Grace to You
We read from the Gospel of Mathew 13:54-58 that the Lord came to his native place of Nazareth. He was not welcome, as he was when in other territories. One could notice that the Lord did not visit Nazareth that often, not more than two times during his public ministry, based on what is documented in the Gospels. This was the town where he was raised and worked with his stepfather, Joseph, who was a carpenter.
The Lord is called the Nazarene, so he was, for that was his home town. One would expect he would ingrain himself in that community and become a local hero. He didn’t.
As an itinerant concerned with the Heavenly Father's work and continuing to do good, he went from place to place, planting the seed of his saving grace. Before we look at the unbelief of Jesus' town people, there is a subtle but crucial lesson in the Lord's way of ministering we could glean.
By not making his mission the Nazarene mission, the Lord showed his universal mission even in his own life. I don't think it was an accident that he spent less time in his hometown. He was born in a place, but he didn't come just for that place. It is an important lesson for those involved in the work of ministry.
Being actively involved in our hometown is a good thing. One has to build one's community. However, when faith life is so domesticated that it becomes our hometown affair, there is a risk of corrupting the Gospel to being that of our class or territory. If, as believers, we do not think beyond our home, race, or a particular culture, we may be allowing the seed of spiritual tribalism in our soul. I have hinted at this message in the previous week. The Lord's example here emphasizes this crucial lesson.
One's mission as a minister flourishes when one sees it beyond one's immediate family or town. For those with a unique call to serve the Gospel, openness and commitments to where the needs are the most serve a higher cause than settling in our safe haven. We look for those opportunities to sow the seed to willing hearts, not simply to harness it for our people.
There is an indirect lesson from this to parish priests too. Sometimes, we think so territorially that we miss the point of the universal mission of Christ we have been called to serve. We protect our parish and are bound to our parish. It is a good thing to protect one's congregation. Although it is presumptuous to assume, we can do so when it is God who can.
Nevertheless, the substantial bad side is narcissistic protectionism. It is not allowing the parish to live beyond us. Not allowing the Church to thrive from the gifts and talents outside of our communities could be a spiritual bottleneck.
Concerning the lack of openness of the Nazarenes who questioned the Lord's credibility because he didn't have scholarly or class credentials, there is this lesson to draw. One's class or educational certificates do not equal knowledge or wisdom. The dumbest things ever proposed in human history came from the so-called elite class and scholars. An example would be the cult of celebrities who, due to having large platforms, often promote the dumbest ideas. In contrast, the humble souls live their normal life and show God's incredible wisdom in their day-to-day activities.
The ordinary-looking life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was not what his town people would expect of the messiah. Just like the subtle workings of the wisdom of the Gospel in humble hearts is the sharp contrast of the bravado of celebrities, academic demagogues, and boastful elites.
Yet, the wisdom of God is revealed in that humble heart. Mother Mary is an undoubted testimony. She testified: "God has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).
Approach God with humble hearts. Never discredit the Gospel because of who said it or due to how less elite they may be. Grace is abundant in the ordinary.
I pray for the grace of humble openness to the Gospel. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu.
[Friday, Week 17, Ordinary Time: Jeremiah 26:1-9; Matthew 13:54-58]
Grace to you!
Tracy’s lifestyle deprived her of inner peace. The more she went deeper and deeper into some worldly concerns, the emptier she felt.
Not sure how to get help, she resorted to drugs and substance abuse. Things were not to get any better.
One day, she met a girl on board an aircraft. The girl looked calm and relaxed. By a stroke of providence, they started to talk. Tracy couldn't stand the long boring flight.
Her new acquaintance didn't say much but just listened. When she responded to Tracy's constant queries, it came across in the nicest way. One thing led to another. Tracy was curious to know how this girl, about her age, had such inner peace. However, she, without thinking about the impact her words would have, shared how she found peace through Christ.
Years later, Tracy recollects her finding peace back to this encounter with a passenger on the airplane. She claimed that when she heard the girl say she found peace in Christ, it stuck somewhere in her subconscious. It reoccurred often with some unique power that never went away. The result was a gradual conversion leading to her discovery of new life and joy in Christ.
