Grace to you!
Today’s reflection, which is a continuation of our thoughts from the sampled readings of Genesis, focuses on the tendency to play a blame game when we falter. I offer a suggestion on how to confront our demons head on and find answers and healing.
Did you notice that in our lives, more often than not, when things go wrong, we tend to look outside to see who is the cause? We look to person A or person B, situation A or situation B. It is easier to blame others than to blame ourselves.
We tend to judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves. Actually, many times, by judging others, we find excuses for our own indiscretions. It makes us feel good about ourselves. This proclivity is not unique to us as individuals. It was one of the first responses of our first parents Adam and Eve when they were confronted by the Lord after they committed Original Sin. It’s a natural human tendency.
After Adam and Eve violated God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, their nakedness became evident to them. And when God takes the stage to call them to responsibility beginning with the man (Adam) to whom the Lord expressly gave the command, the man blamed the woman. Perhaps, he indirectly blamed God who gave him the woman. The woman blamed the serpent. So, the circle goes.
The Lord asked a simple question: “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LordGod said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” (Gn 3:11-13).
Blame game. We forget that true self-discovery and true recovery happens when we dare tell ourselves the truth about ourselves. We notice this during the sacrament of reconciliation, Confession. Contrition, that is true sorrow for ours sins, is required for a good spiritual healing and restoration. No one who truly understands what making amends is goes to confession blaming other people. No one who wants to receive grace and mercy goes to God blaming others.
We come to God asking for mercy for ourselves and for others. We know that the Lord is everywhere and knows us through and through. The Lord knows each situation through and through just like the Lord’s Holy Presence was everywhere in the garden of Eden whether Adam and Eve knew it or not. The Lord sees. The Lord knows. Scripture says, even before we were molded in our mom’s womb, the Lord knows everything through and through (Ps 139).
Let’s face it. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23). Christian understanding of human nature is such that we acknowledge the reality of human frailty. We believe that the consequences of Original Sin affect all of humankind. No one is utterly good. No one is holy. No one is perfect except God (see Mk 10:18; Lev 19:2; I pet 1:16).
Also, God is all merciful. The Lord welcomes our repentant heart, our contrite spirit (Ps 51:17). In fact, in relating with us, the Lord is full of kindness and compassion (Ps 103:8, 145:8). The Lord is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). The same way the Lord had pity on the crowd who was starving as to miraculously feed them (Mk 8:1-10), the Lord has pity on us when we are spiritually starving.
Hence, approach the Lord not hiding yourself or finding excuses for your failings. Approach God in humility asking for mercy and grace. You will receive grace in abundance, and healing too. Amen.
God love you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday Week 5 Ordinary Time: Gn 3:9-24; Mk 8:1-10]
Grace to you!
We journey with Saint Paul in today’s reflection. Saint Paul opens his heart to us as he did to the Philippians in the Letter to the Philippians, written around 54 and 63 AD.
The Philippian church was small, but strong and generous. They were among the few churches, if not the only church, from whom Saint Paul accepted gifts for his ministry (Phil 4:15). He loved them. They loved and treasured him. Hence, he writes to them with tenderness and intimate connection. He allows his deepest thoughts to flow as he brings them into his personal understanding of worship and life in Christ.
We read from Philippians 2:5-6: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him…”(Phil 2:5-10).
Reflect on those words for a moment. We see one of the clearest testimonies about the divine person of Jesus Christ as God and man. We see how in his human nature the Lord showed us what true deposition of the believer should be—humble service to the will of God the Father. This kind of humility is also worship because worship is rendering to God the supreme honor due to God in our hearts, thoughts, actions and entire life. It’s a life of praise unto God. It’s pure gratitude to the Lord for who we are and what we have.
Consider the symbol of the crucifixion, the worst death that could be during the time that Saint Paul writes. Yet, Jesus chose to die that way as a necessary route to glory. In this, the Lord is showing us how glory for the believer is necessarily tied to the cross, suffering. The blessings of the cross flow not to the arrogant but to the humble. The Lord himself tells us in many occasions during his life on earth how glory, exultation is entwined with humility (Mtt 23:12; Lk 14:11).
