Maurice Emelu

Meeting with Mother Angelica: Fr. Maurice Emelu’s Diary of 22 November 2011

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Father Maurice Emelu's visiting with Mother Angelica in 2011
Father Maurice Emelu’s visiting with Mother Angelica in 2011

Walking into the Shrine of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, where the nuns were nursing Mother Angelica, I felt deep peace within me. My soul was ecstatic in praise of God for this woman of grace through whom God’s opulent gift is poured out to the world through the media.

Mother was bedridden having suffered a succession of strokes. She could not speak, but her gestures were resounding. With difficultly, she raised her hands towards me, a sign she wanted a handshake. Her smiles were angelic and her face lit like that of cherubs.

I held her tender hand, so warm and soothing. I caressed it and gently laid my head on her chest, and kissed her chin.

She smiled and held me so tightly. The other nuns wondered what was going on. “She has never been this active in months,” one of them said.
Mother wouldn’t let me leave as I shared with her how the Lord must have been pleased with all she had done for His glory.

I told her about the new projects that EWTN wanted me to lead – projects of hosting and producing a number of teaching/preaching series, retreat tours and documentaries with a view of capturing the richness of the African Catholic culture.

She smiled and nodded, lifting her eyebrows towards me, her eyes looking intently at mine.

For me, it was a sign of a nunc dimitis as she acknowledged God’s graciousness and love for His people. (Father Joseph Mary Wolfe had told me Mother had long wanted to extend EWTN to Africa). The meeting lasted for about thirty minutes, and throughout the time, she never left my hands.Mother Angelica 1

Thereafter, three of the nuns, her health care providers, served us (Fr. Miguel Marie and two other Franciscan friars, Randy and Br. John Therese Marie, who accompanied me) with bread cake and rich ice cream. Oh, Mother sipped the ice cream like a deer gulping fresh water.

“She loves ice cream,” said one of the nuns.

During the entire meeting, I felt heaven come down. It was one of a kind holy meeting. There was something about Mother Angelica that is spellbinding and pure.

We prayed for Mother Angelica and the sisters before leaving for Irondale, EWTN headquarters.
Love you Mother Angelica. Requiescat in pacem. Amen
Fr. Maurice Emelu

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.

Free Indeed!

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IMG_8407I visited one of the largest prisons on the West Coast of the United States of America. It was memorable for me because it was the first time I ministered to those in prison as a priest. The occasion was an Easter Eucharistic celebration, preceded by the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I felt God’s presence among the inmates in a way rarely perceived among many Christian communities with whom I have been privileged to fellowship.

A year after that visit, I was invited to minister to the same house in the same prison again. As I walked out of the prison chapel after the celebration, a young tall man approached me. I looked up and sized him up. In a split second, his imposing macho physique, which looked like the WrestleMania Hawk, scared me. The momentary dreadful second that seemed like an eternity was ameliorated by a sporadic recitation of “Jesus, I trust in you” in my heart. Surprisingly, the man was not a threat; he had good news. His big smile and warm embrace revealed it.

“Father,” he began, “your visit last year changed my life. I was a fanatic critic of Catholicism. I hated the Church and all her practices, but I have been searching for meaning to my life and couldn’t find it. I have tried all the worldly pleasures but still did not find peace.”

He explained that when I visited and ministered to them the previous year, he felt the kind of peace he had never felt before. He experienced a new kind of freedom.

“If you recall,” he continued, “after the services, you knelt down and asked us to pray for you. In tears I led the prayer. I was deeply touched by the sight of you kneeling down; and us, prisoners, praying for you. I finally gave my life to Jesus in the Catholic Church. I have been baptized and have received my First Holy Communion, thanks to your visit.”

He embraced me a second time and waved goodbye to me as I walked out of the prison walls, looking back in tears of joy as he waved. From his smiley face, I could discern a voice shouting, “I am free, though in chains.” God works in strange ways and to Him be the glory.

The encounter reminds me of a refrain from St. Paul, which he gave while in Mamertine Prison in ancient Rome: “Yours in Christ but in chains” (Ephesians 3:1; 6:20). If a man (St. Paul) in chains claims to be free and indeed he was free, then we need to reexamine the true nature of freedom.

Freedom is about the most popular word in our constitutional republic. In this postmodern era, there is no better phrase that depicts the zeitgeist (spirit of the time) than freedom. Thus, that is why the prison is the most dreadful place to be. Not necessarily because of a lack of good food or beverages. Most prisoners in the U.S.A. have better food and healthcare than many “non-prisoners” in many other parts of the world. In the U.S.A., recreational facilities in the prisons are better equipped than one finds in more than half the schools in the Third World countries. There is 24/7 attention given to the inmates, more than one can find in Africa, Asia or South America. Physical incarceration is terrible indeed, but the inner prison, the one that makes us not able to live the fullness of life; to be free from evil and free for righteousness, is the worse.

When Socrates was put in prison on the false grounds of corrupting the youth, he was given the option of renouncing his beliefs or drinking the fatal hemlock. Ironically, the choice was between freedom and enslavement; between the chains and the gallows of liberty, life and death; between suffering and license; between objectivity and populism. Socrates chose to die rather than sacrifice his integrity on the altar of deceitful compromise. By dying, he is immortalized in the hearts and minds of generations of the academia as a true philosopher of ethics.

John was in prison, but his soul was not imprisoned; though his movement was restricted by the fact of the confinement, his mind, soul, and spirit were not. People may gag your mouth and bind your limbs, but they cannot gag the spirit. John was behind bars, but his spirit wasn’t. Thus, from the depth of the underground jail, he proclaimed a message of repentance to the jailer – Herod. Though he died for it, his testimony will ever echo through the walls of Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Generation after generation will hear the sermon preached by John the Baptist from the holes on Herod’s dark prison walls.

Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Lutheran pastor, during the early rise of communism in Armenia, wrote and preached the best sermons of his life from the darkness of the prison walls. At The First International Christian Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1985, he proclaimed, before a packed audience, “Chains make splendid musical instruments.” Needless to say, he did not remain in chains.

Servant of God Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan was imprisoned for 13 years in a Vietnamese jail, nine of which were in solitary confinement. Never complaining, he offered his suffering for the Church, the other prisoners and the world. Because so many of his ‘jailers’ converted, as he loved them all and never spoke against anyone, the prison authorities kept changing them! He was a free child of God, even though in chains.

In essence, physical prison, which keeps individuals from living freely, is horrible. Hence, people should avoid crimes in order not to face imprisonment. But the chief un-freedom, most assuredly, is being imprisoned from within; a self-inflicted incarceration, when people are not free for something good, something beautiful and something true. “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1) “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 6:36).