Grace to you!
We begin a new week in the Church’s liturgical calendar. It is the first of the thirty-four weeks called Ordinary Time of the Year. The weeks of the Ordinary Time are those that do not fall within Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter seasons.
In this week, we reflect on the first readings in our daily liturgy. The readings are centered on The Letter to the Hebrews. This beautiful inspired letter, with thirteen chapters, whose precise authorship is debated by scholars, bears the mark of an early witness of the Christ who is vast in Greek and Jewish cultures. He is one who is pretty knowledgeable about Old Testament Scripture. His style seems to suggest that of a person trained in the rabbinic tradition.
The central objective of the letter was to show the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant he established through his priesthood over the Old Testament priesthood and covenant (The Navarre Bible Commentary, p. 11. See also W. Leonard, 1953, p. 1153). Reading the text, one sees someone writing to new converts to Christianity. Those believers may have been persecuted and looking for words of encouragement to keep the faith. As one reads the letter, one sees a combination of words of encouragement, sometimes moral and doctrinal teachings, crafted with scripture analysis in the style of the rabbis.
Without in anyway going through the biblical background of the Letter, which belongs to biblical scholars, I would share with you some of the ideas that jump out at me as I gleaned through the pages of this text.
When I prayerfully read and reread Hebrew 1:1-6, the words hit me with renewed insight. I see the sovereignty of Christ declared with unequalled emphasis. Christ’s eternal being with the Father right from creation was highlighted: “through whom also he [God] created the world” (Heb 1:2). Christ is also presented as the true reflection of God’s glory and is of divine nature. “He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:3).
Thus, believers are not to see the Lord Jesus Christ as a superior heavenly angel that came to minister to our needs just as Archangel Michael who does spiritual battle for us, or Archangels Raphael or Gabriel, etc. Rather, Christ is God. He is above the angels, the only begotten Son of God. “Having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs” (Heb 1:4).
In this we see right away the central place of Christ in the letter. Believers in Christ have to be reassured that their faith isn’t in vain. Hang in with Christ and you are solidly established in the heavenly promise. Discipleship in this faith is following Christ all the way.
The call of the first four apostles in the Gospel of Mark 1:14-20, captures how this discipleship looks. It is to follow the Lord. It is to listen to Christ and follow his lead. Many times, it requires to let go of certain things—things that stand in the way—so as to follow the way of the Lord.
The tension that exists between your faith and the daily temptations and trials you face should inspire in you the courage that flows from the one in whom you believe. Hold on to this faith. Christ in whom you trust is your loving God. His promises would not fail. They will come to pass if you trust him as your Lord and Savior.
Follow Christ. You are much more better off to keep faith and follow in the Lord’s footsteps.
Praying for the grace of steadfastness. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday Week 1 Ordinary Time: Heb 1:1-6; Mk 1:14-20]
Grace to you!
I welcome you to the first Sunday of Advent. As you may know, adventis the Latin word for “to come” or simply, in another sense, “the coming.” It refers to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. As you may also have known, it is the Church’s new year. So, Happy New Year!
Our reflections throughout this Season of Advent will be focused on the right disposition towards the End Time prophesies.
End Time prophesies scare many. However, it should be for the believer a time of joyful expectation. As believers, we are certain that the end is a new beginning in Christ. We are certain of what comes ahead of us; what Saint Paul calls heavenward crown (Phil 3:14). Or what 1 Peter 5 describes as the crown of glory that never fades (1 Pet 5:4). Such certainty fills our heart with joy.
During Advent, bible readings selected for worship reflect the mood of expectation. They point us to the coming of the Son of Man, Our Lord, as well as the signs recorded in different parts of the bible that will precede his coming.
Because Christians believe the second coming of Christ will mark the end of the world, the signs preceding the coming and the prophecies connected with it are called “End Time Prophecies.”
From the Gospel of Luke, we read this prophesy from the Lord: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:25-28).
Before I weigh in on the first group of signs—astronomical events and their results, which I will discuss in tomorrow’s reflection—, I would love to say that the messages of end time are not found only in Christianity. Since the world belongs to God, He shows signs of what may happen in different ways among different peoples, believers and unbelievers, though in varied degrees.
Years before Christ, ancient Persia, Mede, Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc., in their various traditions, have prophecies about the End Time. Among astronomers of our time who have no relationship with Christianity, there have been predictions too—from Nostradamusto many others. Science “fiction” stories are speculations of different expressions of the astronomical catastrophes that may destroy the earth. Recently, the concerns about an asteroid destroying a portion of the world in the future are simply physical, scientific clues.
