“Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend.” – John R.W. Stott.
Humility does not entail thinking less about ourselves; it is about realizing that we are nothing without God (John 15:5). Humility is not weakness; it is meekness. We admire humble people and even praise them, but we often have a hard time being humble ourselves because we don’t want to appear weak and defenseless. In line with this, Helen Nielsen says: “Humility is like underwear; essential but indecent if it shows.
Last Sunday saw us climbing the mountain of prayer and raising the staff of persistence. Today we are invited to adopt a humble disposition in our prayer beyond persistence. If you like, the liturgy of this Sunday is asking us to become humble supplicants. A prayer that lacks humility is not prayer at all.
The First Reading (Sirach 35:12-14; 16-18) can be called a poem on effective prayer. The writer gives us three just characters whose prayers attracts the attention of the just judge, namely God. We shall examine these for deeper understanding:
The Gospel Reading (Luke 18:9-14) presents us with an interesting parable that tells us about the value of humility in contrast to self-righteousness and despising attitude borne out of pride. Two men go to the temple to pray; one is a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. These represent two extreme personalities as far as the context is concerned. We shall examine their individual characters and their personal dispositions to prayer.
The Prayer of the Pharisee:
In the context of the narrative, Pharisees are known to be upright people; “spotless and sinless.” In fact, they are called the “Separated Ones.” They are always praying at the designated times with their robes of distinction worn at all times to set them apart from others. They see themselves as “accomplished good and holy men” unlike the rest sinful humanity.
Entering the Temple, the Pharisee TAKES HIS POSITION; this means that he has a designated place which is probably in front where everyone could see him. Next, he SPEAKES a PRAYER to HIMSELF; this means that he is so full of himself that he does not remember that God is the focus of prayer. He prays thus: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity- greedy, dishonest, adulterous- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income”.
The self-exaltation (not prayer) above shows the profound self-indulgence of the Pharisee. He starts with thanksgiving to God. Not for His goodness nor His love. But for the fact that he is not like the rest of men (who are sinful). He goes on to render an inventory that discredits and passes judgment on the tax collector while giving himself moral distinction. Using others as standards to measure one’s spiritual value is absurd. Our standard as Christians should be Christ himself. After his narcissistic babblings, the Pharisee goes home worse than he was before coming to the temple. He came with a presumed holiness and went back with a debunked holiness. He came with seeming justification and went back unjustified.
The Prayer of the tax collector.
The tax man stands parallel to the “righteous” Pharisee both physically and morally. His is the wrong guy! The wicked and public sinner. He knows all these, and he does not disprove them. He comes into the Temple and takes a very lowly position, unlike the Pharisee. He does not look up to heaven but beats his chest in complete penitence. From his lowly position, he makes this short but profoundly transforming supplication: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
While the Pharisee says a self -exaltation prayer, the tax collector says a prayer of penitence. It is very probably that the tax collector entered the Temple before the Pharisee because the script of the Pharisee shows a reflection of the penitence of the tax collector. While the tax collector says: “mea culpa, mea culpa mea, maxima culpa!” (through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault) the Pharisee replies mockingly “tua culpa, tua culpa, tua maxima culpa!” (through your fault, through your fault, through your most grievous fault); perhaps pointing at him as he says that.
After making his supplication, our tax collector friend went home justified. Why? According to David, God does not spurn a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). He is the person that did pray between the two men. He came unworthy and went home worthy. He came with an unholy life and went back with a holy life. He came dissipated and goes home inspired. He came displaced and goes with a perfect placement. The prayer of the two men made two remarkable impacts, and we shall examine them in what follows.
The Pharisee’s “prayer” can be described as an abomination to God (Proverb 15:8). He comes before the righteous one to claim righteousness. Often we are like this Pharisee when we pray to impress and to show that we are better than others. Often we are like this Pharisee when we use prayer as a medium to express our selfish desires and to pass judgment on others.
I once read a joke about a couple who while praying uses quotations from the Bible to spite each other. All these are Pharisaic and unchristian. Such prayers end up piercing our perceived pride and claims instead of piercing the clouds. They are prayers said from the head and not from the heart.
Prayers said from the head are inspired by selfishness and pride. Pride is a vice that gives us a lot of spiritual limitations. St. John Vianney says that it is pride that prevents us from becoming saints. It closes the door of our heavenly home while opening the way to hell. God detests the proud of heart (Prov.6:16).
“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble,” says the Apostle James (4:6). Humility is a golden virtue that quickens our connection with God. It is for this reason that the prayer of the humble pierces the cloud. Humility in prayers shows our dependence on God as we are nothing without Him (Phil. 4:13). It shows our love, faith, and trust in God. It takes humility to know God and to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
The prayer that pierces the clouds is the prayer said with a humble heart, not with a proud head. St. Paul’s personal diary in the Second Reading (2 Timothy 4: 6-8; 16-18) tells us a lot about the gains of humble submission to God. He writes from the point of being sacrificed yet he is sure that God will rescue him from every evil and save him for his heavenly kingdom. The apostle Paul radiates humility in his ministry:
Are you Piercing the Clouds with your Prayer?
In our day and age, we have more “Pharisees” (self-righteous people) than the time of Jesus Christ. Do we not have people condemning others as sinners and promising them hell fire? In fact, the Pharisaic syndrome is more obtrusive with the proliferation of Churches with so many self-made “men of God” than ever. Many people have become God’s deputies on earth tagging those who will enjoy heaven and those who will perish in hell fire. Judgment is an exclusive reserve for God; many seem to forget. That you sin differently than other people does not make you better than them.
We need to be humble in our prayers if we mean to pierce the clouds. Humility is a virtue we need to cultivate and wear as a habit. Our lofty self-perception is often an opposition to the virtue of humility in our lives. Pride and excessive self-consciousness often make it difficult for some people to obey certain gestures in the Church, like kneeling, standing, the sign of the cross and others. Most of us are often proud to display our technological devices but lack the humility to hold the bible or rosary; even to own one.
As we continue our spiritual journey in life, let us adopt the virtue of humility in prayer. The Apostle Peter (1 Pet. 5:6), enjoins us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that he may exalt us in due time. Our Lord Jesus Christ ended the Gospel Reading today by saying that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted!
Have a lovely Sunday and a great week ahead.
Pray as if there is no plan B. that is the beginning of persistence.
On September 22 this year (2016), I saw a video from Nigeria that shocked me because it shows something very unusual. A man goes stark naked at the residence of someone who owes him an amount that is over $80,000. The man alleges that he has been begging his debtor to pay him but to no avail. Toward the end of the video, he makes a promise that he will not relent in asking for his money in like manner (going naked) whenever and wherever he sees his debtor until he pays him. The video is going viral!
The story above may evoke reasonable questions, moral judgments, cultural sentiments and the like. I, however, would like to dwell on and draw appropriate lessons from the creditor’s desperation and persistence for our reflection today. To persist is to CONTINUE in a certain course of action in spite of the oppositions, challenges, and difficulties. When applied to prayers, persistence tells us never to quit because quitters never win and winners never quit armed with faith!
In the First Reading (Exodus 17:8-13), we see the account of the war between the people of Israel and the Amalekites. The Amalekites fought the people of Israel at Rephidim, and it came unexpectedly.The attack may have come as a punishment because from the previous narrative, the people of Israel were doubtful of God’s presence, power, and might at Massah and Meribah. In the heat of the battle, Moses orders Joshua to take some men to fight the Amalekites while he goes up to a mountain with Aaron and Hur to pray but in some necessary forms.
