Grace to you!
Our conversation yesterday centered on how to find eternal life. We said it’s in the “Come, follow me” Jesus’ invitation. You may want to go back to that discussion because it’s like an introduction to our reflection today.
Holiness. How does this word sound to you? A cliché? A never-realistic word? A special reserve for those in the monastery?
Growing up, I used to identity holiness with only the monks and nuns wearing impeccable and solemn-looking cassocks or habits. This was the imagery from popular literatures on holiness. I thought it wasn’t for anyone. I was wrong.
Holiness is for everyone. It’s indeed, the universal call for everyone. These are not simply my words. The Church’s official documents and the Bible state so. Nonetheless, understanding what it means to be holy can be foggy, many times.
Sometimes, we suppose it’s in keeping the disciplines of our faith, all the requirements of the law, like the rich young man in the Bible (Mark 10:17-27). I discussed this issue yesterday. We fail to see that morality is a necessary first step to holiness, but not the end. Holiness is a journey towards something, towards somebody. We detach from what takes our gaze from the Lord and attach to the Lord and the Lord’s ways.
Only God is holy, just like only God is good. Holiness belongs to God. If we must be holy, it has to be a journey to God who is holiness itself. It is being immersed in God's life. It is encountering, witnessing as well as living God's saving grace.
Consider visiting the entertainment capital of the USA, Los Angeles, and wanting to spend all day going to the movies. You are in Hollywood and have a taxi head east of Hollywood to go to the movies miles away. Wouldn’t it sound ridiculous that you came to Hollywood Universal Studios but drove farther away from it to go see movies?
Holiness has a hub and a circle. Closer to it, and indeed, within it, we find what it means to be holy.
God is holy (see Leviticus 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:16). To be holy is to be in God and to grow in holiness is to walk in the rings of divine circle. It requires leaving everything behind and following the Lord who is all that the soul is searching for (see Mark 10:28-30). In doing so, we are detaching ourselves from all that stand in the way of the Lord.
Fortunately, just like we need a vehicle to get to the movies, we need the grace of God to become more intimate in the heart of holiness. We need the grace of God to be able to leave our comfort zone in order to give ourselves to the Lord in service. We realize that it is in doing so we become truly free to serve the Lord and also love and serve one another in the way that is pleasing to God.
In effect, if we want to be holy and grow in holiness, let’s avail ourselves of the opportunity to come closer to God. All our activities, relationships, and services for the common good should draw us closer to God. It is then that all we do is sanctified. Walking in the footsteps of the Lord wherever we are and in whatever we think and do, all by God’s grace, is living a holy life.
You know where to find God in the most unique way. You know where God has made himself perpetually present in such a way that you can see him, touch him, and be with him—the Church in worship; more importantly, in the Eucharist.
Praying for the grace of holiness of life. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 8 Ordinary Time of the Year: Readings Sir 35:1-12; Mark 10:28-33]
Grace to you!
You may have read the story of the man called The Rich Aristocratin the Bible. He approached Jesus wanting to know what to do to have eternal life. I love his honesty, boldness and openness to seek for the truth. We may read his story from Mark 10:17-27 (see also Matthew 19:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30).
The man was rich and by Jewish standards, didn’t need to ask for more from Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter who was equally a non-aristocratic, itinerant preacher. However, there was something gripping about Jesus; some good and beauty that drew the rich aristocrat in. The rich man wanted to have it also. Or should I say, in the man’s heart, there was the desire to be free indeed, to possess the true life, the good and the beautiful.
He approached Jesus. His first words, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life,” were revealing of someone who, though wealthy, was still searching. From what we know in the Bible about the conversation between Jesus and this man, by the demands of the commandments, the man was impeccable. Yet, he knew within himself, having seen goodness itself in Jesus Christ, that he needed to grow more. In other words, he wanted the fullness of life and true freedom.
The man’s story reminds me of the story of a young priest who was invited to pray for a group of millionaires living in multi-million dollar homes and driving multi-million dollar cars. Dressed in an inexpensive cleric outfit, this poor priest, who could barely pay his taxi bill, brought so much peace to the millionaires that one of them said privately, “How I wish I could be like you. I have money but not peace of soul.”
The question about moral life, happiness and what happens when we die confronts everyone, even those who completely silence it. Like truth, somehow, in unexpected ways, it surges again and again. No liquor can perpetually sober it to oblivion. No political authority can table it for life.
All the various forms of “good” rules don’t satisfy it. The rich aristocrat knew this firsthand for he has kept all the laws from birth; hence he wanted to grow into perfection.
As Pope (Saint) John Paul II wrote concerning Jesus’ dialogue with this man, “The commandments … are the first necessary step on the journey towards freedom, its starting-point” (See The Splendor of Truth, 14). Quoting Saint Augustine, the Pope continued, “The beginning of freedom is to be free from crimes … such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these crimes (and every Christian should be without them), one begins to lift up one’s head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom …” (John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 1993, #14).
What then is finding freedom, living life to the fullest which is the perfection our hearts search? The Pope’s answer is spot-on; it “requires mature human freedom (“If you wish to be perfect”) and God’s gift of grace (“Come, follow me”). Perfection demands that maturity in self-giving to which human freedom is called” (The Splendor of Truth, 17).
This self-giving resides in following Christ, discipleship of Jesus Christ. As the Pope says, it’s in this lies both the way and content of perfection.
So, if you want to live life to the fullest, there is no better option than following the Lord. In following the Lord, we discover fully who we are.
[Monday Week 8 Ordinary Time of the Year: Readings 1 Peter 1: 3-9; Mark 10:17-27]
Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, drawing from the Lord’s message in Luke 6:39-45, I share what I consider three ideas for effective, credible witnessing to Christ. They include honest self-examination, producing fruits of righteousness, and speaking words that flow from grace.
