THOSE WHO ARE SOWING IN TEARS: A HOMILY ON THE NOVENA OF ST. GERARD MAJELLA, BY FR. IFEANYICHUKWU HENRY NWOKORO CSsR, ALAKIA
A priest once told me a story of himself as a little child. He recalled how his mother took him and his sister to a witch doctor who declared that they were possessed of evil spirits. The way for these evil spirits to be exorcised involved beating them with brooms as well as other forms of physical torture. This experience left a deep wound in his heart, which he had to deal with later.
In our first reading, St. Paul continues in his letter to the Galatians. He encourages them to rely on faith and not on keeping the law. The way to understand this reading would be to look at the life of Abraham. Abraham was not a perfect man. First, he was the one who listened to his wife and slept with his slave girl, just for the sake of having a child. Oh, what people are prepared to do to have children. Secondly, as if that was not enough, he further listened to his wife’s constant complaint and sent the poor girl away, who really had nowhere to go, along with the innocent child. It took the angel of God to help her to eat and then return. Abraham, our father in faith did not believe God to protect him, so he lied to Pharaoh about his wife said Sarah was his sister. This was not only a lie, but a risk, which has the possibility of Pharaoh sleeping with his wife. This lie was told twice. All these show that Abraham, as well as the great men of the Old Testament were not perfect. If God blessed them, He did not bless them because they were very obedient, but because in spite of their sins, they still trusted in God. So, when we sing ‘Abraham’s blessings are mine’, we should know that Abraham did not do enough to merit those blessings.
This is not a way of encouraging people to sin and say, ‘After all, Abraham was also a sinner’. It is to tell us that we cannot earn our own salvation. We are only saved through the grace and mercy of God. It is true that some people are more obedient to God than others. But the difference between them can be understood thus. Imagine there are two men who went to the bank to borrow money. They both borrowed a million Nira each. When it was time to pay, one of them had 10,000 Naira and the other one had 1, 000 Naira. The one who has 10, 000 may consider himself better than the one who has 1,000, but as far as the bank is concerned both of them are the same, because none of them is anywhere near the ammount they are oweing. That is how we can compare a person who considers himself a very good and obedient christian, and another person who doesnt really care much about God. None of them is anywhere near what it takes for them to be saved. That is why both of them need Jesus to save them. Abraham did not do enough to earn God’s blessings, and nobody can.
Another thing to consider is what Jesus told us in the Gospel, which is rather scary. Jesus had been accused of casting out devils withe the power of devils. There are two mistakes we can make about the devils. One is to be too obsessed about the idea of devils and evil spirits, that like the people in the Gospel, we start seeing evil spirits everywhere and in everything. The other is to completely deny the existence of the devil and evil spirits. Jesus adresses these two extremes.
To those who see evil spirits everywhere, they even saw evil spirit in Jesus. Sometimes in raising our children, we complain that the children are bad and evil, and possessed, etc. Sometimes, we hardly see anything good in the children, and this makes it difficult for the children to try. What is the use of trying when the expectation is almost impossible to meet. We even go to the extent of telling them things that make them seem to come from the devil. We do this with the hope that this will make them repent, but we are crushing their spirits. Sometimes we see the evil in the children and we dont see the one in ourselves. We expect the children to repent and we act as if we ourselves need no repentance. We try to make our children believe we are perfect. This method does not work. Some parent will make a mistake and find it difficult to admit it. Yet they expect the children to admit their own mistakes. Some parent will offend their children and find it difficult to say they are sorry. They think this will make the children think less of them. One rule for raising children is ‘Whatever you expect to see in your children, make sure they see it in you’. If you do this, even if your children go the wrong way for a while, they will not go the wrong way forever. Your children may do wrong things, but they are not little evil spirits.
On the other extreme, we can come to the extreme of thinking nothing is evil. In such situation, Jesus warns us to be careful. Just because you are not doing something bad, does not mean you are doing something good. This is why Jesus warns that once an evil spirit leaves a place, he wonders about, but not finding where to dwell, he decides to go back to his former home, when he comes there and finds the place neat and tidy, he goes and invites seven more wicked spirits and they will leave the person in a worse situation that he was before. There is a saying in Igbo that ‘Kama irum g’aka azum mma, ka azum kara irum mma.‘ What this means is that instead of my face looking better than my back, let my back look better than my face. In order words, it is better to start badly and end well, than to start well and end badly.
St. Gerard is one of the few people who seem to have had a beautiful front and a beautiful back. However, he went through a lot of difficulties. He lost his father at a young age. He was bullied by the foreman where he was a tailoring aprentice. He had to endure working for a bishop who was constanly nagging. He had to face being rejected several times. He had to run away from his own mother who did not believe so much in his ability to go into religious life. He had to endure being called a useless servant. He had to endure being falsefully accused of impregnating a girl. As part of the investigation processes, he was banned from recieving Holy Commuunion. He suffered the fear of loosing his faith. He had to enure Tuberculosis as a physical illness and the psychological illness of depression. So when we talk of all the mirracles of St. Gerard, we have to remember that he had to dig very deep.
Sometimes you get a child that is all obedient and behaving well. Then we take it for granted that all is well. In fact we praise him constantly and cannonize him a saint. The church never cannonizes a person before their death. Just because someone started well doesnt mean they will end well. When you have a child that is well behaved, you will be tempted not to push them to practice virtues, go to church, pray frequently, attend sunday schools, read the bible, etc. We believe that as it was in the beginning, so is now and ever shall be. If care is not taken, the last condition of that child can become worse than the first. The same applies to how we relate to ourselves. Some people take it for granted that they are doing well today, but one thing about the devil is that he never sleeps and good people are his main target.
On the other hand, when you have a child that is behaving badly, the temptation is to condemn them and think they will never be saved. Sometimes we even give them names. My parent have five children and I was the one they found it most difficult to raise. I am blessed with four wonderful siblins and I dont believe I could have had better siblins. I was the black sheep of the family. I am not perfect today, but I believe that by the grace of God, I will die a saint. That is my greatest ambition. This is why I call myself the Lover’s Beloved, because only the love of God can explain why I am not in hell today. Did my parent do enough to raise me up? Or any of my siblins for that matter? No! They did what was humanly possible and Jesus redeemed us. Therefore, Igala people would say ‘One a’noma n. Ojo a’noma!’ No human being can raise a child. It is God that raises children.
The bible tells us that those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap. Abraham sowed in tears. If you have children who are not giving you a hard time, give thanks to God, but dont take things for granted. Beware of dogs! If you have children who are giving you a hard time, dont give up on them. Something good is brewing inside them. Sometimes you have to dig very deep to find great treasures.
I am Fr. Ifeanyichukwu Henry Nwokoro, CSsR. I am your fellow child of God and this is my way of sharing my daily reflections with you. Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or question. Let everything that lives and that breathes give praise to the Lord.
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