The point is: everything that has a beginning in nature has an end. That is the way the Maker has structured things. The provident God also shows in different cultures, and among different peoples, signs of what may occur. Those are to remind us of the need to be centered in the very purpose and meaning of life and open our hearts to deeper realities.
Here is what we may take home today. The Lord assured us that he will come again. Surely, he will. The End Time will come. Certainly. It’s a biblical truth. There are other scientific indicators to its reality. Second, it will happen at God’s time, not necessarily by human means. People could see the signs. They could piece things together to figure out what is happening so as to prepare. However, no one knows exactly when the End Time will occur (Mt 24:36).
So, what do you think is the nature of these astronomical signs? Tomorrow’s reflection will shed some light. In the meantime, let not the thoughts of End Time scare you. Instead, be filled with joyful expectation. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
[First Sunday of Advent C: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36]
Grace to you!
You had an inspiration. It was simple and calming. Yet its demand was not what you wanted to do after all. Deep within you, it seems right to do. The result would positively impact lives. It was the first voice within you, the voice of well-formed conscience.
Then comes another voice. It is loud. It aligns with your ego. It is built off of give and take. It seems fair to you. Though you weren’t sure if it springs from true love or charity. It gives you alternative reasons why you shouldn’t follow through with the first voice. It weighs this and weighs that…. It highlights complications that would arise if you followed the first voice. It instills fear and doubt. It shows you all the negatives; hardly, showing the positives. It is a one-sided loud story.
You were swayed. You listened to that second voice. Days or months or years later, you realize you made a terrible mistake. You didn’t listen to the simple invitation of God to follow the right line of action. You realize, “I blew it.” It would cost you a lot to do it over. Yet, be sure that when you realize you made a terrible choice, it is God’s grace inviting you for an incredible rebuilding and do-over. God can rebuild you. Trust God. Walk with God.
Many times, we blow an opportunity because we do not listen to that first voice of God inviting us to a direction that the Lord wants. We read that voice during our prayerful reflection on God’s Word in Scripture. It speaks to us during Public Worship. It ministers in our conscience when we are alone, or out and about in our daily lives.
Because that first voice is gentle and simple, we tend to ignore it. We, like Prophet Elijah, think that God would have to be in the thundering wind and speak in a loud and magical voice. Yet God was found in the quiet (1 Kings 19:11-13); the quiet of our soul where God speaks with that gentle voice, “My child follow this way. Follow me.” Great are those who pay attention and follow that first voice. They do incredibly great. That is one of the secrets of greatness—Listen to the first voice.
Today, we celebrate the life and witness of the Apostle, Saint Andrew. He was the brother of Saint Peter and always mentioned fourth on the list of the apostles. Not much was written in Scripture about him except his call (Mt 4:18-20; Lk 5:11; Mk 1:17-18); his name as one of the twelve apostles (Mt 10:2-4); the role he played during the feeding of the five thousand when he pointed to Jesus that there is a boy who has five loaves and two fish (Jn 6:8-9); and the fact that he was a disciple of John the Baptist and followed Jesus at the Baptist’s testimony (Jn 1:35-40).
Yet from the scanty story, one could infer how he was a person who listened to that first voice of God calling. When the Lord walked by the sea of Galilea and invited him and Peter to follow him, Scripture says, they left everything and followed the Lord (Mt 4:18-20).
How refreshing it is to read such a story of unreserved faith and discipleship. Saint Andrew listened to the first voice of God calling him. He is a man of faith.
Leaving everything and following the Lord isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s like giving the Lord all you are and all you have. It is total surrender to the will of God in your life. It is a true testimony of spiritual greatness.
In our life, how do we leave what we must in order for the Lord to lead us? Most of all, could we leave our comfort zone and step into the deep, of faith life?
Remember that first voice in your life, each day, each week, each month, etc. Follow that voice of conscience that springs from the Lord’s inspiration to do good and to be a blessing unto others and a source of inspiration. The more you follow that voice, the greater you grow in your spiritual life, and in blessings too.
Praying that we open our eyes to see God’s plan and purposes in our everyday life. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
[November 30, Feast of Saint Andrew: Rm 10:9-18; Mt 4:18-22]
A friend invited me to be with the family as their dad passes. “No one dies alone” is a precious way of accompaniment for the dying.
