A friend invited me to be with the family as their dad passes. “No one dies alone” is a precious way of accompaniment for the dying.
For the dying, it is the reassurance that their loved ones would never leave them alone at the most decisive stage of their earthly journey. For the loved ones of the dying, it is a sober moment of tears, of sadness and, sometimes, of intense reflection on the meaning of life.
I watched the family grapple with this inescapable reality that dad would be gone and never return. He passed calmly after receiving the anointing of the sick with the apostolic blessing. Our faith tells us about the great grace of justification that can come from this wonderful sacrament. It’s incredible spiritual healing too.
As I drove home, I was reminded of the reality that every beginning in time has an end. I was reminded of my own end. I wondered off in a sort of imaginative daydreaming. I imagined who will be at my bedside. What my passing would be like. What would be my spiritual state at that moment when the Lord decides to take me home….
Those thoughts reminded me of the end, the last things according to our faith tradition—death, judgement, heaven or hell. The Church does not ignore to remind us of these facts. In reality, the Lord Jesus would often include the last things in his great teachings.
As believers, we cannot fully live the life of the redeemed unless we think seriously about the life to come. The resurrection of Our Lord and Savior reassures us of our own resurrection too. Our birth into this life and in the Lord in baptism, is a journey unto our birth into heaven, in the bosom of the Father.
For Christians, we are looking forward to what Saint Paul calls, “the upward call of God in Christ” (Phil 3:14).
In the Gospel of Mark (13:24-32), the Lord, speaking to the people toward the end of his life on earth, reminds them of their own end. He equally tells them about his Second Coming. In that conversation, he sheds more light on the prophesy of Daniel concerning the Second Coming (see Dn 7:13, 12:2-3). He speaks of the great tribulation, the shocking events, the catastrophic phenomenon, the coming of the Son of Man, and judgment (Mk 13:24-27).
He makes a prophesy which isn’t so clear to many and has been misunderstood by many too. He says: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:29-32).
The great preacher of the fifth century, Saint John Chrysostom, who was the archbishop of Constantinople, in his Homilies 76 and 77 on Matthew 24:16-18 and 32-33 respectively, explained that two events are discussed here by the Lord. He was of the view that when the Lord says “this generation will not pass away before all these things take place”, two meanings are referred to here. First is the immediate generation of the Lord and refers to the event of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which happened in AD 70. The Lord’s word came to pass, as it always does.
The second meaning of “this generation” Saint Chrysostom suggests, refers to the new generation born of Christ. It is a generation not as a result of birth in time but by “religious service and practice” as hinted in the Psalms, “Such is the generation of those who seek the Lord” (Ps 24:6) (Hom. 77).
While the Second Coming of Our Lord is a fait accompli, in our lives we live in such a way that our own end will be in the Lord. Christian life reminds us that the last things are for real. Someday we will die. Then will come judgment. Then heaven or hell. It isn’t one choice—heaven. There are two—heaven or hell.
Praying for the grace to be ready when the Lord chooses to call me home. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[33rdSunday Year B: Dn 12:1-3; Heb 10:11-14,18; Mk 13:24-32]
Grace to you!
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!
A man became very apprehensive of his mom’s calls, especially when the calls became more frequent. When the mom called in that manner, often, the man is under the weather, dealing with one crisis situation or another. Though he tried to downplay what was going on with him, his mom was not convinced. Mom has a way of sensing something isn’t right. Some call it a kind of telepathy. I call it a unique love intuition.
Parent-child relationship is a unique intimacy that goes beyond mere physical likeness. It’s profoundly spiritual. Parents generally know their children much better than the children may be aware of or acknowledge. They pay attention. The change of facial tone, tone of voice, sleeping habit, dress code, eating habit and walkout schedule, etc., are not ignored. Parents pay attention to small details and often correctly guess what may be going on.
Did you know that with God, the creator who loves us with an everlasting love, nothing about us is ignored? The all-knowing and all-loving God sees us through and through. As the Psalmist says, God knows us and our innermost thoughts (Ps 139:1-3). God pays attention to the minutest details about us and God sees even the insignificant events or circumstances that worry us. Not only does God see, God also cares.
