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!
It could’ve been an exciting day when our Savior Jesus Christ sat after His triumphant, though precarious, entrance into Jerusalem. Earlier, the priests, scribes and elders questioned his authority for trying to cleanse the Father’s temple (Mk 11:15-19). A barrage of skeptical interrogations began, from irrelevant political questions and allegations, to a more theological curiosity about life after death and Jesus’ identity as the Christ. The Lord provided fascinating and life-saving insights about life and the world to come (see Mk 11-12:20-37).
Next, he addressed the hypocrisy of the scribes head on: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (Mk 12:38-40).”
The Lord set the stage for the great lesson to follow, in stark contrast to the ostentatious pride of some of the synagogue's leading men. Looking into the treasury during the offering, he found many wealthy people putting in large sums of money. At a section of the court of women, there were thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes where one may put offerings. Each box wore inscriptions describing, in brief, the purpose for which the offerings were made and the ministries or charities they fund. People were free to drop their offerings into the box for the ministry they wanted to support. Thus, Jesus observed how people gave so comparably little for what they loved so much. An irony!
Fat envelopes from the wealthy may have impressed the priest. Which pastor does not want big donations from the wealthy? But Jesus saw it differently. He was keen to see a pure gift, a gift that costs the giver something; a gift given without reserve; a holy sacrifice; a gift from the humble heart. In short, he was looking for a gift given with pure love and sacrifice. The Lord was not measuring the volume of the gift, but its quality. He wasn’t against the wealthy.
As each of the wealthy dropped off bags of huge coins, he looked through their minds and savings. He knows us through and through (Psalm 139). He knows and sees what is done in secret (Matt. 6:4). He found they gave little from their surpluses. In effect, their gift was less of a sacrifice than it was a routine giveaway of some benefits of windfall. They were handouts to God’s cause. Handouts to works of charity. Handouts to the ministries they claim to love so much.
Then a poor widow approached the treasury. She was not like any other in many ways. Luke describes her with two Greek adjectives denoting different levels of poverty in two successive verses of the Bible. First, she was described as a “poor” widow (Luke 21: 2). Next, she was described as abjectly and visibly poor (Lk 21:3). In spite of her unquestionable poverty, this widow offered to God all she had, all she had to live on. She made a sacrifice to God. God, who sees the heart, spoke about the wealth of her sacrifice: “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living” (Mk 12:44). The woman was an immortalized example of someone who gives back to life, because she gives back to the Giver of Life. She believed she had come to give back, and in turn she received divine approval. In other words, she gave her heart, her all, her life. In her sacrifice, the poor widow could be compared to yet another woman, the Zarephath woman, whose story we read from 1 kings17:10-16.
Compare their example with many of ours. More often than we like to hoard. Even if we give back, many times it is with some ulterior motive of benefits from someone else. When we offer things to God or to the poor, we must have a tax-break; otherwise, we couldn’t possibly give. When we donate to hospitals or other nonprofit organizations, there must be public recognition, maybe on stone marbles, without which we could never again give to those organizations.
The above example of the widow is a clear and challenging principle to spiritual growth. We receive the measure we give (Lk 6:38). What we put into life is what we get out of life. It is as simple as that!
Scripture describes pure and unspoiled religion as follows:
“To visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).”
“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’ (Isaiah 58: 7-9).”
Praying that God will give us the grace to give from the heart and with a sense of sacrifice. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thirty Second Week Ordinary Time B: 1 Kg 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:38-44 or 12:41-44]
Grace to you!
Yesterday, we reflected on Philippians 2:12-18 where Saint Paul reminded us to do our part (work) in response to the grace we have received. In today’s reflection, the apostle talks to his beloved Church of the Philippians as he talks to us about the need that our renewal will spring from within the heart, not just be a mere physical mark or ritual.
You may have noticed that after baptism, or after the reception of any sacrament, nothing changes in our physical appearance. We still look the same. Our color and facial appearances look the same. We have the same feelings and emotions we use to have. Yet something has changed from within. The power of God’s grace changes us from the inside. We become new persons (2 Cor 5:17).
