Grace to you!
[Note: Today’s reflection will be longer than usual]
As I read this morning’s Gospel (John 15:9-17), a particular line grips me with renewed interest.
Jesus said: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 This I command you, to love one another.” (Jn 15:14-17).
I went back and forth the line that says, “You are my friends.” First addressed to the apostles, those words are personal to me (and I believe to any believer in the Lord). I felt a deep joy and a profound peace that the Lord calls me friend. I also felt unworthy to be among those who share in this intimate friendship with Christ, as a member of his body the Church.
Certainly, “friend” here does not mean we are equals with Christ. St. Augustine would rather say, it shows how much Christ humbles himself (condescends) to our level. Christ grants us the access to his life. He does so not only in becoming like us in all things except sin, but equally in the relational example of tender affection and love throughout his earthly life. He sealed it with the greatest love of dying on the cross so in him we find fullness of life and glory.
Christ chose us to be his friends. We didn’t choose him to be our friend (Jn 15:16). This, for me, is strikingly beautiful. Not only that he has chosen us to be his friends, he also gives us the inner power (the grace) to make that friendship come alive, mature, and produce much fruit. The fruit isn’t in any way, such as the termite-infested nuts in non-fallowed farm in southern California, or mangled, pale-looking oranges hanging off of the drought-stricken tree during a harsh weather in the Savannahs. Rather, it is fruits that are healthy, delicious and everlasting, with the glowing foliage of health.
Such fruits, St. Paul calls, “fruits of righteousness” (Phil 1:11). Meaning holiness of life, a life that is justified, a life that glorifies God. In such life, we see personal virtues such as listed in Galatians 5:22 and called the fruits of the Spirit; namely: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
We also produce fruits of evangelization. That is, through our life, many will come to glorify God (Mt 5:16) and come to life in Christ. A fruitful friend of Jesus wins more friends for Christ. It is a normal consequence of that friendship. We read about St. Peter in Acts 10 living that fruitful life of friendship with Christ. The spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, was at work among peoples, showing that the fruit is not limited to a particular race. St. Peter, and all who have become friends of Christ form the early Church to our current era, bear fruits of evangelization. I hope you and I bear fruits too.
How could this be when we are simply human? How could we truly abide in Christ and produce much fruit, when in ourselves we often falter? Christ himself gives us the answer.
First, we strive not to lose sight of our source or disconnect with our source, where we belong, to whom we have been reborn—Christ the Lord. We cannot grow and produce fruit on our own. In matters of spiritual growth and fruitfulness, the notion of “self-made-man” is an empty claim. It’s preposterous. We grow if we depend on the grace of God.
Second, friendship with God also implies friendship within his body. We produce fruits when we are engrafted in the body of Christ. Abiding in him is regularly abiding in his body. He has nobody else on earth today except the Church where, through those graces he has promised, he nourishes and strengthens the bond of love which he has established with us. Though friendship with God is a personal relationship, it is also a relationship within his community of faith, the Church.
Third, the power of this relationship does not come from us. It comes from Christ himself. He actually gives it when he sends the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit, what St. Paul says, “God’s love poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit given to us” (Rm 5:5) that makes us truly reciprocal friends of God. This Spirit is the abiding grace of the Christ for us, within our hearts, steering us and inspiring us to do good, to produce beautiful fruits and sometimes to do miracles in his name. The same Spirit at work in the early Church is at work today in the Church and in the hearts and minds of the present-day friends of God.
Fourth, this friendship with Christ, which comes to us through the light of faith, is lived or expressed in the works of charity also (Gal 5:6). The Lord would say to us, those called his friends: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14). He says it differently earlier: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…” (Jn 15:10).
Therefore, friendship with God isn’t only about a feeling of it or a mental state where we live in the euphoria of love without action. Instead, there is an expectation from our side, the little we can give back. It is what truly proves the depth of our love.
Though this reciprocal love is little in comparison to God’s love, though it is not perfect, it is acceptable because it is inspired by the love of God himself. This is what keeping Christ’s commandment is—Love. The kind that is ready to offer back to the friend we have in Jesus, what we have become. The kind that relates to any person despite where they come from and their situations in life with selflessness, following in the footsteps of Christ.
Love without boundaries. Love in Christ is the way to true friendship with Him who has loved us first. What a wonderful thing to know and be reminded on this sixth Sunday of the Resurrection.
Praying that the Spirit of God, the love of the Father and the Son be poured into our hearts. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17]
Grace to you!
We continue our reflection on the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. Today, we look at how the Holy Spirit is our Counselor and Exhorter.
Perhaps, you became aware of the important role of a counselor when you were in high school or college. The counselor helps us to make the right choices in our career paths.
