Grace to you!
Who is Christ in my life?
The first disciples of the Lord had to answer this question. They had to have that alone-moment of spiritual self-examination. Such a question has to be addressed when we seem alone or lonely in our spiritual struggles. It is fitting when we feel like aliens or outsiders in the world in which we live. They are apt in moments of doubt.
Some see Christ when their problems are solved, and miracles occur. Some embrace him when their social needs are met. Some people believe in him only when the going is rosy and fun. Or rather, some believe and teach that it is only a prosperous life that is proof that Christ is Lord in one's life.
If Christ is the messiah only when he comes and saves us from all our social and health needs, what kind of Christ is he? If he is the messiah because he supplies my material needs, what kind of saving favor is that to my faith?
Many people did not accept Jesus as Christ during his earthly life. One of the main reasons is because he wasn’t a militant liberator, the kind they had expected. His followers weren’t the sort that could engage in the military campaign either. They and their leader, Jesus, were no good fit for the kind of brand the people wanted for a messiah. For short, he wasn't a hot-seller brand. More, he was a PR disaster.
Yet the Lord would avoid such distractions. He departs from situations in which his Lordship is acknowledged only through the crowns. He isn't abiding forever when only his glory is embraced, and the way to that glory is rejected.
Saint Peter made an incredible profession regarding the Christ at Caesarea Philippi, a little city close to the sources of the River Jordan. “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:30). The Gospel of Matthew gives further details of this Peter’s profession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). The Lord follows this profession with the most explicit teaching regarding his crucifixion (Mk 8:31-33), showing the connection between the two.
I believe that unless Christ is Lord in our sufferings, he can't be Lord in our glories. It is from the friendship mentored through our down moments that we reap rich fruits on sunny days. Enduring glory exists because it emerges from the depths of suffering. In such is a pleasant surprise, a delightful breakthrough.
So, when next your suffering seems unusually deep, remember, Christ is with you right there. When people push you around for a quick fix, remember that the Lord’s ways aren’t a magical input and output of favored results.
Continue to profess Christ as Lord. Your glory as a believer is rooted in that profession. It is in holding on to the Lord amidst all odds. He is the perfecter of your faith (Heb 12:2). Such is the profession of faith that emerges in spiritual leadership. Such is aligned to Saint Peter’s at Caesarea Philippi.
Do not be fixated on who people say Christ is. Know it to have a robust response to them. But invest more on whom you say he is. It is in this personal discovery that your faith grows stronger. It is the most precise way of a vigorous response to doubters.
I am praying for the grace of a more deep-rooted, personal encounter with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
[Thursday Week 6: Jas 2:1-9; Mk 8:27-33]
Photo source: Rodrigo from Cathopic.com
Grace to you!
All around us, we make choices, don't we? We choose our home, our car, our food, and the movies we see. Not all these choices turn out as expected, yet we wanted them anyway.
For instance, one may not understand the importance of choosing a comfortable shoe until one wears a pair of shoes that hurt. The shoes may look fancy and beautiful, but they are heavy and improperly aligned. Because of the look, some may prefer them to a more comfortable, though less lavish shoe. The choice for the fancy over the suitable has consequences.
In nature, every choice we make has implications—good, bad, and ugly. It's how God has made nature. God desires us to choose from the abundance of his blessings in the world.
Scripture emphasizes this truth: “If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water: stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him” (Sirach 15:15-17). The Lord Jesus himself said about the Torah and the Prophets, "I have not come to abolish…but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17). He then gave us higher standards for life and asked us to make tough choices rooted in love of God and love of neighbor.
Some may say, why would there be many choices for us? Why would God allow evil amidst the good, making the decision more difficult?
My response, permit me, is in the form of a question: Why freedom? Why the right to choose if there is only one thing from which one can choose? The concept of choice would be ridiculous if there were no alternatives on the list.
Moreover, the beauty of being human is that we can choose.
In nature, God has inscribed the Law, and through Divine Revelation, he has shown us the good to choose and the evil to avoid. Not only did God do it on the tablet of stone in the Old Testament, but Christ also came in-person to reveal what real life in God is and what it entails.
God put in our souls the seed of his awareness, his voice, and that of morality, conscience, so we can choose what is good and avoid what is evil. His love, life in Christ, is poured into our hearts through the Spirit (Rm 5:5). It enables us to desire what the Spirit of the Law Giver is, both within and outside of us.
