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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Abounding in Mercy, Rich in Kindness!

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 24, 2017
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

Happy Sunday!

Today's readings show us that God is
outrageously generous and merciful, and that His wisdom surpasses our human categories of value and judgment.

In the first reading (Isaiah 55:6-9), Isaiah exhorts the people of Israel, returned from exile in Babylon, to sincerely search for the Lord who is merciful and generous. Dispirited by the experience of a devastated homeland, they have become weary of their faith and their vaunted heritage. He reminds them that the Lord’s ways are not obvious to us, and need to be actively sought while we have the opportunity.

In the second reading (Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a), St. Paul shows us the spirit of true Christian service. He asserts that he would bring honor to Christ, whether by life or death. Death for him is gain for he would relish the heavenly reward. To continue to live in this world, however, would mean a more fruitful labor for the Gospel. This would benefit more greatly the community of faith and encourage them to live a life worthy of the Gospel.

The gospel reading(Matt 20:1-16a), presents us with the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. It demonstrates the difference between our spontaneous judgements and God’s thinking. In the Kingdom of Heaven, all are equally loved. Human standards are not to be used to measure God’s generosity
which is founded on His mercy and
compassion. His ideals of justice, concern and love for all can never be matched by any purely human program. It is God’s will and wisdom to save all who want to work for Him, and that should be our intention too.

Several things stand out for our understanding.

First, equality -- as we understand it -- may convey justice. But it is goodness, generosity and love as personified by Jesus Himself that enable us to go beyond justice and share with those who are marginal, unfortunate and abandoned members of society. And lest we forget, even these virtues are gifts from God.

In fact, there is nothing that we are and have that has not come from God. We cannot be envious or jealous because God is generous to someone else. The tender compassion of
God is all visible for us to see and emulate. A person out of work is a tragic figure and all the late comers wanted some opportunity to work and God out of his generosity gives it.

Second, a life of generosity reflects God’s nature in a special way. Surely, God is just; but He is also outrageously generous and merciful at the same time. We do not get what we deserve. Rather God gives us more than we deserve. Today, He calls each one of us to be a generous people. We know forgiveness is hard, but we see that real generosity is even harder than forgiveness. 

Generosity is a fight with human nature, with what we like to call fairness, but which can often turn into resentment -- not resentment against injustice, but against the grace God throws around to other people. When it happens to us, we praise God for his grace to us and our families. When it happens to someone else, as often as not, we get out the calculator, and switch on the lamentation mode.

Finally, we all are welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven; where new comers belong; where 
the last are first and the excluded are included; because God's thoughts are not our thoughts. God's standards are not our standards. Each one of us must feel at home. We can therefore begin to mirror heaven in our homes, in our jumuias (African online shopping), in our Churches and let all our brothers and sisters feel welcome. 

There are not tribal or political or social affiliations in heaven. At the table of God, we all belong. We who will live in eternity together in heaven, ought to begin here on earth, embracing those who are different from us, loving those whom we have been taught to hate, in imitation of God Himself.

The Lord is kind and full of compassion,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
How good is the Lord to all,
compassionate to all his creatures
(Psalm 145)

Monday, September 18, 2017

God is Merciful; We Must Be Too!

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 17, 2017
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

Last week, the church reminded us of the importance of reconciliation through fraternal dialogue and mutual love. Today she, invites us to reflect on forgiveness. It is a very
important element of reconciliation, and our Christian belief. It is the central message of today’s first and gospel readings. (Sirach 27:30-28:7; Matt 18: 21-35)

There is a popular saying that to err is human, while to forgive is divine. That is to say, that the one who sins acts humanly. This is because, it is part of our attributes as humans to err or to sin. On the other hand, the one who forgives acts divinely. This is because, to forgive is to participate in a very important attribute and nature of God. That is, His divinity. It is what our God is known for.
“He is compassionate, merciful, love and He forgives” (Ps 102).

The first reading reminds us that for our prayer to be answered, we must forgive others. It presupposes that we are all sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness. So to be forgiven, first, we must forgive others. Therefore, Sirach urges us:
“Forgive your neighbor the hurt he does to you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven.” This is a call to liberate others, in other to liberate and heal ourselves too.
In the second reading (Romans 14:7-9), Paul reminds us of something very important. The life and death of each of us has its influence on the other. Our ability to forgive too influences the other. Hence, it is important to note that, forgiveness has a double effect. It is a single dose medicine that cures one or many persons at the same time. It liberates the one who is forgiven, as well as, heals the one who forgives.

In the gospel, Christ takes forgiveness to a different and practical level. This unfolds in the dialogue between Peter and Christ. Peter asked a theoretical question:
“How many times must I forgive my brother?” Jesus answered him in the most practical way: “seventy-seven times.” Christ’s response, simply reminds us that Christian forgiveness does not have limits. We must forgive all, always and forever as the prayer of Saint Francis of Assis says: “Wherever there is injury, pardon.”

