Grace to you!
A man became very apprehensive of his mom’s calls, especially when the calls became more frequent. When the mom called in that manner, often, the man is under the weather, dealing with one crisis situation or another. Though he tried to downplay what was going on with him, his mom was not convinced. Mom has a way of sensing something isn’t right. Some call it a kind of telepathy. I call it a unique love intuition.
Parent-child relationship is a unique intimacy that goes beyond mere physical likeness. It’s profoundly spiritual. Parents generally know their children much better than the children may be aware of or acknowledge. They pay attention. The change of facial tone, tone of voice, sleeping habit, dress code, eating habit and walkout schedule, etc., are not ignored. Parents pay attention to small details and often correctly guess what may be going on.
Did you know that with God, the creator who loves us with an everlasting love, nothing about us is ignored? The all-knowing and all-loving God sees us through and through. As the Psalmist says, God knows us and our innermost thoughts (Ps 139:1-3). God pays attention to the minutest details about us and God sees even the insignificant events or circumstances that worry us. Not only does God see, God also cares.
Sometimes we fear about out life, our future, our family and our career. Fear is a natural human phenomenon. It’s important we know that in our fears, God is closest to us.
The Lord Jesus reassures us that even the fear of persecution should not deter us from loving God and glorifying God.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
Think about this God’s message: nothing, no matter how insignificant, could escape God’s knowledge and providence. In the same way, no suffering you endure, and no persecution you experience would ever be ignored by the Lord Jesus Christ. Every good you do has a reward and every witness of faith is pleasant to God.
If you were to know the impact of your endurance and witness of faith in the communion of the heavenly, flowing like a stream of graces for many thousands and thousands of years after you, you would probably want more and more opportunities to bear witness to your faith in God and in the Church. No persecution is without enduring value. No suffering is in vain.
Be not afraid of those who can destroy the body or utter all sorts of calumny against you, call you names because you are a Christian, a believer, a Catholic. Smile and say with the apostles, “we are privileged to suffer for Christ” (Acts 5:41; Phil 1:29). I am glad to be on your team O Lord Jesus. Your team is the true love team, the grace team and the team of the redeemed.
Be bold. Be resolute. Be courageous.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 28, Ordinary Time: Eph 1:11-14; Lk 12:1-7]
Grace to you!
Today in our Catholic tradition we are celebrating the life of one of the four women who are honored as Doctors of the Church, the other three are Saints Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux (the youngest of all the Doctors of the Church) and Hildegard of Bingen.
A Doctor of the Church is not an academic award. It is a church recognition to a saint whose writings are so profound that they give deep insight into the mysteries of our faith; and their relevance has a universal appeal.
Saint Teresa of Jesus, popularly known as Saint Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite mystic from Spain (March 28, 1515 - October 4, 1582), is honored by the Church as a Doctor of Prayer (named by Pope Paul VI) for good reasons. Reading her Interior Castle, wherein she describes the spiritual journey from the first stage of spiritual growth (First mansion) to the seventh mansionof mystical union, is a must read for anyone who wants to connect with the depth of her spirituality.
I am fascinated by her story and would love to reflect on how she overcame spiritual roadblocks to reach “perfection” in response to God’s grace. Her story is a message of hope to many who feel, “spiritual union isn’t possible for me.”
Teresa was a strikingly beautiful daughter of fairly wealthy parents. She learned the ways of the Lord when she was young. To protect her from intruding men, her dad sent her to study and live in the convent, where she received her vocation to be a nun. But the worldliness of some of the nuns—a time when some in the religious life were quite worldly—coupled with the materialism of the time, influenced her so much so that she became worldly too.
From her autobiography, Her Life, published posthumously, which she wrote in obedience to her spiritual director, we learn some lessons about the dangers of worldliness to the spiritual life and how to overcome it. She was candid about her struggles with worldliness in her twenties, even while she was in the monastery. She also shares how the grace of God helped her overcome worldliness when she was about 41 years.
Pay attention to what she said hindered her spiritual growth.
First was being careless about sin.Saint Teresa said she started explaining sin away because of the liberal and permissive advice given to her by priests who told her some of what the Church teaches were sin weren’t. She started to imbibe erroneous ideas, and develop a lax mindset. This cost her a lot.