Whenever we truly receive the Lord, such as when we receive him in the Eucharist in a worthy manner, we are renewed from within. Conversion, inner transformation of the heart or deeper life in Christ, is what circumcision means for the Christian believer.
We are born again through baptism. Baptism essentially gives us the first gift of faith. It is through this faith, born in the heart, that one is born anew in Christ. This is in line with what Saint Paul was talking about while writing to the Philippians (3:1-8).
Some early Christian believers who were members of Judaism had insisted that physical circumcision is necessary for one to be saved. They were trying to impose the Jewish ritual on Christians and by so doing forcing others who weren’t Jews to practice the Jewish rite of initiation as if it were an essential Christian faith requirement. By so doing, they miss the point of the ritual of circumcision which, in the Christian way of understanding, is a physical sign of one’s willingness to follow and obey God’s ordinances (metanoia—conversion). They forget that though the ritual was prescribed in Gen 17:10, God’s word has also pointed to its central meaning in Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4. It is the renewal of the heart (circumcision of the heart).
Sometimes, in our worship and practice we do similar things to others who aren’t members of our culture or unique ways of prayer/worship. The point is that in many of our private spiritual exercises or prayers, for us to live the faith in greater fervor it has to reflect our true selves renewed from within.
As Saint Paul said, we are not circumcised according to the flesh. We are “circumcised of Christ” (Phil 3:11). In another place he called it “circumcision of the heart in the spirit” (Rm 2:29). Such a circumcision is not concerned with external or physical conditions to faith life to the detriment of the Spirit. Rather, it measures the physical based on what God has granted us in the Spirit.
So, in my spiritual life, how do I measure my faith life? Is it my physical observances that tell me how holy I have become or my deeper, spiritual renewal that informs my physical practices?
I pray that in all our religious observances, we be renewed from within, so our words and actions will be enlivened by the power of God. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 31 Ordinary Time: Phil 3:3-8; Lk 15:1-10]
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!
I read the story of the Lord’s feeding of the five thousand (Jn 6:1-15) with fresh excitement this morning. My attention was drawn to some of the actions the Lord Jesus took leading to the miracle.
First, he saw the crowd. He thought of what to do for them. He was empathetic. He was caring. He could see they needed food. He noticed the need. Miracles happen when people see and notice the need. When they are concerned about the welfare of others, when they think of what they can do for others more than what they can do only for themselves. For the life of miracle is the life lived for others.
Next, the Lord set out to do something about the need he identified. He asked a rhetorical question: “Where shall we buy enough food for them to eat?” (Jn 6:5). Scripture says, Jesus knew already what to do. He was inspiring his disciples to buy into what he wants to do. As the leader par excellence, the Lord would want everyone to get onboard with this mission of being a gift, not for oneself alone, but for others. For a fulfilled life is one in which a person pours one’s life in service of others. The Eucharist is life, Christ’s life poured out to be consumed by many, so they will have the fulness of life. It is the self-emptying of the Divine Person which gives life to many.
Philip was doubtful how the poor gang of apostles would have the resources to buy food for numerous people, about five thousand men, excluding women and children. Certainly, the number would run above ten thousand people.
Andrew notices that a boy has five small loaves and two small fish. He, however, was convinced these wouldn’t go anywhere with the teeming population the Lord wants to feed.
The Lord has gotten what he wanted from them. Perhaps, he wants them to pay attention to what they have in hand. They are to intentionally consider the possibility that what they have could be tools for a divine miracle.
Often many miss the opportunity of miracle because they ignore completely what they already have in their hand. Your miracle springs from the little you already have.
We read the parallel story about a miracle of feeding of one hundred people by Prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44. Here the prophet asked that the gift of first fruit of twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grainpresented to him by a man, be shared to the gang of prophets. His servant, like Philip and Andrew in the case of Jesus, thought it was ridiculous to offer the bread to a hundred people. Yet, Prophet Elisha, knowing the logic of providence, insisted that what they have must be given because, as he prophesied, the Lord will make it sufficient.
