Grace to you!
A concerned Catholic emailed me. She was heartbroken because of the horrible news regarding the alleged homosexual predatory actions of a retired top-ranking US Cardinal. In addition, there is the horrifying Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. Her faith was shaken. Her tears were intense.
The woman isn’t in this alone. Over the past two months, many Catholics have been scandalized and horrified by the reports we read. Many clergy, bishops and priests, who are dedicated to their vows and the service of the Lord and God’s people, are in deep sorrow too.
Has there been a week another saddening news doesn’t break? The cases of abuse of minors by bad apples, Judases amidst numerous devout clergy—and their manipulations, seem more real than many of us thought. As a priest, when I walk down the street or in the shopping mall wearing my roman collar, the shadow over my head seems to suggest, “Are they thinking of me as one of them too?”
As I prepare this reflection before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, I’m deeply saddened. The pain is unbearable. I’m agonized by thoughts of many victims of the obnoxious practices, and the victims of other perpetrators in the priesthood, and in the wider society.
As a priest, charged with the spiritual care of people like the woman who wrote me, I don’t know the right words to say to the faithful who have been scandalized by our bad example. Forgiveness isn’t enough. Zero tolerance plus holding the culprits accountable, no matter their place in the hierarchy, is necessary. I pray for the victims, their family and friends, for justice, healing and grace of restoration. I pray for all of us, the faithful, also.
I pray for the conversion of sinners too. Reparation for the sins against the vulnerable in our midst. Reparation for the sins against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as mother Mary consistently asked during the Fatima Apparition.
My heart is bleeding. I feel now more than ever, since my priesthood, the pains of betrayal. My religious, pious sensitivities and love for the Lord and His Church, make me mourn to see how we cause grave wounds to the Body of Christ.
I believe this is a moment of decision. In the past, during the exilic experience of the people of Israel through the desert (Jos 24), they were faced with many difficulties—social, cultural, religious, moral, economic and political. They were torn between affirming faith in God who had saved them from slavery in Egypt and choosing an alternate religious cult.
The leader, Joshua, sensed their religious dilemma. He didn’t keep silent and allow it to simmer. Rather he confronted it head-on. “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Jos 24:15). When the faith is challenged by new evidence that seems to make us to question, “Why am I a Catholic?” “Why am I a believer?” “Why am I a priest?” “Why choose to enter the seminary?” It is the right time to reaffirm one’s faith.
There is incredible wisdom in the Church’s Liturgy. There is wisdom in every line of the liturgical prayers. So it is in the Eucharistic celebration. Every Sunday, we are called after the homily to reaffirm our faith--The Profession of Faith.
We need to profess our faith as many times as possible. The profession of faith, the Creed, is a prayer and a constant reminder of why we believe what we believe. The profession is a testimony against the challenges to our faith also. Did you notice that there is no place in the Creed, where Catholics profess “I believe in the Clergy…bishops, priests, deacons?”
During one of my teaching series on EWTN on “The Faith with Fr. Maurice”, also in my book,Our Journey to God, I had emphasized that a faith centered on people is an idolatrous faith. Scripture says, trust in God not in people (Ps 118:8). We are humans and capable of doing terrible things if God's grace isn't with us. Give the devil a little chance, and the consequences are disastrous. By the way, this should not be a reason for the clergy not to lead examples consistent with their holy vocation.
If you are a believer, when you face temptations to the faith, reaffirm your faith in the Lord and in His body, the Church. We can’t separate the head of the Church, Christ, from His body, the Church (Col 1:18; 24; Col 2:19; 1 Cor 12:21; Eph 5:29-30).
The Lord Jesus showed us a similar example in the Gospel of John chapter six. After the long and astonishing teaching on the subject of the Eucharist, the “source and summit of the Christian life,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324), the Lord saw that many left him. They couldn’t accept the teaching.
He was left alone with the twelve. He, as God, knew their hearts. He knew he had given a teaching which only faith and professed faith can stand. He didn’t wait for them to battle with it and suppress it. Psychologists tell us that there are times suppressing a problem makes it worse.
So, the Lord confronted it. He asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67).
I believe this question is appropriate this day, this week and the coming weeks. Concerning the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandals, many faithful (laity and clergy) will have to deal with similar questions regarding their faith in the Lord and, more importantly, their faith in the Church, the Body of Christ and in the Eucharist. I sense that other facts may come out in the open in the coming weeks, many of which will be more troubling to the faithful. I believe the Lord is purging His Church. The question will continue to reoccur until the moment of purging is over. “Do you also wish to go.”
Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69.
I pray that Peter’s response is ours also. We profess this faith. We reaffirm it. We can’t go from the Lord. We embrace the Eucharist. We hang in there with the Lord and His Body, the Church, while we work together, chaired by the faithful laity, to see that justice is done.
