St. Bernard Catholic Church

Wabash, Indiana



SUNDAY REFLECTION





PALM SUNDAY - APRIL 5, 2020


"Celebrating Holy Week in Isolation"


In a lifetime, Christians, especially Catholics, are faced are forced to celebrate Easter, the epicenter of their faith in Jesus Christ, differently. In April 2020, the rich Christocentric spirituality of Easter, finely articulated in the Holy Week and climaxed in the Triddum (the 3 days of the redemptive acts, before resurrection), has turned out to be a celebration in isolation. Thoughts of wonder besiege believers on how satisfying a celebration in isolation would be, due to the global social distancing, prescribed as a protective measure against the peril of COVID-19.

In truth, celebrating in isolation can never be the same with the well organized and enriching community experiences of Easter liturgies. Rather than drain our emotional energies, wallowing in regrets, or shut down the oasis of our spirituality, is it not fair enough to ask God for the serenity to accept the consequences of COVID-19, as one of the few things in life, we cannot change. Is learning to deal with the era of COVID-19, without being crushed, not wisdom? As the world battles against this awful pandemic, staying positive and safe is required. A good start would be to make a departure from the memories of public celebration and discover the hidden lessons of isolation.

How positive could Easter celebration in isolation sound? In contrast to isolation being considered as a total disruption of worship of God, Isaiah admonishes: “Go, my people, go to your private room, shut yourselves in. Hide yourselves a little while until the retribution has passed” (Is. 26:20). Could there be any known retribution of our time, more fitting than COVID-19? It doesn’t matter much whether the retribution has divine, human or cosmic origin. In essence, this period of isolation can speak different meanings to us.

Have you imagined celebrating the Holy Week in isolation? Think of how Jesus celebrated the first Easter; definitely, not with pageantry, but in utter isolation. Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of the Holy Week. We are all called to celebrate the holiest of weeks of the entire church year in Isolation. Step by step, let us follow the isolation path of Jesus by reimagining his painful hours and days of sufferings and death, as the missing light for this period of stay home.

Let us identity elements of isolation on the first Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, more than other days of the Holy Week, ends in anticlimax. Jesus’ humble ride on a colt into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:1-11), climaxed to bitter isolation. Since the meanest form of isolation is that inflicted by loved ones, Jesus swallowed the nastiest part.

The crowd that welcomed Jesus with branches of olives and palm, amidst shouts of joy, spreading their clothes, was not different from the unanimous hooting: “Let him be crucified” (Mt. 27:22). His perfect humility and obedience were taken for granted. Apostle Judas, after dinning with him betrayed him. Peter, his chief of staff, denied him: “I do not know this man” (Mt. 26:74). Suddenly, the Master was labeled a stranger. Even the three members of his inner caucus: Peter, James and John, rather abandoned Jesus than keep an hour watch with him. The crowd that Jesus fed and healed chose the release of Barabbas, the criminal, but rejected him. Suspended on the cross, Jesus heavily wearied by the weight of humanity’s isolation lamented the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46).

Celebrating Holy Week in isolation enables us to capture the true presence of the events of the passion and death of Jesus. Therefore, our current state of isolation could as well enlighten us to experience a sincere participation in the passion and death of Jesus. If well taken, our awful experiences in isolation could ultimately turn into improved attachment to Jesus, during this Holy Week and beyond. Welcome to Holy Week.
Fr. Levi



FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 29, 2020


"Our Hope Shall Not Be in Vain"


Dear friends: May the peace of Christ, which the world cannot give, be with you! I address you as friends in the comradeship of Christ (John 15:15). The existing fear calls for renewed friendship and companionship centered in Christ, in order to resist the aggressive fatality of COVID-19. Unmanaged apprehension can be deadlier than the global pandemic, itself.

