pictures speak a thousand words — never underestimate the power of an image. Many people don’t have the courage to publicly demonstrate their faith, but that is what the Holy Spirit has come to help us with: to burn away our fears and our shyness, and — as He did for the pre-Pentecost apostles — fill us with courage to “renew the face of the earth.”

So, when next you go to your place of worship, let the world know that there is a God that you dearly serve — show him off! As we celebrate Pentecost, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will help us to bring decency and civility into our relationships and interactions with one another on social media.  #HolySpiritInvadeSocialMedia

Advertisements

When I was growing up in Nigeria, soccer (popularly known as football in the rest of the world) was the ultimate sport. I flipped channels each time I saw American football played on ESPN because I didn’t understand it. After I came to America, it took me some time to understand American football. But once I began to understand it, I found it very interesting. As a Catholic priest, I was even more drawn to it when I heard about the “Hail Mary” pass. I like the concept of the Hail Mary pass, now figuratively used in American football. In fact, I was fascinated by it. Unfortunately, it rarely happens. I tried to know more about how the concept of the Hail Mary pass was popularized in American football. According to Wikipedia (citing other sources):

“A Hail Mary pass, also known as a Shot Play, is a very long forward pass in American football, made in desperation with only a small chance of success. The term became widespread after a December 28, 1975 NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings, when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach … said about his game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, widely believed to have pushed off, ‘I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.’”

Wikipedia added that the use of the expression goes back to around the 1930’s, and is used to describe “a long, low-probability pass…attempted at the end of a half when a team is too far from the end zone to execute a more conventional play, implying that it would take divine intervention for the play to succeed.”

It’s amazing that one person’s usage of the term “Hail Mary” to publicly show divine intervention in a game has become a concept that’s used today to describe a jaw-dropping and exciting play in American football. For me, as a Catholic, I liken it to the acknowledgement of our Blessed Mother’s intervention role in the lives of her Son’s followers. Intended or not, the Hail Mary pass shows the value of the Hail Mary prayer, because the prayer itself predates the usage of the concept in football. We can always go through our Blessed Mother for a last second victory, not because she is God, because she is not, but because she will intercede for us to her Son, the Son of God.

In the gospel of John 19:26-27 when Jesus entrusted his mother to John and John to his mother, a mutual mother-child relationship was created. The gospel tells us that from that moment “John took Mary into his home.” Like John, Catholics should make devotion to Mary a daily part of their family and personal lives. During this season of Lent – and beyond – we should take devotion to our Blessed Mother into our homes. Twenty-four seconds before the end of a game, a 50-yard ball was thrown, a Hail Mary was said, and a near-impossible playoff game was won. When you are seeking God’s intervention in your life and in your family, consider seeking the intercession of our Blessed Mother. Pray the rosary always. And as St. Pio of Pietrelcina (one of those who understood the greatness of devotion to the Blessed Mother) would say: Pray, hope, and don’t worry.

Friends, Christ threw a Hail Mary pass in the last seconds of his life by giving her to us as our mother. So, catch the Hail Mary pass and take her home for a touchdown of relationship and devotion. It will be a victory like no other.

Our Gospel today (Matt 25:1-13) presents us with the parable of the ten virgins. Five were foolish and five were wise. The wise virgins made deliberate decision to take extra oil in case of unforeseen events but the other five didn’t see the need and, of course, they were embarrassed afterwards when their oils went dry.

In our everyday life, we find ourselves making deliberate attempts to prepare for the unforeseen future. We plan for retirement, put money in our 401k, plan our savings, and some invest in the stock market and are anxious each time the market goes up and down. We do all these planning to be sure that the future is enjoyable for us. It’s truly wise for us to plan for our future.

Our readings today admonish us to also extend this wise preparation to our spiritual lives. As Christians we need to also be deliberate in preparation for our spiritual lives. Like the stock market, we should pay attention to our spiritual lives when it goes up and down. We need to make deliberate arrangements to include prayer and God in our schedules. We wake up in the morning and prepare how to accomplish the tasks for the day, but most times we forget to include prayer as part of the tasks. Finally we get done with our daily schedules so tired that we have no time to pray. This is like running out of oil because we didn’t make prayer as part of our daily plan. 

Christmas is on the way and many of us are making bucket list of what to accomplish this Christmas. Check your bucket list and see if you have a space for how you will live your spiritual life this Christmas. Apart from attending Church services, what else is the place of God in your list? In the light of our Gospel today, I will encourage us to include in our Christmas bucket list something we may achieve to grow our spiritual life: giving to the poor, reconciling with someone you have trouble relating with, spending some time in prayer with your family etc. These are some ways you can keep your oil burning without running out.