To demonstrate this, Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven.The wicked servant was forgiven a great debt, but he could not forgive his neighbor a little debt. He was set free, but he jailed his neighbor. The message of this parable is that we must treat others mercifully. We must forgive, because God forgives us every day. We must not always hold our neighbors to contempt. Rather, we must consider their situations as God considers our situation always.

What does it mean to forgive all and forever? First, it does not mean: “I forgive you, but we must go our separate ways,” or "I forgive you, but I do not want to see you again in my life,”
or "I forgive you, but I will not forget.” It means something much deeper. It means to restore unity, to believe that it is possible to walk together towards a common goal. It means to heal a wound, without leaving a scar.

It is important to add that, sometimes, one equally needs to forgive oneself for the faults committed against self. Endless grieving or guilt because of one’s mistakes reduces the quality of life. It hinders both spiritual and material progress. So, we must forgive ourselves too, in other to continue living in peace with ourselves.

Finally, he who forgives acts like Christ. So, as we pray today at this Eucharistic celebration: “Forgive us our offences, as we forgive those who offend us,” let us ask God to help us to be true to these words, by living them practically.
Thank you for praying for my mother, Lucy. she is recovering 
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

*Fr. Joe Mungai, FMH, is a Franciscan Missionary of Hope, a relatively new congregation started in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993. He was ordained June 7, 2014. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 3, 2017
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

Years ago, when Poland was still under Communist control, the Prime Minister ordered the crucifixes removed from
classroom walls. Catholic Bishops attacked the ban, which had stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland. 

Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms. But one zealous Communist school administrator, the director of the Mietnow agricultural college, Ryszard Dobrynski, took the crosses down from his seven lecture halls where they had hung since the school's founding in the twenties. 

Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had these taken down as well. 

The next day two-thirds of the school's six hundred students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then they marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby Church where they were joined by twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the
protest. Soldiers surrounded the Church. But the press was there as well, and pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world. So did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning. "There is no Poland without the cross."

Perhaps the cross has come to symbolize something easy to us because we have not had to sacrifice for our faith in our lives. The more we are called upon to carry our own crosses, the more we will understand the cross Our Savior carried to the hill called Golgotha. That is why today’s gospel challenges us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus. (Mt 16: 21-27)
"Customer Satisfaction" has become an important word today. The modern world values three things: pleasure, convenience, and comfort. This is a human standard. 

In today's gospel we heard about two standards -- human and divine. Peter took Jesus aside and and rebuked Him for speaking of  His future suffering and death. Jesus' response is "Get thee behind me, Satan! . . . You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

At Caesarea Philippi, Peter rightly confessed "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Matt 16:16) But Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ messiahship is something kingly, glorious, and triumphant. Thus, when Jesus revealed to his disciples that He was to undergo passion and death, the knee-jerk reaction of Peter was “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” As soon as it was said, Jesus rebuked Peter because he could be a hindrance to the plan of God. 

Early Christian theologian Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way you would like me to go." Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled as Christ's follower. Like Peter, the Church is often tempted to judge the success or failure of her ministry by the world’s standards. But Jesus teaches that worldly success is not always the Christian way. The standard of God is never about pleasure, convenience, and comfort. On the contrary, it is sometimes excruciating, inconvenient, and uncomfortable.

The incident was an eye-opener for Peter. Peter now has to learn that the standard of
God is not about comfort, not about privilege, not about convenience. It is often about pain and sacrifice. This is the cost of discipleship. 

There are three consequences of discipleship. First, self-denial, which is a means of opening our world to others and to God.  In a world devoted only to materialism, people tend to be become very self-absorbed. 

Second, we take up our cross. This value is difficult for the modern world to absorb because we are used to being comfortable. Crosses in life abound. They are present in our day-to-day existence. They may appear in a form of illness. They may also appear in a form relational misunderstandings or conflicts. In the name of convenience and comfort, some people may rebel against God because of illness. Or some may withdraw when they are faced with relational problems. For instance, in marital life, a simple misunderstanding already offers discomfort. It’s so sad that the only resolution for conflict that a husband or a wife knows is divorce. One must instead take up the cross and face the conflict. Find solutions to the problem. Carrying the cross can be liberating.

Third, we follow Jesus. Following Jesus is something definitive and radical. When we
follow Him, we follow the total aspects of His Person and life. There is no room for “pick and choose” mentality here. We cannot just say that we follow Him in His way of love, but not in His way of forgiveness or accepting the cross. This attitude will never make us His true disciples.

The gospel calls us to take seriously our  vocation as Christians. Pleasure, convenience, and comfort is not the end of our lives.  In the final analysis, life has taught us that sacrifice and pain are sometimes necessary, and a means to attaining glory. Amen.

(Say a prayer for my mum Lucy, to have a speedy recovery).
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

*Fr. Joe Mungai, FMH, is a Franciscan Missionary of Hope, a relatively new congregation started in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993. He was ordained June 7, 2014.