True and honest self-examination.The good witness of the Lord is one who is thoroughly self-aware. The person listens to the Lord and intentionally examines himself or herself so as to constantly align to the core values of the Lord’s mission. This self-examination would help us to pay attention to how to improve ourselves and be less judgmental of others. The more judgmental we are of others may mean we are not seriously paying attention to our own weaknesses. Often, we tend to focus on the faults of others while giving ourselves a pass for our own misdeeds.
The Lord asks us: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck thatis in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Lk 6:41-42).”
Producing fruits of righteousness.Sometimes, we tend to believe that how we live our lives matters less than what we say. Actually, true credibility isn’t just a matter of what we say or preach. Rather our entire person, words, nonverbals plus actions, reveal so much about who we are. You can be sure that people’s actions, especially when they are in their relaxed, unguarded mood, reveal so much about what is happening inside. If the inside is deeply rooted in God’s Word, if the inside of us is truly renewed and pure, our actions would be consistent with those holy qualities.
Saint Paul reminds us that anyone led by the Spirit of God, that is, a person converted from within and transformed by the Holy Spirit, necessarily produces fruits of righteousness (see Gal 5:22-23). Those fruits are virtuous qualities or skills such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).So, if you want to know what is inside of you and to what extent your heart has been transformed by the Lord, see if your behavior is consistent with these qualities.
Also, in addition to these fruits are others which flow from the authentic life of Christ. It is being able to draw others to Christ through our lifestyle. When people can see us, hear us, observe our actions, and give glory to God because of us (Mt 5:16), then that is a sign of living the life of Christ. Our lives bear fruit if they draw others to the Lord.
Gracious Words.The Lord says: “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). What we say reveals what is locked deep in our hearts. Some say, it doesn’t matter what we say. What matters is whether we mean it or not. Actually, for me, I believe what we say matters whether we mean it or not.
Why would a child of God say something that does not glorify God while knowing he or she doesn’t mean it? Why tell lies or use foul words when we know we don’t mean it? It actually leaves a bad taste to do so. Doesn’t it?
Moreover, we forget that the words we speak are the extension of ourselves. Our words carry with them some aspects of our thoughts. They convey our deep thoughts in different ways. We may give excuses about how little they represent us. Yet, those excuses are simply evading the reality that manifests itself from our unconscious. Our words reveal us. Scripture says, “the expression of a thought discloses the cultivation of a man’s mind” (Sir 27:6). The best way to know a person is through what they say, write, and do. Those are the keys to getting to the hidden mind. Those are all we have got to assess anyone. Only God sees the inside and we are not God.
Hence, the credible witness of the Lord is the one whose words and actions are consistent with their claimed encounter with the Lord. This is the message the Lord wants us to bear in mind today.
Praying that the Good Lord will give us the grace to speak and act in ways that manifest what we believe as those born anew in Christ. I also pray with Saint Paul that we may“be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[8thSunday Ordinary Time: Sir 27:4-7; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Lk 6:39-45]
Grace to you!
He is the most precious gift. He comes to Mass every day with his Mom. During communion, he would be the first to run towards the priest to receive a blessing, and would open his mouth hoping to receive Holy Communion, though he can’t receive yet. His Mom would say, “Not yet son.” He is four years old, very joyful. His joy and smiles are infectious. He is the delight of all in the Parish.
After Mass one morning, as I was putting out the sacred vessels, he asked me, while touching the flowers at the base of the stone-altar; “Do you have many flowers?”
The volunteer with me admired the little boy whose excitement for the beautiful flowers was as evident as the early morning sun.
“Not really,” I said, “except for the ones that belong to the Church and a few in the rectory.”
The volunteer jumped in, “They are called orchids. Aren’t they beautiful?” She asked.
The kid nodded and took the stage, “In our house, we have many flowers. We have blueberries too. I love flowers.”
As the discussion went on, the innocence of this child was the dominant mood throughout the course of the discussion. Purity and innocence have their unique force and language. They attract. They grip. Innocence is one of the ingredients that make the world a welcome place for all. In a society where basic innocence is lost, people live like the proverbial cat and dog.
Thinking about this child, his innocent candor, his simplicity, unique peaceful and holy bearing, I am drawn to appreciate the Gospel of Mark 10: 13-16.
Jesus said: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it’ (Mark 10:14-15).
The child’s world is heavenly because it is pure. Observe how the baby plays with toys and does not seem to know the difference between a toy and a real snake. It’s because of innocence. To the innocent, the world is seen in the light of blessings, not causes. To the innocent, there is more good than evil; in effect, the world for the innocent is Godly. It’s beautiful.
Simplicity is another quality of a child. The child makes choices, not simply because others like them, but because they resonate with her. Her choice may be ridiculous, but she is happy with it. Her sense of preferences isn’t complex. The child is not attached to things, even for precious gifts, not too long either, because in the next second, she could forget all about those gifts.
The child knows no guile. She says things as they are perceived by her. Teaching a child to tell lies is a heinous evil. Coerce a child to speak lies and surely you would receive a feedback of the best example of a reported speech, “So and so told me to say this.”
The world of a child is the finest ever; and if we would want to know the easiest way to God, it is allowing our hearts to be molded in that simplicity, honesty, unassuming attitude and guilelessness that would make a home for God. After all, God’s kingdom is where God resides. The kingdom is pure. “Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God.” Our heart, if like that of a child, is equally a perfect home for God.
I pray we receive God’s kingdom like a child. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday Week 7 Ordinary Time:Sir 17:1-16; Mark 10:13-16]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.