“I will see my counselor,” seems to suggest the person believes his or her counselor will figure things out (or at least help him or her do so). We realize that the counselor’s job is relevant because we are in a crossroad, or discerning re a situation or a thing. It could also be about finding the right mental or emotional disposition or sense of balance towards a particular or many situations.
Whether the counselor is for clinical, spiritual or educational services, the person is “called in” as a second, expert voice. In a similar, but most profound way, the Holy Spirit is the Counselor offered to us, free of charge, from the Father through Jesus Christ the Son.
The Lord Jesus told the disciples: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7).
Making the right decision regarding our life and future, as well as discerning the right spiritual path in our relationship with God and one another aren’t easy choices. Hence, the Holy Spirit helps us, guiding and exhorting us to make right choices.
If you find it difficult to keep a consistent pattern of good behavior or make right choices; or if you feel like making progress in the invitation to be holy is frustrating, the Holy Spirit is the one to call in. He will counsel and exhort you. This regards the individual, as well as the church as a community of faith. Pastors in parishes, leaders of ministries, parents in families, teachers, etc., need the Holy Spirit’s counsel to lead well.
Reading the courage of Paul and Silas who were put in prison, and how they boldly kept faith in the Risen Lord (Acts 16:22-34), and the numerous heroic works of the early Church, and men and women of faith throughout the ages, one wouldn’t but acknowledge the great power influencing their lives. That Power and Exhorter is the Holy Spirit.
The counseling work of the Holy Spirit also keeps our conscience truly attuned to the will of God. Often, we tend to ignore or explain away the weight of sin or lack of love, and ignore the good. The Holy Spirit as the Counselor is the source of moral and spiritual clarity. The Spirit does so through shining the light of truth in our lives and hearts so we will see the good as it truly is, and evil as terrible as it is.
As the Lord Jesus said: “And when he [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (Jn 16:8-11).
Pray: Oh Holy Spirit, be my Counselor as I rise in the morning and as I go back to bed at night. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday, Easter Week 6: Acts 16:22-34; Jn 16:7-11]
Grace to you!
There is an African proverb that comes to my mind this morning as I meditate on what happened to St. Paul in Acts 19:19-20, the famous story of the stoning of St. Paul. The proverb is “Anya bebe, imi bebe.” This means, “What affects a member of the family affects all.” (The literal translation is “when the eye is crying, the nose cries with it”).
Suppose you were passing through a difficult time, say loss of a loved one, loss of a job, persecuted because of your faith, or you are a victim of the attack of a malicious clique simply because you want to do the right thing. You were in your worst lows and no one, no friend, no church member, was a support system when you had asked for it. How would you feel?
How about a believer you admire showed up? Maybe a member of the Morning Prayer group, those in bible study or Legion of Mary with you, paid you a surprise visit, prayed with you and made you laugh. How would you feel?
One of the rich symbolisms about the Church we learned from St. Paul is that the Church is the Body of Christ. Christ is the head and we are the members. What affects one member affects the other. When one member is broken, others should feel a sense of urgency to heal. We are a community. We are family.
If God were to open our eyes to see the power of a support system, the power of solidarity in moments of need, I suppose all of us would hastily go to find someone we could help out of a depressing or trying situation.
St. Paul was stoned and dragged out of the city by some opposition group in Lystra who thought he was dead. The power of solidarity restored him to life. Hear how the bible tells the story: “When the disciples gathered about him (Paul), he rose up and entered the city; and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20).
Look around you. There are many who are knocked down, at the verge of dying for lack of warmth, for neglect, for hatred, for lack of food and clothing. Many there are who walk out of the Church because nobody would say “hello,” even on a Sunday. Would you find someone today you could make to smile? Would you look around your church and find that person who is persecuted and ostracized because of her faith and let her know you care? Can you pay that priest a visit who is maligned because he believes in church orthodoxy?
These simple gestures could warm the heart and awaken the stoned.
Pray: Lord, as you wished peace to your people, make me an instrument of your peace. Amen.
God Love you. God Bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Tuesday, Easter Week 5: Acts 14:19-28; Jn 14:27-31a]
Grace to you and Happy Easter!
Believers in the Lord Jesus were called two names in the Acts of the Apostles. First was “The Way” and the second was “Christians.”
If you thought those names were nice or intended to be nice names, you are probably wrong. The names were actually derogatory of the identity of the people who followed Christ.
“The Way” describes a movement, an unwelcome movement. It appeared about six times in Acts of the Apostles (See Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). The first time it appeared in Acts 9:2 was when Paul asked the high priest for an authorization to go and hunt members of “The Way” and bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
The second name, which has come to stick, is “Christians.” It was a name given to Christians in Antioch because the people saw the believers as followers of Christ (Acts 11:26), a title used only two other times in Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16.