The trauma of uncertainties makes it extremely difficult to find the appropriate words of consolation. Actually, words at this challenging time might sound empty without the sacraments or effective COVID-19 vaccine. How much longer shall the suspension last? And how convincing would it sound to say: I still feel your presence in your absence? To assure you that your physical absence is complemented by your spiritual presence? Faced with the torments of the unknown, consoling words seem to sound unreal. However, the feebleness of my words is strengthened in the veracity of the Word of God.

Today, more than ever, I found reassuring hope in the prophetic words of the scripture. It couldn’t have been mere coincidence that at the peak of a global lethal threat to the most beautiful gift called life, God speaks to us in a language of reassuring hope. I believe that, if not all, as many as would personalize these words would recount the fulfillment of God’s promises, when the raging tide is calmed. Hear, then, the promises of the Chief Shepherd for us His vulnerable flock: God said: “I will put my Spirit in you that you may live” (Ezekiel 37:12-14). Imagine these beautiful reassuring words that sound like – I will enliven you. I am your life insurance. I will optimize your immunity.

Are you unsure of being part of the flock of Christ? “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:8-11). Are you scared that your friendship with God has been compromised? The Psalmist echoes consolation: “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption,” (Responsorial Psalm 130: 7).

Sin constitutes a strong barrier between God and us: “Those who are in the flesh (carnality) cannot please God,” (Rom. 8:8); except they purge themselves of sins, and then live in the Spirit. Fortunately, repentance attracts God’s mercy. Mercy wipes clean sins and reconnects us to God’s friendship.

Perchance, infection occurred, believe the words of Jesus: “This sickness will not lead unto death…” (John 11:4) – Jesus did it to Lazarus. He would do it for you or your loved one. Just believe like Martha and Mary did.

Worst scenario: The Gospel acclamation reminds us that, “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die” (John. 11:26). In the process, whoever dies in friendship with Christ will eternally be alive. Courage, friends! You are not alone: “When Jesus saw her (Mary the sister of Lazarus) weeping, and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled… And Jesus wept” (John 11: 1-45). Jesus shares our anxieties and pains. Please try to overcome isolation by believing that we are in it together with Christ.
God bless you. Fr. Levi



FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 22, 2020


"Impaired Visibility"


Impaired visibility is no proof for lack of presence. Rather, distorted visibility misleads to inaccurate conclusion. The reality of presence remains unchangeable but concealed until a change in direction or mental deconstruction happens. Physical shifts and mental adjustments can provide appropriate lenses for visible clarity. Imagine a sudden realization that reality has been perceived through poor visibility. Imagine also the immeasurable joy, and expository humiliation, that follow clarity of vision.

Suppose COVID-19, the most dreaded pandemic, is here to taunt the impaired visibility of our global society? Could it be that the world has existed blindly for thousands of years? Is it possible that COVID-19 came as a global warning?

Poor visibility is as bad as settling with symptomatic feelings. Settling for regular symptoms in a patient conceals the true nature of contagious virus, thereby exposing the public health to higher risks. The marauding COVID-19 arrived as unknown fast-killer with its concealed (window period) virulent fatality. Through impaired visibility, it was mistaken as a novel brand of the common flu. Likewise, the biblical Samuel focused on external features as clue to identify the chosen king of Israel. His visibility was blurred with manliness and good looks, present among the older 7 sons of Jesse, but lacking in the minor (son), David. On the contrast, neither age nor stature mattered as much as David’s shepherding virtue, which Samuel was unable to discern (1Sam. 16:1b, 6-7,10-13a). So, reality stays hidden under poor visibility.

The pandemic anxiety shaking global foundations and economy today can be compared to the dark world of the man born blind in the gospel of John. Within such precarious situations, questions like: whose sin caused the man’s blindness from birth was as unnecessary as asking today, by whose oversight is COVID-19 terrorizing the entire humanity? “Who sinned” sounds like “whose fault caused COVID-19”? And which country is responsible?

