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
Grace to you!
A fair portion of the success of evangelization in the southeast of Nigeria was the sacrifice of missionaries from Ireland and France. They came to Onitsha, across and beyond the River Niger in the second half of the 19th century. To be precise, the French Catholic priest Fr. Lutz led the team in 1885. They saw the needs of the people. They noticed they couldn’t read or write. They knew that the inability to read or write wouldn’t equip the natives for the future. So, they focused on education. They believed that with education, the native people could have better opportunities.
Next, they saw the health condition of the citizens. They invested in providing basic health care. They set up clinics and later hospitals. They started to fight poverty. They knew in their bones that if one has not satisfied the basic necessities of life, it could be a hindrance to the joyful experience of the gospel. The missionaries invested in programs that would make food and clean water more available to those who were poor. They offered so much.
Meanwhile, some other missionaries were carrying their Bible and preaching the fast. They quoted various verses of Scripture but offered little, if any, concrete charitable services to the community. Why preach fast to a people whose lives were routine fasting? Why preach abstinence from fat and meat and dietary needs to a people who have no meat at all to eat? This strategy failed woefully in eastern Nigeria. It fails everywhere.
On the other hand, the delegation of Fr. Lutz and others who followed in his footsteps was very successful. The result was infectious. Despite the challenges, the natives realized that this crop of missionaries wasn't like the rest. They saw they hadn’t come to take but to give. They saw, they prayed like never before, and got their feet wet too in serving the poor in the community. The outpouring of their hearts to the natives was palpable. It wasn't long before large numbers of people started to congregate in the corners of the church huts. Then, they began to learn the Bible and the Catechism. The result was the fast growth of the Church in eastern Nigeria. One hundred thirty-five years later, millions profess the one true faith.
To be sure, the Church in eastern Nigeria isn’t perfect. No particular Church is. But the growth of the faith is mind-blowing.
During the early days of Christian life in Onitsha, where I learned Catechism like any other kid, the faith was always tied to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We knew them by heart. It was drilled into us that faith without good works is dead. We were taught to pray and work. Social justice wasn't a new gospel. It was an integral aspect of the gospel. It wasn't social gospel versus praying gospel. It was and is still both. We were taught to profess our faith and lift the burdens of the poor as well. We were taught to spend hours in the adoration chapel and hours serving food and clothing to the poor. It wasn’t the church of the chapel adorers versus the church of the social justice advocates. It was both.
It wasn't anything new. Neither is it something novel. In the Prophecy of Isaiah, the Lord rejects ostentatious piety. It lacks the core ingredients of charity in action. We learn from the Prophecy of Isaiah what true fasting, and by extension, true religion, is. It is to share our bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into our house. It is also to clothe the naked and not to avoid the needy in our midst. It is also to pour oneself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted (Is 57:7, 10).
The Lord tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13-16). These are metaphors. Yet, they have a much deeper meaning. As salt, we are what makes things of taste, good. We serve as preservatives to the good things the Creator has bequeathed the world too. Well, these—taste and preservative roles—are the most common understanding of the salt. For the snowy cities, salt could serve the role of defrosting the ice; yet, it may also serve the role of damaging the roads. There are numerous other ways of looking at it. It could speak to that condition in which we are unnoticed and yet make things taste good. It could be becoming that which melts and permeates into the fabric of society with the warmth of our love. Of all food ingredients, salt is about the fastest to dissolve. It dissolves completely. No one sees it, yet it impacts everything else in the soup.
It is so with anyone born anew in Christ. We become that unassuming and unnoticed ingredient that holds the world in good taste. In our prayer and our social justice works, we carry the heart of true love and hands of pure love. We pour ourselves. We daily die so those around us may live well. None pretentious self-emptying is part of who we are as believers.
Such is light too. Natural light is everywhere but seems nowhere. Except for artificial lights or bulbs, you notice that nobody points to it, yet it is everywhere. Sometimes, people don't notice, but the impact is everywhere. Have you ever walked out on a bright day and paid attention to the sun? You walk in the light. It shines. It permeates. You enjoy its rays while it goes unannounced. So is the life of a true believer.
