Grace to you!
Our reflection today focuses on the need for spiritual support system as we prepare for the coming of the Lord.
In life we need each other. Our life on earth is so wired that the need to interact, to be in relationships and to be with others is a necessity. As they say in philosophy, we are social beings. No one can live isolated from everyone else without suffering from boredom, narcissistic self-absorption, or simply becoming victim of depression.
Depression has a special friend—loneliness. It feeds on loneliness. It makes its victim not want to get up from the bed to reach out to others. Its victim feels down and medically unable to socialize. The person simply wants to be alone. Depression is an avatar of miserable self-isolation.
You do not need special skills or clinical training to know when a friend or family member is getting depressed. You simply see the red flag when there is a sudden withdrawal from their usual routine, withdrawal from usual things that excite the person, withdrawal from meetings or public gatherings, and withdrawal from loved ones. Depression has a friend in loneliness. So, if you have a friend or family member who suddenly becomes very reserved, reach out to the person with the warmth of love. Who knows if the warmth of your heart could help. I am praying for healing for those trapped in the terrible net of depression. Amen.
In the Gospel of Luke 5:17-26, we are told a story of a sick person, a paralytic whose healing happened because, in part, people carried him and “lowered him on the stretcher through the tilesinto the middle in front of Jesus.” Seeing the faith of this group, the support group, Jesus healed the sick.
There are many lessons from this story, such as the role of faith to healing, the saving grace of Jesus, the role of spiritual support system in moments of need, etc. I focus on the necessity of spiritual support system.
Our spiritual life is such that we can’t go to heaven by our power or through the logic of “I can do it alone.” We need God’s grace. We also need spiritual mentors and a good support system to walk with us, fellowship with us. This saves us from loneliness, which is a terrible thing. It also helps us to receive necessary feedback healthy for our spiritual growth.
As a priest, for instance, I’ve found out that many of the clergy who make terrible mistakes in their life and ministry are those who think they can do it alone or go it alone. They begin to avoid socializing with their brother priests. They become lonely. Loneliness, as they say, is the devil’s workshop. On the other hand, many of the most effective and faithful priests I have known are those who work as a team. They are those who have spiritual mentors and a good support system (or support group) that serve as a source of inspiration as well as checks and balances.
I’ve also observed that many of the laity who do not have spiritual friends or a support group find it difficult to relate to the faith, a faith which is both personal and ecclesial, community oriented. We need each other in the faith journey. We fellowship with others.
I would suggest: If you do not have spiritual mentors or a support system, a group or one or two individuals you could share your spiritual experiences with, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start looking for one, starting today. It is very important for your spiritual life.
One more thing: How about call or text or reach out to the person(s) who are a support system to you today. Tell them how much you appreciate the role they play in your life. I think it’s a beautiful thing to do.
Praying that God will give us the grace to be a healthy and refreshing support system to one another. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
[Monday Advent Week 2: Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26]
Grace to you!
The second Sunday of Advent is a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on the importance of what we celebrate during Advent. As a fresher, it is basically two things, two main events. First is the remembrance and celebration of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in history. We celebrate this at Christmas. Second is a prayerful and hope-filled anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming.
The two events or celebrations require some serious spiritual preparation. I would love to use today’s reflection to share with you some thoughts on the ways to prepare for the Lord and for the season.
There is a beautiful prophesy in the Old Testament Book of Baruch, chapter five. Baruch was one of the Old Testament minor prophets. Part of his prophesy reads: “For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God” (Bar 5:7).
This is similar to the prophecy of John the Baptist as recorded in the Gospel of Luke regarding the coming of Christ. John the Baptist was bringing to light, in summary form, an earlier prophesy from Isaiah, what was usually called by the religious Jews, the Book of Consolation. Those are the consoling words of the Lord to the people in Exile (Isaiah 40-55).
John the Baptist proclaims: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3:4-6).
You may or may not relate to the “prepare the way” imagery used in the above prophesies. Imagine a situation such as in places of the world where there are no tarred roads and lots of uneven ground, rocky paths, hilly terrain, mud and gullies. Such was a typical road in the Ancient Near East during the time of this prophesy. Those in many rural parts of Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania can easily relate to this story.