One area that needs to have God included in our plans is when people are planning to get married. There are a lot of things that go into preparation for marriage. In most cases, many forget to make deliberate plans to include their spiritual lives in the list of their plans, with the exception of probably going for the wedding service. Marriage is a lifelong commitment and for us to keep the oil of love burning beyond the wedding day, we need deliberate plans on how we will include God in our scheme of things. People trying to get married should not restrict their planning to the material preparation. You should also draw out your spiritual plans, your prayer lives, and the place of God in your family. When we include a space for God as part of our life journey, our oils will never run dry.

Finally, in all that we do and in all our plans, check and see if there is a space for God. He alone can give you the Holy Spirit to Keep your plans burning with Success.

God has bestowed us with various responsibilities as His children. He has positioned some of us to be clergy in order to lead the people of God towards Him. Some are chosen to be parents, to lead families and children to God. Others are chosen as leaders to bring order to structures in society. But for many of us we are called to be Christians to show people the way to God. 

In all these responsibilities, and especially as Christians, our readings today (Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8:10 & Mt. 23:1-12) challenge us to be good role models to those who look up to us. When we preach, teach and demand the right conduct from our parishioners, our children, our friends and from those who are struggling in their faith, or those who do not share our faith, we must also develop the inner holiness to live by example in true humility. Otherwise we will only be exhibiting spiritual superiority that lacks credibility.

The readings challenge us against spiritual superiority that is not backed up by inner holiness. Such superiority turns us to spiritual police that are only concerned with the rights and wrongs of other people while inside of us we lack the spiritual discipline to apply same standards of holiness to ourselves. 
True holiness is not achieved by merely applying your Christian standards on other people. True holiness is achieved by applying the Christian standards to oneself first. When we apply our christian standards to ourselves and live by them, we become the pathway through which others will learn to be holy. True spiritual leadership should begin with me living the life of holiness. True spirituality should teach me to be humble. When I become truly spiritual, I will learn to see my imperfections which will lead me to acquiring the humility to see how best I can help others to grow alongside me in achieving true growth in holiness.
Unfortunately, many of us spend time dissecting what is wrong or right about other people’s lives and applying standards to others which we don’t live by (“They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” Mt. 23:4). This type of manufactured spiritual leadership is not healthy for personal growth in holiness and is not effective in changing other people’s lives. Oftentimes, we find ourselves fighting over whose religion is the best, whose church is the best or whose faith is the best. Meanwhile, we personally neglect to live by those very standards that define a person who professes that faith which we externally fight for. 
When we truly live by the standards of our faith we will not need to fight over whose faith is the best. Already, the best can be seen by our very lives. When we live by the standards of our beliefs our credibility to explain to others what we believe will be like no other. People will walk the rain and snow to hear and learn from us. Achieving inner holiness is a lifelong journey. Let’s walk it together.

The teaching of Christ in our Gospel today (Mt. 18:15-20) seems to go contrary to our perceived everyday model of reconciliation. In our everyday life we instinctively expect the person who offends us to come seeking for reconciliation. On the contrary, Christ lies the responsibility for initiating reconciliation with the person who is offended: “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his faults.” Christ admonishes us to reach out to the offender. This goes with a lot of humility. 

Christ presents four steps towards reconciliation: First is a private consultation. Effective reconciliation begins by privately seeking it. It will be counter productive to tell the whole about a wrong doing committed against you by someone before making the person in question know about it. This may jeopardize the process. In a Christian spirit, let the person be the first to know that you feel offended by his/her actions. When this first step fails Christ gave a second step where you involve one or two responsible people that can help mediate. Be sure that such people are truly responsible because some people can make matters worse between you. The third step, if the second fails, is to involve the church or the community.  

The last step, if all fail, is to treat the person “as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” This last step can be misunderstood. Many may think that this means you have finished trying; you should hate the person or treat the person with disdain. Definitely, that’s not the kind of advice we will expect from a person like Jesus who symbolizes persistent love. When Christ advised his listeners to treat the person as they would a Gentile or a Tax collector, he is asking them to follow his (Jesus) footsteps. How did Jesus treat the Gentiles and the tax collectors? You remember what he did to the Samaritan woman at the well who was considered to be a Gentile? Remember what he did to Zacchaeus and Levi who were considered to be tax collectors? He didn’t condone their behaviors neither did he hate them or despise them. He never got done with them, he never finished trying. 

This last step is about the most challenging. Christ is asking us to still forgive and love even when our efforts for reconciliation fail. It is not an invitation to hate, but it is a christian call to never give up on trying to win back a brother or sister. If we can do nothing else, we can at least continue to pray for the person and still leave room that someday reconciliation may be achieved. This was reiterated by St. Paul in the second reading (Rom. 13:8-10): “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…. Love does no evil to the neighbor.” When you seek reconciliation and the other refuses, you’re exonerated in the side of God. The burden of sin is taken away from you. But continue to lift the person up to God. This is so weird and difficult. But a christian is known by his weird and difficult actions that eventually lead to God. 

