BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong




1. Shortest Homily. Father Bassey went to celebrate Sunday Mass at an outstation where there was no electricity. The small Church was filled up with people. There was no fuel for the station’s generator and so no fan. The temperature was 35○C (95○ F). Everyone was sweating. Father Bassey got up, read the Gospel and after the people sat down, he gave the shortest homily anyone there had ever heard. Just three words. ‘Hell is worse.’ Then he sat down. Everyone laughed. No one ever forgot that. Father Bassey turned a crisis into an opportunity, in a humorous and unforgettable way. We all face crises. It is difficult to bring humor into every crisis. In fact, when we face serious crises, we usually say that it is not a laughing matter: idighe mbre edie emi O! Today’s Scripture readings present a beautiful way in which the early Church handled a serious crisis that was not a laughing matter, a crisis that was threatening the very soul of the Church, a crisis that could be described as an existential crisis. The early Church managed the crisis in a manner that gives us great lessons for managing other crises we face such as financial crisis, marital crisis, pastoral crisis, vocation crisis, and so on.

2. The Crisis. In the 1st Reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29), some unauthorized preachers who were Jewish converts to Christianity, went and told Gentile converts to Christianity: “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” They were turning a sign of an Old Testament covenant into a universal law for all Christians. This led to serious crisis as Paul and Barnabas debated with these self-appointed preachers. Lesson 1, facts first. The early Church went for facts first and not for who to blame. Paul and Barnabas and others were sent to Jerusalem to get the facts from the Apostles and the rest of the Church in Jerusalem. Lesson 2, check with others. Yes, the 1st Church Council was held around AD 50 over this question so everyone could think and discuss the matter. For managing other crises, get the facts, meet others, find out from everyone involved, listen to all sides. Lesson 3. Pray and decide. The Apostles and Elders were spot on. They acknowledged the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church and wrote: ‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage”. (Acts 15:28). Notice that they focused on essentials. Their solution to the crisis reminds me of the saying: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, in everything, charity”. Whatever is sinful or connected with sin, is to be avoided by every Christian, whether of Jewish or of Gentile origin. Not being circumcised is not a sin. Christians are therefore at liberty to be circumcised or not. Problem solved, crisis resolved!

3. People and the Holy Spirit. Brothers and Sisters, since the Church has both a Divine and a human origin, we notice the crucial role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. In crisis management, we must always consider who we are and what is at stake. Today’s 2nd reading (Rev 21:10-14, 22-23) reminds us of the Church’s future identity: the new Jerusalem, the Heavenly Jerusalem, lighted up by the glory of God, the Church triumphant. It is this future identity that encourages us during crisis to persevere and take decisions that lead to the realization of our future identity. If marriage is for the happiness of spouses, the procreation and education of children, then every marital crises must be resolved in ways that safeguard these goals of marriage. If money is a means to other ends such as, happiness, then every financial crisis must be resolved in a way that ultimately guarantees happiness. Finally, in today’s Gospel reading (Jn 14:23-29) our Lord makes a connection between the present and the future. “I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (Jn 14:26) That is exactly what the Holy Spirit did at the 1st Church Council in Jerusalem, as we heard in the 1st reading. May the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Christ, be our Comforter and Guide in every crisis, so that we may turn such crises into opportunities for growth in faith, hope and charity, to the glory of God, as we wait for the final coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, and our admittance into the Heavenly Jerusalem. Amen.

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