The typical roads during the time of the writing of these messages were rough and dirty. Commuters came on chariots or horses. If the roads are not prepared, it would be a rough journey comparable to plying through a tarred road with potholes all the way. So, the people awaiting the king or a special visitor would organize themselves and cover the potholes, smoothen the paths and make straight the way so the king would be welcomed on a smooth road. This was the imagery used here.
How does this imagery relate to our spiritual life and Advent preparations? They actually provide us some roadmap on how the Lord wants us to be prepared.
First, let the valleys be filled (Luke 3:5). The valley could be seen as the emptiness of our hearts. It is when our hearts are not filled with righteous and holy thoughts. Allow God to fill that emptiness. That void needs to be made whole. Peace in hearts, peace of soul, is a sure sign of God’s abiding presence. In it there is joy also.
Second, “Every mountain and hill shall be brought low” (Luke 3:5). The mountain and hills may be understood as different levels of arrogance, pride and presumption. Pride is a huge obstacle to welcoming the Lord. Prideful arrogance blocks God from coming in and dining with us. Pride beclouds the glory of the Lord. When we are so puffed up due to our prideful ego, we elbow out the glory of the Lord in our lives. Everything becomes about us. I tell you, without the Lord, we are not that beautiful and glorious. We are a piece of work; work in progress, for no one is perfect. In order for the glory of the Lord to shine forth, pride has to give way. Remember, “pride goes before a fall.” Let us level our pride with humility.
Third, “the crooked shall be made straight” (Luke3:5). Crookedness causes people to become bent out of shape. Their mind and thoughts become twisted. They become so misguided that hardly could people trust them. This could result in unholy and deceitful actions, such as crooked business and professional relationships, unhealthy personal relationships, manipulative exploitations, etc. So, repentance would make all who are out of spiritual form or shape be straightened by the Messiah. This is done by cherishing and upholding the truth. It is allowing the truth of the gospel, the Lord, to be our ethical standard for behavior. Even when truth is uncomfortable, embrace it as the rule of life. Simply be honest.
Fourth, “the rough ways shall be made smooth” (Luke 3:5). The rough ways could mean all our desperation, frustrations, hopelessness, unhealthy competitiveness, loneliness, insecurities, shame, false religions and false worship, spiritual blindness, the disappointments and all the rough experiences that deprive us of true and soothing relationship with the Lord. They also muddy our relationships with one another. These would be smoothened by the merciful Christ if we let him guide our mind, thoughts and ways. Let him reorient us.
All these spiritual preparations are possible by God’s grace.
So today ask yourself: Is there something to be smoothened in my life in order for God to make a home in me? What part of my home, my heart, do I need to keep in order? It wouldn’t be a bad idea if I act accordingly. There is sufficient grace for us to do so.
Praying that our hearts may be made a welcome home for the Lord. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Second Sunday of Advent: Bar 5:1-9; Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6]
Grace to you!
Yesterday, I shared how faith working through charity leads to heavenly glory. In today’s reflection, I will share some thoughts on some steps to finding healing in the Lord.
Recall that Advent is a time of hope-filled expectation. We wait in hope, not in despair. We are certain that what we hope for is for real. We know in faith it will come to pass. We trust the Lord Jesus who has promised, because he is reliable and always true. No suffering or pain or sickness we face on earth would take away our confidence.
We have a wonderful example from the Gospel of Matthew (9:27-31). It is the encounter between the Lord and the two blind men, whom he healed. From that miracle, you would find some lessons that could help in your Advent spiritual journey and development.
By the accounts of the Gospel of Matthew, the healing of the two blind men is the 9thmiracle performed by Jesus. Understanding some of the principles behind the miracle may help us in our daily prayers for healing as we wait in hope for the Lord’s coming.
First is to realize that the Lord is always passing by. “Jesus was passing by…” (cf. Mt 9:27). By this I mean, the Lord is always present to us, more than we are to ourselves. The Lord is closest to us during moments of need and worries, more than we may have known. During your moments of need, remember that the Lord is with you and is ever ready to accompany you pass through the difficult times. The Lord is our most reliable friend.
Second, the need to ask for mercy and help. The two blind men called out to the Lord for mercy and healing. “Son of David”, they said, “have pity (mercy) on us” (Mt 9:27).