How is this possible? It is when our religious devotions are grounded in sensitivity to the ethical demands and needs around us. It is when we don't just say things, we do them. It is when we realized that one life, we positively impact is worth much more than all the prayers and fasting, that we load up. It is when we shine because Christ lives in us. And like Christ, we live and move and shine. It isn't merely our devotions and prayers that shine. It is everything we do, even our constant commitment to serve and give to charity.
Faith without good work is simply dead (Jas 2:17). As the Jewish Biblical scholar Michael Fishbane (2002) notes, "Ritual must be grounded in moral sensibility and action” (Haftarot, p. 393).
I am praying for the grace to pour ourselves out for the good of those around us, for it is in dying that we find life.
God love you. God bless you.
[5th Sunday A: Is 58:7-10; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16. Image source. Cathopic.com]
Grace to you!
I love Church liturgical feast days. Through them, I appreciate more and more the blessings of divine providence. Feast days are special to me. In them, I find a little of the heavenly blessings in store for us. I also see a bit of what I could become by God's grace.
Today, in our Catholic tradition, we celebrate the feast of the presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. It was a usual Jewish ritual whereby parents present their first male child to the Lord. In reality, based on this Old Testament ritual, all first male animals were required to be offered to the Lord as the first fruit of the womb. It follows specific guidelines prescribed in the Law of Moses (see Exodus 13:12-15; Leviticus 12:1-8).
This ritual took on a foreshadowing tone. The prophecy of Malachi 3:1-4 captures this reality as it finds its fulfillment in Christ. "The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple" (Mal 3:1). In Christ, God has come to his temple. He has come not merely to the human-made temple, but to the living hearts and souls he has made for his own.
The Gospel of Luke gives us some details about the joy and excitement of those who witnessed the parents of Jesus, present him to the temple. The devout and righteous Simeon exclaimed in delight. He said a beautiful prayer, the Canticle of Simeon, also known as the Nunc Dimittis. "Now, Lord, let your servant depart" (Lk 2:29-32). Anna, the prophetess, and widow, who spent most of her days praying in the temple, also praised God who has come to his temple (Lk 2:36-38). These two, male and female—the priest and the holy woman who served in the temple—testified that the Messiah has finally come in his temple.
God’s true and living temple is you. We are the home God made to dwell. The Lord comes not to sit on the woods of our churches or the marbles of our chapels. The Lord's house is our hearts. How about a situation where we welcome God into his temple, which is you? How about a situation where every part of our body, heart, and soul come alive because we have allowed the life of God to animate us? How about we make our entire being a welcome home for the Lord through the enduring consent of our will? How about God taking full possession of us?
How about a situation where our emotions, passions, and sentiments are a resounding yes to the Lord, our Maker? Such a situation could be what the presentation of the Lord in the Jerusalem temple over 2000 years ago represents for the individual. Then we will be beaming with that light, which lights up the darkness in the world and the hearts of many.
There is one more spiritual way to look at it. How about allowing the Lord who lives in us to have his way in our lives? As a result, we think what God thinks, walk in his footsteps, and become his voice for others to hear and be saved. God, who is light, illumines us, so we shine the light for everyone to see. Nothing is as blessed as living the life of God. That is, Christ lives in us, and we are, totally, the Lord's.
May I ask: Is God the owner of your heart? Or rather, are you offering your life back to the Lord, who is the owner of this temple? How much control of your life and affairs have you surrendered to God? Or, are you afraid or hesitant to do so? There is liberating joy in letting God be in charge. It doesn't restrict your freedom. It is the purest freedom indeed.
Praying for the grace of true devotion and surrender to the will of God. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: Mal 3: 1-4; Heb 2:14-18; Lk 2:22-40 or 22-32]
Grace to you!
