YOU SHALL BE SAVED BY GRACE | 4th Sunday of Lent | Year B

Losing my mum few months to my priestly ordination is an experience I wish never to remember because a day which was supposed to be the most joyful day of my life became a sorrowful day. It was painful to see my mum lying in the box at my first official celebration of Christian burial as a cleric, but now I understand better why God chose that for me. So I decided to share my story because many today go through challenges that may cause them to lose faith or hope and ask, God why me? Do you know God sometimes uses unpleasant experiences to teach us some useful lessons, or transforms painful moments into channels of blessings?
On this day- the 4th Sunday of Lent,  traditionally called Laetare Sunday, the church calls us to rejoice. Rejoice in the mood of Lent? Why? I think today's readings together with my story will help you understand this, since I understand better now what that phrase "saved by grace" means. Do you wish to know? My story has not ended; continue reading slowly...

Cf 2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23
The Lord, the God of their ancestors, tirelessly sent them messenger after messenger, since he wished to spare his people and his house. But they ridiculed the messengers of God, they despised his words, they laughed at his prophets, until at last the wrath of the Lord rose so high against his people that there was no further remedy. They burned down the Temple of God, demolished the walls of Jerusalem, set fire to all its palaces, and destroyed everything of value in it. The survivors were deported by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon; they were to serve him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. This is how the word of the Lord was fulfilled that he spoke through Jeremiah, ‘Until this land has enjoyed its sabbath rest, until seventy years have gone by, it will keep sabbath throughout the days of its desolation.’
And in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, to fulfil the word of the Lord that was spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom: ‘Thus speaks Cyrus king of Persia, “the Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth; he has ordered me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up.”’
1. The passage you just read is a summary of the experience of the Israelites: the consequences of their religious formalism characterised by continuous disobedience to God while at the same time having a strong belief in the presence of God in the temple as a sure sign that nothing evil will befall them or their nation because God is with them until disaster came crashing on them. They lost their dignity and liberty and became slaves and captives. But in their brokenness, God sent a helper-one they would not think of- Cyrus a pagan King to set them free. And they learnt a lesson: God can use anything or anyone for his purpose to bring about his designs.
2. Sometimes our connection with God could make us feel so secure that some kind of 'confidence' spring up in our minds that nothing evil can happen to us. This confidence heightens when added to our efforts towards holiness, we conclude that God will not permit any evil thing to happen to us. In this state of mind we forget biblical figures like Joseph, David, Samson, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Job, etc who were prophets and servants of God, and even God's own son Jesus, whom God did not spare, but allowed evil to reign for some moments in their lives so as to teach them some lessons or transform their pains to channels of blessings.
3. This explains my condition as a young vibrant deacon. I felt that confidence that nothing evil would happen until evil struck. I remember saying to a priest in my desolation that I felt 'used' or deceived. If this is how the priesthood is, I was no longer interested, I added. But God was forming me, I knew not! The evil struck hard, it hit every member of my family, no one was exempted! My elder brother lost his job same time, one of my sisters lost her 3-months pregnancy, there was financial crises. My mates were preparing for ordination, I was preparing for burial. 
During these moments of crisis, the kind of priest God wanted me to become came out! I asked for a 3-day retreat in a monastery where I went on a dry fast asking the Lord for divine direction and help. And indeed the Lord heard me. Help came from sources I never expected, and that burden was set-off my shoulders and source of the evil was revealed, and satan openly disgraced! At that 3-day austere retreat the Lord opened my eyes to start seeing visions and my ears to start hearing His voice clearly. Those experiences have metamorphosed into a useful charism for my priestly ministry today. Now I understand St Paul's letter to the church in Ephesians when he says "You have been saved by grace":
God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2, 4)

TASK: Child of God, are you going through difficult moments now? Whatever it is remember the biblical personages, remember my story as well. Remember also that in the past, God spoke to them through the prophets but today he speaks to us through his Son- the Word made flesh for the bible says:

“No one who believes in him will be condemned, but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18).

If you believe claim this prayer with faith: As I write this testimony with joy so shall your joys overflow now in your life and your family in Jesus name; for the bible says those that sow in tears will sing when they reap (Ps 126, 6). As the church calls us to rejoice today, may rejoicing and gladness from the Lord overtake your sorrows and your difficulties through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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