Humility reminds us of the reality of who are and who we are made to be. It is one of those virtues that make us honest about ourselves in relation to God and in relation to others. Anyone who has a humble heart has the mind of Christ. It is the true heart of worship.
Sometimes, we go about our business thinking of ourselves as if we are God. Perhaps, things we wish and work for come our way as we desire it. Sooner or later, we begin to assume that we determine everything and are in control of everything. We miss the point that we’re simply beneficiaries of divine blessings. If we as believers understand grace as unmerited favor, it should make us more humble.
Consider that many have done the same things you’ve done and still aren’t where you are. Many have put in more than you have and still not reached where you are. There are many things around us reminding us to be humble; and in the deepest part of our heart, offer back to God the glory that belongs to God for all we have and all the blessings we have received.
I pray that God’s Word in this Letter of Saint Paul, will find a home in our hearts. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Ordinary Time B: Phil 2:5-11; Lk 14: 15-24]
Grace to you!
In many ways, hospitals reveal human needs. In the hospitals, we witness firsthand our weaknesses. The strong and the weak, the wealthy and the poor share the same fate. They lie on that uncomfortable bed and are pushed around in ways they may not have tolerated. In the hospitals, we surrender to the limitations of our nature as humans.
As we go through the emergency rooms, or the ICUs, sometimes we have that moment to reflect on our needs and inadequacies. In the hospitals too, we come close to the desire of many hearts to find answers. We want a miracle. We desire a savior. No one, not even the most stoic, wants to make the hospital a home. We want to be healed fast and get out of there.
The hospital situation could be seen as a metaphor to humanity’s condition. Sickness that leads people to the hospital is comparable to sin that leads people to unfreedom. Sin and sinful conditions call for healing from our heavenly physician, Christ. As a priest, it’s incredible to witness firsthand the joy of freedom as people walk out of the Confessional, having been freed from sin and the state of spiritual unfreedom. For me, it’s far more exciting than someone walking out of the hospital healed of their sickness.
Some of our brokenness as humans is social and structural. The people of Israel, for instance, witnessed firsthand the social dimension, and its implications for the group and for the individual during their exile in Babylon. They were taken to where they didn’t want to go. They were forced into the condition that was painful and humbling. The compassionate Lord responded to their call for healing: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (Is 35:4).
We read from the teachings of the Church that the story of the exile is a pointer to the story of the human condition in need of a Savior, Christ. This relates not simply to a group but also to individuals, such as the case in the New Testament miracle reported by Mark (7:31-35).
The man who was healed by the Lord in Mark 7:31-35 was described as deaf and with speech impediment. He needed a Savior. Though his situation was biological, and not his fault, by way of spiritual application, we could use it as relating to our spiritual needs too. The man is like anyone who lives in situations of spiritual needs, such as where they neither hear the good news nor proclaim the saving grace of God. He is like anyone bereft of grace by sin or sinful conditions. Conditions that prevent us from hearing or listening to God’s Word are terrible.
The Lord would use different sensory gestures of touching, seeing, spitting, eye lifting to heaven, and groaning to identify with the person in need. He demonstrates his connection with the individual and as well as his power to heal and save. “He himself bore our sins in his body .... By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, see also Is 53:4-5). The Lord fulfills the promise of the messianic era for which the reference of Mark 7:35 is tied to Isaiah 35:5-6. “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak” (Mk 7:37).
What is your need? What is it that has tied us down that we live in a condition of unfreedom, unable to hear the whisper of God’s voice around us and unable to tell forth the beauty, goodness and truth of God’s saving grace? What is it that has taken our joy away and made us live in conditions that could be described like an exile, a desert or a wasteland? What is that need that calls for Christ’s redeeming grace? What is that sinful condition or painful past that has dulled our spiritual senses and made us lose sight of the holy, the pure and the love of God in us and in our neighbor?