Moses has been a mountain climber, and he knows the spiritual value of climbing the mountain, We can recall that most of his encounters with God took place at such heights. We learn from the narrative that as long as Moses raised his staff, the Israelites win, but when his hands become weak, they start to lose. To make the victory permanent, he sits on a stone while Aaron and Hur give him support; that position brought victory to the Israelites on that day.
One could ask: “why did God allow the old man, Moses to stay on under the sun of the day time and eventually under the cold of the evening with his hands up? Is He not the same God that divided the sea for the children of Israel to pass through on dry ground. Why is this situation different? God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
From the First Reading, we learn the power and importance of praying with resolute persistence. Moses knows the liberating power of persistent supplication. We could pause to reflect on the significance of raising the staff and doing so all day. The story of that staff began at the burning bush (Ex. 4:2) when God made it become a serpent, and after that, in Egypt, it also became a serpent that swallowed the other serpents from the rods of the magicians in Egypt. The staff signaled the recession of the red sea (Ex.14:15-21). By striking it on the rock, water came forth for the people to drink (Ex.17:5-6). That staff (rod) symbolizes God’s active presence with Moses. In this narrative, Moses pointed it not just to the skies but to God. It is like telling God to remember what he uses this staff to do in the midst of His people.
Moses did not climb the mountain by himself. He goes up there to raise his symbol of authority in the company of Hur and Aaron. Here we see the community dimension of prayer, and this confirms what our Lord Jesus Christ said: “when two or more gather in my name, I am in their midst. (Matt.18:20).
Today, God, wants us to climb the mountain of prayer, and He wants to see our hands raised and holding the staff of persistence. God does not want us to count on how long it takes us to climb the mountain nor how long our hands are up. Remember Moses had to keep his hands raised to ensure victory for the people of Israel. If you desire success, your hands ought to be raised and remain that way until victory is accomplished and even beyond that.
We have a more pathetic narrative about persistence in prayer in the Gospel Reading (Luke 18:1-8). The parable, which our Lord uses to demonstrate the need to pray persistently, tells us about a widow who wants justice done for her. We are not privy to her predicament, but she is apparently desperate and needs help from an unnamed judge.
If we look at the woman closely, we discover a lot of societal disadvantages. She has no one to speak for her; she lost her husband. In that context, a woman has no voice in the law court. In fact, she will not be given access to enter the mobile tent that serves as the court. She has no one to protect her nor provide for her. Furthermore, she was poor and could not grease the hub of justice. She sees the judge as the only mouth that can speak for her; she has no alternative or plan B. The only force left in her is persistence, and she uses it to the last.
Let us take a look at the unnamed man at the seat of judgment. The parable tells us that he does not respect any man nor fears God. He is simply apathetic. He is also corrupt because if the window is coming with wealth and affluence, his response would be quick. He also knows the details of the case and that it should favor the widow. His plan is to frustrate the widow by making himself unreachable, but that is not working for our poor sister as she intensifies her supplication.
The judge finally agrees to advance justice for the woman not for “goodness sake” but for her “persistence sake.” The tactful judge senses a dilemma. Knowing her to be unrelenting, the judge knows that any judgment that goes against her will bring about more persistence for an appeal. On the other hand, his inaction is already putting him on the spot. Finally, the widow gets an affirmative answer; case closed!
Today we all represent the widow one way or the other. in so far as something is lacking in your life, you are a widow. In so far as you are in need, you are a widow. Because of your “widowed situation,” many things (and people) may be against you, and there is only one judge that can restore all things for you, and that judge is God. To get Him to bring that restoration, you need to knock and to continue knocking. Why? Because His words say that the door will open (Luke 11:9).
Our God, the just judge, needs our disturbance. Often people tell me “Fr, I have prayed about it and no answer.” With God, this is a stupid thing to say. That means “you have stopped praying.” St. Paul encourages us to keep on praying without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Often we give God cynical challenges. Some people may say: “if you know you are the living God let this or that happen before this or that time!” We cannot command God. We only need to keep praying and wait for him patiently to act (Psalm 37:7).
Imagine what it takes for a bird to build a nest or a fox to dig a hole; it is just persistence. When we stop praying, we start perishing, when we stop pushing on, we run the risk of being pulled off. It does not matter long you have been praying, what is important is that you are still asking like the widow and persistently holding your staff like Moses. Furthermore and very pertinent too, do not make room for another alternative when praying to God; that is one of the banes of prayers that do not get answers. God needs us to make Him our one and only option.
In our prayers to God, there should be no Plan B; that is the beginning of persistence. Like the man in our opening story, God wants us to come to him naked; that is the way we are. Like Moses, we need to climb the mountain and hold on to the staff, and like the widow, we need to pray without ceasing and believe without doubting.
Happy Sunday and have a persistently prayer-full week ahead.
Once upon a time, a man bought a very lovely baseball cap for his son. The little boy loved the orange coloured cap so much and often wore it while playing with his mates. One day, he went with his friends to a nearby river where they spent time throwing pebbles into the river. Suddenly, a strong wind swept through, and the children remembered that they needed to run home before the oncoming rain would meet them. As they were running, the wind snatched the baseball cap off the head of our little friend. He turned and ran after it and without warning he slipped and plunged into the river. His friends were gone, and he got drowned. A farmer emerged just at that moment and jumped into the river to rescue the poor boy. Fortunately, the farmer saved the boy! He led him close to his home before speeding off as it was then raining so hard.
After few day, the farmer was in his house, and one of his children came to inform him that a little boy came with his parents in a car to see him. Instantly he remembered the little boy he saved. He was sure they came to thank him for saving the life of the boy. He welcomed them and told them that it was by God’s merciful design that he was near to rescue the boy. The father of the boy said that they came specifically to ask after the boy’s baseball cap as they have been wondering if he was keeping it after the rescue! The poor farmer was shocked to his bones at their ingratitude.
Have you ever given a helping hand to someone and instead of gratitude you receive an attitude? Imagine you held the door for someone to enter or leave a building, and after that, there was no word of appreciation. What about our reactions to God’s goodness to us? When was the last time you took some time to thank God for His many graces? Are we not often thankless to God? God holds the door of life for us every day, God holds the door of success for us every day, God holds the door of prosperity for us every day! But how many of us look back to say a resounding “Thank you, God?”
Today could be termed “Thank You Sunday” because we have the phenomenon of gratitude to God running through the First Reading (2 Kings 5:14-17) and the Gospel Reading (Luke 17:11-19). Furthermore, the Gospel acclamation tells us to give thanks to God in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). The First Reading tells us about Naaman, a commander of the Syrian army who had the misfortune of leprosy and was given a referral to Elisha for healing. Elisha asked him to go and bathe in the Jordan River SEVEN TIMES which he did though he was reluctant initially. The high point of the narrative was that he RETURNED to the man of God (Elisha) to give thanks.
The Gospel reading presents a similar scenario though with some different elements. Here there were ten poor lepers. They were not as rich and renowned as Namaan, but they shared the same illness with him namely, leprosy. Naaman came to meet Elisha by referral, but the ten lepers came to meet Jesus Christ by faith. Among the ten lepers, there was a Samaritan. Normally the Jews have nothing in common with the Samaritans, but in this case, the nine Jewish lepers shared the same sickness and status with the Samaritan leper. Among the Jews at the time, to be leprous is the same as being a Gentile. Hence leprosy brought the nine Jewish men and the Samaritan into a community of affliction.
The ten lepers saw in Jesus Christ hope and healing. And with a strong faith they cried out to him, and that was how they got their healing. Faith is an excellent virtue, but it must be accompanied by good works to make up a complete package (James. 2:14). Furthermore, faith without love is as well meaningless. (I Cor. 13:2). It was with faith that the ten lepers got their cleansing. But that was not all. Only one person RETURNED to appreciate what our Lord Jesus Christ did for him. Our Lord thus asked: “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner RETURNED to give thanks?”
