Grace to you!
A young woman was invited for a party. It was supposed to be her 50thbirthday, sort of surprise party. The invitation card was a simple design; a few notes about the location and the time, and a little bullet point footnote concerning the dress code.
Thrilled, she scheduled the time and place for the party, but forgot to look at the lower part of the invitation card where there is information about the dress code. Like many, she tossed the card after putting the event in her calendar. When she came to the party, she realized that everybody else was dressed in white and black. She was in cream and red.
She was uncomfortable for the rest of the party. All eyes were on her as the guest of honor. Trust the gossips that can’t ignore a mistake. They had their fill. While she could hardly raise her head up. Her excitement for a surprise 50thbirthday was ruined. The thought of “I blew it” filled her mind as the party went on. Poor lady.
Now consider the invitation to the Feast of the Lamb by God, an invitation extended to all, Jews and gentiles, saints and sinners. All are invited. You are actually a special guest. Jesus tells us the story of the nature of the feast in the Gospel of Matthew 22:1-14.
Biblical wedding feast stories remind us of the great joy of God’s kingdom and of the fact that through the Incarnation (God becoming man in Christ), God and humanity have been espoused (see 2 Corinthians 11, Ephesian 5:25), the Church being the bride of Christ and each member of the Church espoused to God.
Through the sacraments, God’s Word and unmerited graces, we are constantly nourished, and the robe of righteousness is clad. By faith and through baptism, we are engrafted as part of that family of God. We started to participate in the feast in a little way, while anticipating the final consummation in God’s kingdom in heaven.
One of the particularities of the feast is that there is a dress code. I was wondering what that is? Surely, it isn’t simply faith as John Calvin, the founder of protestant Calvinism argued, because to honor the invitation and be welcome into the feast suggests the person already has faith. The invitation is accepted by faith. Faith opens the door.
I love Saint Augustine’s explanation of what this dress code to the wedding feast is. Other fathers of the Church like Saints Gregory and Ambrose support his view too. He says it’s the garb of charity or love.
The righteous garment of charity understood as love endures. As Saint Paul said, “there are three things that last—faith, hope and charity (love) and the greatest of these is charity” (I Corinthian 13:13).
I love this poetic line by Bernard Sexton, whose song Ubi Caritas et Amoris one of my favorites during the Holy Thursday celebration of the Lord’s Supper, “Where love and charity abide, there God is found.”
Scripture says, “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).
I pray we are constantly renewed and clothed in love and charity. Amen. May we learn from Mother Mary, our heavenly queen, the way of pure love of the Son. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 20 Ordinary Time: Jgs:11:29-39; Mt 22:1-14]
Grace to you!
You walk past a classmate or someone you know from childhood. The person looks younger and well nourished. Perhaps you work hard to be in shape and the person doesn’t. Here the person is looking like what you would’ve dreamed for yourself. You wonder: What is the secret?
From time to time, we ask this sort of question. We see a senior citizen who looks like we would love to look when we are aging. We ask, what is the secret?
Borderline, everyone wants to look younger and refreshed. Everyone wants to be like a leafy greenish garden. Everyone wants to blossom wherever they are, wherever they are planted. Anti-aging industries exploit this desire of ours. For good or for bad, they do.
God’s Word in Scripture has an incredible message for us today. It is delivered in a way that leaves us with an either-or-situation. It leaves us with a choice to make, a life-long commitment to consider. It proposes the secret of fruitiness, and spiritual blossoming. It offers the answer to lasting happiness as well as its opposite.
Prophet Jeremiah, announcing the word of God, declares it in a way that may be shocking to our modern sensitivities. Yet he doesn’t leave us to second guess concerning the meaning of the challenge.
He places absolute trust in people for our happiness and overall blessings as putting ourselves in the way of a cause (Jer 17:5). In other words, it is setting ourselves up for a colossal disappointment and failure.
One may quibble about how daring is the claim of the prophet. Or how archaic it may sound. Just like some laugh out loud concerning Jesus’ model of messiahship—the scandal of the cross and God’s forsakenness. Yet we know through life experiences that no one would ignore the reality of human slipperiness.
The issue isn’t only about the question of the variable quality of human reliability. It’s also a question of the unpredictability of human nature as a temporal being, as it is about how uncertain is the future. You may believe that your dad, mom, spouse, friend or relative, who has all the resources, would set you up on a road to incredible success. Such is naively presumptuous. Even if they mean well, they don’t have control over the future. One unforeseen change in their life could alter everything. Not to talk of how frail human beings can be and how many times their promises are disappointing. We tend to over promise and under perform.
Contrast this with the proposal of the prophet: “Blessed is the man (person) who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He (the person) is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer 17:7-8).