For the dying, it is the reassurance that their loved ones would never leave them alone at the most decisive stage of their earthly journey. For the loved ones of the dying, it is a sober moment of tears, of sadness and, sometimes, of intense reflection on the meaning of life.
I watched the family grapple with this inescapable reality that dad would be gone and never return. He passed calmly after receiving the anointing of the sick with the apostolic blessing. Our faith tells us about the great grace of justification that can come from this wonderful sacrament. It’s incredible spiritual healing too.
As I drove home, I was reminded of the reality that every beginning in time has an end. I was reminded of my own end. I wondered off in a sort of imaginative daydreaming. I imagined who will be at my bedside. What my passing would be like. What would be my spiritual state at that moment when the Lord decides to take me home….
Those thoughts reminded me of the end, the last things according to our faith tradition—death, judgement, heaven or hell. The Church does not ignore to remind us of these facts. In reality, the Lord Jesus would often include the last things in his great teachings.
As believers, we cannot fully live the life of the redeemed unless we think seriously about the life to come. The resurrection of Our Lord and Savior reassures us of our own resurrection too. Our birth into this life and in the Lord in baptism, is a journey unto our birth into heaven, in the bosom of the Father.
For Christians, we are looking forward to what Saint Paul calls, “the upward call of God in Christ” (Phil 3:14).
In the Gospel of Mark (13:24-32), the Lord, speaking to the people toward the end of his life on earth, reminds them of their own end. He equally tells them about his Second Coming. In that conversation, he sheds more light on the prophesy of Daniel concerning the Second Coming (see Dn 7:13, 12:2-3). He speaks of the great tribulation, the shocking events, the catastrophic phenomenon, the coming of the Son of Man, and judgment (Mk 13:24-27).
He makes a prophesy which isn’t so clear to many and has been misunderstood by many too. He says: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:29-32).
The great preacher of the fifth century, Saint John Chrysostom, who was the archbishop of Constantinople, in his Homilies 76 and 77 on Matthew 24:16-18 and 32-33 respectively, explained that two events are discussed here by the Lord. He was of the view that when the Lord says “this generation will not pass away before all these things take place”, two meanings are referred to here. First is the immediate generation of the Lord and refers to the event of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which happened in AD 70. The Lord’s word came to pass, as it always does.
The second meaning of “this generation” Saint Chrysostom suggests, refers to the new generation born of Christ. It is a generation not as a result of birth in time but by “religious service and practice” as hinted in the Psalms, “Such is the generation of those who seek the Lord” (Ps 24:6) (Hom. 77).
While the Second Coming of Our Lord is a fait accompli, in our lives we live in such a way that our own end will be in the Lord. Christian life reminds us that the last things are for real. Someday we will die. Then will come judgment. Then heaven or hell. It isn’t one choice—heaven. There are two—heaven or hell.
Praying for the grace to be ready when the Lord chooses to call me home. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[33rdSunday Year B: Dn 12:1-3; Heb 10:11-14,18; Mk 13:24-32]
Grace to you!
We continue our reflections based on 1 Corinthians.
Apologies for my inability to post our reflections for the past three days. The news of the death of a friend and a classmate, a dedicated priest with great examples of pastoral fervor, affected me emotionally. May the gentle soul of Fr. Jude Egbom rest in peace. Amen.
We read from 1 Cor 8:1-13, Saint Paul’s response to one of the pastoral challenges in the early Church of Corinth. Many in the community were worshippers of the Roman goddess Venus. So, from time to time, foods offered to Venus, especially at festive times, were presented for meals and socialization.
Some Christians who believed that idols were mere work of human hands and empty images, would eat those food. For them, sacrificing food to idols was an empty ritual since the idols have no life, mere façade.
On the other hand, some believers saw the eating of food sacrificed to idols by some of the brethren as sinful and therefore, a cause of scandal. For them, by eating food sacrificed to idols, the believers were participating in idol worship. Hence, Paul writes to address this specific problem. This story will resonate with many who live side-by-side those of tribal religions.
Saint Paul’s pastoral recommendation was that though it is the right knowledge to insist that there is only one true God—idols are not the real God—, and that food offered to idols do not have any effect to the believer if they eat it, believers should be careful not to cause scandal. He says that because some believers may not have the same solid knowledge and understanding that idols are not real, eating food sacrificed to idols could cause their weak faith to sin. In that case, it is better for one to avoid eating such food. Nothing is worth causing another person to sin. “Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall” (1 Cor 8:12-13).