When God created us, he looked at all he made, and "it was very good." Meaning, the best possible world ever to be made has been made by God. Creation and the complexity of the moral law follow the laws set by the Creator. God has inscribed the laws and their accompanying reward in nature. We receive what we choose.
When the law in our hearts responds positively to the law of God, there is a sort of holy marriage within us. In such is living according to the Spirit of the Law. There is joy and true, transforming freedom. However, when there is a disconnect between the law within and the law outside of us, spiritual conflicts arise. Those conflicts reverberate.
Heaven is where the law within and the law outside finally become one, as designed from the beginning. Hell is where the separation reaches untold, unbearable proportions of conflict and pain.
May God give us the grace to choose wisely, all the time. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[6th Sunday A: Sir 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-31 or 5:20-22A, 27-28, 33-34A, 37]
Photo Moses by Dimitri Conejo Sanz, Cathopic.com
Grace to you!
Prophetic ministry is the ministry of the Word. The prophet is the one who proclaims God's word. For the prophet to proclaim the Word, the person has to hear the Word also. As Saints Peter and John declared before the rulers and teachers of the law in Jerusalem, "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
When someone bares bold witness to the Lord, it is probably because the person has heard and seen and can speak. The audacity of faith life is well and alive in the person who has listened to and embraced God's word.
One of the moving moments during the ordination of deacons, in our Catholic tradition, is right after their anointing. The bishop places the Book of the Gospel in the hands of the newly ordained. He says as he does so: "Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach."
Believing (faith) comes from hearing (Rm 10:17). It's vital to hear. It's critical to read God's Word in Scripture, too. St. Jerome was on the mark when he said, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."
Consider a situation where one cannot hear? By that, I mean a situation where God's word isn't communicated and received. It must be a challenge to speak also because one does not confidently talk of what one does not know.
In the Gospel of Mark 7:31-37, the Lord goes to the region of the ten cities (Decapolis). The people brought him a deaf man who had speech impediments. The gesture of the people was an example of a good support system from the community. They saw a need and were able to accompany the needy to find help in the Lord.
Scripture gives a clear picture of the Lord's action to heal. He put his finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" (that is, "Be opened!"). And immediately the man's ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly" (Mk 7:31-37).
The Lord's action reminds me of God's creative work in the second account of creation in Genesis 2:7. There God breathed on the man created from dust, and he became a living being.
Through this miracle of the healing of the deaf and dumb, the Lord reveals the connection between him and the Father. The Lord Jesus does all things well, including doing miracles of healing and numerous nature miracles. He does so in your life too if you believe. The Lord also heals the deafness of unbelief. He grants us the favor of his holy touch and breath, that is, grace (his life), so we can see, hear, and then speak.
I pray we are healed from all sorts of unbelief and doubt that make it impossible to see, hear, and speak of the Lord's goodness. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 5 A: 1 Kgs 11:29-32; 12:19; Mk 7:31-37]
Photo source: Cathopic.com.
Grace to you!
One of the fascinating religious experiences I've witnessed was at Saint Brigid Church, Hanford, California, in 2012. It was a miracle of healing and conversion.
A young man in his early twenties born and bred in an atheistic home fell in love with a young Catholic girl. Because of his love for the girl, he followed the girl to church for Sunday Mass. During the homily, something dramatic happened to both of them.
According to the girlfriend, she felt a gentle hand touch her shoulders. As she looked up and around, nobody was there, while the feeling of the touch persisted. She looked at the boyfriend. He was deep in thoughts as if an angel had visited him. While this was going on, a light shone on both of them. She saw crystal petals all over her body and her boyfriend's. The experience, according to them, was indescribable. The joy, peace, and inner healing they felt lasted many days. They scheduled to meet with me the next week to share their experiences.
The testimony of the boy was fascinating. He disclosed he was never a believer. He said he never understood how religion makes any sense. He had no way to connect with the meaning. "But I felt a deep peace and healing like never before during that encounter I had at Mass, and that is why I asked my girlfriend to come to see you. I want to be a Catholic, and I would love to marry this girl (referring to the girlfriend) in the Catholic Church. Would you promise me to marry us whenever we are ready?" Good news, I married them in 2014 at St. Brigid Church in the Diocese of Fresno, California.