What is that situation that has made us insensitive to the poor and the vulnerable in our midst and, therefore, unable to respond to them not with sympathy but with compassion and equal respect? What is that situation that has made us place values only in what people have and not who they are? Just like the story in the Letter of James (2:1-5), what is that condition that has made us close our eyes to see in the poor in our church or community the same dignity as the big donor who enjoys our respect?
Those situations call for the healing touch of Christ. In those situations, we need God’s saving grace to hear God speak and to respond accordingly.
Praying that God will grant us the grace of spiritual awareness and freedom from sinful conditions. Amen.
[Sunday Week 23 Ordinary Time B: Is 35:4-7; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-35]
Grace to you!
A man was shocked by his own action. He let his guard down and did what he thought he had outgrown, having known the Lord for decades. “It was the most humbling moment of my life,” he said.
Sometimes, we read the fall and brokenness of others with a prideful sense of judgement. Often, this occurs, especially, when we are enjoying the grace of victory over those kinds of life. We forget that except for the grace of God, we could possibly do worse.
As a believer, have you considered how you came to faith in the Lord? Have you reflected on the spiritual practices it took for you to overcome some of your weaknesses and vices? Have you reflected on how your heart was touched to notice and appreciate God’s love? Or have you pondered on the blessings of seeing God’s love around you and the fact that God is present and real to you?
To come to this kind of knowledge is not common. It is grace. It is granted by God. It’s a comforting and refreshing awareness.
To know that God loves us not because of us but in-spite of us is refreshing. To have the grace to see God around us; in the poor, the broken-hearted, the sick and human situations is grace granted to a few. To walk into a church and see God in the silence, and touch God’s hands and relish God’s smiles during worship, especially in the Eucharistic celebration, is an incredible grace. To see God amidst chaos and scandals is an incredible grace.
Don’t forget that some people may come to the same places and not see God at all. Some people may see the human brokenness; and instead of seeing God calling us to act, be turned away from God. That we see God in those realities should make us humble and appreciative. That we enjoy freedom from particular vices by the grace of God should also make us grateful and humble. We need to constantly remember what grace that has been given to us.
Like the parable of the talents in the Gospel (Mt. 25:14-30), it is a privilege to receive divine talents, and be a steward for innumerable blessings.
The Church of Corinth received many blessings from the Lord. First was the grace of conversion into Christ plus their unique vocation as those called by the Lord into his life. The new life in Christ they received resulted in numerous other blessings that led to the spiritual growth of the community. Among them was an incredible manifestation of the charismatic gifts which God gives to the Church for her flourishing and service. Those gifts are there for us. No one outdoes God in generosity. God pours the gifts to as many hearts as possible that are ready to be used to transform society, and as many communities in need. The Corinthian Church was blessed indeed.
Saint Paul reminds them as he reminds us that the gifts we’ve received from the Lord is a call to service and humility. Since our call is by the grace of God and the blessings flowing from that call are also by the initiative of God, we should not boast about it as if they were by our merit. Boasting about what is not our merit isn’t wisdom.
We are not to boast about gifts because gifts are not of our own making or strictly because of our merit. Hence, they are called gifts. We are not to boast about our faith in the sense of counting it as a result of our smartness, our power or our family or community tradition or because of our efforts.
If we must boast, it must be in praise of God for the graces we’ve received. Saint Paul admonishes us: “Whoever boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 2:31).
Praying that we may live a life of gratitude to God for the grace of our conversion and spiritual awakening. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday Week 21 Ordinary Time B: 1 Cor 1:26-31; MT 25:14-30]
Grace to you!
The best way to inspire others is to lead by example. The best way to lead is to model the way.
I remember a hardworking mom, who knew how to do just that. Her son started off in high school, scoring all As. As days rolled by, he began to ignore his studies, believing he would pass anyway. It wasn’t long before he hardly made a B- on his midterm.
The mom saw this coming. She had been persuading her son to get serious with his academics, to no avail. Fortunately, she had a brilliant idea. She invited her son over and showed him her grades while she was in high school.
