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Lenten Reflections 2017 - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus

Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent

April 5, 2017

Daniel 3: 14 – 28.

By *Fr. Peter Chidolue, SJ

The willingness of the three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to serve the Lord was not dependent on God's power to save them. They were willing to serve God whether God saves them or not. If they had died in the flame would we have found their lives attractive? We sometimes ask the Lord why bad things happen to good people. But our lives only become bad and sad when we no longer listen to God's voice and when something or someone other than God possesses our heart; otherwise the life of the just is always in God's hands.

It is important to notice that God did not remove them from the fire but entered the fire with them and they were unharmed by it. When we encounter difficulties, God enters into our difficulties with us and gives us the strength to overcome it. He does not remove the problems but gives us the courage and the grace to face them.

As we get closer to the Passion Week, may God give us the grace to see Him in our difficult moments. May God bless you all.

*Fr. Peter Chidolue, SJ, is a retreat minister who lives and works at St. Peter Claver House in Brafo Yaw, Cape Coast, Ghana.

Time To Be Grateful Even When You Really Don't Feel Like It.

Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent

April 4, 2017

Nm 21: 4-9/ Ps 102: 2-3. 16-18. 19-21/ Jn 8: 21-30

By *Br. Francis Erzuah, SJ

The readings of today bring to mind a word familiar with every Jesuit, gratitude; giving thanks. As a Jesuit and a teacher, there are times that I grow tired of complaints and murmuring of a particular student. Like the Israelites, such students remind me of my own mistakes before God. Yes, I know about gratitude and giving thanks, but when our patience is worn out by troubles and distress by the journey, we find ourselves complaining against God and the "Moseses" in our life, just like the Israelites.

In, December and January, New Year's Day, giving thanks can start to feel like a command performance rather than a genuine act. As a Jesuit, I have been infused with the full spirit of gratitude. In fact, every Jesuit has been "inoculated" against the deadly disease of "ingratitude," but, I cannot turn on gratitude, just because it's a New Year's Day. It does not come automatically. In fact, no big promotion day may even be the best time to make gratitude a priority a narrow escape of being caught by a spouse in infidelity. Gratitude happens in quiet pauses and moments, not when we have plenty of food and water like the Israelites in Egypt.
So, how do we embrace the Lenten Season sincerely? Gearing up for gratitude in anticipation of Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, Birthdays and Thanksgiving Day can be subtle.

In Hebrew, according to my Old Testament professor and friend, the term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, and the literal translation is "recognizing the good". It is not about finding new forms of positivity in life, but rather about reorienting yourself around the things that you should already be grateful for. It is not just the big, obvious ones - good health or a job promotion- but small things too. Growing up in Half Assini, a small town in Ghana, there were times that we had no water. I had to go fetch water from a distance, boil and filter, before I could use. Today, I do not have to go far to fetch water, and so on. Every time I go under the shower, I always say to myself internally - and often out loud - how grateful I am. Look for the little things and say "thanks" out loud.

In today's reading, the Israelites only complained. Remember, life is about giving, receiving, and repaying. We are called to gratitude, even when you really don't feel like it. From psychological perspective, when your brain thinks you have to do something, it will be more likely to resist. Only when you feel like you are choosing to do something can it be authentic. Just knowing this is usually enough to inspire a more grateful outlook during this Lenten Season and on our life.

*Br. Francis Erzuah, SJ, is a brother who teaches at the Jesuit Memorial College in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. 

Thursday, Fourth Week of Lent

March 30, 2017

Ex 32:7-14; Jn 5: 31-47; Ps106: 19-23

By *Fr. Aghadi Onu, SJ

"We remember how you loved us to your death, and still we celebrate for you are with us here, and we believe that we will see you when you come, in your glory Lord, we remember, we celebrate, we believe."

How fickle and unstable the human mind is. No sooner had God brought Israel out of Egypt than they forget the deeds of the Lord. They forgot what the Lord had done for them. They sold short their freedom in exchange for the transient and momentary satisfaction of the golden calf. They were so concerned about what they see in the now that they forget the glory that lies ahead in the Promised Land.

Israel broke the first and most fundamental of the commandments: "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other god before me."

That singular act of disobedience begins Israel's long history of rejection of their God--the harlotry of Israel by dancing around the golden calf. They forgot the good deeds of the Lord and they worshipped other gods.
Israel paid dearly for their sin. Many of the prophets came with a singular mission to call Israel back to repentance.

How like Israel of old we can be. God has given us his son Jesus for the salvation of the world. The Christian has been marked with the sign of the Christ and so cannot but follow Christ. But the attractions and distractions of the world have clouded our judgment and so we have turned them to ends in themselves---they become our golden calf and we begin to worship them and burn incense to them. How fickle the human mind is.

Lent is a season in which we are called to remember and to return to the Lord. Jesus offers the Eucharist and says, do this in memory of me. Forgetting the deeds of the Lord leads to idolatry. Forgetting breeds ingratitude. Lent offers us opportunity to bring to memory all that the Lord has done. We also recall where we have misplaced our priorities and where we have replaced the one true God with the gods of our own creation, i.e. our many golden calves.

Our holy founder, St Ignatius wrote to Rodriguez 'Ingratitude is the most abominable of all sins and should be detested in the sight of our creator and Lord by all his creatures who are capable of enjoying His divine and everlasting glory."

One powerful instrument to remembering and returning to the Lord is the examen as proposed by St Ignatius. Through the daily examen, we are able to remember the deeds of the Lord and to respond in the affirmative to the invitation of the Lord to remember him always. We remember, we celebrate, we believe.


*Fr. Aghadi Onu, SJ is the Chaplain of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and College of Medicine, University of Lagos (CMUL) Chaplaincy in Lagos, Nigeria.  