Culprits should be made responsible for their heinous actions. Victims will find justice through proper accountability and just restitution. Hopefully, and praying, there will be closure. In matters of this kind, it is not enough that justice is done. Justice must be seen to have been done.
In the meantime, “I believe. We believe.”
I pray for you, for the grace of fidelity, as well as firm resolve to see that justice is done. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[21stSunday Ordinary Time B: Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32; Jn 6:60-69]
Grace to you!
Last Sunday, we saw how the Lord Jesus fed thousands of people by the sea of Galilea (Jn 6:1-15). That miracle was a pointer to the Eucharist. Our reflection today follows from last Sunday’s, as it is its continuation (see Jn 24-35).
After the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, the Lord left the western shore of the sea of Galilea, also called the sea of Tiberias, and crossed over to the northern shore, to the city of Capernaum, a journey of about 6.3 miles. As the Lord continued the work of the Father, many who received the miracle followed him across the sea (Jn 6:24).
The seed of faith was already planted in their hearts. They had started to warm up to Christ. Their intention may not have been the right one, yet their desire was important for the first stage of faith life.
The Lord gradually and steadily leads people to himself as Lord and Savior. Often, faith life begins with material concerns and, by the grace of God, matures into deeper life in Christ.
Have you reflected on how your faith life or those of some of your friends or relatives began? It may have been due to simple acts of kindness shown by a believer. It could be because some of your social, emotional or physical needs were met. You came to the Lord and then, the Lord gradually takes over. Initially you were in charge. Gradually, if you are truly growing in the interior life, the Lord takes over and leads you to where he wants. Often, as he told the apostle Peter, he leads you to where you would rather not want to go. When this begins to happen, you’ve started living the life of Christ.
The story of the people searching for the Lord in the above referenced gospel could be our story also. Their followership of the Lord at this stage was based on social concerns. They were fed with bread. A great miracle. They were determined not to lose sight of Jesus, “the miracle worker” in their midst. He has to stay with them. They could crown him king (Jn 6:15). They could lobby the powers that be to make sure he stays in their city and not go elsewhere. He is an asset that has to be “owned” as their property. All for wrong reasons.
So, when they finally saw the Lord across the sea, they expressed their curiosity because they had been looking for him. He knew their hearts. As God, the Lord knows every heart. He sees us through and through. When we gather in worship, he knows why each and every worshipper has gathered.
The Lord sees those who follow him because they want to belong to the “club”—social identity. He knows those who come because they see the Church as a place they can find a suitor, a friend, or build social relationships. The Lord knows the heart of some worshippers who come to him because they believe that a member of the church has the connections to the job or opportunities they are looking for. The Lord knows those who come simply because it is the family tradition. He sees the heart of those who come because they are lonely and bored at home. The Lord equally knows those who worship him in spirit and truth; those who believe in him as Lord and Savior. The Lord knows every heart, including yours and mine.
He told the people who crossed the sea searching for him as he tells us: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal” (Jn 6:26-27).
These words are challenging as well as inspiring. The Lord is speaking to us about the need to purify our intentions every step of the way. He points to the need for faith in him as the food that endures to eternal life, which he alone is and can give. He gives this food in the Eucharist.
True faith is life in Christ. It is faith in the Risen Lord, not simply because our material, social, emotional or psychological needs are met, but because we belong to the LORD. We long for him not simply because of the works of his hands. Rather, it is because we are to live in him and he in us. We desire true life in him. Life in him is the ultimate desire.
This life the Lord gives is not our work. It is his work in our lives. He gives the life. We receive the life. He offers his body as food, the bread of life: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35).
We receive the Lord, the bread of life and are transformed in his likeness, so our own lives could become a sacrifice for others. We become like him who we eat in the Eucharist. Again, this isn’t our work. It’s God’s work for us.
Sometimes, like the people who followed Jesus because he fed them, we believe that we can work our way to salvation. We believe we can have this life in God by our human efforts only or by our strategic planning. We kind of ask: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (Jn 6:28). We focus on the physical efforts to be made. We easily forget the inner demands of faith that have to inspire whatever we desire to do for the Lord. We forget that it is not action in faith, but faith in action. We tend to live as if salvation is our works bringing about our faith. We ignore the biblical model of our faith inspiring our actions.
Scripture tells us that the Lord replies that the work of God is to believe in him, Jesus Christ, whom God the Father has sent (Jn 6:29). When we believe in the Lord, our poor faith will grow into mature faith.
We will see in the coming week (next Sunday), how the deepening of this faith, its highest form of encounter, is in the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the meantime, for your prayerful experience this week, you may want to ponder on why you believe in the Lord and how that faith is rooted, not simply in what the Lord will give to you, but in what you will become in God.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[18thSunday Year B: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35]
Grace to you!