Sometimes, it is difficult for us to ask for help when we are in need. There is nothing wrong in asking for help. I understand some people are afraid of receiving no for an answer. However, you never know what the outcome would be unless you’ve asked. With regard to the Lord, no one who asks for mercy, grace and healing receives no for an answer. We all have in Christ, the yes for our salvation (cf. 2 Cor 1:20). God does miracles often to those who know they need help and reach out to God for mercy and healing. You have to call for mercy.
What is it in your life, that of your family, friend, workplace, church or community that makes you worried and frustrated? Do you feel helpless and incapable of bringing the needed change and healing? Tell the Lord about it. Be an intercessor for that cause, seeking mercy and grace. Calling for mercy shows you aren’t perfect and all self-sufficient. It shows we know our limitations. We need things from the Lord. The Lord provides.
Third, have faith in the Lord who heals. Faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior is key to healing from him. We have to acknowledge that Jesus, the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Messiah. The two blind men in our above story did this by calling Jesus “Son of David”, a technical biblical language which traces the identity of Jesus to David and recognizes that the Messiah is the Son of David. The Jesus who heals is the one who came in history, through the genealogy of David, born of the Virgin Mary, in fulfillment of the prophecies of thousands of years ago. He is not simply Christ of mystery. He lived and worked among us in history and continues to live among us in mystery. He is alive!
Fourth is the belief that Jesus the Lord heals you. Jesus asked the men “Do you believe that I am able to heal you?” They said to him “Yes, Lord” (Mt 9:28). Not only did they express the grace of faith in the healing power of the Lord, they also reaffirmed their faith in him as Lord (Matt 9:28). If you do not trust that the Lord can heal you, it would be difficult to be healed. Common sense shows us that in a doctor-patient relationship, healing is facilitated when the patient trusts the doctor.
Finally is Jesus’ declaration of healing. Be certain of this, the Lord does not let us down. Scripture says that the Lord is close to the broken hearted and he saves (Ps 34:18).” He heals.
Are you in need? Tell it to Jesus. Trust he will take care of you. He will.
May God’s grace of healing be rich in your life and family as we await the coming of the Lord. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Advent Week 1: Is 29:17-24; Mt. 9:27-31]
Grace to you!
I was at a funeral. The church was packed and overflowing. The music was nothing short of the beautiful chords and chants that could edify any soul. Amidst the tears and sorrows of the family and friends of the deceased, the support system displayed by the consoling crowd was refreshing.
Then came the time for the homily. The priest preached like an orator. Erudite and engaging. He was passionate and seemed to have a lot of credibility regarding his personal knowledge of the family of the deceased and the challenges associated with the moment of death.
I noticed that throughout the 8-minute homily, he crowned the dead person a saint. He spoke with assurance that he is in heaven. He used such emphatic certainty to console the family and friends gathered in the beautiful church.
After the homily, which by the way was received with a standing ovation, I noticed something else. I found that the rest of the prayers regarding the dead person at the Eucharistic Celebration were all a petition to God for the forgiveness of his sins and his justification. They were also for the living regarding the need to live righteously, a reminder that someday we all will die also.
One of the most emotional times during the funeral Mass was toward the end, when the priest invited the people to join him as he commended the dead to the Lord, what in our Catholic tradition we call final commendation. It was not a prayer of thanksgiving because of the death of the “claimed saint” as the preacher had made him to be. It was an intercession in hope for God to justify him and give him the grace of heaven.
From the background of communication—which I teach in the university—this is complete opposite of what the homilist preached. The preacher had given double, conflicting signals. In fact, his main thesis was a big fallacy. One cannot say that someone is already in heaven and at the same time be praying that he goes to heaven. Fallacious. Self-contradiction. Isn’t it?
The issue for our prayerful reflection today as we meditate on the blessings of Advent is: Does everybody go to heaven, as many claim? Does ‘reasonable hope that all be saved’ (cf. 1 Tim 2:4), mean that all are saved? How do I receive the gift of heaven? Though this is a complex theological question, I would like to highlight one key idea drawn from our church reading of today. My thought here is shaped by our Catholic magisterial position.
Let’s see what the Gospel of Mathew (today’s gospel reading in our Catholic liturgy) writes regarding the Lord’s teaching on this matter. Jesus said to the disciples:“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'will enter the Kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7: 21).
