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Look to the Future as well

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Pope Francis

History is a repository of knowledge. Embedded in historical events are lessons of perennial importance for the future. In today’s blog, I look to the biblical story of Judah vis-à-vis the Assyrian siege which took place around 701 B. C. to draw some lessons for then, now and for the future.

News of joy had broken. Sennacherib, king of Assyria had been pushed back from his attempt to conquer Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. Judah was in a jubilation mood. Then came Prophet Isaiah’s unsettling message calling for change of the status quo and pointing to future threats. Why the message during a period of jubilation? What happened?

Sennacherib seized Samaria the capital of Israel, the northern kingdom, around 721 B.C. and was bent on extending his reign to Judah (the southern kingdom). So around 701 B. C., he laid siege of Judah, but God gave victory to Hezekiah the king of Judah.

It was victory won on the knees. Hezekiah, the restorer of the faith of Judah at the time, was aware of the dispiriting impact of the onslaught of Sennacherib’s propaganda against the army of Judah. He was also not oblivious of the limitations of Judah’s military in comparison to the troops of Assyria. The Assyrian army was vast and well equipped. And before the huge army, Judah’s security, freedom and happiness were jeopardized. Hezekiah’s appeal to God in prayer for victory (cf. 2 Kings 19:14-19) was a wise decision. His prayers were answered, validating the efficacy of prayer.

When besieged by the enemy to true freedom as powerful and expansive as Sennacherib, a mere physical face-to-face combat is fatally naïve. Hezekiah discerned that spiritual strength through prayer was a better way to go. Prayer is the “Puntum Archimedis” (Archimedean Point) from where we can move the world. Hezekiah knew how to use this tactic for good and it worked for him.

In one night, as the Assyrian army laid an unjust siege of Jerusalem, the angel of the Lord slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand of them. How this happened was anyone’s guess. Whether it was through a fatal epidemic outbreak, as some scholars suggest, or through the surprise military intervention of Judah, the message is God’s reassurance of Judah’s freedom and security.

This unique event was a deathblow to the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib was forced to retreat to Nineveh where his two sons, Adram’melech and Share’zer, murdered him while he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god (cf. 2 Kings 19: 35-37; Isaiah 37:36-38). Horrible event and sad ending for a tyrannical, heartless king! But for Judah, the victory was won through divine intervention, not military valor, a reason for Judah to rejoice.

Though the news of Sennacherib’s defeat was a cause of great joy for Israel, there was still some house cleaning to be done. Some people like Shebna, the administrator of the household of King Hezekiah, benefitted greatly from the temporary security that ensued. His flamboyant lifestyle and excessive materialism showed off as he built a costly rock sepulcher for himself and his progenies, a way to immortalize his name. He focused on the gains of the moment to the detriment of good stewardship. This would cost him his elevated place. In the final analysis, behaviors of this kind cost many their exalted positions. Shebna’s conduct was not to be ignored by good, Godly people, and Isaiah being one, did not overlook it.

So, instead of brownnosing Shebna in order to be in his good book as many so-called prophets, religious leaders do nowadays for unethical economic or political benefits, Isaiah spoke of a two-fold threat to Judah – one directed against Jerusalem, and the other against Shebna.

Sounds like the prophet was out-of-touch with reality. To the contrary, he was denouncing the lifestyle of scandalous ostentation and flamboyancy, which the decadent members of Judah had chosen. He saw in it a bigger threat to their true freedom and security than Sennacherib. Isn’t it true that a good success strategy takes into account not only strengths and opportunities but also weaknesses and threats? The prophet, from a leadership point of view, was spot on.

On the other hand, Isaiah was extolling the moral standards of other members of Israel, exemplified in Eliakim, who the prophet proclaimed as the Lord’s choice to occupy the office of Shebna, to lead the house of Judah into the future. He will be the treasurer; the administrator of the royal court, upon whose shoulder will rest authority of access into the royal court. Here the prophet indicates strengths and opportunities for Judah.

“And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.”

Over and above the present moment of victory, the prophet was looking into the future, a time when there will be lasting freedom and security for the new people of God. I suspect the prophet was calling for this lasting freedom, victory and success for Judah.

So, this is the key to understanding how to consolidate victory and success: Do not concentrate only on your present gains; look into and to the future as well. Victory or success is short-lived if only about the moment. Victory or success is consolidated if futuristic as well.

Without in any way undermining the full import of Isaiah’s message, the oracle draws attention to the messianic era, and the providence for access into the house of the king of the universe; a home of true success, victory, freedom, security, happiness and peace.

Hence, irrespective of the historical context in which Isaiah prophesied and the unique role of Eliakim, the core of the message finds significant resonance in the New Testament as well as in the our contemporary society. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, “the holy one, the true, who has the key of David” (Rev 3:7), is this hope, and he would want to keep the thread on earth as he goes back to the Father. Thus, he would say to the fisherman of Galilee, Peter, “I give you the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). This was and is a moral, spiritual authority that guarantees security and success for our future, eternal life. This authority I find in Pope Francis, the Peter of today and his successors.