Often, we focus on the lacks, the insufficiencies, and they prevent us from doing great things. The “half-empty-cup” syndrome prevents us from doing the little things that can transform our community and society. We fail to see that with any little things we have, from those seemingly insignificant gifts we bring, God does the miracle.
The Lord Jesus in the story of the feeding of the five thousand shows us how to offer the little for a higher course. “He took the loaves, gave thanks,and distributed them.” This is a gesture strongly related to a signature Jewish rite of “Breaking of Bread.”
In our Christian adaptation, it could be seen as a Eucharistic model of offering. During the Eucharistic celebration, the priest says the following prayer over the gifts to be offered to the Lord. The prayer is similar to the Jewish prayer for the “Breaking of Bread”: “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given, and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.”
We offer to the Lord what we have. The Lord transforms it for our blessing and the blessing of many.
One of the five main fruits of Eucharistic communion (Holy Communion) is that ‘it commits us to the poor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1397), meaning that through the power of the Lord’s grace received at Holy Communion, we are to open our hearts to the needs of others, especially the poor, and see Christ in them. We offer any little things we have so many can share in the love of Christ through us.
Miracles happen when people share. Miracles happen when people let go of spiritual hoarding and give Christ a chance to transform their little contributions into an ocean of mercy, love and providence for many.
You and I are agents of miracle if we give thanks in little things and offer them to God in generosity for many.
I pray that you and I may continue to be God’s instrument of providence and love in our communities. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[17thSunday Ordinary Time B: 2 Kgs 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15]
Grace to you!
It is a common knowledge that doctor-patient relationship is, for the most part, depended on the level of trust the patient has for the doctor. Suppose the doctor is one of the best internists in the world, the patient who has no trust in that doctor hardly would seek his or her help.
If a patient rejects the doctor’s authority and proven track record, how could the doctor help that patient? It will be literally impossible for a doctor to do much for a patient who has rejected him or her for healing; worse, if the patient sees the doctor’s practice as hazardous to his health.
The above analogy could be used to explain what the Lord Jesus Christ says in Mark 3: 28 concerning the sin against the Holy Spirit. The Lord had done many miracles, but some who saw the miracles rejected the evidence, stating that it was through Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that Jesus cast out devils. By so doing, they willfully rejected the evidence of God and the work of God. It was this willful rejection and attitude the Lord calls, “the sin against the Holy Spirit.”
It is a sin that arises from willful and often malicious refusal to accept what God has done or to willfully attribute to Satan the signs and wonders, good works, of Christ. The Lord condemns it: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk 3:28-29).
Harsh? Consider this: If a patient doesn’t believe in the proven track record and evidence of a doctor, how could that patient be healed through the same doctor? Experience tells us that the patient won’t even seek help from that doctor.
If someone rejects the work of Christ, how would the work of Christ have an effect in his or her life? The impossibility of forgiving such a person isn’t because God is mean and unmerciful. We know that as 1 Tim 2:4 says, “God wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” God’s loving kindness endures forever (Ps 136:1) and the Lord doesn’t reject a repentant heart (Ps 51:17).
Nevertheless, we have to seek the face of God and accept what He does for us so as to receive the graces from that work of God. As Saint Augustine said, “The God who created you without you cannot save you without you.”
Hence, what makes the sin against the Holy Spirit impossible to forgive is the individual person, the heart who has locked God out for that forgiveness to take place. It is the subjective state of an individual who has stubbornly rejected the Work God, labeling it evil; and who doesn’t want to see and acknowledge that God is working and is ready to save.
God isn’t shutting anyone out. People shut themselves out of Divine Mercy.
I pray we see the work of God and acknowledge it when we see it. Amen. It saves to do so.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday Week 3 Ordinary Time B: 2 Sam 5:1-7, 10; Mk 3:22-30]
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.