The Lord is direct about his teaching as to heaven’s candidates. They are those who profess him as Lord, as well as do the will of God. That is what the Church calls faith working through charity (see Gal 5:6). St. James speaks of it like this: “Show me your faith and I will show you mine through my works” (Jas 2:18).
Heaven is God’s gift. God offers it to those willing to accept the offer and walk with the Lord. God will not do such a thing as to force anyone, even those who do not believe that heaven is for real, into heaven. That doesn’t sound like true mercy, not to talk of justice.
Do you want to go to heaven—and I tell you heaven is for real and hell is for real? Believe in the Christ, profess him as Lord and Savior, and do God’s will. That is, have faith in God and obey the Lord. Heaven is a gift. We receive this gift through faith lived in charity.
Praying for the grace of a happy death. Amen.
God love you. God bless you
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Advent Week 1: 2015: Is 26:1-6; Matt. 7:21, 24-27]
Grace to you!
Yesterday, I reflected that the message of the End Time is hope for the righteous. Rather than being afraid or feeling depressed, we should be delighted that the Lord keeps us in the loop regarding the divine plan for his Second Coming. We have sufficient information from the Lord on how to make best of each moment of our day. No need to be anxious.
Think about this: Isn’t it a privileged for anyone to uncover to you his or her will? To get an insider information about anything is a privilege. It should inspire trust and joy. In a deeper way, to have the privilege of knowing the mind of God because the Lord has revealed to us the substance of it, should cause us to rejoice.
Moreover, it delights the Lord when we understand his will and revelation and respond accordingly. It is the simple and humble heart that understands and responds accordingly. In such a heart, the Lord delights.
From the Gospel of Luke, we read a beautiful message. The Lord gave the message to the disciples after they returned from the “mission of the seventy.” That is, when he sent seventy of his disciples, two by two, to go to the wider community and share the Good News.
“In that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Lk 10:21)
I am filled with joy to read this message from the Lord. To realize that the Lord is actually excited when someone understands or grasps the gift of his revelation, makes me ecstatic. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Many biblical scholars regard the above quotation as the “Lord’s hymn of joy.” It is interesting to note that the object of this joy of the Lord is you. It is you when you understand the Lord’s revelation. When you respond in grace to his promptings and revelations.
You may want to know that the Greek word used to describe how Jesus felt, his joy, is egalliasato. It has a sense of someone who is excited and full of exultation and joy for seeing the children win. The object of the joy is about the child. It is selfless.
Imagine you going to watch your child in kindergarten or high school or even college play his or her first baseball competition for the school. Imagine the kind of excitement you will have if your child hits a home run which decided the game.
Or the excitement of watching your child graduate from college when thought, given the child’s past, such a success would be unlikely. I would love for you to think about that very moment. Imagine that kind of joy. It could be used as an analogy to describe the Lord’s joy because you understand his will and revelations. It is also comparable to the joy of childbirth, when the mom carries the new born baby and gazes on the child’s face and sees the beauty.
The Lord’s joy flowed from the Holy Spirit and his praise was directed to the Father. Scriptures says, “Jesus…filled with the Holy Spirit…” It is the joy flowing from Jesus through the Holy Spirit to the Father. It is a Trinitarian joy, a complete joy.
Imagine that the Joy Jesus feels is the Trinitarian joy for you and me. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit share in the joy when we come to believe God’s revelation in Christ. Isn’t this wonderful?
The same applies to revelations concerning the end of time. To understand that the plan of God towards the End Time is for hope and the fulfilment of God’s ultimate plan, inspires the same joy, not despair. When people are despairing because they are reminded of the End Time and all the trials and tribulations that come with it, it could be because they have not realized that all things work unto good for those who love God (Rm 8:28). Could it be that sin has dulled their mind and the thoughts of judgment becomes terrifying?
I pray we work with God’s grace and never put ourselves in a situation where the massage of judgment becomes terrifying. Sin keeps us in that situation. Grace life, life in Christ, righteousness frees us from it.
If worried about events around you and concerned for the future, how about opening your heart to God, asking the Lord to fill your heart with the joy of His presence? God will fill your heart. The Lord’s joy will be in your heart and your joy will be complete (Jn 15:11). Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday of the First Week of Advent: Is 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24]