Sometimes we fear about out life, our future, our family and our career. Fear is a natural human phenomenon. It’s important we know that in our fears, God is closest to us.
The Lord Jesus reassures us that even the fear of persecution should not deter us from loving God and glorifying God.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
Think about this God’s message: nothing, no matter how insignificant, could escape God’s knowledge and providence. In the same way, no suffering you endure, and no persecution you experience would ever be ignored by the Lord Jesus Christ. Every good you do has a reward and every witness of faith is pleasant to God.
If you were to know the impact of your endurance and witness of faith in the communion of the heavenly, flowing like a stream of graces for many thousands and thousands of years after you, you would probably want more and more opportunities to bear witness to your faith in God and in the Church. No persecution is without enduring value. No suffering is in vain.
Be not afraid of those who can destroy the body or utter all sorts of calumny against you, call you names because you are a Christian, a believer, a Catholic. Smile and say with the apostles, “we are privileged to suffer for Christ” (Acts 5:41; Phil 1:29). I am glad to be on your team O Lord Jesus. Your team is the true love team, the grace team and the team of the redeemed.
Be bold. Be resolute. Be courageous.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 28, Ordinary Time: Eph 1:11-14; Lk 12:1-7]
Grace to you,
In my reflection yesterday, I talked about the need to look around us, admire and share the good we see. There is much good around us. It takes a positive mindset, a virtuous heart to see the good and spread the good news.
May I advance that reflection further by suggesting that there are many bearers of the good news around us. News is about people, places and events. Bearers of good news are people. It’s people who shine the light for everyone to see. It’s people who announce or live the story.
When the poor in India saw the unequalled care, love and attention of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, they found, after all, Christ in that woman of incredible virtue. She was indeed a sister of Jesus. You wouldn’t need to second-guess the qualification of being a brother or sister of the Christ. The answer is straight from the horse’s mouth.
The Lord said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it” (Luke 8:21). The Blessed Virgin Mary heard God’s word and acted on it. She is the archetype of true faith and true charity. Her role as a model is unique.
Christians are so called because they emulate Christ. They also spread the good news of Christ. They live the Word of God.
Several times, you may have seen people in your circles who have been Christ to you; offering hope and inspiration by their words and lifestyle. Christ in us is the seed of that goodness.
The Church is rich, providing us with great models of faith to emulate. From the contemplatives to the extroverts, advocates to monastics, from the religious to the laity, the military to politicians; from every nation and people and language, name it. The Church has models relatable to all and for any. The Church is truly Catholic—universal; and has an appeal across the centuries and across the world, in the sense that whatever spiritual model you desire, and no matter where you are located, you would find it in the Church.
In the spiritual life, it’s always inspiring to know many have gone the route of holiness in Christ in his Church before us; and that we would, by the grace of God, be part of the story. Someday.
It will be the most beautiful thing that our hearts’ desire will be to hear God’s word and follow it every step of the way. May praising God and shinning the light for everyone to see be our passion. How I wish we desire and love to be saints.
This wish is a prayer with a hope-filled divine blessing. Amen.
God love you. God bless you!
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday Ordinary Time: Prov 21:1-6, 10-13; LK 8:19-21]
Grace to you!
We continue our reflections based on 1 Corinthians.
Apologies for my inability to post our reflections for the past three days. The news of the death of a friend and a classmate, a dedicated priest with great examples of pastoral fervor, affected me emotionally. May the gentle soul of Fr. Jude Egbom rest in peace. Amen.
We read from 1 Cor 8:1-13, Saint Paul’s response to one of the pastoral challenges in the early Church of Corinth. Many in the community were worshippers of the Roman goddess Venus. So, from time to time, foods offered to Venus, especially at festive times, were presented for meals and socialization.
Some Christians who believed that idols were mere work of human hands and empty images, would eat those food. For them, sacrificing food to idols was an empty ritual since the idols have no life, mere façade.
On the other hand, some believers saw the eating of food sacrificed to idols by some of the brethren as sinful and therefore, a cause of scandal. For them, by eating food sacrificed to idols, the believers were participating in idol worship. Hence, Paul writes to address this specific problem. This story will resonate with many who live side-by-side those of tribal religions.