The son was silent seeing that the mom had perfect scores when she was his age. She had said all she wanted. The impact on the boy was far more than all her “scolding.”
Sure enough, years later, after an admission into one of the Ivy League schools, the young man thanked the mom for showing him her grades. “That spoke more to me than all the theory about commitment to my studies, all the scolding…” he said.
Action, they say, speaks louder (and clearer) than voice. The best teacher, the best mom or dad, the best religious leader, is the one who lives what he or she stands for, what the person teaches. A sincere effort to live what we preach, despite human weaknesses, is a sure sign of integrity.
Speaking about the religious leaders of the time, the Lord Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice (Mt 23:1-3).
Strong words, aren’t they? Here the Lord makes a distinction between a “teaching office” and the morality of the teacher; and, in like manner, distinguishes adherence to the truth taught from following the lifestyle of the teacher. Often, we tend to fuse the lifestyle of the teacher with what is being taught. This is risky and spiritually dangerous.
This doesn’t give religious leaders or teachers the license to live in such a way as to disregard what they represent. The recent news of obnoxious clergy sexual scandals in the USA, that heinous and horrifying bad example, is a cause for serious self-examination for church leaders. Consider the unimaginable harm this does to the victims, their families and the Church as a whole. We must unite to root out this sort of evil, and see that justice is done.
Saint Paul warned against showing bad example when he addressed a number of questions to those with the authority to teach and preach: “You then who teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’ ” (Rom 2:21–24).
As a priest, these words speak directly to me. Do I practice what I preach? Or do I downplay one aspect or another of the gospel simply because it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my way of life? When I cherry pick what is convenient from God's Word instead of accepting and honestly committing to live all by God's grace, the consequences can be disastrous.
I pray that God will give us the grace to follow the Lord and walk in his footsteps even when it’s not convenient or popular. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday Week 20 Ordinary Time A: Ez 43:1-7; Mt 23:1-12]
Grace to you!
Autobiographies tell many stories that look too real and too unreal at the same time. I like reading them. They make for a lighter moment mental shootaround. Colorful scenes, decked plots and exaggerated facts punctuate the scripts, making it difficult to see the true identity of the writer.
Nevertheless, when the writer is truly ready for a candid report about oneself, the story could be told in a rather bold, and fairly honest way. Such could be said of Saint Augustine’s Confessions as opposed to Jacques Derrida’s skeptical, pessimistic and confusing Circumfession.
A man approached a priest. He told the story of his faith journey with details than the priest would rather care to know. In the end, the priest was wondering if the man wasn’t all out for the “I am good” bravado. His story was a praise of his goodness and holiness as if he were a living saint. There was no discernible moment the man expressed need for grace and God’s mercy. It was all about how good he was and how he needs the Church to endorse his style of life. Poor priest!
You don’t need a class in bible studies or catechism to know that that man was unaware of what new life in Christ means. We may find ourselves in that story. Let’s look into ourselves. If you were to write a story about your faith journey, what would it look like?
Many people in the bible had the opportunity to write a bit about their life. One of them was Matthew, the said author of the Gospel according to Matthew.
In Matthew 9:9-13, he describes the events of his call by Jesus. In few words, he tells us so much about what the call meant to him, the tax collector.
Jesus called him. He followed. He was at dinner with Jesus and many other tax collectors and sinners. He contrasts the openness of the sinners towards Jesus with the attitude of the Pharisees, who were showing signs of “holier than thou.”
Matthew wrote those details—the good and the bad about himself—with such brevity because he may have reached the freedom for Christ, which our past can’t cripple. Often, when we aren’t completely free from something, we tend to be defensive. Matthew wasn’t defensive. He was free indeed!
The call to follow Jesus presupposes a past that must be left behind. A past, though shameful, yet is revealing of what the power of God’s grace can do in the heart of anyone who welcomes it. Without that past, there would be no need for a new call. With a new call, there should be no more need to be defensive.