Instead, the corrective answer by Jesus could be inspiring: He is not blind due to any sinful act, but that “the work of God might be made visible through him” (Jn. 9:1-3). As we eagerly await the availability of COVID-19 vaccine, certain contemplations can be pertinent. Could God be speaking in the midst of the menace of COVID-19? Has the fear of death silenced the rowdiness of a busy world? Has COVID-19 forced people of the world to contemplate life and its purposes more than ever before? Has it proven that tight work ethics, economic growth, vacations, partying, going to games, can be forgone, whenever life is threatened? Who thought that stay-home order was possible?

Could it be that through impaired visibility the loosening of family bonds were unnoticed or ignored? Was it the case, that shared faith prayers, and the visibility of God’s presence, were restricted in the church buildings?

Could any positives be learned from COVID-19? The obvious is that life at its best lies in the sacredness of each human life, regardless of nation, race, religion gender, age or color. Could the stay-home order create more bonding in the family, especially for kids, who had struggled with insufficient time from working parents? Has COVID-19 panic caused a radical turn to God in prayers?

Humility is the way out of this killer virus. Cultural pride would prolong its devastations. Cultural pride like the Pharisaic conspiracy is the worst form of blindness because of its contradictory defenses. Cultural pride means being blind, but still denying it. Such blindness, according to Jesus is incurable, whereas the acceptance of blindness (or impaired visibility) summons divine healing – “that those who do not see might see and those who do see might become blind” (John 9:38-41). COVID-19 has proven that recklessness toward human life at any level can generate a pandemic.

Now is the time to emphasize family as the first church. Staying home with God would strengthen family bond and faith. The true church is Christ and his faithful, not the buildings. May God be our protection against this raging COVID-19, Amen.

Amen. Father Levi



THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 15, 2020


"Irresistible Thirst"


It is assumed that water only is capable of sustaining human life for 3-4 weeks. Water is one element that can sustain life across the desert, until stored energy is exhausted. Dehydration kills faster than hunger. And so, extreme thirst represents a periculum mortis (in danger of death) condition, which bends the rules. This vital importance of water beams its connection to life.

Thirsty of natural water in the wilderness, the Israelites desperately cried out against Moses. In their lament, these Israelites preferred slavery (in Egypt) with drinking water to freedom in the wilderness without water. Their desperation underscores the imminent threat to life induced by thirst. In order to survive the choking grip of thirst, these Israelites did not mind putting God to the test at Massa and Meribah (Ex 17:3-7). God in turn, reassured them of his omnipotence by using Moses to provide water from the rock – an improbable feat.

At the well of Jacob, similar force of thirst drew Jesus and his disciples into an enemy territory (John 4: 5-42). Traditionally, Jews and Samaritans harbor mutual hatred against each other. But the force of thirst shattered the cultural barrier. Like at Massa and Meribah, inhibitory territorial laws gave way to lifesaving actions. Oddities were also surmounted. While the Samaritan woman overcame her oddity of talking to Jesus, a Jewish male, at an odd (lonely) time of the day, Jesus overlooked the negative impression of conversing with an immoral woman. In other words, the raging force of thirst paved way for a successful dialogue that culminated in Christ oriented conversion.

Whenever barriers are broken, reality unveils. At the encounter of Jesus, the Samaritan woman, initially in need of natural water became thirsty of the living water (Christ), which wells up to eternal life. After her transformative experience, she ran into the city, and with her testimony predisposed the minds of her fellow Samaritans, and then invited them to meet Jesus at the well. With a burning thirst for Jesus, the Samaritans looked beyond his Jewishness and believed his teaching. Thus, they told the woman: “we no longer believe because of your word; for we heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:42).

These two biblical instances support the very fact that if thirst for natural water could lead to relaxation of regular rules and inhibitions, the equivalent force of thirst for things of Christ would reasonably produce amazing faith as it did among the Samaritans. In essence, the stories demonstrate that it takes an irresistible thirst for natural water to elicit the brand of faith that thirsts for the living water or eternal life in Christ. In this third week of Lent, Christians are called to thirst for Christ, the way they thirst for natural water on a scorching day.
Good luck and God bless you. Fr. Levi.



SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 8, 2020


"Self-forgetfulness"


Uncertainty defines every promise. This is not only true between human beings, but also appropriate between God and human persons. In both aspects, trust is inevitable. On the one hand, the degree of Trust is determined by the trustworthiness of the promisor. On the other hand, the trustworthiness of the promisor could be underrated by the doubtful mind of the promisee. In essence, it takes the trustworthiness of the promisor and the credulity or the childlike trust of the promisee in order to experience the fulfillment of a promise from God. Since, the credibility of God, the promisor, has been proven, it is reasonably correct to assert that the “Missing Arm” for the fulfillment of divine promises is the childlike trust or childlikeness of human persons.

Childlikeness can best be understood theologically as self-forgetfulness. It is natural for humans to be forgetful of things but ever conscious of the self. Self-forgetfulness is a complete reverse of this natural tendency. At the natural level, self-consciousness is the goal. But at the supernatural level, self-forgetfulness is the goal. Self-forgetfulness is the total dependency on the trustworthiness of God in order to have a successful engagement of the vagueness associated with divine promises.

Is self-forgetfulness an impossibility? Interestingly, many human beings engage in self-forgetfulness in their interpersonal daily interactions. Top on this list are new lovers and airplane passengers. These two groups of people exhibit more of self-forgetfulness than self-consciousness. Like new lovers, most airplane passengers worry less about the risk of lives they put at stake boarding an airplane with manageable conditions and inexperienced pilots. In fact, the slightest worry disappears completely when the airplane has been delayed for couple hours. Such situations automatically transform people’s options for self-consciousness to total dependency on another person (self-forgetfulness). So, if it is possible to occasionally practice self-forgetfulness, how often do we apply it to God?

Two biblical models of self-forgetfulness are given in today’s readings: Abram from the Old Testament and Peter in the New Testament. Both are great personalities with natural virtues. Each however, had his own struggle along the journey of faith. Both wonderfully answered their divine calls with impressive sense of self-forgetfulness. Abram was asked to abandon his homeland and all its prospects, with a (vague) promise to become a father of great nation (gen. 12:1-4). Peter too, had to abandon his fishing business (and family tie) for a (vague) promise to become a fisher of men. His request at the scene of transfiguration attests to self-forgetfulness – “Lord, it is good that we are here,” than elsewhere; therefore, let me “make three tents for You, Moses, and Elijah” (Matt 17:1-9); but not even one for James, John and himself). None had clarity of vision concerning the fulfillment of his promise. Still, they struggled to substitute their self-reliance with absolute reliance on God.

Being humans, their trust in God wobbled with time and life challenges. At the moments of their failures, both sacrificed their self-forgetfulness and total reliance on God for self-reliance. Overcome with self-consciousness (what could happen to me?), both drifted into man-pleasers, rather than God pleasers. To please Sarah, the wife, Abraham was impatient with God’s promise and impregnated Hagar for an heir. The consequence of such impatience has continued to deny the world of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians. Peter was even worse. Self-consciousness of Peter turned into the forgetfulness of the Lord. As a man-pleaser, he denied the Lord 3 times. Like Abraham, Peter at some point lost fear of the Lord and fell into the fear of the people.

Abraham and Peter remind us of our strength and weaknesses as Christians. Whereas their faithfulness in God was strengthened by self-forgetfulness, their failures were caused by loss of fear of God, which culminated in self-reliance. The renowned preacher to popes, Raniero Cantalamessa (OFM), summarizes self-forgetfulness as: “Fear the Lord, and do not be afraid of anything else.” Jesus even in the midst of his passion endorsed self-forgetfulness when he said: “Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves and your children;” and “Father, let this cup pass me; not my will, but your will be done.” So, if Abram and Peter in their weakness practiced self-forgetfulness, we too can equally do that, so long as we prefer to be God pleasers rather than human pleasers.
God bless you, Fr. Levi



FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT - MARCH 1, 2020


"Why be Tempted?"