In the narrative, we have ten lepers. They were all cleansed, but only one of them RETURNED to give thanks. We focus briefly on the word RETURN. To give thanks is a form of returning. It means turning back again to the source of help or assistance in utter gratitude.
When Naaman was cleansed, not only of his skin condition but also of his arrogance that initially made him refuse to bathe in the Jordan River, he RETURNED to give thanks. When he saw himself cleansed, the Samaritan RETURNED to our Lord Jesus Christ to give thanks. It was at the point of returning that the Samaritan was saved. Hence ten were cleansed, but only one got salvation. Healing without salvation is a “half-done affair”.
Furthermore returning to give thanks cannot happen unless we REMEMBER. It is on account of this that in the Second Reading of today, St. Paul admonished Timothy to REMEMBER Jesus Christ and all that he did. This remembrance is to be done with a grateful and appreciative heart. Hence anyone who is showing gratitude operates on the platform of remembrance. The Psalmist made it clear that God should be praised at the instant of remembering his Holy name (Ps 30:4; 97:12).
THE LEPROSY CALLED INGRATITUDE
“Ingratitude” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as: “Forgetfulness of, or poor return for, kindness received.” We could also define it as not being apt in appreciating or valuing what we have or what we have received. Unexpressed gratitude is also ingratitude! Ingratitude is one of the most dangerous plagues besieging our human society today. Most people receive gifts and favours from others and forget to return those two words “thank you”. Often, most of us yearn for certain things from others; we fret for them as if we could die the next minute; but when such things come to us, we speed off as if they came on account of our merit or inheritance.
The narrative tells us about Leprosy which is a chronic infectious disease that destroys the skin. Beyond this, we discover that the nine lepers who did not REMEMBER to RETURN and GIVE THANKS had another form of Leprosy which is ingratitude. This form of Leprosy goes beyond the skin to attack the mind and the soul. Many of us are today suffering from this mind/soul disease of ingratitude, and most of us are not ready to accept a cure.
Our ingratitude starts from ourselves and then extends to God. Gratitude, even for a minor favour can bring more favours just as ingratitude could dismiss more favours. For the tangible and intangible things you get from people, do you REMEMBER to RETURN and say THANK YOU? Often we feel that the favours we receive are our rights or that people are obliged to give them to us and that there may not be a need for us to return and show gratitude. Kristen Clark once said that there are three causes of ingratitude: envy, entitlement and expectation. For these reasons, I observed that some people say “TANK YOU”, and we often think they mean “THANK YOU!” Thank means you are a mere TANK that ought to contain favours.
In our relationship with God, the situation is even more shameful. Imagine if we buy the air we breathe the same way we purchase the goods and services we need; how many of us would still be alive? We often don’t REMEMBER to RETURN and say a heartfelt THANK YOU to God. Many of us have been blessed and favoured in various great ways by God, but we have not for once REMEMBERED to RETURN to God and say “THANK YOU”.
God is so passionate about Thanksgiving! It is to this end that He would declare in the book of Psalms (50:8-14) that he does not take delight in bulls and goats but in the sacrifice of thanksgiving through which he will deliver us in the time of trouble. Ingratitude is a form of Leprosy!
Today we are challenged to submit out minds and souls to God for the healing of our leprous condition of ingratitude. We need to move from our thanklessness to thankfulness. Each of us should take time today to reflect deeply on REMEMBERING and RETURNING thanks to God and to the people who have assisted us in one way or the other. We need to appreciate the divine and human favours we have received and still receiving. Gratitude does not diminish us it rather opens more doors for us. Give thanks (Ps.107:1) and have a THANK-FULL Sunday and a blessed week ahead!
On June 30, 1859, a French man called Charles Blondin became the first person to cross a tightrope stretched across the Niagara Falls at the border between Canada and the United States. That was not all. Blondin walked across the 160 feet above the gorge several times after and each time he displayed a remarkable feat. He once crossed on stilts, on a bicycle, in the dark and blindfolded. At another time, he crossed with a stove and even made an omelette while walking the tightrope. In fact, he became the greatest funambulist of his day and age.
On one occasion, Blondin asked the crowd that gathered if they believed that he could cross the tightrope with a wheelbarrow and the answer was a resounding “YES!” He further requested if anyone could get into the wheelbarrow, but nobody did. Blondin later said to the crowd: “you all believe I can cross the tightrope with the wheelbarrow, but nobody believes we can do it together.” Faith is not just a noun; it is also a verb; a doing word!
On December 4, 1982, a male child was born to a family in Melbourne Australia. Without prior medical warning or explanation, the child was born without arms and legs. While growing up, Nick Vujicic (pronounced “Vooycheech”) could not understand why he was different from other kids. He struggled with depression but later FAITHED his condition by accepting it as God’s will and refused to be deterred by it.
Nick discovered and exploited “ability” in his disability. He could do practically everything any normal person could do including driving, swimming, playing golf and soccer, writing, typing, and many other things. Most of all, Nick rose to become one of the remarkable personalities of our time. He has travelled to over 57 countries to deliver inspirational talks. He has written many books and even became New York Times Best Seller author. He got married to Kanae in 2012, and they have two sons.Your attitude determines your altitude; faith is an attitude!
Today we are reflecting on faith. It is a gift from God; in fact a supernatural gift (Eph. 2:8). Furthermore, the letter to Hebrews (Heb. 11:1) defines faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen!” From the above, we have a comprehensive understanding of faith not just faith in God. We all have faith as a facility in us though most of us fail to FAITH IT when the occasion calls for it. Faith characterizes our sleeping and rising and our going out and coming back. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes further to state that:
Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by Him. “Before this faith can be exercised, man must have the grace of God to move and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and ‘makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth (CCC.153).
From the statement above, we discover that there is a difference between Faith as a supernatural virtue (gift) and Faith as a religious creed, for instance, the Christian Faith. It is thus not enough to belong to a Faith tradition; there is a need to exercise or FAITH our faith. It is based on this background that we are today reflecting on FAITHING IT to MAKE IT!
In the Gospel today (Luke 17:5-10), the apostles asked our Lord Jesus Christ for faith increment. Their request was direct and purposeful. They could have been experiencing challenges in their new vocation as followers of Christ. We could recall that before this time our Lord Jesus Christ was discontent about their little faith (Matt. 8:26; Matt. 16:8; Matt. 22:31). In all these instances, he did not say they lacked faith but spoke about their low-range or “unfaithed” faith.
In response to their request, our Lord used a phenomenon within their environment to demonstrate what faith is all about and how it can be “faithed.” He told them that if they could have faith as little as the size of a mustard seed, they could give a command to a Sycamore tree to be uprooted and be planted in the sea and it will happen.
Let us pay attention here. Our Lord said if their faith could be as little as a grain of mustard seed it could avail much. Mustard seed is known to be the smallest grain which eventually grows into a big tree. This means that faith is useful not on account of its size but due to its activation. Hence our Lord was telling them that it is not all about increasing your faith, but it is all about activating the one you already have.
It may also be good for us to double check why our Lord used the allusion of uprooting a Sycamore tree and planting it in the sea. Sycamore trees (ficus sycomorus) were very important at the time. They are short trees of about five meters and were found along the streets in Israel and by the Nile in Egypt.They grow on the ground (and not on water) and to have one uprooted by mere words and planted in the sea would be unimaginable; this is only possible by faith. Our Lord was only confirming that faith in God brings about the occurrence of unbelievable things.
The next instruction was about a servant attending to the master first before attending to himself. On the face value, it seemed to deviate from the theme of faith. But on a closer look, we discover that our Lord was still talking about faith showing itself in action. Our Lord used the narrative to show the actionability of faith through service. This means that our faith which is potent in us can be activated when we put ourselves into divine service.