Do you want the word of God you have received to grow and bear much fruit? I have a few suggestions, inspired by the parable of the sower (Mk 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15).
1. Allow the word to be sown. The word of God has to be planted in our hearts first before it can germinate, grow, and produce fruit. Scripture says, "faith comes by hearing" (Rm 10:17).
The word of God is sown in many ways. They include reading God’s word in Scripture and listening to it during liturgical celebrations and faith-sharing discussions. Sometimes casual Godly interactions with people or reading of spiritual literature could be a channel of receiving the word. With modern means of communication, many media provide faith-based resources too. Reading or listening to them could feed us with God's word and make us disposed to grow and mature in faith, thereby producing fruit. Therefore, first, reach out to occasions of God's word. I call this "being in the zone of God's word."
2. Guard and Protect the Word. God's word, which you have received, is a treasure. You have to guard it as you protect your wealth. Borrowing Saint Paul's line: "It is treasure in clay" (2 Cor 4:7). Though the word is powerful, it would not force itself to make a home in our hearts. It demands our freedom to guard it.
You guard the word from the deceiver, whose goal is to mislead and make you ignore the relevance of the word. The devil's deceptions come through subtle but powerful ways. They include sowing the seed of doubt, those “it doesn’t matter” attitudes. Worldliness is another. Guard against deceit. The Lord says: “Satan comes at once and takes the word sown in them…” (Mk 4:15; Lk 8:12)
3. Have Roots. Just like the tree, the roots are the networks to nutrition. Without roots, there will be no nutrients for the tree. The roots here means the network with believers, and our network with the means of spiritual nutrition and strength, namely the sacraments.
Similarly, because the word of God isn't merely a private affair, and isn't a mere intellectual process, it has to be incarnated. That is, it has to take flesh in us. It has to be born in our hearts and live in us. For us Christians, the Word of God is the Lord Jesus. He is the Divine Logos, the Eternal and Incarnate Word. This Word took flesh in the womb of a woman (Blessed Virgin Mary) and dwelt among us, not merely as individuals, but ultimately as his body, the Church. God's Word is rooted in his body, the Church. So, for the word you receive to be planted on fertile, not rocky ground where it has no root, you have to cultivate it in the community of faith, the Church.
In the Church, through the Liturgy, God's word takes root in the hearts of believers in the most profound way. Be part of the Church where the word is well-rooted, especially during the Eucharist. The faith of the Christian community enriches your faith too.
4. Think God. As God's word takes root and matures in your life, and as you nourish it in the Church, never lose sight of where your mind should always be—focused on God. Be engaged in the things of God and the spiritual life. Worldliness is a serious parasite to the fruitfulness of God's word in our lives. The Lord reminds us that "the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life" could choke God's word and cause them not to produce mature fruit (Lk 8:14). Hence, we should always be aware of the sources of worldliness and block them off our spiritual radar.
5. Live Godly. Just like any human realities, for the word of God to mature and produce fruit in our lives, we have to live it day in and day out. Fruitfulness of God's word occurs not at a time or a specific moment but through the course of our living the life of the gospel. For those in Christ and who live the life of Christ, every day is a fruit of joy. It radiates like a full moon and exudes like a pleasant fragrance for all to perceive.
You know God's word is rooted in you when you wouldn't need to dichotomize your life in Church and your life elsewhere. It has to be the same person all through. The heart is the same, and the mind is the same. Such a life bears much fruit—namely, the fruit of righteousness like joy, peace, love, kindness, etc., and the fruit of evangelization such as inspiring other people's faith-journey.
Allow God's word in your heart. Guard it jealously, and be rooted. Always thinking virtuous thoughts and living the life of Christ, you will see how your spiritual life would mature and produce abundant fruits, thanks to God's grace.
I pray you mature and bear fruits, fruits of the gospel. Amen.
God loves you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday Week 3 Ordinary Time B: 2 Sm 7:4-17; Mk 4:1-20]
Grace to you!