Second, she said not avoiding the occasion of sin caused her to fall back to the same sins over and over again.She then advised that for one to grow in the spiritual life, the person must avoid people, places and situations associated with sinning, as much as possible.
Third, Teresa was of the view that dependence on her ability to grow or practice virtue was another thing that blocked her growth in the spiritual life. “This self-reliance was what destroyed me,” she said. (See Her Life, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriques, OCD, 2nd edition, vol. 1, Washington D.C.: ICS Publications 1987), chapter 19, no.15, p.171). She believed that many people backslide because they get tired and frustrated and give up. They rely on themselves. Her spiritual growth took a different turn when she completely relied on God’s grace and trusted God to lead her to perfection. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Connected to this factor is the fourth, which is the necessity of valuing and depending on the grace of God. Saint Teresa said God constantly gives us a sense of His presence through prayer and the simple things around us. It can come through prayer burdens, through simple events around us, and, by those silent voices directing us to do something good, to respond to God’s call. The more we respond to this call of grace, the more we grow spiritually. When we ignore them, we gradually become less and less aware of God’s Presence and hear less of God’s voice.
I can go on and on about this great woman who has inspired generations of Catholic spirituality. For today, focusing on these four points—not being careless about sin, avoiding the occasions of sin, not relying on ourselves to be holy, and responding to the promptings of grace—, could be a good way to start for those who think that a deeper life in Spirit isn’t for them.
Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Grace to you!
Today’s reflection focuses on the gift of wisdom. Permit me to use a different style in relating the content so as to explain some necessary aspects of the teaching.
Generally, many people regard wisdom as a skill born out of experience, training, relationships and networking. The Christian notion of wisdom is different. Wisdom is not simply a skill, or a talent acquired by experience or training but a gift of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the fullness of this wisdom, in Christian worldview is a person.
Wisdom is listed in the prophesy of Isaiah 11:2-3 as one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or properly called in Catholic Christian phraseology, the seven traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit. The first verse of this text of Isaiah introduces the granting of this gift from a source, identified as flowing from the stock of Jesse. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). The above prophesy refers to the Messiah, the son of David who is the son of Jesse, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the mystic prayer of Wisdom in the book of Wisdom chapter 9 attributed to King Solomon, wisdom is equally identified with one who sits with God; one in equality with God as the imagery depicts. Wisdom is identified as a person not simply a quality. “Give me the wisdom that sits by your throne” (Wisdom 9:4). A similar notion is expressed in the New Testament, but in a more vivid way. The Gospel of John introduces the Good News with reference to the logos. “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God and the logos was God” (John 1:1). “And the logos became fresh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Logos was translated and could be translated as word, wisdom or reason.
Wisdom in the Christian tradition is the person of the Son; it flows from God and is granted to believers. Thus, for a person to have wisdom, it must be gifted him or her. It is the gift of God, from the Father through the Son who is the Wisdom of God and by the Holy Spirit. As the Catholic tradition holds, this gift of wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit granted to believers through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. The sanctifying grace enables the believer to be holy and have an habitual life of God, or the seal of God.
The bible is clear on how the wisdom is a gift from God. “For even if one is perfect among the sons of men yet without the wisdom that comes from you (emphasis mine) he will be regarded as nothing” (Wisdom 9:6). Because wisdom is a gift from God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can pray and ask for it and God will supply it. King Solomon prayed for it and received it: “I prayed, and understanding was given to me; I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me” (Wisdom 7:7).
What is the nature of this wisdom? It is the gift from God through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit that enables us to penetrate the mysteries of God and see things, reality, events, and indeed, everything as God sees them. It is the gift that enables us to perceive everything in their right perspective. Wisdom helps us to understand the place of God and his sovereignty over all as well as the place of humanity and the rest of creation as God’s created beauty.
By seeing things in the light of God, that is their right perspective, wisdom enables us to properly prioritize as well as come really close to God’s plan, the will of God in every situation of our lives. God’s delight will begin to be our delight. God’s priority becomes our priority and God’s distaste will become our distaste.
By wisdom, the will of God will no longer be a stranger to us. It will not be something accidental to our will and our nature but will become our own delight too. Wisdom is a habit of the soul making our intellect align with God’s will and plans.