Why were believers called members of “The Way” and Christians? One may not know completely the minds of the people who gave the names, but from biblical and historical evidence, we could arrive at some conclusions.
There was something about believers in the Lord Jesus that stood out among the people. Though they were called members of The Way in a derogatory sense as people who were different, people on the fringe of society and power. The name has something to say about their way of life. For the outside observers of the early Church, the members had a different way of life. Their faith was their own way of life. It was their core identity, what made them unique, different from the rest. It was a New Way.
The story at Antioch was similar. Antioch was the 3rd largest commercial city of the Ancient Rome with about half a million population. The city founded by Seleucus Nicator around 300 BC and named after his father Antiochus, was the center for sport and entertainment. It was the home of the temple of Daphne, known as the goddess of sensual pleasure. Prostitution was part of the worship of this goddess by her prophetesses. It was in this city that the members of The Way were first called Christians.
Why? Because, just as in the case of the nickname, The Way, the believers were different from others in their understanding of pleasure, social life and sex. Unlike many at Antioch, they were not part of the immorality that stamped the city. They believed in the fidelity of marriage relationships and the sacredness of sexual intimacy. They were not like others in the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratifying entertainment. They were simply different. The people of Antioch could see them, identify them, not by their color or their language—many of them spoke Greek as native speakers, not with a Jewish accent. Their uniqueness was their moral excellence and purity of creed.
Writing about the distinctive identity of Christians, the English writer, C.S Lewis, in his “Mere Christianity” talked about this uniqueness of the Christian identity as a decisive mark of who the believer is.
Christianity would be consistent with her calling if believers do not want to be like the world, not in the sense of biological endowments, but in the sense of morality and spiritual life. We lose our identity if we no longer shine the light for everyone to see. The light must be the light of purity, of unconditional love, of true sacredness of reproductive actions, of honesty and integrity; the call to holiness is a call to be set apart, modeled after Christ.
Be bold. Be Christian. Be Catholic. There should be no in-between.
Pray: Lord Jesus, give us the grace to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
[Tuesday Week 4 of Easter: Acts 11:19-26; John 10: 22-30]
Grace to you and Happy Easter
Do you want to know how the early Church handled the issue of discrimination? Read Acts of the Apostles chapters 10 to 15. There you will find how the Christian mission is one that knocks down the walls of hostility among people, providing opportunities for true reconciliation with God.
As St. Paul said, “Christ has broken down the walls of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
Let me share a portion of the story. It has to do with the bold action that Peter, the leader of the Church, the first Pope, took in response to God’s call for universal mission against those who thought Christianity was a tribal religion. We find the story in Acts 10 but Peter used it as a defense against discrimination in Acts 11:1-18.
It’s the famous story of the vision God showed Peter of unclean animals, asking him to kill and eat. Peter objected on religious grounds: “I have never eaten anything unclean.”
God replied, “You shall not call unclean what I have cleaned” (see Acts 11:9).
Peter understood the message when three men from Caesarea came, asking him to visit the family of Cornelius, a gentile’s household. (Jews then wanted nothing to do with the gentiles.) He didn’t hesitate and went with them. There, in Cornelius’s house, the Holy Spirit descended on the people, the gentiles, as he did the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Peter understood they were equally chosen as “we were” though they weren’t Jews.
This story sheds light on the universal mission of Christianity. It, equally, reveals how we should relate to each other as believers. Many times, we carry our tribal, ethnic or cultural sentiments into our worship of God. Many times we do not allow the Holy Spirit to break the walls of hostility between us. However, whenever we do, there is much healing and peace.
There is freedom in “Color blindness.” I do not mean the medical situation of vision problems, but being really blind to the color of people’s skin. It saves us from a lot of anxiety and stress. Relating with each other as God’s children is the way Jesus has called us to live.
Once I finished ministering to a group of people. A woman walked up to me and said, “God has used you to heal me of the wounds of hate which I have carried for years. A black man abused my daughter and I have since developed deep-seated hatred for people of color, and shudder wherever I see a black man. As I came in for this seminar and as the talks went on, it was like God was renewing my heart, bringing healing to the wounds. Thanks for being the agent of my healing.”
She hugged me, while still in tears.
I bet she had never shaken the hands of a black man after the terrible thing that happened to her daughter, let alone having a prolonged, sobbing hug. God bless her. I pray for healing for all in similar situations.
There is freedom in breaking the walls. This is not simply about racial discrimination. It’s also about all forms of discrimination, tribal, ethnic, cultural and political that cause hostility among us.
May this message bring us much peace and freedom, as we live the Christian message of freedom for all— repentance, reconciliation available for all in Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for many.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Monday, Easter Week 4: Acts 11”1-18; John 10:1-10]
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.