As we interact with people everyday we develop relationships that influence how they perceive us. There is hardly a one-way universal perception of an individual. People perceive us differently depending on how much they know us. Sometimes it is better not to ask people to tell us what they think about us unless we are strong enough to contend with what we will hear. In today’s Gospel (Mt. 16:13-20), Christ asked his disciples to tell him what they hear on the street about people’s perception of him. But the important question came when he wanted to know what the disciples, his closest companions, think of him. Peter spoke out from his personal experience of Jesus and said he is the Christ.

This challenges us with the question of our personal experience of Jesus as Christians. The important thing is not what others think about Jesus or what the scriptures say about him. What is important is an individual experience of Jesus as a believer: how do I experience him in my life? How do we explain Jesus to others from a personal point of view not what we hear or read about him.”

For Peter, Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, not because he read it somewhere but because he allowed himself to have a personal relationship with Jesus that made him reach that conclusion. Peter, had a personal experience, a personal touch that came as a result of his openness to Jesus. For us to have a personal experience of Jesus we need to have a relationship with him, to be open to his promptings and dispose ourselves for him to touch our innermost emotions.

For us who are Jesus’ followers today, saying that He is the Christ, the Son of God is a repetition of a revealed truth. Such statement is a fundamental fact of our belief. Beyond this, we need something more, something deeper. We need real personal relationship to enable us describe him in our own words or terms. For example, for me, my personal relationship with Jesus makes me to describe Him as a confidant that never betrays my trust, one who knows my darkest sides, my weaknesses, but instead of getting disappointed and abandoning me he rather draws closer and encourages me to be better. He is the one that waits on me when there is no one to relate with. He is the one who does not judge me but always cautions me. He is the one who upholds me when am about to give up. Who is Jesus to you?

The challenge of having a personal relationship with Jesus is that his relationship is not selfish. He wants us to share with others what we feel and experience with him. When Peter proclaimed him as the Christ, the Son of God, he crowned Peter and gave him the mandate to be the harbinger of that belief, to defend it and to share it with others. It therefore means that as christians, we are expected to be to others what Christ is to us because his relationship is infectious. If I truly experience Jesus and have a personal experience of him, then it should be translated to living it out with others. Therefore, if Jesus is a friend that never judges me, I should not judge others. If he is one who knows my darkest sides and yet stands by me and helps me to erase them and become better, then I also need to stand by my friends, my family etc. to strengthen them despite my knowledge of their weaknesses.

Today, we are invited to share with the world our deep-rooted experience of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Gospel today (Mt 15:21-28) presents us with a story of a woman who came to Jesus seeking for help to heal her daughter. This woman was a Canaanite, a group of people that were cast out by the Hebrews and considered unclean because they were seen as pagans. Although this woman knew she was considered as unclean among the Hebrews, she didn’t allow her so called ‘unclean’ status to prevent her from seeking help from a Hebrew whom she saw as capable of helping her. 

From the onset, this woman taught us a lesson. That we should not allow any barrier to stand between us and our God. Never allow the feeling of unworthiness to further push you away from God or never feel that your sins are too grave that God is no longer interested in you. If we know the God we serve and what we need, then we must not be distracted but remain focused on the prize.

Interestingly, this woman was never discouraged even by Jesus’ words that alluded to her as ‘dog’. The use of the term ‘dogs’ to refer to the Gentiles was a common practice among the Jews of Jesus’ time who believed they’re the only true children and heir of God. Jesus certainly didn’t believe in such discriminatory perception. However, he repeated the words as a reminder to his people and to show them that anyone who has faith can be saved, not only the Jews. It was also a test of faith for the woman. 

Although her faith was tried, she passed the test. She was focused on the prize and not the obstacles on the way to the prize. She abandoned her pride and focused on the needs of her daughter. She believes that this Holy man was more than what he just told her. Her pride was also tested. She refused to succumb. She knew that this man called Jesus was a holy man, and since he has done it for others, he will do it for her. And so she persisted. This woman had her faith and pride tested but she passed with patience and persistence. 

Brothers and sisters, what are the hurdles we encounter in the process of seeking God’s favors? Sometimes our prayers and requests seem to go endlessly without results. There are times we experience more hardships and even increased problems on the way despite our prayers. Such feelings of helplessness and seeming lack of immediate response from God are capable of discouraging us and creating the feeling that God doesn’t care. But like this woman in the Gospel, if we focus on the prize not the hurdles or the bumps on the way, we will eventually enjoy the flavor of our patience Sometimes God delays His answers so that we can cherish His gifts when they come. And again, at other times God’s delays may indicate His change of plans for us against our erroneous desires. Remember, He controls the future and He will not hand you a snake instead of a fish. Stick to God’s plans with patience. One who is patient can boil a rock and drink from its sauce. 


Advertisements