Testimonies like this happen from time to time when people touch the Lord. Or, I would rather say, when the Lord touched them. We touch the tassel of Jesus' clothes, especially during the Eucharistic celebration.
Every day, the Lord Jesus is passing by us. He is passing through human instruments. He is visiting with us in a unique way through his word, and the Sacraments. The Lord is passing by in our neighborhood. He is inside those churches where is the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. God is present with us in the most profound way.
The Lord is with us in the congregation in worship during the Eucharistic celebration. The Lord is also uniquely present in the person of the minister of the Sacraments, every day, every time you see the sacrament celebrated. Indeed, Jesus' clothes today are the church and its members. We are his body. Through us, the Lord heals those who reach out in faith.
My prayer today is that you and your loved ones may touch the tassel of Jesus' clothes. May we all be God's instrument of freedom and healing. Be Jesus' clothes, to bring freedom to many. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Week 5 Monday: Kgs 8:1-7, 9-13; Mk 6:53-56]
Photo source Cathopic.com
Grace to you!
A fair portion of the success of evangelization in the southeast of Nigeria was the sacrifice of missionaries from Ireland and France. They came to Onitsha, across and beyond the River Niger in the second half of the 19th century. To be precise, the French Catholic priest Fr. Lutz led the team in 1885. They saw the needs of the people. They noticed they couldn’t read or write. They knew that the inability to read or write wouldn’t equip the natives for the future. So, they focused on education. They believed that with education, the native people could have better opportunities.
Next, they saw the health condition of the citizens. They invested in providing basic health care. They set up clinics and later hospitals. They started to fight poverty. They knew in their bones that if one has not satisfied the basic necessities of life, it could be a hindrance to the joyful experience of the gospel. The missionaries invested in programs that would make food and clean water more available to those who were poor. They offered so much.
Meanwhile, some other missionaries were carrying their Bible and preaching the fast. They quoted various verses of Scripture but offered little, if any, concrete charitable services to the community. Why preach fast to a people whose lives were routine fasting? Why preach abstinence from fat and meat and dietary needs to a people who have no meat at all to eat? This strategy failed woefully in eastern Nigeria. It fails everywhere.
On the other hand, the delegation of Fr. Lutz and others who followed in his footsteps was very successful. The result was infectious. Despite the challenges, the natives realized that this crop of missionaries wasn't like the rest. They saw they hadn’t come to take but to give. They saw, they prayed like never before, and got their feet wet too in serving the poor in the community. The outpouring of their hearts to the natives was palpable. It wasn't long before large numbers of people started to congregate in the corners of the church huts. Then, they began to learn the Bible and the Catechism. The result was the fast growth of the Church in eastern Nigeria. One hundred thirty-five years later, millions profess the one true faith.
To be sure, the Church in eastern Nigeria isn’t perfect. No particular Church is. But the growth of the faith is mind-blowing.
During the early days of Christian life in Onitsha, where I learned Catechism like any other kid, the faith was always tied to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We knew them by heart. It was drilled into us that faith without good works is dead. We were taught to pray and work. Social justice wasn't a new gospel. It was an integral aspect of the gospel. It wasn't social gospel versus praying gospel. It was and is still both. We were taught to profess our faith and lift the burdens of the poor as well. We were taught to spend hours in the adoration chapel and hours serving food and clothing to the poor. It wasn’t the church of the chapel adorers versus the church of the social justice advocates. It was both.
It wasn't anything new. Neither is it something novel. In the Prophecy of Isaiah, the Lord rejects ostentatious piety. It lacks the core ingredients of charity in action. We learn from the Prophecy of Isaiah what true fasting, and by extension, true religion, is. It is to share our bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into our house. It is also to clothe the naked and not to avoid the needy in our midst. It is also to pour oneself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted (Is 57:7, 10).
The Lord tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13-16). These are metaphors. Yet, they have a much deeper meaning. As salt, we are what makes things of taste, good. We serve as preservatives to the good things the Creator has bequeathed the world too. Well, these—taste and preservative roles—are the most common understanding of the salt. For the snowy cities, salt could serve the role of defrosting the ice; yet, it may also serve the role of damaging the roads. There are numerous other ways of looking at it. It could speak to that condition in which we are unnoticed and yet make things taste good. It could be becoming that which melts and permeates into the fabric of society with the warmth of our love. Of all food ingredients, salt is about the fastest to dissolve. It dissolves completely. No one sees it, yet it impacts everything else in the soup.