The Christian life is worthless without faith. The letter to the Hebrews (11:6) instructs that it is impossible to please God without faith. We have this demonstrated through most people who had close contact and connection with God for instance Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, David Samuel and the prophets, (Heb. 11:4-32).
Many have people have not been able to activate their faith because of doubt which makes it difficult to FAITH IT.The First Reading (Habakkuk 1.2-3;”:2-4) ended by telling us that the righteous lives by faith (not by fear). St. Paul would corroborate this by telling us that we live by faith not by sight (2nd Cor.5:7). Christianity itself is not a principle nor a title. Christianity is a way of life that should be lived through activated faith that is FAITHING IT.
We need to “FAITH IT” as the woman with the issue of blood did (Luke 8: 43-48). We need to “FAITH IT” like the blind Bartimaeus (Mark10:46-52). We need to “FAITH IT” like the Centurion who believed that the words of our Lord Jesus Christ could heal his servant (Matt. 8:8). We need to “FAITH IT” like the Canaanite woman who could not let go until she got an answer from our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 15: 21-28). We need to “FAITH IT” like Charles Blondin who walked the rope across the Niagra Falls seventeen times and made it. We need to “FAITH IT” like Nick Vujicic who discovered ability in what is considered a disability.
St. Paul in the Second Reading today (2 Tim.1:6-8.13-14) was asking us to “FAITH IT” when he was reminding us to rekindle the gift of God that is within us. That gift which is faith expels the spirit of timidity from our lives and provides the spirit of power and self-control that moves us to testify.
There may be challenges before you. There may be an obstacle on your way. There may be hurdles on your path. There may be difficulties confronting you. Whatever they are, you need to rise and FAITH IT. Sometimes in life failure is our inability to try again and FAITH IT. Doubt can only double your dilemma, but faith can free you from the fetters. FAITH IT and you will MAKE IT. We need to make faith an ATTITUDE so that we can reach a desirable ALTITUDE.
FAITH IT and have a grace-full week ahead.
“Who wants to be rich and remain rich?” Most people would wish to be rich!. Another question: “Who wants to be poor and stay poor?” Mhhhh! The difference is very clear. For many of us, riches and wealth are blessings from God. Yes, I also believe (1 Chron. 29:12). For many of us still, poverty is a curse! Do you believe that? I strongly disagree. God recognizes the poor in our midst (Matt. 26:11), and instructed us to be at their service (Romans 12:13) and not to be at their disservice (Prov.22:22-23).
We shall make or lose heaven based on our relationship with those in need (Matt.25:31-45). There is, however, one truth we all cannot dispute, there is an end to riches and poverty in this world, and that is at the point of death. Death does not fear wealth nor is it sympathetic with poverty.
Last week, we heard the voice of Amos denouncing the rich who were feeding on the poor to get richer (Amos 8:4-7). And the Gospel ended with the instruction:” you cannot serve both God and mammon.” This Sunday gives us the picture of the fate of the malicious rich and the righteous poor after their short stay here on earth. The Prophet Amos sets the scene in the First Reading (Amos 6:1a.4-7) with another stern statement on those who are at ease (the rich). According to him, their comfort will later turn to discomfort. We shall focus more on the Gospel Reading of today (Luke 16:19-31).
In the Gospel Reading today; we saw two characters; an unnamed rich man and a poor man called Lazarus (Eliezer) a name which means “ My God will help.” Two scenes were featured; the situation on earth and the situation after life on earth. We shall proceed with the reflection based on these two dispositions before concluding with the Lazarus effect.
The Rich Man and Lazarus on Earth
The narrative began with a detailed description of the rich man. He was dressed gorgeously in purple which is the color of royalty and fine linen which indicated the standard of his wealth. Next, he enjoyed a rich menu consisting of sumptuous meals. In contrast, the narrative mentioned a poor man who was named Lazarus. He was officially a poor beggar and was always by the gate of the rich man.
Though there was surplus food in the rich man’s house, Lazarus was never considered even with a scrap of bread from the rich man’s table. He was not only poor he was also sick as he had sores all over his body that dogs attended to and perhaps infected too. The rich man and Lazarus were staying in the same community but lived in two separate worlds. The rich man lived in comfort and affluence while Lazarus lived in discomfort and lack.
It is very significant to note here that Lazarus never complained. He bore his situation with patience knowing that the Lord will act on his behalf at His own time (Psalm 37:7). He believed that his name would work for him; “my God is my help” (Psalm 54:4; 121:2). The rich man, on the other hand, relied on his wealth and never had any thought about God. (Rev.3:17).
The Rich Man and Lazarus in Afterlife
In the next section of the narrative, death crept in for both them. Lazarus died, and he was carried off by angels to the bosom of Abraham in heaven. Next, the rich man also died and was buried. However, the rich man found himself in Hades (hell).
There in torments the rich man looked up and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he asked Father Abraham to have mercy on him and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool his tongue. Abraham answered him and reminded him that on earth, he received good things while Lazarus received evil things but now the situation has reversed; Lazarus is comforted, and he is in anguish. Furthermore, Abraham made it clear to him that there is a big gap (chasm) between him and them that prevents movements from both sides.
Looking at this second section, we immediately come in contact with the phenomenon of death. That both Lazarus and the rich man died is an indication that death is a facility that is open to everyone both poor and rich alike. On this, the Book of Ecclesiastes (9:2) says:
Everyone will die someday. Death comes to godly and sinful people alike. It comes to good and bad people alike. It comes to “clean” and “unclean” people alike. Those who offer sacrifices and those who don’t offer them also die.A good person dies, and so does a sinner.Those who make promises die. So do those who are afraid to make them.
Lazarus could have died out of malnutrition and poor health. The rich man, on the other hand, could have also died on account of any of the “high brow sicknesses” like malignant gliomas, kidney failure, liver dysfunction, high blood pressure, paranasal sinus and nasal cavity cancer, irreversible cardiac malfunction and so on. The fact is that something must bring us to death at some point.
From the narrative, there was no mention of burial for Lazarus. Maybe his body was thrown into a forest or a valley, to get rid of the stench. However, his soul was peacefully carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham in heaven. The word of God assures us that the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment shall touch them (Wisdom 3:1-6).
A striking fact here is the inclusion of Abraham in the narrative. The person of Abraham is significant in the whole of the Bible. He was a man of unwavering faith in God and thus he could fit in as the patron of people who repose their faith in God (Heb.11:17-19).
The rich man also died and was buried. It could have been a stunning burial with all the high and mighty in attendance. However, behind the scene, he was found in Hades (hell) and was in great torment; taken hostage by Satan. From the depths of hell, he saw Abraham and Lazarus and requested for a drop of water from the tip of the finger of Lazarus which was, however, impossible because of the gap between them.
We can dwell more on the gap (chasm) between the rich man in Hades and Lazarus and Abraham in heaven. The gap was the same gap that the rich man created between him and Lazarus while they were still on earth. On earth, Lazarus could not gain entrance into the Rich Man’s house. From outside the gate, he could see people eating and making merry, but nobody offered him even a scrap of bread; though we never heard that he begged. Now in the afterlife, the situation turned around. The rich man is now the one outside the region of happiness and very much, unlike Lazarus he was found begging.
In the last section of the narrative, the rich man made another request from Abraham. He told him to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them about the place of torment. In answering, Abraham told him that they have Moses and the Prophets but he insisted that someone coming from the dead may make them have a change of heart, but Abraham told him that if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets someone coming from the dead would not make a difference.