10 Years A Priest

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AT the tomb of Pope St. John XXIII

August 20 was my 10th priestly ordination anniversary. I remember that very day in 2005, at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Orlu in Nigeria, when Bishop Gregory Ochiagha ordained me and 15 others priests of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu.

It was a tense and profound spiritual moment. I recall lying on the sanctuary during the invocation of the saints, and kneeling for the laying on of hands by the Bishop and the concelebrating priests. The ten thousand-capacity-Cathedral was packed and overflowing, yet the
peace and solemnity of that moment seemed like being at the Scetes desert. God’s voice was loud and clear in the Liturgical Rites.

For twelve years, I was preparing for the priesthood to begin at ordination. But in that instance, I felt both unworthy and unprepared for it. My unworthiness was so glaring to me that I had to have recourse to the Unfailing Grace of God and the tender love of Our Mother Mary. Hence, I dedicated my priesthood to Our Lady of Grace.

DSC_0413 copyGod’s word in Ephesians 1:5 “He destined us in love” spoke to me personally and I took it as my motto. God’s love was all I wanted. I was caught up in deep contemplation of its relevance to me. It meant and still means for me divine grace, mercy, providence, and unfailing presence both for me and for many, who through my ministry God would inspire for His glory.

I look back after 10 years and I wonder if I have kept the mission, the inspiration alive. The promises I have made to love Him above all else and my neighbor as He loves us – have I been faithful to it? I fall way below the expectation, but I know He treasures me still, pampering me like a mom her baby; keeping the fire of His love burning in my heart amidst the storms, the bumpy steps en route to His Presence. His grace has been sufficient!

Jerusalem 031

Priesthood, I have come to learn more and more, is victimhood; a victimhood of love, of joy, of grace, of peace, of service, and of utter generosity. Nothing I have, nothing I have ever accomplished and nothing I ever would achieve belong to me but to Him and His plan. In Him, I find joy and fulfillment.

As, I look ahead for the coming year(s), I pray thee Lord, keep me tucked in your heart. Nothing is more important to me than to love you above all else; to love your people whom you have designed for me to share the life of grace with through my participation in the Sacred Priesthood; and to be ever in love with your Church, especially your members, the poor, the wounded and the vulnerable.

Bless my biological family and numerous others who have become a family to me too through their prayers, fellowship and sacrifices. To my beloved Mom, late Grace Emelu, who offered me to you even before I could say “yes,” grant eternal rest in your presence. Amen

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Admiration (Pleasure) as the Strategy of Satan no. 2

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View of Bamenda Cameroon from the hill of JangmaLet us return to the story of the First Fall, where we see the tempter enticing Eve to look; followed by the presentation of a politely-subtle consideration, regarding his spin on apparent pleasure to be experienced from an unholy act of disobedience. From the times of ancient philosophy, world history is replete with examples of the need for answers to what is pleasurable. This becomes bait!

Consider, for example, food intended for nourishment and enjoyment. No matter how healthy some foods are, when taken in excess, they turn into bad cholesterol. I used to love ice cream until I discovered it wasn’t good for me.

The sexual act, open to life, is holy because it is God’s special gift for procreation and conjugal love and, as Scripture teaches us, it is God’s wedding present for the couple:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph 5:22-24, 31-32).

But the tempter uses it in forms contrary to its original Divine purpose. What the tempter proffers is a “sugar coating” in suggesting illegitimate experiences of impulsive and routine sin. How many lives are ruined, day after day, through this kind of solicitation!

Satan does everything in his alluring power to destroy potential and already-dedicated temples of the Holy Spirit; especially those of the family, called the domestic church, and the youth. It is obvious there is a global ongoing attack on the family, an institution designed by God. The well-known adage “the family that prays together stays together,” holds true at all times.

Families and all of us would do well to turn off our televisions, on a regular basis, close down our media gadgets, look each other in the eye, assure one another of love in the family or community, and pray daily.

I truly believe we all have a great need to return to a committed prayer-life.

While the devil’s “sugar coated” assault includes a feeling of sincerity, we know the devil is the last being to be sincere about anything—he is a liar and his brand of sincerity is Machiavellian.

There is a folk story about the etymology of the word sincerity (sincere) and I’ll use it to drive home the point about the devil’s deceit. It is based on the Latin sine, which means without; and cera, which means wax.

It was claimed, in ancient Greece and Rome, that dishonest sculptors would use wax to cover flaws in their work and thereby deceive viewers. Likewise those trading in precious metals, such as gold, would mix it with less valuable metals (nicknamed “wax”) to deceive prospective buyers. Those feigning innocence of this deceit would convince the buyer of their alleged innocence by attaching the inscription “sine cera” to their work. By so doing, what they conveyed in effect was that, “This work is pure, without deceit,” so the word came to mean honesty in perfection.

The devil can never be honest, never sincere—we need to be absolutely convinced of this. Behind every one of his glamorous sinful allurements, there are countless bogus sincerities and dangerous consequences, which can only lead to misery, pain, disappointment, separations, disillusionment and spiritual starvation.

What else would come from the fallen angel of death? As the great stoic philosopher Epictetus warned, “Let not thy passions avenge themselves upon thee.”

Culled from my book, Word For A Wounded World, Vol. I, pp. 17-19