Given by His Lordship Rt. Rev. Philip A. Anyolo

Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay

 

My son, you are with me always; everything I have is yours…’ (Luke 15:31):

A Call to a special love for the Church.

 

To All Priests,

Religious men and Women,

Christian Faithful,

 

Writing this letter when all is quiet, just after the conclusion of our national elections, I feel encouraged by the fact that this year, Kenyans have demonstrated the true spirit of the children of the Father, and even more importantly in the house of the Father!

The words of the merciful father to the elder son are easy to ignore in a story that is mostly used to invite people to repentance, with the younger son as the key focus. These words, only recently brought to our memory during the Liturgy of the Fourth Sunday of Lent when the church celebrates the second scrutiny for her catechumens remains rich for our own reflection, but even more importantly for our private and personal introspection and spiritual audit. And as we mark the ‘Year of Faith’ I invite you to focus for once on the wisdom of the merciful father as he counsels the elder son; ‘My son, you are with me always; everything that I have is yours…’

The elder son seems to have some sense of justice. His protests that his obedience has never been rewarded, and that the errant younger brother seems to be getting spoilt are humanly understandable; but only before we stop to listen more to the underlying bitterness, sense of revenge and even opportunism that inspires his otherwise warped ‘sense of justice.’

His sense of belonging, we can also say is anchored on temporal goods that he hopes will now be entirely his with the younger brother out of the way.

It is my humble appeal that as we approach the salvific events of the Paschal mystery that we will soon relive, we may not fear to be a bit critical as we appreciate the position on which these two children of their father stand, and perhaps locate where we could be standing as we live our baptismal promises within the framework of our duties and obligations within the Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay.

 

Within this ‘Year of Faith’, a lot has happened. We for instance just went through the emotive periods of political campaigns for the election of our leaders, among them the fourth President of our country. This year, the cardinals have had to enter into the conclave to elect a new Pope, after the surprise resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. It is a year that has begun with significant challenges, both for the Church as well as for our country. But eyes cannot fail to see the marvels the Lord has worked for us! [Psalm 126: 2], do not need to look farther than the recently concluded elections that were marked with peace and tranquility. Even though the results remain a little controversial, we must not hesitate to thank God for making it possible that the country can move on somehow and that normalcy soon returned.

The assurance of being in our Father’s house should inform our conduct as well as happiness. The younger son came to discover that outside the father’s house, there can never be true peace and Happiness. The daily chores that seem difficult are the very things that add meaning and worth to our life. The apparent freedom and happiness outside the father’s house are short-lived and inferior. We soon desire even the state of a slave in the father’s house; ‘…treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers…’ (Luke 15:19).

While the elder son appeared obedient and dutiful, he was equally not enjoying the full import of what happiness there is in the father’s house. He so focused on the future inheritance that he lost the occasion to enjoy the present blessedness and abundance in the father’s house. Spiritual wisdom consists in coming to our senses and seeing for once the need to waste no further opportunity to run back to the Father, a lesson hidden to the puritan and pharisaic elder son. He even refuses to enter the father’s house! (Luke 15:28)

The Sacrament of Penance

Dear brothers in the priesthood, men and women religious and the Christian faithful, there is no greater and clearer path towards perfect growth outside the sacrament of reconciliation. As pastors, we need to be even closer to this sacrament than the flock, which will surely follow its shepherds.

I wish to appeal that this year, we may zealously urge the Christian faithful to approach the sacrament of reconciliation so they may be able to loosen up and grow in faith and love of God. The dynamics of spiritual growth demand that we surrender our false securities, untie the linens that wrap us while dead to sin (John 11:44) and stick our necks out of the cocoons of fear and seize the opportunity that every Lenten season presents.

If we persistently claim a high moral ground like the elder son, we may never grow sufficiently to truly savor what pure sweetness there is in the church – our father’s spacious house. The converse of this is a life of endless scheming, grumbling, complaining, witch-hunting and possibly even idling in self-defeating negative conclusions: in a nutshell, swine feed! It may please you to recall at this point that the elder son had never asked his father for anything, but now has the temerity to claim; ‘…all these years I served you and not once did I disobey you; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends’ (Luke 15:29).

The sacrament of reconciliation graciously leads us to the table at which the physician, having received the sick, the lost and the dead, now nourishes them with bread from heaven in the Eucharistic banquet. He knows that like the younger son who ‘…longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed…’ (Luke 15:16), they hunger and thirst for him in the Paschal meal.