Insightfully we can still see some trends of rich-man-attitude of giving order still existing in the man. He felt that he could still give orders even in that place of anguish. He had asked Lazarus to bring water to him, and now he wanted him to leave heaven and go back to the earth for the sake of his brothers. On the first requested he wanted Lazarus to come over to hell and feel the burning heat.
The Lazarus Effect.
The name Lazarus means “My God will help me” (Eliezer). In the New Testament, we encounter two “Lazaruses.” One was a friend of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John (11:1-44) told us that he was sick and later died and buried. However, our Lord Jesus Christ came and raised him up from the dead. The second Lazarus is the one we have in the Gospel today. He suffered in life and died, but God raised him up to a better place after.
One common factor we could identify in these “Lazaruses” is God’s intervention in their helplessness. The divine intervention brought about the fact of being raised from the hopeless situation to a hopeful one. From sorrow to joy, from mourning to merriment. This is the LAZARUS EFFECT!
The Lazarus effect tells us that there is hope for a better situation; God will make a way (Isaiah 43:19). The Lazarus effect says that the dry bone can rise again (Ezek.37:7) The Lazarus effect tells that God is thinking about us (Psalm 40:5). The Lazarus effect tells us that God is capable of making impossibility possible (Luke 18:27). The Lazarus effect tells us that God is capable of healing our wounds, taking our sicknesses away and giving us prosperity (Jer.30:17-18). The Lazarus effect tells us that when there is a casting down, there is a rising for us (Job.22:29).
The Lazarus effect in the Gospel today eloquently tells us of what we could refer to as divine reversal. In the Gospel, the rich man became eternally poor while the poor Lazarus became eternally rich. On earth, Lazarus was outside the gate of the rich man and in the afterlife, the rich man was outside the gate of mercy. On earth, Lazarus had nobody besides him, but in the afterlife, he was in the bosom of Abraham. On earth, Lazarus had nothing to eat while the rich man had so much. But in the afterlife, the rich man had no access to even a drop of water and Lazarus had no need anymore.
The Gospel narrative today is a lesson for everyone. All we have are gifts from God. Let us also know that we are supposed to be humble enough to be charitable with what God has given to us. Often we forget that there could be a Lazarus effect for someone we assumed to be insignificant and unimportant. It is not impossible for a poor man to become rich (Sirach 11:21).
Have a blissful Sunday and may God visit your situation with a Lazarus effect!
One public official that Nigerians would not forget so soon is Dr. Dora Nkem Akunyili; may God rest her soul. Dr. Akunyili became famous not because of the mere fact that she was the director of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control but on account of the fact that she fought against the illicit manufacturing and distribution of fake drugs.
Before her historic fight against fake drugs, some malicious persons were manufacturing lethal substances in the name of drugs and these were sold to unsuspecting people (especially the poor) who end up having worst medical conditions and being unable to get meaningful medical attention most of them die. While we could remember Dr. Dora Akunyili for actively advocating for sanity in food and drug manufacturing and distribution, she is also be remembered for saving a great number of poor people from the exploitative hands of some mischevious businessmen and women.
The First Reading (Amos 8:4-7) could be termed a divine appeal for the poor. In the passage, the oracle of Amos the prophet was in favour of the poor and marginalized of the society and against the rich oppressors. It was in a society where the rich became richer by making the poor to depend on them and thus exploit them.
The oracle of the prophet Amos began by denouncing those who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. They ask “when will the new moon be over so that they can sell grain?” Who are these that trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end? They are the more privileged of the society (as opposed to the less privileged), they are the rich. They leverage on the needs of the needy and the poverty of the poor to enrich themselves.
These people cannot wait for the new moon and the sabbath to be over. Why? The new moon here refers to the beginning of the month which is considered holy to God (Number 10:10; Neh.10:31). And like the sabbath business and work are discouraged (Deut.5:14) and mercy is shown to the needy, the poor and slaves (Deut 15:12-18).
The people that Amos described here are actually opportunists who make their living out of the poor and needy. They are always unfair in their dealings with the poor by using false weighing balances. They also make slaves out of them by buying them for silver and a pair of sandals. That is, putting them in perpetual debt. Even what is considered a waste is sold to the poor.
Do we still have the prevalence of this situation that Amos mentioned? The answer is obviously YES. Today, exploitation has taken more scientific and technological dimensions. We have been enslaved by consumerism (whether it is a habit or a spirit). Buying without breaking, shopping without stopping not even minding the hidden charges. Many have been enslaved by creditors to whom they have become debtors. You might think that you are rich but from the point of what you are owing you are really poor or corporately poor.
The poverty in the world is constructed and sustained by the rich. The dynamics used by the rich is simple; they make the poor to look up to them for assistance and they use that opportunity take away from them the little they have. For rich to become richer the poor need to become poorer. This is so unfortunate.
It is very sad that the world, our just and merciful God created, is breeding on heart-rending and painful inequality. According to the World bank and IMF joint Global Monitoring Report (2014/2015), nearly half of the world population (more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day. Next, more than 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty with less than $1.25 per day and about 805 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat. This is regrettably a slap on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals presented in the year 2000 and which included ending extreme poverty by the year 2015 as the first goal.
The analysis has not ended. About 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF about 22,000 children die each day due to poverty; most of these children die quietly in extremely poor villages while many us around the world keep throwing food and other useful things into the bins; not even a slight urge to share with that poor neighbour down the street.
Furthermore, according to Feeding America, a non-profit organization, about 15.3 million children in the USA alone live in food insecure homes while millions of children worldwide go to bed hungry every day. Folks, all these are happing in a very rich world where the net worth of all the wealthy people in the world put together will be enough to give food and shelter to everyone in the world for many years.
Considering the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor in the world, we are prodded to ask “are people not serving mammon instead of God as our Lord Jesus Christ indicated in the Gospel Reading today? We remember that St. Paul writing to Timothy indicated clearly that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10). The dishonesty of the steward in the Gospel Today (Luke 16:1-13) is a typical example of the evil engineered by the love of money.
There is a need for us to reflect on the deep inequality we have in the world today and do something about it. We are living in an age where poverty is used as a weapon of oppression and suppression in view of generating dependence. Nations do not help nations without asking “what would there be for us?”. That is why most countries are owing so much to others and the creditors still remain open to give more loans. Be careful with and about loans; they could be enslaving.
The basic problem of the human society is that the wealth of the world is not shared. The world is too rich for us to have millions of people who go to bed every day without food. There is a need for voices to rise like Amos’ for the poor and needy in the society. We need more “Teresas” to go into the numerous “Calcuttas” around the world to make some active pleas for the poor. We can, each, begin from our neighbourhoods. We can begin from that poor home, that poor man, that poor woman, that poor, boy or that poor girl. We must pay attention to and work against the seven capital sins of modern day society as Mahatma Gandhi numerated.
Have a great Sunday and a lovely week ahead.
As a little child, I was adventurous like most male kids of my age. One fateful day my uneasy hands got hold of my dad’s pair of eyeglasses and before seconds could enter into minutes I had a fall while running about and it got broken. My dad entered the sitting room as this drama was going on and at the sight of him, I started crying. I was crying not because of the fall nor the broken glasses but on account of the punishment I anticipated for being restive and destructive. I saw my dad coming close to me and my cry increased and I started pointing an accusing finger on my legs as if they caused the fall and the resultant breaking of the pair of eyeglasses.
I was still thinking about what could be the nature and intensity of my punishment when my dad lifted me up carefully making sure that I was safe from possible abrasions from the tiny fragments of glasses. He carefully placed me on a chair and asked me to stay there until he packed the broken glasses. The tone of his voice calmed me a bit and I started crying lesser and lesser though still wondering if that was all. After packing the fragments he brought water for me to drink while examining my tiny legs to make sure there were no hidden wounds. Thereafter, he told me not to play with his glasses and to stop being restless. I became calm.