As I have said, the life of wisdom enables us to prioritize. I need to make some applications of this reality about the gift of wisdom. Wisdom makes us know the value and the reason for who we are, what we have and the very purpose for our lives. Take for instance wealth. Wisdom equips us to see wealth from God’s point of view as an instrumental cause instead of the final cause (to use the terminology of St. Thomas Aquinas). Wealth would not be seen as the end in itself but a means to an end.
The wise know how to use wealth as good stewards, not as hoarders or wasteful spendthrifts. They use wealth for self, for family, and for the well being of others in generosity and almsgiving, knowing that they are blessed so as to bless others.
In the Gospel of Mark 10:17-30, a rich aristocrat—young, smart, highly connected and wealthy—, came face to face with Jesus, the wisdom of God. In spite of the young man’s exceptional religiosity, including humility which is rare for a young accomplished man, he asked how to reach eternal life.
The Lord Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God, acknowledged the young aristocrat had done all things well. He had kept the law (ten commandments) from childhood, but he was lacking in wisdom. He could not realize that his blessings weren’t for him alone but for many others. He could not connect the dots that though the right to own property, wealth is private, personal, but the use of it has social implications and demands. He was a hoarder, attached to his wealth. He lacked wisdom, even though in the eyes of the world, many might argue he is a wise man to have accomplished much at his age.
The encounter with Jesus was difficult for him. It was difficult to take the challenge of Jesus because, as the bible says, “He was a wealthy man.” He had come with a wrong impression about heaven. He wanted to earn it as he had earned his wealth. He relied on his ability without realizing the great gift of wisdom from God and the grace of real transformation that comes when we are ready to detach from stuff and align our will with God’s.
From this encounter, Jesus makes a chilling and honest declaration about how unwise attachment to wealth or anything whatsoever we have is to the detriment of the intent of the Creator for giving us those blessings. “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:24-25).
We learn from this text that it would take a lot of stooping, literally crawling, which means humility, detachment, and ultimately the gift of wisdom for a rich man to enter into heaven. It would be less difficult for a camel that has to stoop so low to the point of crawling with its stomach to pass through the eye of a needle (the small gate, the only access to the city when the main gate is closed).
Pray with me, “Lord, let your wisdom be with us to help us and to work with us.” Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[28thSunday Ordinary Time B: Wis 7:7-11; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30]
Grace to you!
On many occasions, I’ve been privileged to conduct marriage preparation classes. I’ve heard some candidates for marriage say things such as: “Let’s give it a try.” Or, “We decided to see if it will work for us.”
When I hear such, it lets me know that there is much work to do to teach the life-commitment— “for better for worse”—which the Lord establishes for marriage in the Church.
We read the conversation between some Pharisees and the Lord concerning the question of marriage and divorce.
The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?" (Mark 10:2)
To me, many ask the same or similar questions today. Nothing is new under the sun.
To this Jesus replies by repeating the words from the Book of Creation (Gen 2:24). By so doing, he shows his approval of the divine mandate about the human bond of love in marriage. “What God has joined together let no one separate” (Mk 10:9).
A brief analysis of the context of this approval is crucial. The background to the question is a long-time controversy between two camps during the time of Jesus, a time (like ours) with loose morality. There were two schools of thought on the divorce question: the Shammai School (regarded as conservatives) and the Hillel School (regarded as liberals). These schools tilted the all-important divine law to become a matter of political debate. Whichever side one chose became a matter of partisan debate.
The Pharisees, therefore, thought they could entrap and discredit Jesus if they inserted him in this hot button political debate. Whichever side the Lord took on the divorce controversy, a great number of people would differ and therefore stop following him.
Do you see any similarities between these schools and Christianity today? By the way, the use of these words—conservative Catholic or liberal Catholic—is a misnomer. You are either a Catholic or not. We should be careful of bringing political arguments into Church matters. It is wise to know the lines between the two. When we allow political matters to determine what is binding or not binding in our faith, we have sold our soul on the altar of worldly religion. We have built for ourselves the golden calf and created for ourselves the god who worships us rather than worship the God who created us.
The Lord’s response in Mark 10:2-16, underscores five key points which a believer has to take seriously. His response addresses marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
1. Moses allowed divorce as a concession which is not in line with the will of God.
2. Divorce is due to the hardness of heart. Recall that the kind of heart needed to follow the Lord is a heart of flesh, not a heart of stone (Ez 36:26).
