Grace to you and Happy Easter!
Have you observed how trickles of water from the rocks flow in the creeks? The water follows different paths but merges into a spring, a lake, a river or an ocean. For the most part, the water flows through rough and twisted paths.
You will observe that as the water trickles from the rock, it gets around or should I say, bypasses the stumbling blocks—those rocks or woods that stand in the way. Though the rocks or the woods remain stationary, they do not stop the stream from flowing. Instead, the stream’s navigation is made even more colorful and scenic as it plies its way through the stumbling blocks.
One may learn from the navigations of the streams, the secret of thriving amidst stumbling blocks. Many times, people are concerned that there seems to be less and less opportunities for them to thrive due to stumbling blocks along the way. It seems in living God’s Word, in particular, there are many stumbling blocks. Some wonder how to deal with this reality.
A man complained that in his parish there is no sense of spiritual direction; and anyone who tries to help fan into flame the fervor of divine love and service is vehemently opposed by people who feel they own the church.
Some say we can’t seem to see the end of the tunnel. They forget that the end of the tunnel is only in sight when we are close to it. Otherwise, it seems way too unattainable.
How about seeing the stumbling blocks as pieces of wood on the path of the flowing water? Fortunately, those stumbling blocks are opportunities for the beautiful scenic path to fruitfulness in evangelization.
Right from the time of Jesus Christ until now, no work of evangelization, work of charity or act of faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been without stumbling blocks.
Read Acts of the Apostles 13:44-46. The jealousy, reviling and opposition against Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey warranted them to reroute and channel their mission to the gentiles. Refocus.
You may have heard the saying that when one door closes, another opens. For the believer., there are no closed doors. Rather, there are paths to better doors. There are many doors out there for you to find peace and joy. There are many doors out there beckoning for your service. Do not be stuck or allow yourself to be stuck in the roadblocks of naysayers.
Hear the apostles speak about the change of plan: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:44-46).
Don’t you realize that a stumbling block on your path to doing God’s will doesn’t mean the end of the road? It simply means there are many other alternatives; even better, alternatives you wouldn’t have known.
Great evangelizers love stumbling blocks. Not that they seek them out. Rather, they dare them, look them straight in the eye and walk past them. True believers overcome roadblocks. They aren’t deterred by them. The saints cherish roadblocks, because through them the limits of their courage and vision to be the best God has called them to be are expanded.
Therefore, do not bemoan an unsuccessful attempt. Do not lie down and throw a pity party. Do not act the victim. Look and see: God is calling you to reroute to the path you are most needed now. Refocus. See the road. Follow it.
May God’s grace lead you all the way through. Amen.
God Love you. God Bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Easter Week 4: Act 13:44-52; John 14:7-14]
Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, which will be unusually lengthier (please excuse me), I make a pastoral application of the qualities of the Good Shepherd hinted in the Gospel of John 10:1-18. I do so, not as a scholarly piece, but consistent with the approach of our reflection as a way to engage us in this spiritual contemplation of the role of Christ as the Good Shepherd.
Joe and Nancy had a terrible year. Their child had barely survived a drug overdose and his life has become a constant painful struggle for him and for the entire family. Joe’s Mom has not been doing well either. From one case of depression to chronic panic attacks, the family has been through the darkest months of their life.
Amidst their struggles, the pastor of their church paid them regular visits. Sometimes he prayed with them. Other times he brought them Holy Communion, anointing them with the Oil of the Sick. From time to time, he mentioned their intentions during Masses and often reassured them he was praying for them. On a number of occasions, the pastor simply visited, not saying much except one or two words while simply being present.
Months passed, and the crisis seemed to fade. Slowly. For the couple, Joe and Nancy, God was constantly with them through the thick of their problems. For them, the human instrument used was their pastor.
“He is indeed a good pastor,” they said.
What does it mean to be a good pastor? By the way, have you wondered why the leader of your parish is called a pastor?
Pastor is from a Latin word which in English means, a shepherd. It is a title borrowed right from the imagery of God as our shepherd and we as His sheep (see Is 40:11; Ez 34:11-31). Our Lord Jesus Christ would use the same imagery and personalized it since he is the “Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:11).
The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church, referring to the prophesies of Isaiah, Ezekiel and the Gospel of John 10, captures this teaching in a beautiful way: “The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ. It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd, and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium,n. 6).
We read from the Gospel of John how Jesus Christ taught this truth about himself. “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn 10:11). He goes ahead to tell us some of the qualities of the Good shepherd:
1. The Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11, 15, 17): There is a commitment to the greatest sacrifice which the Lord Jesus Christ made, offering his life for the sheep. To be a good shepherd is to share in this commitment in some ways; willing undertaking daily sacrifices for the welfare of those we serve.
2. He does not carry out the shepherding role because of pay (Jn 10:12):Nothing was found in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, as a pay-for-service. When pay-for-service is a model of the work of pastoring, one wonders if it is consistent with the role of the good shepherd.
3. He is passionately committed to the care of the sheep, not as a hired shepherd (Jn 10:13): The passion for the care of the sheep, not because of what financial benefits will come from it, but simply because we desire the sheep to find succor and green pasture is a sign of good shepherding. Pastoral life is first and foremost commitment to the spiritual, Christ-centered nourishment of the people. It isn’t primarily a commitment to the financial stability of the pastor, the parish or the church.
4. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep personally and they know him (Jn 10:14): It has been part of the church’s pastoral commitment to regulate that pastors have a manageable size for their parishes. The reason behind this is so the pastor will be able to know each member of the flock personally. This is not always possible though given the shortage of priests. It is when we get involved in the normal lives of the people, know them personally, that we will truly ‘smell like the sheep.’ (Pope Francis). It is then that we know them, and they know us. The good shepherd does not pick the wealthy over the poor or the poor over the wealthy. He aspires to know them both. The Code of Canon Law number 529 (paragraphs 1 and 2) emphasizes this need for the pastor to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care by visiting their families, sharing in their joys and sorrows, strengthening and enlightening them as the case may be just like the pastor of Joe and Nancy in our opening story did. This is why it is important to pray for more vocations, because ‘the harvest is rich, but the laborers are few’ (Mt 9:37). With a growing need for good pastors and the growing shortage of priests, it makes it difficult to know every member of the parish personally and this is not very effective for the role of shepherding.
5. His sheep heed his voice because they know his voice (Jn 10:4, 16): Because the good shepherd’s love and sacrifice are so impactful, the sheep heed the voice of the shepherd. The grace of Christ the Good Shepherd makes this possible too. However, the shepherd has to be that voice of love and care, so the sheep would hear and listen. What inspires people the most is the realization that they are loved and cared for. It is not sympathy. It is love, mercy, empathy and compassion. These inspire.
6. The Good Shepherd models the way for the sheep, and they follow (Jn 10:4): The role of the shepherd as a leader (governing role), is hereby highlighted also. The sheep models the way, leading by example and not simply by words. Actions, they say, speak louder than voice. The Lord Jesus Christ himself, walks the talk. In order to be like Christ, the shepherd has to be able to walk the talk too—mirror what they preach in the Word and what they celebrate in the Sacraments. Thanks be to God who makes this possible by the grace of Christ and our cooperation with that grace. When the sheep see the role-modeling life of the shepherd, it makes it more real to follow. It becomes relational and hopefully, easy to emulate. People want to see Christ in the words and actions of their pastor. Even in the pastors’ vulnerabilities and weaknesses (as we all are human) they want to see the way back to Christ not away from Christ.
7. The Good Shepherd’s mission is safety and life for the sheep (Jn 10:10): The Lord says he comes that we may have the fullness of life—salvation. The pastor’s primary role is that God’s people will receive the grace of salvation, fullness of life in Christ. Through the preaching, the celebration of the sacraments, and involvement in the social affairs and social justice, this central goal is the driving force of good shepherding.
So, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray that Christ the Good Shepherd will inspire all the minsters of the Word and the Sacraments to follow the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd; and that the Lord will inspire more people to open their hearts for the invitation of pastoral vocation. Amen.
I would suggest for this special day of prayer for vocations, you light a candle (pray) for your priests. Pray also for more vocations to the priestly ministry, diaconate ministry and religious life.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Fourth Sunday of Easter B (Good Shepherd Sunday): Acts 4:8-12; I Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18]
Grace to you!
On this third Sunday of Easter, we reflect on the fifth appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. The event is described in the Gospel of Luke 24: 35-48. The Gospel of John 20:19-23 reports the same story with a few other details, such as when the Lord gave the apostles the power to forgive sins.
Here is the setting: Cleopas and another person whose name was not given, hurried back from Emmaus after Jesus had appeared to them and had a long conversation with them. They hear the disciples share the news that Jesus appeared to many people, including Simon. They shared their own story too, relating how they recognized Jesus by the breaking of bread (a pointer to the Eucharist). (Lk 24:35).
They were still sharing their joy when the Lord Jesus appeared to all of them. Read how the Gospel of Luke describes the event: “As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to You.” (Lk 24:36).
This visit of the Lord is unique in many ways. It has so many details that are fascinating. How the Lord encouraged the apostles not to doubt what they have seen. How he showed them his hands and feet that were pierced and asked them to touch him.
It narrates also how the Lord proved he was alive and not simply a ghost, and how he asked the disciples for physical food. They gave him a piece of baked fish, which he ate in their sight; how he finally opened their minds to understand the deeper biblical truth that he is alive indeed and that he is the fulfilment of the prophesies in the Old Testament. He is the reparation for our sins and the sins of the world (1 Jn 2:2). In him and through him, many receive divine forgiveness. He also told them they are to bear witness to all they have seen.
The Lord’s visit and his message of peace must have been a source of inspiration. The Lord comes at the right time and he joins in our conversation at the perfect time.
He is in our midst to confirm our faith and our testimony about him. He encourages us and frees us from fear and doubt.
The Lord may not appear in physical form anymore as he did to the first witnesses. He can if he chooses to do so. However, he has chosen to appear to us in everyday life through the normal events of life.
I see Christ every day when I have the privilege of breaking the bread, celebrating the Eucharist. In the Eucharist I see his face and welcome his real presence. He speaks and smiles and cuddles me. Sometimes, I startle for joy, but many times I’m speechless at the warmth of his love.
I hear him through the pages of Scripture. In it he maps out for me the way and grace of fullness of life.
I see him when I go to confession. I hear his words through the mouth of his priest that remind me that my sins are forgiven. “Do not be afraid.” “Go in peace….”
I see him in the people I meet in the workplace, at home, on the streets and at recreational centers. I hear his voice whisper to me what I should do when I see the sick, the poor, the despairing immigrant, the marginalized, those in prison, the suffering and the depressed.
I hear him loud and clear as I enjoy my meal with friends; and then, suddenly, I feel the need to act to provide a good meal for someone who doesn’t have the same privilege I have.
I see Jesus in our midst every day. I hear his voice. I gaze on his face. My neighbor is a signpost of the face of Jesus closest to me.
On this third week of Easter, I pray we see the Risen Lord in our midst, in the everyday life. May we celebrate each moment as a touch of his presence.
Pray: Open my eyes Lord, to see you and listen to you speak to me in the ordinary events of life so that I can be an audacious witness of your love. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Third Sunday of Easter B: Act 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 Jn 2:1-5A; Lk 24:35-48]
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.