Have you ever received mercy instead of a merited punishment? Have you ever received compassion instead of blame? Have you ever received a caring hand instead of a canning hand for a punishable offence? My narration here is a far lesser act of mercy than what we receive from God after our inexorable and countless episodes of disconnection, waywardness, and sinfulness. In spite of our fallenness, God continues to extend a reconciliatory invitation to us (Isaiah 1:18).
In the First Reading today (Ex.32:7-11,13-14), we are presented with the image of God in a very “bad mood”. God said to Moses, among other things, “Go down; for YOUR PEOPLE, whom YOU BROUGHT OUT of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves…” Here we can establish that the depravity of the people of Israel disconnected them totally from God to the extent that He temporarily disowned them calling them the people of Moses whom he (Moses) brought out of the land of Egypt. Does that make a sense?
The above shows us that sin dissociates us from God. It changes the nature and character of our relationship with God. We are aware of the fact that before this episode God promised the people that He will be their God and they will be His people and that He will deliver them from the burdens of the Egyptians and bring them to land He swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Ex.6:7-8).
Continuing, God told Moses that He intends to destroy the people of Israel completely on account of their idolatry, but would raise another generation from Moses. This statement could have been a very tempting one for Moses. For any selfish and self-righteous person that could have presented an opportunity to establish a remarkable dynasty, after all, he has been in the forefront of the match into the promised land.
Instead of using the above opportunity to establish himself, Moses begged God to pardon the stiff-necked people reminding him of the promise He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He will multiply his descendants.
We are told that God “repented” of the evil He thought to do to His people. It will be important to note here that God’s repentance here does not suggest that he sinned in the first place. It actually means relenting, retracing or turning back from an initial plan. It all means that God turned around from the plan to destroy the people and instead offered them His compassionate mercy (Psalm 103:8).
We could take some reflective moments to ask few questions: “Did God actually mean to destroy His people and begin a new generation of people with Moses? Did He actually forget (and needed to be reminded of) His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Attempting to answer, we could say that God knew what He intended to do before speaking to Moses. Moses had to defend his integrity before God. Oftentimes such situations are also moments of faith and integrity trials.
In the Gospel today (Luke 15:1-32), our Lord Jesus Christ made a case in favour of sinners against the self-righteous disposition of the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw him in the midst of tax collectors and sinners and they judged him for being with them and eating with them. For the Pharisees, the world is divided into two with the righteous on the one side and sinners on the other side. For them, no sinners should repent! This is stark ignorance.
Considering the attitude of the Pharisees to sinners, our Lord Jesus Christ took some time to disclose to their closed minds what he actually came to do on earth, namely to seek out the lost and to call sinners to repentance. In his usual way, our Lord used some parables to deliver his message. A brief look at these parables and how they relate to us will help us in this reflection.
1) The Lost Sheep: Sheep are known to flock together. They also follow the Shepherd wherever he leads, unlike goats. From the parable, we are told that among a hundred sheep one was lost and the Shepherd left the ninety-nine by themselves in the wilderness and went in search of the one that was lost. It will ordinarily appear preposterous to the imagination for someone to leave ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to search for one that was lost.
Unusual as the above may sound, that is actually how our merciful God goes in search of us when we are lost in sin. The word of God made us understand that God is not interested in the death of any sinner (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). We are precious to God especially when we live and die in Him (Psalm 116:15). No well-meaning workman would find pleasure in destroying what s/he has made.
2) The Lost Coin: What is very remarkable in this parable is the urgency with which the woman who lost one coin out of ten searched for the lost one in the night. She could not wait until the morning breaks to look for the coin. Why the urgency? It could be that any delay in getting the coin immediately may lead to a total loss.
Viewing this from our standpoint, it is said that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and to die in sin is to die twice; the second death (Rev.21:8). God is not lax about our sinfulness he goes out frantically searching for us before it becomes too late.
3) The Lost Son (a.k.a the prodigal son): This parable took a greater part of the Gospel Reading today. One major reason could be that while the others referred to the loss of non-humans, this parable referred to the loss of a human being created in the image and likeness of God; in other words, a soul that is dear to God.
We are generally familiar with the narrative. A man had two sons, the younger son approached the father and asked for his own share of his inheritance and his father divided his inheritance into two and gave him one part and he travelled to a FAR COUNTRY and squandered the money and began to live in penury when all was lost and the country experienced famine. One day HE CAME TO HIS SENSES and decided to go back to his father to become a slave, not a son anymore.
When the father saw the son coming from afar, he ran to him welcomed him and prepared a big banquet in his honour. When the older son came back and learnt about his father’s kindness and mercy over his wasteful brother he became angry and refused to enter the house. His father came and begged him but he was adamant and accused his father of being unnecessarily kind and merciful to someone who does not deserve mercy due to his waywardness and who deserved eternal punishment.
There are indeed many issues and lessons within the narrative but for the sake of brevity and relevance we shall be looking and four important elements: the journey to the far country, coming to senses, the judgement of the older brother and the compassion and mercy of the father.
Today we are challenged by the younger son to come to our senses and make that journey back to God. We are also called upon not to repeat the undesirable attitudes of the Pharisees and the older brother who are quick to judge and condemn. We should like St. Paul in the Second Reading (1 Tim.1:12-17) realise and accept the fact that we are sinners and in need of God’s mercy.
Do have a great week ahead and may God’s mercy meet you.
“It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.”
– Mother Teresa
The attention of the whole world is once more turned to the eternal city, Rome. It is not about the election of a new Pope nor a “Third Vatican Council”. It is rather the canonization of a gentle but great soul; the Albanian nun Mother Teresa born as Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, on August 26, 1910.
Mother Teresa’s vocation to the religious life began when she was eighteen years; in the year 1928. Her father Nikola, a successful contractor and politician, had died when she was barely eight and her mum Dranafile took up the task of raising her and her siblings Aga her elder sister and Lazar her elder brother. Her home was a place where poor folks came to eat and the then little Agnes (Mother Teresa) was always empathetic with them and could only eat when they had eaten.
Mother Teresa’s missionary journey started with the Loreto Sisters in Dublin, Ireland who were dedicated to the education of young girls. She entered the novitiate in 1929 and by 1931 she took her first religious vow and chose the name Teresa in honour of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
After her first religious profession, Mother Teresa was sent to St. Mary’s High School Calcutta India to teach young girls. While in Calcutta Mother Teresa was able to see the other side of the city namely the slums where the poorest of the poor barely survived. The discovery of the slums and the pitiable inhabitants aptly set the tone for the second part of Mother Teresa’s vocation. In a statement, she said: ” I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor”.
With the permission of the Archbishop of Calcutta (after myriads of oppositions), Mother Teresa began to serve the poor openly on the streets of Calcutta. To be effective and to create a vivid connection and resonance with the poor people, she dropped her Loreto habit and started dressing like a modest India woman in plain white safari and sandals.
The active works of Mother Teresa are so numerous that only serialised publications can exhaustively detail them. Before her death on the 5th of September 1997, her works of charity and mercy got global attention and admiration with numerous awards from various institutions and organization. She also received the renowned Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. However, on this 4th day of September, the eve of the 19th anniversary of her death, the Church is giving her a rare award as a canonized saint.
This article does not pretend to give an exhaustive detail of the life and works of Mother Teresa of Calcutta whom the Church is honouring today with her canonization. However, a deep focus is given to an aspect of her piety that most active Catholics could find to be very encouraging and at the same instructive.