Such a person shares a common quality with the poor (Lk 6:20), in spirit, as the Gospel of Matthew specifies (Mt 5:3); whose hope, confidence is the Lord.
I love the metaphor of a tree planted by the water that sends its roots by the stream. In their commentary on this text, Barclay M. Newman Jr. and Philip C. Stine (2003), suggest that the stream could be better understood as a canal (p.403). You do not need to travel far to see how trees planted by the canal or aqueduct blossom. They have enough water to get rooted, flourish and produce plenty.
This biblical message corelates to the promise in Psalm 1. The Psalmist talks about the incredible blessings of trusting in the Lord, delighting in God’s law, and meditating on it. In other words, the person is walking in the light of God’s word and promises. Such a person, the Psalmist says, is “like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps 1:1-3).
Saint Thomas Aquinas was spot on when he identified this stream of water with the grace of God which reaches us in Christ (Aquinas, Commentary on Psalm 1). It is the Spirit of the Christ. As the Lord Jesus speaking of himself declares: “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38-39).
The Lord Jesus, from whom this “rivers of living water flows”, offers us an uncommon path to flourish. The plan mapped for us contrasts with the ways we tend to imagine success. As usual, the Lord offers a revolutionary and yet absolutely true and reliable blueprint for blessedness. Blessings are tied to God’s kingdom and enduring value. Lack of blessings isn’t in being materially poor, or unpopular or rejected by people. It is much more. (Read the message in Luke 6:20-26). Ultimately, the Lord sheds light on the blessing of anchorage in God and blessings rooted in God’s reign and grace.
Trusting in God is being solidly rooted in the canal of grace. It is being guaranteed of true happiness and joy and peace and blessing. People change. Life changes. Our physical health and body may give way. Friends and family may flounder. The Lord never fails. God’s grace abides.
Blessed is anyone who trusts in the Lord. Trust in the Lord is our flourishing.
May God gives us the grace of being rooted in Divine Word and promises. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[6th Sunday Ordinary Time C: Jer 17:5-8; I Cor 15:12, 16-20; Lk 6:17, 20-26]
Grace to you!
Consider how you feel after long hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep. You awake feeling well rested. You’re refreshed and rejuvenated; aren’t you?
Rest is a powerful human experience. Rest after work or rest from worries is refreshing. We’re wired to rest after work.
Rest points to peace or it’s aligned to it. Using the deep sleep analogy above, you would notice that if you aren’t at peace with your situation or a particular event of the day, it could affect your rest. Many times, it affects your sleep as well. It is difficult for a troubled heart to have a refreshing rest. We need peace to rest well. We need peace for a joyful life.
Rest also happens in the spirit. When the joy of the Lord fills our heart, we experience in small ways the heavenly happiness, joy and peace. We feel at rest. As St. Augustine says, “our hearts find rest in the Lord.” This rest is a preview of the fulness of joy and peace the believer will experience during our final homecoming in heaven.
In our day to day activities as believers, we see that such peace manifests in joyful life and expressions. It is the joy of the Lord. For those who experience this rest, they know it’s far more than any pleasure or refreshment worldly things could offer.
The Letter to the Hebrews (4:1-5) speaks of rest. As I pointed out yesterday, that rest or “place of rest” or “God’s rest” as adapted by the text, uses Moses’ typology of the journey of Israel in the wilderness in the Book of Exodus, and points us to eternal rest through faith in Christ. It points to when we will see God face to face.
The Letter to the Hebrews presents faith and fidelity to God through grace as the access code to this rest. It is faith in the Christ, whose life is the rest and in whom one has that eternal sabbath (rest). The 19th century Christian poet, Margaret Mackay, in her 1832 lyrics, “Asleep in Jesus! Blessed Sleep” captures in poetic verses, some of the qualities of this sleep for those who pass in the Lord. Beautiful old hymn.
There is a temporal dimension to this rest too. The rest isn’t simply something we have to achieve in the final homecoming. We begin it now. We begin to experience it now too.
For the believer, we have deep within our heart and soul the peace and rest that go with faith in the risen Lord. We are content. Such contentment is a sign of that rest. We have peace of soul, the kind granted to those whose ways are pleasing to the Lord. As the Lord says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27).
What we are to witness in the eternal sabbath we already witness and see in the here and now, though, as St. Paul says, “In a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12).
In other words, the rest is a process whose final fulfilment is when we will see the Lord face to face, having kept faith lived in charity.
I pray for you in a special way today: May God grant you the grace of inner peace; remove from you, obstacles to inner peace and joy; and grant you the grace to overcome. Bless you with peace and contentment, so your present moment will be a taste of the joy to come. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 1 Ordinary Time: Heb 4:1-5, 11; Mk 2:1-12]
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.