Saint Paul’s pastoral recommendation was that though it is the right knowledge to insist that there is only one true God—idols are not the real God—, and that food offered to idols do not have any effect to the believer if they eat it, believers should be careful not to cause scandal. He says that because some believers may not have the same solid knowledge and understanding that idols are not real, eating food sacrificed to idols could cause their weak faith to sin. In that case, it is better for one to avoid eating such food. Nothing is worth causing another person to sin. “Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of my brother’s falling, I will never eat meat, lest I cause my brother to fall” (1 Cor 8:12-13).
One sees in this advice of Saint Paul an emphasis that deserves keen attention. The believer’s primary goal is to glorify the Lord in all we do. It is also to inspire others to do the same. It is to act in the spirit of charity. In all we say, do or not do, it is the Christ’s way not to be a stumbling block to holiness, to what is good, true and beautiful. Even if something is good for me, if it would lead someone else to sin, it is more Christlike to hold back from enjoying it.
Scandal, from Greek σκανδαλίσῃ(skandalisē) means “to cause… to falter or fall”. Literally, it means to be a stumbling block on the way of someone. Though some stumbling blocks could be a good thing, just like when we have a bump in the road to stop us from speeding where it is dangerous to pedestrians, the scandal that Saint Paul talks about here is the sinful one. Saint Thomas Aquinas describes it as “something less rightly done or said, that causes another's spiritual downfall” (ST, 11-11, 43.1).
Thus, scandal in the sense used above does not occur when we are doing what is good and holy. Rather, scandal occurs when we are doing something sinful or that leads to sin. It could also occur when we are not charitable in saying or doing things that may not be sinful, but could be done with better love. It could also happen when we fail to act to promote what is good or when we are indifferent to what is evil, such as abuse of minors and the vulnerable (e.g. the current Church scandal), or culture of injustice.
In all, we learn that for the believer, we do not live our lives as if it’s all about us and what is only in our interest. As Saint Paul says, “We live for the Lord.” (Rm 14: 8). We live for one another also.
Praying that in all we say, do or not do, we live for the Lord and for charity. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 23 Ordinary Time: 1 Cor 8:1-7, 11-13; Lk 6:27-38]
Grace to you!
In many ways, hospitals reveal human needs. In the hospitals, we witness firsthand our weaknesses. The strong and the weak, the wealthy and the poor share the same fate. They lie on that uncomfortable bed and are pushed around in ways they may not have tolerated. In the hospitals, we surrender to the limitations of our nature as humans.
As we go through the emergency rooms, or the ICUs, sometimes we have that moment to reflect on our needs and inadequacies. In the hospitals too, we come close to the desire of many hearts to find answers. We want a miracle. We desire a savior. No one, not even the most stoic, wants to make the hospital a home. We want to be healed fast and get out of there.
The hospital situation could be seen as a metaphor to humanity’s condition. Sickness that leads people to the hospital is comparable to sin that leads people to unfreedom. Sin and sinful conditions call for healing from our heavenly physician, Christ. As a priest, it’s incredible to witness firsthand the joy of freedom as people walk out of the Confessional, having been freed from sin and the state of spiritual unfreedom. For me, it’s far more exciting than someone walking out of the hospital healed of their sickness.
Some of our brokenness as humans is social and structural. The people of Israel, for instance, witnessed firsthand the social dimension, and its implications for the group and for the individual during their exile in Babylon. They were taken to where they didn’t want to go. They were forced into the condition that was painful and humbling. The compassionate Lord responded to their call for healing: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (Is 35:4).
We read from the teachings of the Church that the story of the exile is a pointer to the story of the human condition in need of a Savior, Christ. This relates not simply to a group but also to individuals, such as the case in the New Testament miracle reported by Mark (7:31-35).
The man who was healed by the Lord in Mark 7:31-35 was described as deaf and with speech impediment. He needed a Savior. Though his situation was biological, and not his fault, by way of spiritual application, we could use it as relating to our spiritual needs too. The man is like anyone who lives in situations of spiritual needs, such as where they neither hear the good news nor proclaim the saving grace of God. He is like anyone bereft of grace by sin or sinful conditions. Conditions that prevent us from hearing or listening to God’s Word are terrible.