Mother Teresa constantly told his sisters about her emergency novena prayer. Normally we know that a typical novena prayer takes the known nine days from start to finish. However, Mother Teresa’s connection and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary brought about her pious relational attention to the traditional prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary known as the MEMORARE. She spoke of reciting the prayer ten times (not nine times) when faced with an urgent need. What follows here is a testimonial from an excerpt from the book “Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait”, by Monsignor Leo Maasburg:
Mother Teresa sat in the passenger seat, and together we prayed the fifteen decades of the Rosary and a Quick Novena. This Quick Novena was, so to speak, Mother Teresa’s spiritual rapid-fire weapon. It consisted of ten Memorares — not nine, as you might expect from the word novena. Novenas lasting nine days were quite common among the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity. But given the host of problems that were brought to Mother Teresa’s attention, not to mention the pace at which she traveled, it was often just not possible to allow nine days for an answer from Celestial Management. And so she invented the Quick Novena.
Mother Teresa used this prayer constantly: for petitions for the cure of a sick child, before important discussions or when passports went missing, to request heavenly aid when the fuel supply was running short on a night-time mission and the destination was still far away in the darkness. The Quick Novena had one thing in common with nine-day and even nine-month novenas: confident pleading for heavenly assistance, as the apostles did for nine days in the upper room “with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the women” (Acts 1:14) while waiting for the promised help from the Holy Spirit.
The reason why Mother Teresa always prayed ten Memorares, though, is as follows: She took the collaboration of Heaven so much for granted that she always added a tenth Memorare immediately, in thanksgiving for the favor received. So it was on this occasion. We prayed the entire Rosary while we were waiting in the car. No sooner had we finished the Quick Novena than the Swiss guardsman knocked on the steamed-up windshield and said, “Mother Teresa, it’s time!” Mother Teresa and the Sister got out. To keep the guardsman from chasing me out of the beautiful courtyard, I called after Mother Teresa, “Mother, I’ll wait here for you until you come back down. Then I’ll take you home.” But it was to be otherwise.
For she turned around and called, “Quick, Father, you come with us!” Was it the Quick Novena that finally bring about this “Quick, Father…”? I had no time to reflect, for Mother Teresa was already on her way to the elevator; she swept aside the timid protest of the Swiss guardsman with a charming “Father is with us!” and a grateful twinkle of her eyes.
There are still so many testimonies of the amazing results of Mother Teresa’s emergency novena with the memorare. Without over-labouring the issue, we can establish here that as Mother Teresa is being canonized today we can go home with a reflection on her deep connection with our Blessed Mother Virgin Mary on the platform of the memorare. May we learn this simple but powerful devotion from her and definitely we shall have our own remarkable testimonies.
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you, I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer me. Amen.”
One fateful day, a farmer was resting in his farm house while it rained. Incidentally, the rain became so much that the entire farmland came under heavy flooding. The Farmer ran outside and climbed up to a tree and from a branch of the tree he prayed and asked God to save him and God assured him of assistance. Soon after a fellow farmer came along with a boat and offered to help him but the man said he should not worry that God is going to help him soon. Feeling rather disappointed, the man Left.
Thereafter a rescue team from the locality emerged and offered to help the man but he told them not to bother as God has assured him of more dependable help. Two other persons came to rescue the man but he preferred to wait for the heavenly assistance.
Meanwhile, the magnitude of the flooding increased until the tree was eaten up and the man got drowned and died. He eventually found himself before God and was upset that God could not rescue him as He promised and God told him that it was His will to save him and that was why He responded immediately by sending people to him but he declined their help. The man’s will was to have God save him and it was God’s will to save him but when the will of God manifested through the people that came to his rescue, the man could not connect with it. He actually wanted it in his own way not according to God’s irreprehensible will and way.
One thing we cannot easily grasp at our own time and pace is the Will of God for us. In fact, it seems so far-fetched that some people will often leave a space in their plans which says “if it is the will of God” or “if God permits.” Knowing God’s will for us generally and in particular situations may be as puzzling as trying to understand the whole of God.
Beyond the puzzles it seems to present to us, God’s will is not only indispensable, it also conditions and determines our lives. In fact, the safest place to be when confronted by challenges and troubles in the world is in the middle of God’s will. Why? The simple answer is that God has a plan for each and every one of us (Jer.29:11).
The First Reading today (Wisdom 9:13-18b) began by asking the question: “who can know God’s counsel or who can discern God’s will (intention)?” God’s will is not what we know by mere mental processing. God’s will is too enormous to be accommodated in our limited mental timeline. In fact, the passage made us know that our reasoning and deliberations are limited, worthless and fallible.
“How then can we know or learn the will of God considering our aforestated limitations?” We can do so by purposefully following God. By following God He leads us into the discovery and doing of His will. This actually formed the basis of the Gospel today (Luke 14:25-33).
The Gospel scene opened with the image of a great multitude that accompanied (travelled with) our Lord Jesus Christ. The number of people that went with him was indeed so much and like in the case of Gideon before he went to battle with the Midianites (Judges 7:3-7), there was a need to drop down the number and separate the real disciples from those who merely accompanied or travelled with him.
It will be very fitting for us to make a distinction here between these verbs “to accompany” (or travel with) and “to follow”. To accompany someone means to go with someone to some place. In this situation, there is some note of independence between the individual and the person going with him or her. The person often does not have any obligation towards the individual, the same way one could have co-travellers on the same flight. To follow someone, on the other hand, entails subscribing to the plans and directives of the individual in question. It means to take after someone’s footsteps. It means to be a disciple or an adherent.
From the analysis above, we understand that at that time our Lord Jesus Christ had many people accompanying him (co-travellers) but not following him and he wanted them to know that following him should not be confused with accompanying or travelling with him. He was getting closer to Jerusalem, the city he must enter before his passion and death that would bring about our salvation. He needed to enter Jerusalem with followers, not co-travellers.
The next instruction was for the real followers. Just like Gideon instructed the three hundred who were eventually chosen to go against the Midianites on how the Lord had designed the battle, our Lord gave some instructions on true discipleship.
1) A True Disciple must “Hate”: Our Lord maintained that anyone who intends to follow him must “HATE” father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters as well as her/his life. The original Greek word for “hate” as used in the passage is miso and this means “to love less”. Hence hatred as used here does not entail despising one’s family and one’s life but to esteem them less than God. Within the context used by our Lord, it entails developing a greater love and attention to Jesus Christ than to one’s relations and even one’s own life. The hidden truth here is that when we love God more and deeply too it becomes easier for us to love our relations, friends and other things in the right way.
2) A True Disciple must Carry Cross: Our Lord asked those who are ready to become his followers (not co-travellers) to come along with their cross. Oftentimes we are afraid of the cross because it reminds us of suffering and thus appears unpalatable; the truth, however, is that without the cross the crown will be far-fetched (James 1:12). St. Paul would tell us that the message of the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing but for those who are saved it is the power of God (1 Cor.1:18). The cross is our identity as Christian and whoever is not proud to carry the cross cannot claim to be proud of Jesus Christ who saved us through the cross. Moreso if you take a very reflective look at the cross you will discover a lot of amazing features:
It is a PLUS (+) sign so it adds to our lives.
It is LADDER that one can use to climb over any obstacle or barrier.
It is a WEAPON to fight sin and the devil. In fact, if you position the cross horizontally it appears like a gun or sword.