Many times, we witness similar events in our lives or in those we know. God's Word, Christ, does not need our additional push for efficacy in any person's heart. In God's Word is both the power and the grace to transform people from within.
We hear the explanation of the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Matthew 13:18-33. One notices that to anyone who opens their heart to Christ, God's Word, he effects change, transformation, from within, and bears much fruit. Those fruits are fruits of righteousness, as well as the power of winning friends for the Lord.
It is reassuring for those who desire to bear witness to Christ. It is also good news for you in need of inner peace. We share Christ and leave the grace of transformation to him. He knows how to change hearts.
I am praying for the grace of openness to the transforming and renewing power of God's Word. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 16, Ordinary Time: Jer 3:14-17; Mt 13:18-23]
Grace to you!
I reflect on the liberating power which the Blessed Lord Jesus gives.
Many of us have pet ideas or projects. They tend to be fun and get us excited. We get going in such a way they engross us. One can be so engrossed that it becomes a spiritually, unhealthy attachment.
The above can relate to passion too. Passion is good. Loving something to commit everything to it is lovely. But it can also block one from seeing.
Habit does the same thing to us as well. Our habits become so natural to us, our defaults, that it is difficult to adjust or see a better light.
Those who inherited employees who have been doing things one particular way know how difficult it could be to make them see things in another light. They have been doing things their way for decades. It may not be working at the current standards of things, but to convince them of the need to look at it differently would be a Herculian task. Change is one of the most challenging things anyone could accept.
One can be so vested in something that it becomes a semi-god. We may not create altars and worship it physically, but we sort of adore it in our hearts as our haven. Then when Christ ministers, it is difficult to take in the fresh light of the Spirit.
We read the great message from Zechariah's prophecy. It talks about the coming of the Messiah and his triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Zec 9:9-10). We read how the Messiah will come. He will be riding on a colt and with the comportment of meekness, which here relates to humility (as some translations have used it). He comes and rides not the horses and chariots of war (as a kingly warrior, though he is one), but on the normal colt which everyone—king and ordinary people on the street—ride. He is a humble and meek Messiah whose message is shalom to the world. He is Christ the Lord, our peace.
If he comes in this manner, it is a humble heart that will receive him. It is a heart not burdened by loads of our old habits and ego. It is a heart ready to weed out those encumbrances that weigh the spirit down and embrace the freeing power of the Gospel of Christ and the Spirit. Such a person flies on the wings of the Divine Lord.
In addition to the burden of habits that do not allow us to humble openness to Christ's ways, there are other burdens. One is the burden of sin. Any sin leaves us with some mass of toxic spiritual lead that weighs our spirit down and poisons. Sometimes they cause us sleepless nights depending on their gravity. That we suppressed the feelings does not mean they are gone. They are there, piling up until we cry for help. Otherwise, we are weakened from flying as the Lord wishes for us. The Lord lifts us. He rejoices to see that we receive the revelation that he is here, lifting us and saving us from this burden of sin. The Lord rejoices because we understood Divine Saving Grace in him, Christ (Mt 11:25-27).
Embracing the Lord in humble acknowledgment and confession takes away these burdens. True freedom from the burden of sin is from the Spirit of Christ, which gives life to our bodies through his Spirit that abides in us (Rm 8:11). Such lifts us from the burden of sin.
There are these other burdens too. Each day, life's changes could add to our burden. They could be aging, career changes, joblessness, immediate threats to life, poverty, personal and structural injustice, cultural and political pressures. They could also be a feeling of rejection, lack of sense of worth, insecurity, hopelessness, etc. These could pile in our hearts and weigh us down. We carry their worries on our shoulders. Become worriers. When we do, they take the joy of the Lord from us.
All of these are too much weight to carry. Some of them aren't even worth giving them space in your life. You deserve better. It calls for humility to receive what the Lord brings. Such a humility equips us to approach life with the heart of a child, who is so detached and open for freshness, a new way, Christ's way.
Here is what happens when we embrace Christ's way. The old burdens, the stressful toil from fruitless ventures, will give way to something much more valuable. That value springs from faith, animated by the grace Christ is and provides.
What Christ gives us knocks off the burden we have carried upon ourselves. As Saint Augustine says, “they give us wings” (Sermon, 126),and we can fly like a bird because such do not pull us down, they raise us to glory.
