Grace to you!
There is an Igbo, 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. Perhaps you're dealing with the 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 if 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 helped 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. Many are 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 look around your church and find a person who may be feeling down and ostracized. Let the person know you care. Be a support system to your neighbor. Find someone you might make smile today. These simple gestures could warm the heart and awaken the down and depressed.
Pray: Lord, as you wished peace to your people, make me an instrument of your peace and healing. 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 Emelu PhD., 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.