It points to and leads us to HEAVEN
3) A True Disciple must Build: Our Lord used the imagery of a building project and warfare engagement to describe what disciple entails. Building a house is generally cost effective and whoever wants to undertake that should be sure of the finances. Every building project entails a beginning and the finishing. There are instances where buildings were abandoned half way and very often it happens as a result of improper planning. Significantly, the process of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is like building an edifice. The beginning of this project entails making Jesus Christ the chief cornerstone (Eph.2 20-21). Each time we are involved in doing good we are building for the Lord just as evil destroys whatever we build. The building is completed when we eventually make heaven. That is why Paul writing to the Philippians (1:6) said: I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
4) A True Disciple must Battle: The Christian life is like warfare and that was the instruction of the book of Sirach (2:1). St. Paul made it more lucid in his letter to the Ephesian (6:13-17) where he dressed the Christian with all the necessary war paraphernalia. And in 2nd Timothy (2:3-4) he called the followers of Christ soldiers who must be formidable in combat. To be combat ready as a Christian one has to make a dependable choice to fight consistently on the side of Jesus Christ. This a dependable way of being a disciple as well as doing the will of God. The irony that is connected with the Christain warfare is that God actually fights the battle (Ex.14:14). One needs only to be ready and available.
5) A True Disciple must Renounce All: Our lord ended by giving us the ponderable step towards the realisation of the preceding instructions. Simply put, he suggested that we should renounce ALL we have. This is another challenging one in a world that is too materialistic. To renounce is to give up or abandon what one has. In this regard we are called upon to renounce attachment and attraction to those things that will hinder us from carrying the cross, building well, fighting well and ultimately being true followers in accordance with God’s will.
For us to be true disciples of Jesus Christ we need to walk with him and follow him wherever he leads us. We need to pay apt attention in order to discover his will for us and operate on that Our Lord Jesus Christ gave us an insight to this when he said “seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and other things will be added unto you” (Matt 6:33). We shall end with the first stanza of this traditional hymn:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will, he abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
REFRAIN: Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Have a great Sunday and a joyful week.
A young man was once making a presentation in his class and it fact was, in fact, his first time. While he was making the presentation, the professor handling the class noticed that he was holding his paper in the left hand while the right hand was loosely tucked inside his pocket. The professor saw this as an offensive sign of pride and instantly asked him to use his right hand or end the presentation. It was at this point that the young man raised the right arm that was inside his pocket and everyone saw that a quarter of it was cut off and that was obviously after an accident.
The professor seeing this came to the boy knelt down before him in the full gaze of the class and begged to be forgiven for mistaking his disability for pride. The professor’s humility was so spontaneous and touching that it brought out tears in the eyes of many of the student in the class including the disabled young man. In fact, the class ended with that humble gesture leaving the students to wonder and ponder how a professor could kneel before his student to ask for forgiveness. A lesson on humility was learnt.
There is yet another story. Many years ago, a man riding on a horse came across some soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log of wood across a barrier without success. An army corporal who was commanding them was standing by as the men struggled and he kept giving them annoying and unproductive orders. The horse rider who was all dressed up to his face asked the corporal why he was not giving them a helping hand. The corporal replied, “I am the corporal; I give orders.” The horse rider came down from the horse, went up and stood by the soldiers and as they were lifting the heavy log of wood, he helped them to get it across the barrier.
Afterwards, the horse rider quietly mounted his horse and before moving he told the corporal, “The next time when your men need help, send for the Commander-in-Chief.” It was after he left that the corporal and his men found out that the horse rider was actually George Washington, the first American president and the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
The word humility comes from the Latin “humilitas” which indicates lowliness or being close to the earth. The root of the word is “humus” which means soil. Hence to be humble is literally seen as being down-to-earth. Humility goes with selflessness; hence anyone who is selfish would have a hard time being humble. Humility is not the same thing as self-humiliation. It is not the same thing as eye service neither is it Low self-esteem nor foolishness.
It is very disturbing that humility as a virtue is comparatively scarce in our religious creed though preacher preach it and hearers hear it very often. Pride, on the other hand, though known as a vice is worn by many as a garb. The word of God tells us that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Viewed from the opposite direction, humility goes before honour and success. (Prov.18:12b;29:23b).
The First Reading today (Sirach 3:17-20.28-29) began with a highly instructive statement which says: “My child (son), conduct your affairs with humility (meekness), and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”. From this statement, we can see a distinction being created between humility and giving of gifts. It is actually easier to give out gifts to people; often done to receive social applause, than to be humble. True humility is farfetched though not impossible. True humility attracts love not from people (because they will prefer a giver of gifts) but from God. It is based on this that the Apostle James declared that God loves the humble but detests the proud (James 4:6).
The First Reading continued by telling us that the greater you are the more you should humble yourself so that you can find favour with God. This will readily remind us of Mother Theresa of Calcutta (1910-1997). She did not become popular in the world by her position as the foundress of Missionaries of Charity but by her compassionate work among the poor in the slums of Calcutta. It takes true humility to practice authentic charity. It is evident that in our day and age, many people would want their deeds of charity to be announced and published. It thus takes humility to obey that instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ that tells us that our almsgiving must be in secret so that our God who sees all that is done in secret will reward us (Matt.6:3-4).
In the Gospel Reading, today (Luke 14: 1.7-14) the imagery of a wedding party was used by our Lord Jesus Christ to give instruction on the theme of humility. According to the narrative, our Lord went to dine in the house of a ruler and a Pharisee on a certain Sabbath day. We were told that when he entered they (the Pharisees) were watching him. Why? They were watching him to see where he would sit. Of course, the seats were already placed hierarchically from the highest to the lowliest. He may have shocked them by going to the rear (back) to sit. This could have been more probable because they made no further comment.
It could have been from that rear (back) sit that our Lord gave his instruction on the expediency on humility after examining how they were scrambling over the seats of honor. Speaking figuratively and vividly as well he advised that one should take a lowly (back) seat on entering a marriage feast. The idea is that one could be given a higher seat in the course of the ceremony when the host comes in. It is important to indicate here that there were two different types of seats at the ceremony: the seat of honor and the seat of humility. These were open for people to choose but the host determined who sits where. From the narrative, our Lord Jesus Christ summarised humility as an act of bringing oneself low in view of a possible exaltation. This was exactly what he did in order to effect our salvation (Phil.2:5-11).
We cannot completely deal with the theme of humility without taking an active look at its opposite which is pride. Pride is remarkably the cause of various losses and failures in life. On account of pride, most people have lost both the material support and divine sustenance that were meant to be theirs. Many people have gone to hell and many are still making their way there on account of pride. It takes humility to know God and to love Him and our neighbours. It takes humility to pray. It takes humility to let go and to let God. It takes humility to repent from one’s sins; it takes humility to say “I am sorry”. One of the problems with our human society today is that there is the prevalence of pride but scarcity of humility.
Humility does not consist in what we profess with our lips but in what we do afterwards. That is why we can say that humility shows itself in active situations like in the story of the disabled student and the humble professor and that of George Washington. If the humility we profess is genuine it must be able to move us to action and to do so selflessly. Our Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect example of humility. He never called himself humble but his life was marked by challenging humility:
Humility is a garment we all need to wear. It would not only gain favours for us before God, it will also open a lot of doors for us. Humility not only makes us know our place and keep to it, it also moves us to allow others to have their respective places. We can use humility to challenge and change the lives of others. Children could learn humility from their parents, students could learn humility was their teachers, mentees could learn humility from their mentors, workers could learn humility from their bosses. When at his first appearance as the Roman Pontiff, the Holy Father Pope Francis bent low and asked the world to pray for him, his act of humility was productive as it touched and changed lives.
As we launch into this new week let us bear in mind that we need to be humble in all things because we are nothing without God and the strength of pride will eventually bow and surrender to the power of humility. Humility is instructively a dependable route to success. Let us make conscious efforts to discard pride and it’s destructive seductions and make humility our mainstay. Keep this in mind If you are humble you may not stumble!
Happy Sunday and may the new week overwhelm you with great tidings.