Lord, give us the rest in you and lift all the burdens in our hearts. Fill us with the joy of your presence. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[14th Sunday Ordinary Time A: Zec 9:9-10; Rom 8: 9, 11-13:7-10; Mt 11:25-30]
 Augustin, Sermons, 126 in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, The Navarre Bible (Dublin; New York: Four Courts Press; Scepter Publishers, 2005), 95.
Grace to you!
Chris' coworker and "friend" was suspended from work. Rumors went around the block regarding what he may have done, resulting in the suspension. Chris decided to visit him. He felt some loyalty to offer him some pieces of advice moving forward.
The visit turned out to be one of the most humiliating Chris ever had. He had come with a prejudgment about what his friend had done wrong and how he must change his attitude. He rehearsed all the gossip from rumor mongers who seem to know everything about everyone else.
Chris' friend was eerily quiet while he went on with his prejudgment of the situation. In the end, he asked Chris, "Have you heard my side of the story?"
It turned out that he was simply a scapegoat for malicious power players in the organization. He was innocent. He was the victim, not the villain. Chris realized he had messed up. So moved, he decided never to judge people on hearsay or to pass judgment when he didn't have all the facts.
Reading the gospel of Matthew 7:1-5, we hear these strong words from our Lord: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
How do we take these? The biblical scholar of the 4th century, Saint Jerome, suggests it doesn't mean we desist from all forms of judgment. Instead, it means we avoid getting into the judgment of things that do not concern us. Similarly, according to him, it means in cases we have to judge, we must always be guided by the desire first to exonerate than to condemn.
It means that for the believer, our first desire is to find reasons to excuse people. We come from the background of charity and love. As Saint Paul says, love is kind, patient, bears all things (1 Cor 13:4-7), and seeks to excuse people.
How often we jump into things and get tangled with affairs that have no relevance to us and our growth. We seek stories or like to watch the news or news stories that are so judgmental and polarizing. We get stressed. We chew more than we can swallow. Like collectors, we amass a litany of problems in our head, and they weigh us down. When, in the first place, we do not need any of those concerns. Many times, they are garbage. Toss them.
Here is the thing: When one is virtuous, the person tends to see the good in all things. When the heart is crooked, nothing is straight. For a negative-minded person, all is full of skirmishes, brokenness, and evil. The world is completely evil.
When people are obsessed with something, they often see that all around them. It becomes a cloud to their judgment. Things are judged from that perspective. Our judgments are perspectival. Only God has the entire picture. Hence, we leave the ultimate judgment to God.
Lord, give me the grace to avoid hasty judgments and conclusions. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday Weekday 12 B: 2 Kgs 17:5-8, 13-15A, 18; Mt 7:1-5]
Grace to you!
There is wisdom in how the Catholic Church, plus some Protestant Churches, ranks the feast days of the saints in the Breviary, or Missal (The Church's liturgical book with the prayers and instructions for the Mass). In their order of priority are the feasts that relate to the Trinity—the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father. Next is the feast of the dedication of the Church. Following it is the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord, who is the first among the saints. Then comes the feast of the apostles. After the apostles is the feast of the martyrs. Then come others such as the common of pastors, doctors of the Church, and the virgins. Also are the celebration of the men saints, women saints, religious, saints noted for works of mercy and saints for educators, in that order.
Observe that the feast of the martyrs comes right after the feast of the apostles. There is wisdom in the Church's beatification and canonization processes—that is, the process of declaring someone a saint). Also, did you know that no extraordinary miracles or "first-class" miracles are required to canonize somebody who was a martyr for the faith in Christ? Martyrdom is, in itself, the ultimate act of heroic virtue. It tells us how the Church looks at the sacrifice of martyrdom.
I tell you, the great courage of Michael Nnadi, speaks volumes of the audacity of faith. He never ceased bearing witness to Christ amidst the tortuous of the evil kidnappers. He was a seminarian from the Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria. On January 9, 2020, he was kidnapped alongside three other seminarians in the Good Shepherd Seminary, Kaduna, in the Northern part of Nigeria. One of the abductors' confessions that Michael lost his life for courageously bearing witness to Christ is a testimony of sainthood and courage of faith. No miracle supersedes that of giving one's life for faith in Christ. Martyrdom beats all sacrifices.