Success attracts friends. It, sure, wins enemies too. People who are starting to make progress in life face numerous challenges. Many may misjudge their guts and determinations. Sometimes, they would deal with the fear—real or imagined—of being misunderstood too. But it is in living above this emotion that anyone who wants to succeed can make substantial headway.
I remember the story of Saint Gerald Majella. He was an 18th-century religious brother of the Congregation of the Redeemer (Redemptorist). At a time in his life, many people completely misunderstood and misrepresented him. Those in charge stopped him from serving at Mass. They also barred him from receiving Holy Communion. However, after some years, it was discovered that the reasons why he was banned were utterly false and fabricated. For him, though, amidst the challenges, he continued making progress. He never was afraid of the fear of being misunderstood. He never stooped himself.
How many people you know may have been victims of misjudgment? How many saints and great people in history were utterly misjudged and condemned when they were innocent. It is a common phenomenon. It happens in the workplace and also at home. It’s an unfortunate flaw in human ways of doing things.
A word for people who intentionally demonize others to tarnish their reputation. What do you gain at the pains of that person? No one makes enduring progress on the debris of another person. Remember the saying, "what goes around comes around."
For you who have been misunderstood and vilified, you are not alone. Many misunderstood and misrepresented the Lord Jesus Christ too. For instance, in the Gospel of Mark 3:20-21, his friends who saw him carry out the work of his Father, God the Father, misjudged him because he was doing what they didn't understand. It didn't make sense to them at all. They said, "He is beside himself" (v. 21).
The Lord was misjudged by his friends, those who hung out with him. If the Lord's friends judged him falsely, how about those who were not close to him at all? Their assessment could even be worse. It was. However, their misjudgment didn't stop the Lord from doing good.
Know this. No one is exempt from being misunderstood. Therefore, do not allow people's judgment of you to distract you from doing God's will. Please don't let them stop you, because misunderstanding will never end. It is part and parcel of human life on earth.
Let me end by sharing a piece of advice given to me by a retired Bishop of my home diocese, Most Reverend Gregory Ochiagha, who ordained me a priest. He is a bishop whose wisdom is outstanding. I was barely three years a priest at the time. He told me that, in life, people stop themselves from achieving their goals. He emphasized that for anyone to succeed, they shouldn't stop themselves from the way of success and faithfulness. They shouldn't allow people to get in their head and alter their path to progress. "Nobody can stop you. Only you can stop you.”
So, if you are doing what you are convinced is right, keep doing it. If your good conscience, rooted in the Word of God, affirms you, please do not allow criticisms to stop you. Misunderstandings will come and go. Your life goes on. Do not stop yourself. Leave above the fear of being misunderstood and judged. Please do not allow people to hold you back. Press on.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Grace to you!
I read God's Word this morning. I'm captivated by the line that says, "Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted [desired], and they came to him" (Mk 3:13).
The above describes the call of the twelve apostles. The Lord called them. Scripture lists the names of each of them, showing us, I suggest, how each invitation is personal. God knows you by name. He relates to you as a person.
Scripture says, “They are those whom he wanted,” or “desired” (Revised Standard Version). Twelve is a symbolic number to represent the foundation of the Church built on twelve pillars of the apostles, connecting the Promise in the Old Testament, with the Fulfillment in the New Testament.
In this call of the twelve, the Lord takes the initiative. He calls those he desires. His choice sometimes surprises many people. It did then as it does now. For instance, many times, those chosen as bishops catch people by surprise. Some even say, “how could that guy be named a bishop.” God works in strange ways.
Among the apostles were a bunch of "unqualified" by human standards. It is in such surprising choices that our standards often get it wrong. God doesn't judge by appearance. God doesn't choose the perfect either. He knows who is the right person for whatever tasks he desires.
Yes, no one is qualified for the great work of God. Indeed, no one merits the grace of being called God's special one, God's child. Neither me nor you.
It is like God gives the called benefit of the doubt. He calls anyway despite the person. He sends as he sent the apostles. Apostle means "those sent out, or sent forth." No one sends oneself to a mission. In the Lord's mission, it is God who sends.