It is so with anyone born anew in Christ. We become that unassuming and unnoticed ingredient that holds the world in good taste. In our prayer and our social justice works, we carry the heart of true love and hands of pure love. We pour ourselves. We daily die so those around us may live well. None pretentious self-emptying is part of who we are as believers.
Such is light too. Natural light is everywhere but seems nowhere. Except for artificial lights or bulbs, you notice that nobody points to it, yet it is everywhere. Sometimes, people don't notice, but the impact is everywhere. Have you ever walked out on a bright day and paid attention to the sun? You walk in the light. It shines. It permeates. You enjoy its rays while it goes unannounced. So is the life of a true believer.
How is this possible? It is when our religious devotions are grounded in sensitivity to the ethical demands and needs around us. It is when we don't just say things, we do them. It is when we realized that one life, we positively impact is worth much more than all the prayers and fasting, that we load up. It is when we shine because Christ lives in us. And like Christ, we live and move and shine. It isn't merely our devotions and prayers that shine. It is everything we do, even our constant commitment to serve and give to charity.
Faith without good work is simply dead (Jas 2:17). As the Jewish Biblical scholar Michael Fishbane (2002) notes, "Ritual must be grounded in moral sensibility and action” (Haftarot, p. 393).
I am praying for the grace to pour ourselves out for the good of those around us, for it is in dying that we find life.
God love you. God bless you.
[5th Sunday A: Is 58:7-10; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16. Image source. Cathopic.com]
Grace to you!
Did you observe that many times, your greatest critics are your people? Many times, the
most dismissive of your achievements or contributions are those who know your background pretty well. As the saying goes, "familiarity brings contempt."
A speaker joked that a consultant hired within 50 miles of the hiring organization is underrated. If the hire is from 50 miles or more away, everybody welcomes the person as a renowned expert. How true this is today and how true it was during the time of Jesus.
The Lord Jesus had preached and performed many miracles outside of his town. He had thousands of followers, including those who marveled at his words. Many confessed that no one matched his wisdom and eloquence. When he came to his hometown of Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6), people rejected him. Or at least many were dismissive of him. It wasn't because his words were less profound. They marveled at his words. Instead, they judged him based on his family lineage. His father and mother didn't go to Ivy League schools. His relatives didn't belong to any of the elitist class either. He didn't have any clout. Therefore, they weren't giving him the acknowledgment due to his groundbreaking impact.
In essence, in my opinion, their problem was envy and jealousy. It was also deep-seated prejudice and lack of openness, which prevented the people from looking beyond their biases. Often, people confuse wisdom with family or educational background, but the two aren't necessarily the same.
What I may call unreasonable appeal to authority could be a stumbling block to discovering the truth. It happens when we accept something simply because of the credentials of who said it as if to say wisdom lies in certificates alone. A professor friend of mine calls it academic demagoguery. Because so and so person from this top university or corporation said it, it must be true, is the death of real liberating knowledge.
The truth is the truth, irrespective of who said it. Just as what is false is false even if it came from the mouth of Albert Einstein.
To be sure, knowledge is power. It is also cumulative. It builds upon one another, depending on how many ideas with which one has dialogued. Those ideas may come from books, articles, one-on-one interactions, and other educational resources, such as going to school. Advanced degrees equip one for a deeper level of dialogue with these ideas, or more effective methods and methodology of enquiry. Indeed, a person of one hundred books is better than a person of one book. The Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, once cautioned against the man of one book.
May we not be blind to the wisdom that comes from the humble, the pure, the simple-hearted. Wisdom comes from unexpected sources too. God "exalts the humble and humbles the arrogant
" (Mt 23:12).
Judging people based on what their words and actions are and not merely because of where they come from is a good practice. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for the excellence of judging people on the content of their character too. By so doing, we will be enriched by the wisdom from the unexpected, from the pure. The Lord Jesus is the epitome of that wisdom. He grants it to anyone who notices that God goes on working even in the simplest things in life.
I pray for the grace of discernment. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday Week 4: 2 Sm. 24:2,9-17; Mk 6:1-6]
Grace to you!