If the past is very shameful, it shouldn’t be a stumbling block to the “new way”, Christ’s way. In fact, the more shameful the past, the more likely we appreciate better the freshness of freedom, grace and new life in Christ. “Where sin increased, grace abound all the more” (Rm 5:20).
Many spiritual writers would agree that unless we could identify that moment, or some moments in our past that brought us on our knees, leading us to ask for divine grace and mercy, we may not have truly been converted or attuned to God’s redeeming and transforming grace. Ongoing conversion or renewal is normal. It’s expected of the true believer.
The Lord Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
Praying for the grace of humble, repentant heart so God will heal us. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu.
[Friday Week 13 Ordinary Time: Amos 8:4-9, 9-12; Matthew 9:9-13]
Grace to you!
Many of us are familiar with the biblical story of Job. Perhaps, we learned it in school right from when we were in grade two or three.
Job’s name was synonymous with suffering. We read the story of how he lost his entire family and suffered from leprosy. We learned how his wife cursed him out and bid him to curse God and die. We also learned how no one seemed to show him sympathy, including his closest friends who accused him of having committed something evil and hence evil has come upon him. We read about how Job was a victim of a bait between God and Satan, where Satan was to try him by all means, but not touch his life.
There are many plots in the entire story. It could make for a good movie. For the most part, Job’s story stirs many emotions—sadness, gloominess, disappointment and anger. We question the justice of God. We feel frustrated why a just man like Job should suffer so much.
We read that story and may believe it was about an event thousands of years ago. Little do we pause and ask: ‘By the way, who is Job today?’
Job is you or anyone you know who has suffered so much even though there is no blame on his or her part for the suffering. Job is anyone who is passing the dark night experiences where it seems there is no more hope. Job is anyone whose night is so long, sleep can’t come because the mind is burdened with worries, anxieties and pain. “The night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn” (Job 7:4).
Job is you when suffering seems to break you and you wonder what this life is all about. Why would God allow me to suffer this much? Why is God far away from me? At least so it seems. Despite all I have done to do things right, why is so much disappointment and terrible things coming my way?
Job is, indeed, anyone who needs a savior. Job is the right candidate for the Redeemer to appear. Job reveals the mystery and paradox of suffering.
Notice what happens when the Savior comes. He goes about doing good (Acts 10:38) and preaching the Good News, healing those sick and suffering and driving out demons. He says, “For this purpose have I come” (Mk 1:38).
The Lord comes for Job. He comes for you and me. He comes so that Job may find the revealing power of God amidst suffering. The Savior comes that Job may hear the good news of God’s saving grace and see in suffering the redemptive work of God. What the story of Job tells is what the Savior rectifies—suffering has a new outlook; it finds a saving grace in Christ.
We realize we suffer not because God is unjust; or that we are rich and enjoy the blessings of the earth because we are just—a dose of lesson for prosperity gospel preachers. It simply reveals to us that all things are towards the revelation of God. Suffering has meaning beyond the pain we face right now. Again, we are not necessarily wealthy and healthy because we are righteous; just like we do not necessarily suffer because we are unjust.
We preach the gospel. The gospel is the victory won on the cross. St. Paul says, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). In another place he says, the gospel we preach is Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). There are lots of meanings to unpack from all these.
Here is another way Scripture says it: “By his wounds we are healed” (Is 55:5; 1 Pet 2:24).
In another place it says, “They shall look upon the one whom they have pierced” (Zech 12:10; Jn 19:37).
It is from the Job experience; that is, taking the cross and following Jesus, that the healing grace and fervor of evangelization flows. From the pain of the cross we reach the gain of the resurrection.
Do you want to be a healing, passionate witness of the gospel of Christ? Have you witnessed Job in your life? Have you borne the mark of the cross?
Praying that God will give us grace in the crosses that come our way. Amen.
May healing flowing from the wounded side of Jesus flow through your life and your situation. Amen. Afterall, your Job experience is not a desperate case. The dawn of glory has come.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Sunday Week 5: JB 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk 1:29-39]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible 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.