Hence, the worst sin a believer could commit is apostasy, which could be incremental or definitive. It means renouncing or abandoning one's faith in God. Often, this is more evident when it is done publicly. If one can't hold on to the core of one's faith in the Risen Lord when small trials come, how would one do so when there is an immediate danger to one's life?
One of the New Testament synonyms for witnessing is martyrdom. Thus, just like martyrdom is the highest form of the witness, the lowest point of non-witness to Christ is apostasy. Therefore, nothing is worth falling into the temptation of this low point of spiritual darkness. Nothing!
To publicly reject the Lord or rather to deny him is to shut the door to the way, the truth, and the life. It is to place oneself on the wrong side of the aisle of divine mercy and justice. It is choosing Sheol, a metaphor for a horrible state in life and eternity.
Are there difficulties and trials that are daring our faith, or causing us to reconsider our faith in the Risen Lord? The Lord encourages us to be courageous. "Fear not... so, everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 10:31-33).
The above may sound harsh to some. Some may say it is old theology and irrelevant in the context of today. Yet beneath it lies the true courage of witnessing to Christ. If a compromising spirit relating to the truth and identity of Jesus Christ is ideal, I believe the Lord would have schooled the disciples on the art of doing so. He would have mentored them on the best tactics of diplomacy to compromise and better negotiation tactics to avoid persecution. He would have told them how faith in him depends on situations and not something for which one has to die. He would have advised them to allow the context and the world they live in to determine what aspect of his teachings they should accept or not accept. But he didn't.
In matters of the choice between what is evil and what is good and righteous, the Lord doesn't propose a middle ground. There is no need to negotiate with the devil because there is no goodwill at the negotiation table of the demonic. It is all deceit for the devil is true to its character—Father of Lies (Jn 8:44).
There is something about the Good News of salvation, which Jesus is and brings to us, that stares us in the face. It is overtly daring. First were the excellent teaching and demonstration of Jesus' identity during the Sermon on the Mount. There the Lord proposes everything other than the conventional. Here again (in Mt 10:26-33), the Lord encourages believers to have the courage of witnessing even when it entails martyrdom. The Letter to the Hebrews describes such a commitment to the Gospel as holding on "up to the point of shedding your blood" (Heb 12:4).
Practically, being on the side of God wasn't easy for Jeremiah in the Old Testament. It won him more enemies than friends. He was martyred for it too. It wasn't easy for any of the pioneers of the faith, the early Church. How do we expect that ours will be a cozy laurel in a comfy world? To think so is to daydream.
Scary truth? Certainly. But it needs to be told.
The Lord is frank, as well as encouraging us to take the bull by the horn. The kingdom of God isn't semblance with the ways of the world. Otherwise, it wouldn't be prepped on the wood of the cross. Instead, it is won because the saving blood dropped from that wood of the cross for many. Courage!
Those ways or things that would dull Christ in our life don't deserve our affection. If we stand up to them and reflect Christ, we will share in the glory of the martyrs. We receive glory because in little things, those small temptations and trials, and subtle lures against holiness, we fought like spiritual marines, armed in faith and blessed by grace. Crown is assured in Christ.
I am praying for the grace of courage and endurance in moments of trials. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time A: Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33]
Grace to you!
Reading God’s Word in Scripture is inspiring. As often as I do, I’m filled with joy. It is a “lamp to my feet and light to my path” (Ps 119:105).
In these words, I find the good things that satisfy the heart and keep me on fire for what is good, and praiseworthy and just. However, in the words I also find truths that are challenging and difficult to follow. Like the sword of the spirit, piercing through my heart with its discerning and challenging insights. So is God’s Word (see Heb 4:12).
In Scripture, God points us in the direction of holiness; a path that is not a game of fantasy. Many of the texts are revolutionary.
Take for instance the Gospel of Matthew 5:38-42. It is one of the sermons the Lord delivered on the mount, popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. Hearing those words, we see that the Lord’s ways are different from ours.
The Lord tells us: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; 41 and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you” (Mt 5:38-42).
