REFLECTION FOR TODAY,
July 4, 2020

By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA

FASTING AND FREEDOM

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." Matthew 9:14-15

In the strict sense of the word, are we free today in our world? Do you want to be free? Do you want to discover true freedom in your life? Most certainly you do. But what does that mean? And how do you obtain it?

Freedom is what we are made for. We are made to be free to live life to the fullest and to experience the unfathomable joys and blessings God desires to bestow upon us. But all too often we have a misconception of what true freedom is all about. Freedom, more than anything else, is an experience of the joy of having the Bridegroom with us. It's the joy of the wedding feast of the Lord. We were made to celebrate our unity with God for eternity.

In today's Gospel, Jesus clearly states that the wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them. However, "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."

It is helpful to look at the relationship between fasting and freedom. At first this may seem like a strange combination. But if fasting is properly understood, it will be seen as a pathway toward the glorious gift of true freedom.

There are times in our lives when "the Bridegroom is taken away." This can refer to many things. One thing it particularly refers to are the times when we experience a sense of the loss of Christ in our lives. This can certainly come as a result of our own sin, but it can also come as a result of us growing closer to Christ. In the first case, fasting can help free us from the many sinful attachments we have in life.

Fasting has the potential to strengthen our will and purify our desires. In the second case, there are times when we are growing very close to Christ and, as a result, He hides His presence from our lives. This may seem strange at first but it is done so that we will seek Him all the more. In this case, also, fasting can become a means of deepening our faith and commitment to Him.

Fasting can take on many forms, but, at the heart, it is simply an act of self-denial and self-sacrifice for God. It helps us overcome earthly and fleshly desires so that our spirits can more fully desire Christ.

Reflect, today, on how deeply you desire Christ in your life. If you see that there are other competing desires that tend to drown out Christ, consider offering acts of fasting and other forms of self-denial. Make them small sacrifices for God and you will see the good fruit they produce.

Lord, I desire You in my life above all things. Help me to see the things that compete for Your love and to offer sacrifice so that my soul can be purified and live in the freedom You desire for me. Jesus, I trust in You.



REFLECTION FOR TODAY,
July 3, 2020

By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA

MY LORD AND MY GOD

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But Thomas said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." John 20:24-25

God calls us. When we hear it, we answer in faith and begin to experience an authentic missionary journey. At times, many of us doubt; both the call itself and the path laid before us. As Thomas did, we find ourselves longing for proof. Moments of courage are interrupted by moments of fear. In John's Gospel, we hear Thomas' initial courage as he spoke to the other disciples, "…'Let us also go, that we may die with him'" (Jn 11:16). Yet, shortly after, we hear St. Thomas' anxiety, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Thomas' human emotions remind us that we need a Savior. At these times, may we remember Jesus' mighty answer to St. Thomas when He said, "...I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14: 5-7).

Doubt can give way to fear, but faith gives way to action. Once the Apostle Thomas sets aside his doubt and embraces Jesus after the Resurrection, he is emboldened to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Likewise, we are emboldened by Christ's presence in word and sacrament, and can allow faith to overcome fear and doubt.

It's easy to be critical of St. Thomas for his lack of belief reflected in his statement above. But before you allow yourself to think poorly of him, think about how you would have responded. This is a difficult exercise to do since we know clearly the end of the story. We know Jesus did rise from the dead and that Thomas ultimately came to believe, crying out "My Lord and my God!" But try to put yourself in his situation.

First, Thomas probably doubted, in part, out of extreme sadness and despair. He had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, he had dedicated the last three years of his life to following Him, and now Jesus was dead…so he thought. This is an important point because very often in life when we encounter some difficulty, disappointment or painful situation, like the covid-19 pandemic or the racial injustice, our faith is tested. We are tempted to allow despair to draw us into doubt and when this happens we make decisions based more upon our hurt than upon our faith.

Second, Thomas was also called to deny the physical reality that he witnessed with his own eyes and believe something that was completely "impossible" from an earthly perspective. People simply do not rise from the dead! This simply doesn't happen, at least from an earthly perspective alone. And even though Thomas had seen Jesus perform such miracles before, it took much faith to believe without seeing with his own eyes. So despair and an apparent impossibility went to the heart of Thomas' faith and extinguished it.

Reflect, today, upon two lessons we can take from this passage: 1) Do not ever allow despair, disappointment or hurt to be the guide of your decisions or beliefs in life. They are never a good guide. 2) Do not doubt the power of God to be able to do anything and everything He chooses. In this case, God chose to rise from the dead and so He did. In our own lives, God can do anything He wills. We must believe that and know that what He reveals to us in faith will come to be if we but trust in His provident care.

Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief. When I am tempted to give in to despair or to doubt Your almighty power over all things in life, help me to turn to You and to trust in You with all my heart. May I cry out, with St. Thomas, "My Lord and my God," and may I do so even when I see only with the faith You put into my soul. Jesus, I trust in You.



REFLECTION FOR TODAY,
July 2, 2020

By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA

COURAGE TO SEEK FORGIVENESS

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Courage, child, your sins are forgiven." Matt 9: 2

Turn to Jesus and ask for his help in increasing our faith is very important in our Christian live. To forgive another person can be hard. But to forgive ourselves can be even harder. Not to do so is a way of rejecting Christ's authority to forgive us, much as the religious leaders did. But when we struggle with this challenge, we can turn to Jesus and ask for his help in increasing our faith. He has already redeemed us from the consequence of sin; let us allow him to help us.

Jesus forgives the sins of a paralyzed young man. When the religious leaders say he is blaspheming, Jesus cures the man of his paralysis as a sign that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.

The above passage concludes with Jesus healing the paralytic and telling him to "rise, pick up your stretcher and go home." The man does just that and the crowds are amazed.

There are two miracles that happen here. One is physical and one is spiritual. The spiritual one is that this man's sins are forgiven. The physical one is the healing of his paralysis.

Which of these miracles are more important? Which one do you think the man desired the most?

It's hard to answer the second question since we do not know the man's thoughts, but the first question is easy. The spiritual healing, the forgiveness of his sins, is by far the most important of these two miracles. It's the most significant because it has eternal consequences for his soul.

For most of us, it's easy to pray to God for things like a physical healing or the like. We may find it quite easy to ask for favors and blessings from God. But how easy is it for us to ask for forgiveness? This may be harder to do for many because it requires an initial act of humility on our part. It requires that we first acknowledge we are sinners in need of forgiveness.

Acknowledging our need for forgiveness takes courage, but this courage is a great virtue and reveals a great strength of character on our part. Coming to Jesus to seek His mercy and forgiveness in our lives is the most important prayer we can pray and the foundation of all the rest of our prayers.

Reflect, today, upon how courageous you are in asking God for forgiveness and how humbly you are willing to acknowledge your sin. Making an act of humility like this is one of the most important things you can do.

Lord, give me courage. Give me courage, especially, to humble myself before You and to acknowledge all my sin. In this humble acknowledgment, help me to also seek Your daily forgiveness in my life. Jesus, I trust in You.



REFLECTION FOR TODAY,
July 1, 2020

By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA

JESUS DELIVERS

When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?" Matthew 8:28-29

This Scripture passage reveals two things: 1) Demons are ferocious; 2) Jesus has complete power over them.

First of all, we should notice that the two demoniacs "were so savage that no one could travel by that road." That's a very significant statement. It's clear that the demons possessing these two men were vicious and filled those in the town with great fear. So much so that no one would even come near them. This is not a very pleasant thought, but it is reality and it is worth understanding. True, we may not encounter evil in such a direct way very often, but we do face it at times. The evil one is alive and well and is constantly striving to build his demonic kingdom here on Earth.

Think of times when evil appeared to be manifest, oppressive, malicious, calculated, etc. There are times in history when the evil one appeared to triumph in powerful ways. And there are ways that his activity is still manifest in our world today.

That brings us to the second lesson of this story. Jesus has complete authority over the demons. Interestingly, He casts them out into the herd of swine and the swine then run down the hill and die. Bizarre. The towns people are so overwhelmed they then ask Jesus to leave the town. Why would they do that? In part, the reason seems to be the fact that Jesus' exorcism of these two men causes quite a commotion. This is because manifest evil does not depart quietly.

This is an important lesson to remember in our day and age. It's important because the evil one appears to be making his presence known to a greater and greater degree today. And he certainly has plans to make his presence even more known in the coming years. We see this in the moral downfall of our societies, the public acceptance of immorality, the secularization of the various world cultures, the increase of terrorism, etc. There are countless ways that the evil one appears to be winning the battle.

Jesus is all-powerful and will win in the end. But the hard part is that His victory will most likely cause quite a scene and it will make many uneasy. Just as they told Him to leave their town after He freed the demoniacs, so also there are many Christians today who are all too willing to ignore the rise of the kingdom of the evil one so as to avoid any contention.

Reflect, today, if you are willing to face the "consequences," so to speak, of confronting the kingdom of the evil one with the Kingdom of God. Are you willing to do what it takes to stand strong in a culture that is continually deteriorating? Are you willing to remain steadfast in the face of the noise of the evil one? Saying "Yes" to this will not be easy, but it will be a glorious imitation of our Lord Himself.

Lord, help me to remain strong in the face of the evil one and his kingdom of darkness. Help me to confront that kingdom with confidence, love and truth so as to bring forth Your Kingdom in its place. Jesus, I trust in You.