The Lord, who is the sender, desires who to send, and sends who he wills. He knows who fits for each mission, and he gifts each for that mission. Once the Lord sends, he gives adequate power to carry out the task. Such an authority comes with required grace too.
For the apostles, they were to be the pillars of the Church and lead the Body of Christ. Their successors, the bishops, carry on the same role for the Body of Christ. Other ordained ministers and professed religious serve in different degrees in the same mission.
Every baptized believer has a unique role in the Body of Christ too, and in the world.
When you received the gift of faith, it is because God so loved you and desired you for a unique mission. He sends you in your state in life with the necessary gifts, power, and authority to carry out that mission.
Do not wait and stand by when you have so much to offer. In the case of the twelve apostles, when the Lord summoned them, Scripture says, “they came to him.” Say yes to God’s invitation every step of the way. By saying yes, you are equipped with all you need, the power and authority to carry it out.
In Christ, you've been called and chosen. In Christ, you've been anointed to do good and spread the good news wherever you are. In Christ, you have the authority to outsmart and destroy evil. In Christ, you're a victor.
Praying, you keep an eye on the call and embrace every grace of your vocation. Amen.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 2 Ordinary Time: 1 Sam 24:3-21; Mk 3:13-19]
Grace to you!
Are you stressed out? Fatigue? You work two or three jobs to make ends meet. You have no time to rest. You know it isn't good for your health. But you believe you have to do what you have to do to pay your bills.
I empathize with you. I also pray for you, for divine support to find better opportunities. It's important not to forget this truth, though. Rest is part of God's design for your health and spiritual wellbeing.
The notion of the Sabbath is crucial. God was thinking about your rest when he specified the Sabbath regulation. Hence, the Lord instituted it right from "the beginnings" as described in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, also known as the book of creation. Sabbath is a Hebrew word which means, "rest."
Genesis 2:1-3 states that God rested (Sabbath) from all he had created. So, he blessed that day. I wouldn't like to bore you with the historical background leading to this text plus the liturgical significance of the Sabbath. It isn't my objective here.
Nevertheless, I would want to point out one of the rationales behind the day of rest. When God does something, we, the people of faith, see it as a lead, an example the Lord wants us to follow. We, therefore, try to model our lives and plans following God's lead. Our relationship with God on earth is like a mentoring father to his child. God is our mentoring father. We follow his lead, which is always in our best interest. It's spiritually healthy too.
So, the rationale behind the Sabbath, rest, is for us to have at least a full day not to work. It is also a time for us to connect with Our creator more profoundly. During that time, we rest in God. Such a rest is very healthy for our mental, emotional, psychological, biological, social, and spiritual wellbeing. Sabbath makes us centered. God, who created us, knows we need that rest. We need him to refresh us. God doesn't benefit from our rest. We do. The Lord Jesus says: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27).
Do you suppose that lack of rest is in our best interest? Do people who work 24/7 look refreshed? Are they healthier? From experience, we know they tend to be stressed out a lot. When stressed out, our dispositions and mannerism aren't at their best. Don't we become unnecessarily short and petulant?
Also, medical and health sciences show us that a lack of sufficient rest affects health, negatively.
The Sabbath is meant for us, for our wellbeing. It is for our spiritual and biological nourishment. The God who set it for us knows best. Therefore, do please set a day when you wouldn't do any career-based or job activity. God has set a perfect day for it. The Jews retain Saturday as the Sabbath. We Christians follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and keep it on the day the Lord resurrected. It is a day we Christians call "The Day of the Lord" (Sunday). Use that day to connect with God. Go to the Eucharistic celebration. Fellowship and relax with your loved ones as well. Have a kind of home-fellowship. Remember, the saying "a healthy mind in a healthy body."
Praying we find rest in God.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday, Week 2 in Ordinary Time: 1 Sm 16:1-13; Mk 2:23-38]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural 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.