Those words were addressed to his audience at the time. They are equally addressed to us today.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” was a human way of retribution. It is the so-called lex talionis (meaning, law of retaliation).
For the ethical person of the time, this law was morally just, and was an accepted social practice. In fact, it was expected that when harm is done to another, a commensurate harm should be done against the culprit to bring closure to the harm done to the innocent. Naturally, we feel that way. The desire to pay back in the same coin someone who has hurt us feels natural to us. We feel a sense of need to do so. Many times, the sense of need we feel to retaliate turn into a duty. We feel justified when we do.
In the above text, the Lord shows us a completely different way of responding to harm done against us. For anyone the Lord is calling unto his way of holiness, it has to be different. No spirit of vengeance whatsoever is to be in the heart of the believer. Zero tolerance to vengeance is proposed for the believer. Vengeance has some evil in it. Evil is evil no matter where it is found.
Though we are not to take “turning the other cheek” and “going two miles” at the request of our enemy literarily. It is a metaphor. The Lord uses metaphors to teach heavenly truths. We have to see them as applying patience and charity in dealing with evil people. This was how some Fathers of the Church interpreted the text. We can’t stave off evil by being vengeful. We triumph over evil by showing its contrast.
I know this is not always easy. It isn’t popular either. The grace of God will help us.
Praying for the grace of love and patience and forgiveness. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday Week 11 Ordinary Time B: 1 Kgs 1;21-16; Mt 5:38-42]
Grace to you!
Who is Christ in my life?
The first disciples of the Lord had to answer this question. They had to have that alone-moment of spiritual self-examination. Such a question has to be addressed when we seem alone or lonely in our spiritual struggles. It is fitting when we feel like aliens or outsiders in the world in which we live. They are apt in moments of doubt.
Some see Christ when their problems are solved, and miracles occur. Some embrace him when their social needs are met. Some people believe in him only when the going is rosy and fun. Or rather, some believe and teach that it is only a prosperous life that is proof that Christ is Lord in one's life.
If Christ is the messiah only when he comes and saves us from all our social and health needs, what kind of Christ is he? If he is the messiah because he supplies my material needs, what kind of saving favor is that to my faith?
Many people did not accept Jesus as Christ during his earthly life. One of the main reasons is because he wasn’t a militant liberator, the kind they had expected. His followers weren’t the sort that could engage in the military campaign either. They and their leader, Jesus, were no good fit for the kind of brand the people wanted for a messiah. For short, he wasn't a hot-seller brand. More, he was a PR disaster.
Yet the Lord would avoid such distractions. He departs from situations in which his Lordship is acknowledged only through the crowns. He isn't abiding forever when only his glory is embraced, and the way to that glory is rejected.
Saint Peter made an incredible profession regarding the Christ at Caesarea Philippi, a little city close to the sources of the River Jordan. “You are the Christ” (Mk 8:30). The Gospel of Matthew gives further details of this Peter’s profession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). The Lord follows this profession with the most explicit teaching regarding his crucifixion (Mk 8:31-33), showing the connection between the two.
I believe that unless Christ is Lord in our sufferings, he can't be Lord in our glories. It is from the friendship mentored through our down moments that we reap rich fruits on sunny days. Enduring glory exists because it emerges from the depths of suffering. In such is a pleasant surprise, a delightful breakthrough.
So, when next your suffering seems unusually deep, remember, Christ is with you right there. When people push you around for a quick fix, remember that the Lord’s ways aren’t a magical input and output of favored results.
Continue to profess Christ as Lord. Your glory as a believer is rooted in that profession. It is in holding on to the Lord amidst all odds. He is the perfecter of your faith (Heb 12:2). Such is the profession of faith that emerges in spiritual leadership. Such is aligned to Saint Peter’s at Caesarea Philippi.
Do not be fixated on who people say Christ is. Know it to have a robust response to them. But invest more on whom you say he is. It is in this personal discovery that your faith grows stronger. It is the most precise way of a vigorous response to doubters.
I am praying for the grace of a more deep-rooted, personal encounter with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
[Thursday Week 6: Jas 2:1-9; Mk 8:27-33]
Photo source: Rodrigo from Cathopic.com
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.