The Lord would use different sensory gestures of touching, seeing, spitting, eye lifting to heaven, and groaning to identify with the person in need. He demonstrates his connection with the individual and as well as his power to heal and save. “He himself bore our sins in his body .... By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, see also Is 53:4-5). The Lord fulfills the promise of the messianic era for which the reference of Mark 7:35 is tied to Isaiah 35:5-6. “He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak” (Mk 7:37).
What is your need? What is it that has tied us down that we live in a condition of unfreedom, unable to hear the whisper of God’s voice around us and unable to tell forth the beauty, goodness and truth of God’s saving grace? What is it that has taken our joy away and made us live in conditions that could be described like an exile, a desert or a wasteland? What is that need that calls for Christ’s redeeming grace? What is that sinful condition or painful past that has dulled our spiritual senses and made us lose sight of the holy, the pure and the love of God in us and in our neighbor?
What is that situation that has made us insensitive to the poor and the vulnerable in our midst and, therefore, unable to respond to them not with sympathy but with compassion and equal respect? What is that situation that has made us place values only in what people have and not who they are? Just like the story in the Letter of James (2:1-5), what is that condition that has made us close our eyes to see in the poor in our church or community the same dignity as the big donor who enjoys our respect?
Those situations call for the healing touch of Christ. In those situations, we need God’s saving grace to hear God speak and to respond accordingly.
Praying that God will grant us the grace of spiritual awareness and freedom from sinful conditions. Amen.
[Sunday Week 23 Ordinary Time B: Is 35:4-7; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-35]
Grace to you!
We continue our reflections based on the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.
If you’ve been involved in sharing the faith, you may have noticed that sometimes, when you suppose you are well prepared and have all the logic to demonstrate your faith, that’s when you get the coldest responses from your listeners. Whereas, there are many moments you feel unequipped, though your heart is attuned to the Lord, those moments, the Lord takes over and speaks through you in ways you can’t explain. Sometimes, it may not be your words that touch people. It could be spirit-filled non-verbal cues.
Eloquence is a wonderful skillset in communicating the gospel. However, it isn’t our eloquence that stirs the heart. Neither is it the excellence of our evangelization methods that transform souls for the Lord. It’s Christ himself who transforms the heart.
Think about your faithful grandma or grandpa at home, for instance. Or those faithful who come to Mass every day and offer their prayers for our intentions. They may not know the different theological traditions and arguments, yet they love the Lord with the tenderness of first love.
Instead of what the Swiss theologian, Hans Ur von Balthasar, calls “Kneeling Theology” that contemplates and prays as it theologizes, many of us focus on a theology of the head engaged with methods and procedures without a heart in love with the Lord. We may have the best knowledge about theology and yet not be in love with the Christ about whom we theologize. Great theology is that of the head and the heart combined.
Saint Paul, arguably, is the most prolific of all the early Church evangelizers. His mission as a witness of the Christ throughout his first, second and third missionary journeys plus his writings leave us with incredible resources to ponder.
From his missionary journeys, he learned what is the most important in the work of evangelization. Perhaps, his humbling mission in Athens, where he used the philosophic style of the Athenians in proposing Christ as “the unknown God” at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34), plus the shocking news of unhealthy rivalry in Corinth, where he preached after he left Athens (Acts 18:1), may have taught him a lesson. Despite his sophistry in Athens, he made the fewest converts of all his missions. In spite of his powerful witness in Corinth, in less than two years, unhealthy rivalry and worldliness were tearing the community apart.
Experience taught the apostle Paul. He learns the most important thing about evangelization. It isn’t the rigors of our words that matter. It is bearing witness to Christ himself. Regarding the continued flourishing of the faith, it is keeping the message of the Christ and the cross at the heart of the faith community.
He tells the Corinthian church as he reminds us: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified … and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:2-5).
Therefore, in our various ways of evangelization, let’s keep Christ at the center.
May we know Christ and the power of his cross and resurrection. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday Week 22 Ordinary Time 1 Cor 2:1-5; Lk 4:16-30]
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.