3. Marriage is not just a civil affair. It is a natural law. More importantly, it is a divine law. It cannot be dissolved without a violation of the right that belongs to God. No person, not even a religious leader, could dissolve a valid marriage. The Church, under certain conditions which are meticulously examined by the proper ecclesiastical juridical authority, could declare an invalid marriage null, but does not dissolve a valid marriage. A null marriage means that from the start, the marriage was not a valid sacramental union. To read the Churches teaching on this issue, you may want to consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1629. Read also 1983 Code of Canon Lawchapters five and six, covering canon 1108-1129 for norms on what constitutes validity and non-validity of the sacrament of matrimony. But every marriage in the church is presumed valid until proven otherwise (Code of Canon Law, #1060).
4. Marriage was ordained in the beginning, right from creation (Gen 1and 2).
5. God made them male and female (not males and females) to show the singularity of the union. It is a union deeper than any other on earth which can make a man leave (sign of permanent departure) his biological family and be joined to his wife (a symbol of perpetual union) so much so that by the very act of God they become one and no longer two. This is possible because of the power of God, not humans, and could not be remade without a violation of this power.
As we reflect on these words of our Savior, let us ask for the grace to keep faithful to the plan of God in the marriage union. To do so is blessing for us and for society.
God bless our families. God bless married couples. God bless those seeking to find their best half.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[27thSunday Ordinary Time B: Gen 2:18-24; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16 or 10:2-12]
Grace to you!
Thousands of pilgrims were in attendance at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday, October 18, 2015 to witness the canonization of Marie-Azelie and Louis Martin, the parents of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, by Pope Francis.
During the homily in the serenity of the solemn Eucharistic celebration, the the Holy Father stated:
“The holy spouses, Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin, practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus." They are the first-ever married couple with children to be canonized in the same ceremony.
History was made. It is people who make history. The Martins did, and in a big way—the way of sanctity. It is in this context I always look at the story of Saint Theresa (January 2, 1873 – September 30, 1897), popularly known as The Little Flower. Her appreciation and practice of virtue started in the home, the "Church of the home" (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, 1981, #38). Modeling the way for the child, as Proverbs 22:6 admonishes, is rewarding.
From her parents, now Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, Thérèse witnessed pure love, and felt God’s enduring love. In that home, she never heard voices raised, hate discussed, materialism promoted and immodesty approved. Love and kindness trumped. She saw beauty as it is and realized how God was seen in all life and activities of the family. Suffering and sickness were not to take away the joy of that home.
So for the girl Therese, the home nurtured the saint. It’s important for us to pay attention to the impact our examples could have on children. Children practice what they learn from home, just as they practice at home what they learn elsewhere, including what they copy from the media. Watchful care is important. Tender, pure and loving example is key.
The Little Flower’s example of “the little way” is spiritually brilliant. For the Little Flower, it is “doing ordinary things extraordinarily with love. This spiritual model sounds simple, but it is profound. It’s a model that could permeate every aspect of our lives today, if we live up to it. Often, it is in those little acts of love that holiness of life flourishes. It is in them that God is glorified.
Simple acts such as housecleaning, making our bed, keeping the restroom better than we found it, a genuine smile to a stranger, proper use of time, not wasting food and giving somebody a listening ear, may have great impact. So also simple acts of charity, spontaneous prayers in response to a prayer-burden, generous gift of our time to help someone else, etc., could mean much in our spiritual life. In doing such simple things as these with pure love, we lead the way of perfection.
The temptation to be known, to be famous or to do incredible things is huge for many. Nonetheless, we learn from the Little Flower how true it is that exaltation comes from God to the simple and the humble (Prov 3:34; Mt 23:12). Pope Pius X called her “the greatest saint of the modern times.” It wasn’t because of her unusual ascetic life, exceptional academic qualifications, physical beauty, mind-boggling ideas or innovation, or material success. It was for her pure love and audacious simplicity. Her heart was like that of a child, the kind the Lord presents to us as a model (Lk 9:46-48).
Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus (I take her as my girlfriend) has taught me many things as she taught another Father Maurice, a French Missionary in Africa, who was her penpal and friend, how to love God above all else. I owe to her some aspects of my spiritual journey.
Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, pray for us.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
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.