One sees in this advice of Saint Paul an emphasis that deserves keen attention. The believer’s primary goal is to glorify the Lord in all we do. It is also to inspire others to do the same. It is to act in the spirit of charity. In all we say, do or not do, it is the Christ’s way not to be a stumbling block to holiness, to what is good, true and beautiful. Even if something is good for me, if it would lead someone else to sin, it is more Christlike to hold back from enjoying it.
Scandal, from Greek σκανδαλίσῃ(skandalisē) means “to cause… to falter or fall”. Literally, it means to be a stumbling block on the way of someone. Though some stumbling blocks could be a good thing, just like when we have a bump in the road to stop us from speeding where it is dangerous to pedestrians, the scandal that Saint Paul talks about here is the sinful one. Saint Thomas Aquinas describes it as “something less rightly done or said, that causes another's spiritual downfall” (ST, 11-11, 43.1).
Thus, scandal in the sense used above does not occur when we are doing what is good and holy. Rather, scandal occurs when we are doing something sinful or that leads to sin. It could also occur when we are not charitable in saying or doing things that may not be sinful, but could be done with better love. It could also happen when we fail to act to promote what is good or when we are indifferent to what is evil, such as abuse of minors and the vulnerable (e.g. the current Church scandal), or culture of injustice.
In all, we learn that for the believer, we do not live our lives as if it’s all about us and what is only in our interest. As Saint Paul says, “We live for the Lord.” (Rm 14: 8). We live for one another also.
Praying that in all we say, do or not do, we live for the Lord and for charity. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 23 Ordinary Time: 1 Cor 8:1-7, 11-13; Lk 6:27-38]
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!
We continue our reflection on I Corinthians. Yesterday, we reflected on the quality of wisdom as to what makes us put things in their right perspective and act accordingly. Today, we extend the reflection further.
There is a saying that the secret to orderliness in home care is: “A place for everything. Everything in its place.” Actually, mom taught me this.
Everything in the house has its right place. Whether it is the coffee maker or the cups, the plate and the trashcan, the bed and the dresser, the groceries and the milk in the refrigerator. It would be untidy and uninviting to keep one’s shoes at the entrance to the living room, just like it would be out of order to keep one’s silverware and pots in the closet. If everything is in its place, we have an orderly house.
You may have read that story in the First Book of Kings,chapter ten, where the Queen of Sheba came to visit king Solomon. She observed how everything under Solomon’s leadership was in its place—the organization of the personnel, the home, the temple, etc. She considered it a proof of the wisdom of Solomon (See 1 Kings 10).
Granted some people may not care so much about organizing their home. Granted hoarders have a different way of keeping their things and hanging onto everything, including things that were out of place and, therefore, out of order. However, we see such homes and consider them out of order because there are certain expectations they do not meet, at least, in our opinion.
The above imagery may be used to appreciate Saint Paul’s teaching regarding wisdom in 1 Cor 3. He gave the teaching as a response to the rivalry and division in the Corinthian church. He says that worldly wisdom is foolishness before God (1 Cor 3:19).
For him, worldly wisdom misplaces priority, the right hierarchy of values and order of things. Such was the case he was dealing with in Corinth where some people do not see that he (Paul) and the other evangelizers are mere messengers of God. The result was division in the church based on who is more gifted than the other or who in the community has more followers than the other. Seeing things in this worldly perspective misses the point that we all belong to Christ and are of equal worth. “Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:22-23).
Everything in its place. Understanding what is first and what comes after it, as well as how one thing fits in the entire structure and relates to the other, is the practice of wisdom.
For instance, if I understand the priority of the value of life over my car, it would be wise to consider my life as deserving first place over my beautiful car. If we also understand the right order of things, it would be equally wise to place things and reality where they belong in that hierarchy.
St. Thomas Aquinas in his classic profound and deep way of saying things provides us an insight into the nature of wisdom. He relates his thoughts to 1 Corinthians 3:10ff also. Borrowing an idea from Aristotle’s Metaphysic(1.2) he says; “It belongs to wisdom to consider the highest cause. By means of that cause, we are able to form a most certain judgment about other causes, and according thereto all things should be set in order” (see Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II q.45 a.1, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans., London: Burns Oates & Washbourne).
I pray that we learn from Christ, the true wisdom of God, and know what is first and the priority of things in life and act accordingly. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 22 Ordinary Time: 1 Cor 3:18-23; Lk 5:1-11]
Fr. Maurice Emelu
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.