Do you remember some of the promises you made to your Mom when you were a teen? Build her a mansion? Buy her a limousine? Take her on a vacation to Hawaii once you received your first paycheck? Etc.? Promises! How many turned out to be true? How many were realized?
Many of us like to make promises. Sometimes, it makes us feel good or should I say, look good. But does it?
A world without promises would be boring, I suppose. Promises thrill, at least in anticipation. They are like appetizers. Their potential surprises oil many friendships. Like pleasant aromatic recipes, they are tantalizing.
Promises are like hope, keeping our imagination on something yet to come; something we hope would be fulfilled. Such hopeful anticipations could be a mental coping mechanism for some people.
Promises, if kept, are reassuring as well as satisfying. They solidify relationships, building trust. Establish integrity. Hence, it is important to be constantly aware of the kind of promises we make. If promises are not met, the effect could be negative on us and how people look at us, notwithstanding how shattering it could be to victims.
The temptation to make bogus promises, especially when we are emotional or under the influence of alcohol is high. Similarly, promises that presume we are in charge of the future could have colossal disappointing implications.
There is a West African fable about the woodpecker. The bird bragged and promised that when the parent dies, it would peck down all the woods in their village forest for the funeral. Unfortunately, when the parent died, the woodpecker was suffering from a fractured beak. It couldn’t peck down any woods.
Let’s be careful of the promises we make. It’s wise to know our limitations for unfulfilled promises make us look really bad. Moreover, intentionally making promises we know we won’t or can’t keep is deceitful. It is unethical and sinful.
Similarly, promises that promote only our ego are often dangerous. Such was the most despicable promise made by King Herod the Tetrarch, in the Gospel of Matthew 14:1-12, that led to the beheading of the innocent man, John the Baptist.
Beware of promises that begin with “I will do anything for you . . ..” Such promises are not only presumptuous; they are also dangerous. Promise no one an absolutely open blank check for what you have no control over. Know your limits.
Remember, our words should be our bond and our promises should not make us slaves.
Keep to promises, but promise what is good, true and beautiful and, what is realizable.
Praying that our word be good and gracious, as well be our bond. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday, Week 17 of the Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24; Matthew 14:1-12]
Grace to you!
There is an African proverb which says: “There is wisdom in gray hair.”
Unlike in some other cultures where people would prefer to be described as younger, generally, the African prides himself or herself as being an elder. People feel a sense of pride in being described as older, and elders. This is partly because of the worldview that wisdom comes with age, gray hair.
Another African proverb says: “A traveler is wiser than a gray hair!” In other words, wisdom comes with experience and exposure.
The person who has wider experience tends to bring broader perspective to a discussion related to the experience. Generally speaking, the limited nature of our knowledge could be broadened by more experience and exposure. Moreover, experience grows over time, deepened by many exposures, trials and errors.
Scientific breakthroughs often are fruits of multiply exposures, trials and error. The fruit of those exposures or experiences grow to a wealth of knowledge described, thereafter, as expertise. As a Cameroonian proverb says, “By trying repeatedly, the monkey learns to jump from the tree.”
No matter how one may have read stories about Manhattan or the Silicon Valley, and no matter how many movies filmed at those sites one may have seen, or how fascinating a storyteller describes those cities, one who has been in those cities has a different feel about them. Experience and exposure are crucial aspects of our knowledge, aren’t they?
Reading the Gospel of Matthew 13:52-53, I was thrilled by the words of our Lord Jesus Christ as he wrapped upthe discussion about God’s Kingdom. He said; “Therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Referring to the authority of the scribe in Jewish culture as those who are esteemed experts and teachers of God’s and Mosaic Laws, Jesus calls attention to what exceptionalism in these areas of faith and knowledge should be. By using the Scribe analogy, he is inviting all those who read him, who believe in him and indeed all Christian believers and would-be-believers to see themselves in this light.
Replace the image of the Scribe with yourself as a believer. “Every believer trained for the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his or her treasure, what is new and what is old.”
What is “Old” is grasping the revelation in the Old Testament, and what is “New” is seeing the newness, realization of God’s revelation in the Christ in the New Testament. A wise believer does not disconnect with the Old but weaves the Old with the New as one message of salvation for himself or herself and for others. The Old Testaments points to the New, the Christ. Christ is its fulfilment.
Spiritually speaking and relating to the African proverbs I used earlier, it is growing in our faith in the light of what is revealed in the text of scripture both Old and New, and what we live in the living sacred tradition of the Church. We live in such a way that our experiences, our exposures and our knowledge of God’s Word, flow as stream of wisdom speaking one language, the language of God’s love in Christ.
Remember, as Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ.”
Two recommendations for today:
1) Read the bible and know God’s Word as revealed in both the Old and New Testaments.
2) When you can and if you can afford it, a trip to the Holy Land, the Eternal City or other holy sites could enrich your religious experience.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday, Week 17, Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 18:1-6; Matthew 13:47-53]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.