I read the beautiful stories in Mark 5: 21-43, and I'm thrilled by the healing grace, mercy, and compassion of the Lord. I'm also captivated by the faith of the two characters (Jarius and the woman suffering from hemorrhage) who were immediate beneficiaries of God’s healing grace. God’s Word in Scripture is refreshing.
The woman had suffered from profuse bleeding for over 12 years. She spent all her money seeking medical help without any success. She heard about the Lord Jesus. She may have heard he is the messiah or that he has performed signs and wonders from God. What she heard opened her to the gift of faith in the Lord. Her confidence grew as she came closer and closer to where Jesus was. "Faith comes by hearing" (Rm 10:17).
She saw the Lord as the crowd followed him. She wasn't part of the original crowd. Nor was she invited as the disciples were. Yet she knew that with God, everyone is invited. Whether she showed up in front or behind was irrelevant. Showing up from the back would do for what she wanted. Shame or insecurity because of her condition wouldn't stop her from meeting the Healing Lord. The teaming crowd following the Lord wouldn't be in her way or stop her either. She was focused and knew exactly what she wanted. She also knew the key to unlocking the favor she was seeking.
What she wanted was a touch. It was a touch on that cloth worn by the Savior. Precisely, to touch the tassel or fringes (tzitzit) attached to the Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), which Jesus, as a religious Jew, wore. A typical religious Jewish man at the time of the story wore the tassel, as many Jews do today. It’s a reminder of God's commandments and the call to holiness.
The woman saw the connection between a "relic" and a person. In this case, it was the connection between Jesus, the Lord, and what he wore. Whatever the Lord wears is already a source of blessings. This woman's faith is incredible. It's inspiring. Love it. I call it faith in the little things that matter because they come from the Lord.
The woman had a target, a goal. She was a believer, not a fan. Many in the crowd were mere fans, following the crowd of the celebrity. Not for this woman. Her faith paid off because the Lord doesn't refuse genuine faith. She was healed. Power went out of Jesus as she touched him.
The second case in this Biblical story of Mark 5: 21-43, concerns Jarius, a synagogue official. He approaches Jesus, interceding for the healing of his daughter, who was sick. Scripture says Jarius' daughter was twelve years old (Mk 5:42). What a coincidence that the woman is suffering from hemorrhage had been bleeding for twelve years, and Jarius’ sick daughter was also twelve years.
Biblical stories are full of symbols—twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, etc. The number twelve appears at least 187 times in the Bible. It speaks of authority and perfection. In some ways, it could relate to those men and women across the world, who the Lord, the Son of David, offers grace of redemption. We all are spiritually networked to the excellencies of the symbolic number twelve in the apostolic rootedness.
News came that Jarius' daughter was already dead. The messenger suggested he wouldn't need to bother Jesus any longer since the daughter was already dead. The Lord jumped in to reassure Jarius of his providence and confirm his faith. The Lord knows the critical time we need him the most, and he saves the day. "Do not be afraid," the Lord said to him, "just have faith."
The Lord accompanied Jarius to his home and raised his daughter from the dead, asking them to give her food to eat.
There are many lessons from these two stories. One is that faith is the key to unlocking the blessings of God. Have faith. Keep faith and see that your salvation is near.
Also, Jarius and the woman who was suffering from bleeding wouldn’t be stopped by the negative news or obstacle. The crowd could have prevented the woman from touching Jesus. She didn’t allow it to happen. Messengers of the bad news about the death of Jarius’ daughter had already suggested he quit, but the Lord reassured him.
Sometimes, the greatest discouragement you get regarding your faith comes from the voice of the crowd or those who do not see the way the Lord sees. Naysayers are all around us. Please do not listen to them. To the unwise, the audacity of faith is senseless. For the person of faith, there are limitless opportunities.
So, what do you do? How do you keep your faith alive and secure? How do you not miss an opportunity of grace or miracle?
Keep an eye on Christ, the Lord. "Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2). Focus on God. Such a spiritual attitude keeps you on target to your blessings.
I pray the Lord confirms your faith as he did for Jarius and the woman suffering from hemorrhage. Amen.
God Love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Week 4 Ordinary Time B:2 Sm 18:9-10, 14b, 24-25a, 30; 19:3; Mk 5:21-43]
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.