Tom, a certain young adult, got a surprise call from his baptismal sponsor. His sponsor travelled abroad a few months after Tom’s infant baptism, and barely communicated. The message was straight: “I returned yesterday, please come to my house and do an errand for me.” Tom obliged. Tom’s sponsor gave him $350 to buy a good phone he would use, while visiting.

In less than 10 minutes, Tom arrived at the phone shop (with nonrefundable policy) but spent another 35 minutes sampling the various phones on display. The entire 45 minutes were not enough for Tom to decide whether to buy a low quality Chinese brand and keep the balance for himself, or be honest and buy the original branded phone with the whole money. Eventually, Tom saw it as a rare opportunity to swindle his stingy sponsor. After all, his sponsor would soon travel back before the phone could develop problems. So, he used $200 to buy a fake brand of phone and falsified the receipt, by bribing the sales girl with $50 (equivalent of the local currency). Smiling home, he handed over the package with the receipt to his sponsor. His sponsor strengthened up, apologized for lack of communications in previous years, and with a passionate hug, gave Tom the package, saying: “Happy birthday, my dear.” Tom didn’t even remember it was his birthday. Overall, it takes a cheat to fall into temptation.

Was Tom tempted, and by who? Recall, he terribly lost $250 by attempting to scam his sponsor. How does Tom’s story resonate with the temptation of the 1st Adam (at Eden garden of plenty) and that of the 2nd Adam (at the barren desert). Understanding temptation as random trials meant to disprove (or prove) our love priority for God exposes who the tempter is. God cannot be the tempter because the same God desires our protectiveness from the consequences of temptations. Neither does God lead us into temptation – a reason Pope Francis has called for the review of the poor translation of Our Father in certain languages. In my native Igbo language the line: “Lead us not into temptation,” reads, “Do not allow us to fall into temptation.” The revision therefore would not affect “Our Lord’s prayer” in my language.The Bible calls Satan, the tempter, in both temptation of Adam & Eve (Gen. 3: 1-7) and in the temptation of Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11). Truly, Satan is the tempter because he is the one that constantly doubts humanity’s faithfulness to the love of God. Satan prows about on a daily basis attempting to prove that God only entices human beings into love, with the claim that humanity would desert God if they were offered competing options not to love God back. It is no surprise therefore that the devil is diabolum in Latin (one who casts divisive barrier between humanity and God).

However, the devil only suggests with enticements. He absolutely lacks control over our wills, but overcomes our resistance by offering us that which we lust for, as irresistible bait. Adam & Eve were victims of the lures of Satan because of their insatiable appetite in the garden of abundance – affirming the Latin saying: Amor habendo habendi crescit (the love of having increases by having). On the contrary, the perfect contentment of Jesus assured his overwhelming defeat of satanic lures. Unlike the garden of abundance, the austere life depicted with the desert region allowed Jesus to focus on nothing but the love of God. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the recommended life jackets.

Should we get rid of temptations? We don’t have to aim at eliminating temptations, partly because we lack the ability, and partly because we lose the good fruit of temptation, which is renewed faithfulness in God. Temptation is no sin – a reason Jesus passed through it. Rather, temptation is a crafty lure to revolt against God. As noticed, temptation does not always lead to sin. Instead, drawing strength from Christ to overcome temptation confirms but also renews our profession of love to God. This first week of Lent, urges us to flee from inordinate pleasures that are capable of casting huge barrier between God and us. Such inordinate attractions are distractions. So, flee for your life!!!
God bless you. Fr. Levi.



SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - FEBRUARY 23, 2020


"A “Short cut” to Holiness"