The Year of Faith

As we immerse ourselves in commemorating this ‘Year of Faith, we must not hesitate to ask, to seek and to knock (Matthew 7:7), and this, we must insistently do as families, as small Christian communities, as parishes and as a diocese. In his apostolic letter ‘Motu Proprio Data’, His Holiness Pope emeritus Benedict XVI urges the faithful to make public profession of the credo. That by our way our life, there may be no doubt in the world that Jesus Christ the paschal lamb is of the same substance as the father, begotten not made, true God from true God…’

The New Vicar of Christ on Earth

The recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis is an invitation to grow in the duty to pray for the Vicar of Christ on earth with a more enhanced sense of devotion, especially within the context of the Eucharistic banquet. We have learnt through the anxious moments of the resignation and the expectant wait of white smoke at the chimneys of the Sistine Chapel that none of us is spared the elements that continue threatening the strong will and resolve we sometimes make in the name of God. In our various responsibilities therefore, my brothers and sisters, we are invited to embrace the love of the father without failing to pay attention to fatigue and other forms of bodily communication.

We render our services more efficiently in good health, but failing health also provides a unique mode of evangelization as we might have gleaned from the 265th successor of Peter who, by his action confirmed the words of Christ to Peter when he observed, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ (John 21:19).

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

The Sacrament of Holy matrimony enables the couple to, as it were; begin participating in the wedding feast of the lamb. It is a sacrament that enables the couple to share in the sacred banquet prepared by the father in honor of his beloved son (Matthew 22:2ff).

Encouraging authentic family life as God has designed it should remain one of most insistent calls to the Christian faithful. Among the many aspects of modernity, the sad loss of the sense of sin has had the greatest assault on the possibility of witnessing Christ through a life of faith. Many young people no longer enjoy the privilege of chaste weddings; many more are stuck in cohabitations of convenience and show no intention whatsoever to surrender to the abundant graces of God in matrimony, and yet they remain committed in the practice of a faith their public lives cannot witness.

I wish to urge you my worthy collaborators in the words of St. Paul to Timothy; ‘…be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching’ (2 Tim 4:2), especially on the need to approach the sacrament of matrimony. We must urge the faithful to dare to trust God more. They must be urged to climb a little higher in faith so they may, like the disciples at the transfiguration notice what difference there is when God is allowed into a union of love.

The glimpse of the heavenly glory that made Peter declare, ‘it is good for us to be here’ (Matthew 17:4) is soon experienced when God is allowed to bless marital love. It is indeed good to be in our marriages when God is allowed to be in our number.

Lenten Contributions

The Lenten campaign booklets reveal, as many of you might be aware already that our diocese is among the worst performers in the Lenten collections. For a fact, we are not among the most economically challenged dioceses!

The difference could arise in the intensity and the enthusiasm with which we remind the Christian faithful to meet their obligations to the church. The Christian faithful are perhaps yet to understand that what they offer in the father’s house is never lost; in fact, it can only be multiplied! The resounding assurance, ‘Everything that I have is yours…’ (Luke 15:31) should fill all of us with constant joy and gladness in the service of God in His people.

Changing Times

In the spirit of the New Evangelization and with the eyes of our hearts fixed on Christ who dared Peter to walk on water, we must venture with courageous Faith into the waters of our own times. We should not merely try new things but must also look at old things in new ways. In this time and age, we must learn to face the serious moral, ideological, socio-economic and spiritual challenges that often try to stand in the way of our best intentions.

At a time when donor funding is becoming increasingly elusive, we must not hesitate to engage in such partnerships as can enable us, both to move apace with the daily advancements in both social and positive sciences. We must be set to move a notch higher in offering equally competitive services in our institutions and facilities.

This partly explains our recent partnership with Port-Florence Community Hospitals as we seek to upgrade our health facilities within the diocese. Many more of such partnerships remain our best option.

Writing this letter at the home-stretch of the great salvific events that will usher in an octave of the joyous graces of Easter, I commend all of you into the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our truest and most loving Mother on whose unconditional love we must always count. As Christ our Paschal Lamb himself recommends her motherhood to each one of us from the wood of the cross, let us rest assured that in the Father’s house and in the arms of a loving mother, we have no reason at all not to thank God unceasingly for the immensity of his love.

With my Apostolic Blessings,

 + Philip A. Anyolo

BISHOP OF HOMA BAY DIOCESE.


Presented at St. Paul’s Cathedral on the 27th March 2013 on the occasion of the Chrism Mass.