Drop the Stones, Drop the Lies and Embrace Mercy.

Monday, Fifth Week of Lent

April 3, 2017

Daniel 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62 \\ John 8:1-11

By, *Fr. Evaristus EKwueme, SJ

In our First Reading today from the book of Daniel, we read the beautiful and conscientious story of Susanna and the two elders. Susanna a gorgeous and faithful woman is condemned to death at the words of two wicked elders. The old men had approached her for sex and she turned them down. In their shame, they made trump up charges against her counting on their age as evidence of her crime. At the intervention of the Holy Spirit through the young Daniel, she was saved. Daniel says to the old men, "you have grown old in wickedness .. and the sins of your earlier days have overtaken you, you with your unjust judgements, your condemnation of the innocent, your acquittal of guilty men." For this is contrary to the Lord's directive, "You must not put the innocent and the just to death." To set the innocent free and to set the guilty free is indeed the directive of the Lord. This is what we see in today's gospel from John. This is commonly known as the story of the adulterous woman. It can also be called the story of the wicked men, for such wickedness is as sinful as adultery.

Thus, our blind desire to cast the first stone is motivated by our secret effort to conceal and cover up our own sinful ways. Though we may be more sinful than the one we condemn, yet we cast the first stone. We secretly hope that in condemning another we draw attention away from our own evil ways. The men in the gospel passage did not ask themselves the question, 'What will happen to them, if I were the one being stoned?' Everyone desires mercy yet very much unwilling to give it to another. In the first reading the intervention of the Holy Spirit is the turning point of the story. Similarly, the intervention of Jesus in the gospel passage. God intervenes in our sinful world through each and everyone to make his mercy known. Daniel was disposed to let the spirit take control of him to ask truthful questions about the situation. Jesus equally asked the right questions in order to expose our wickedness that is common place.

"If there is one of you who had not sinned, let him/her be the first to throw a stone at her/him." Jesus is in no way condoning sin and sinful state, but he is rather condemning our outright desire and quickness to condemn another for the very sins that we are guilty. Like the men carrying stones, we all ought to walk away shamefully because we need Jesus to forgive our wickedness. Jesus says to the woman, "'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' 'No one, sir' she replied. 'Neither do I condemn you,' said Jesus 'go away, and do not sin anymore.'" Does this mean that she never sinned again in her life? There is no doubt that she has experienced true mercy and forgiveness. It is hard to imagine that she will continue to 'grow in wickedness' in condemning others but rather to be merciful just as Jesus is merciful, just as the Holy Spirit is merciful, just as the Father is merciful. We are therefore called to be truthful to ourselves about our sinfulness, to be merciful to others about their own sinfulness. We are called to drop the lies, to drop the stones and to embrace each other in mercy.

*Fr. Evaristus EKwueme, SJ, is a lecturer and the Dean at the Arrupe College Jesuit School of Philosphy and Humanities in Harare, Zimbabwe. 


Love Over Evil

Monday, Fifth Week of Lent

April 3, 2017

Dn 13: 1-9. 15-17. 19-30. 33-62 or 13: 41c-62/ Ps 23: 1-3a. 3b-4. 5. 6/ Jn 8: 1-11

By *Mr. Uchechukwu Oguike, SJ

"Iya Dami, I follow mama Bright quarrel for two years, e no shake me! Your own small, na five years straight quarrel we go do!". "Na who pour water for my generator? E no go better for that person and him children and generation!".

Utterances like these and several others plague my mind whenever I reflect over the twenty years I spent growing up in Ajegunle, Lagos, Nigeria. Images of long term quarrels, fights, gossip, avarice, adultery, false witness and licentiousness readily play out. It just strikes me how deep evil is rooted into the human condition. As much as I experienced warmth, love and immense happiness growing up, I cannot help but take cognizance of how much evil was dominant in the society.

The problem of evil did not begin with my neighbors in Ajegunle, neither did it begin with Jesus Christ. Several mystics from different centuries have struggled to understand this problem of the human condition, and how it tends to pull them away from God. St. Augustine in his Confessions, has a strong sense of the "goodness of himself", but expresses how he was easily overcome by his passions – his concupiscence or tendency to be pulled towards the evil intrinsic in him. This is also evident in the Judges of the first reading today, the adulterous woman in the gospel, and the Pharisees who sought to stone her to death. Although the Judges were held in high regard by the people, they struggled to restrain the evil in them – they lusted after Susanna. The adulterous woman and the Pharisees were blind to the goodness in them, and preferred the evil.
How then do we respond to this problem? Growing up, I often thought evil was the best response to evil. People responded with abuse to another abuse. The Pharisees responded to the evil of the adulterous woman with more evil: condemning her. The Judges also did same. Perhaps, love is a better response to evil. Jesus, as light and love bringer, shows us how to respond to evil. "Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again". This is the exact message of Lent: Love as a response to evil in the world. Jesus is God's response of love to the evil in the world.

In the sorrow of our intrinsic evil, Jesus brings light, joy and love. In the sorrow of the evil of the Judges, Daniel brought joy, and love to Susanna. Indeed, the people testify to this when "all the assembly shouted loudly and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him". As we continue our journey of Lent, let love be our response to the sorrow of evil around us: in our families, work places, markets, schools. Perhaps, in our response of love to the evil around us, we may begin to feel light and love growing within us, to dispel the evil intrinsic in us. Like Augustine, we can say of God "from the core of my being, I believe you to be imperishable, inviolable and unchangeable".

*Mr. Uchechukwu Oguike, SJ, is a scholastic studying Philosophy at the Arrupe College Jesuit School for Philosophy and Humanities in Harare, Zimbabwe. 



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