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

Fifth Sunday of Lent

April 2, 2017

Ez 37: 12-14/ Ps 130: 1-2. 3-4. 5-6. 7-8/ Rom 8: 8-11/ Jn 11: 1-45

By *Fr. Ray Salomone, SJ

The lengthy Gospel reading for this fifth Sunday of Lent, forty-five verses from Chapter Eleven of John's gospel, captures one of the more beautiful and moving moments in all of the New Testament, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the brother of Martha and Mary. This story is especially touching because it is so revealing of the human side of Jesus. These three persons were very dear to Jesus. He was in the habit of just showing up at their place any time along with several of his companions for a meal, for a visit, or just to hang out, as we might say today. When tragedy strikes this close family with the sudden and unexpected illness and death of Lazarus, we see Martha and Mary and even Jesus in tears. This is what happens to ordinary human beings when they are faced with such a devastating and tragic situation. We get to witness the touching moment where Martha rushes out to meet Jesus and we listen to the conversation they have. We hear the profound confession of faith that Martha makes when she says, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world." Weeping in his humanity and joining Mary and the other mourners, Jesus asks to go to the tomb. To the amazement of all, he orders the stone to be taken away and he summons Lazarus to come forth. Jesus brings life!

The raising of Lazarus is the final "sign" that Jesus performs as related by the evangelist, John. There are only a handful of miracles described in John's Gospel, and he doesn't refer to them as miracles, but rather as "signs." His point is that the action that takes place in the miracle is really pointing to a greater and deeper reality, and that reality in just about every case has to do with life, human life, physical life, and even more so, everlasting spiritual life. The first sign Jesus performs was to change water into wine at the Cana Wedding Feast. We might say that Jesus, at the request of his mother, restored life to the celebration by making this new wine available to the wedding couple and their guests. He gave sight to a blind man, greatly improving his quality of life. He multiplied bread for the hungry crowds and referred to himself as, The Bread of Life. "Whoever eats this bread will never die," he told them. And here we see him restoring human, physical life to his friend Lazarus. He told Martha that he himself was indeed the resurrection and the life, and that all who believe in him, even if they die, will live.

Ironically this gift of restored life to Lazarus was the final straw that drove the antagonists of Jesus to manipulate his arrest, torture, and death by crucifixion. But this was not the end of things as we know so well. For, Jesus rose from the dead as we will celebrate in two short weeks. No tomb could contain Him. The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is in reality a flowing continuum, a singular redemptive action that is the promise of eternal life for all who believe in him and follow his commandment to "Love one another." The Lazarus miracle was a sign of what Jesus has done for all of us. It is the promise that if, as Jesus told Martha, we believe in Him and follow his way, we will find the truth, a truth that will set us free because that truth is eternal life with Him.
May this season of Lent help us to travel that distance with Jesus, following closely, believing, even when we face our own suffering and trials whatever they might be. In this way will we realize the promise, and reap the reward of eternal life.

*Fr. Ray Salomone, SJ, worked for several years in the North-West African Province holding various offices and performing various tasks. Presently, he is the Minister to the Jesuit Community at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx, New York, USA. 



Saturday, Fourth Week of Lent

April 1, 2017

Jer 11: 18-20/ Ps 7: 2-3. 9bc-10. 11-12/ Jn 7: 40-53

By *Mr. Henry Ibekwe, SJ

The readings of today center upon the theme of enemies plotting against God's faithful servant. We hear Prophet Jeremiah allude to "their scheming" (Jer 11:18), we hear the psalmist beg for God's protection in the face of "my pursuer" (Ps 7:2). The gospel reading from John makes mention of priests and Pharisees who would have liked to arrest Jesus as he went about preaching. In reality, the theme of relentless enemies resonates with many of us today; as does our need to be careful lest we fall into the traps and snares set for us by our enemies, detractors and pursuers.

Indeed, the gospels never failed to present the Pharisees as mortal enemies of Jesus of Nazareth. However, the unexpected friendship between Jesus and Nicodemus (himself a leading Pharisee) leads us into deeper reflection: what is the wisest way of contending with our enemies? Despite the many convoluted plots by the Pharisees to eliminate Jesus, Jesus reaches out and befriends one of them. Nicodemus ends up defending Jesus in the presence of his fellow Pharisees, "But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgment on a man without giving him a hearing" (John 7:51).

This season of Lent reminds us that, although we may not have complete control over our enemies, we definitely have the full capacity to cultivate our identity in God. We are reminded that whenever we stop practicing our faith, we forget who we are and many troubles ensue; we forget the Christ-like injunction to pray for our enemies and for those who persecute us. An uncultivated spirituality causes us to lose contact with the God who is extremely effective at defending us from all the machinations of our enemies.

Jeremiah committed his cause to God (Jer 11:20). Perhaps we too could take the occasion of our frosty relations with our enemies to truly seek the face of the risen Christ and the smoldering fire of the Holy Spirit. Perchance our tension-filled interactions with our enemies could remind us that we need to reject the works of the flesh and seek the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Lenten discipline could lead us to re-examine the character we have forged for ourselves through our life choices, and to seek our true identity in the living God.

Maybe we would eventually realize that the only way to overcome our enemies is to turn inward and kill the real enemy: our own hatred. With persistence, we would come to understand the power of forgiveness: that when we forgive we operate with a power that comes from God Himself. Hopefully, the Spirit of Jesus will lead us to the understanding that forgiveness is the key element in overcoming the vicious cycle of hurt in which we find ourselves.

*Mr. Henry Ibekwe, SJ, is a scholastic studying Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, USA. 

Friday, Fourth Week of Lent

March 31, 2017

1ST READING: Wisdom 2:1a. 12-22 Gospel: John: 7:1-2. 10.25-30

By *Mr. Anthony Kalu, nSJ

Sometimes I ask myself; if Jesus Christ were to come in this twenty first century would we accept him; are we going to take him as the Christ? In the present situation of the world, what the world needs now is not a peace preacher, but one who will burst the world up and move people to fight for their right and speak out for what they feel is right. If Jesus, the Prince of Peace comes again today are we going to be able to recognise him as who he really is? Most times, our prayers are for us to conquer and be the best and to be at the forefront of everything. Our view of God is that he is a 'mighty man in battle' and therefore he should come and help us fight our battles. The Jews were so disappointed with whom they were told was the messiah. They were expecting a political messiah, one who would come to lead them to battle and conquer all their enemies. They expected him to come in an extraordinary way and that everyone should fear him. Unfortunately for them, Christ was born just like every other man and passed through the stages of growth just like every other human did. For them it was hard to believe. The worst of it all was when he started to make some controversial statements about who he was and where he came from. This was what led the Jews to set into motion the plot for his eventual death. Jesus being God knew what was going on and he did not stop it from happening rather he still went about doing the work of his father.

Most times in our lives we give up just because of the present situation of the world or what people say about us. Jesus admonishes us today to pay close attention to what we do and to keep on doing that which we are called to do without fear of what will happen. The plot against Jesus never made him give up because he wanted us, his present day disciples, to follow suit without fear. For us to be effective in the propagation of the gospel we ought to be steadfast unmovable and stand our grounds in matters of faith.

As we continue this Lenten journey, there are two things I would like us to pay attention to;

  1. We must try to recognise Jesus in his simplicity and humility. Doing this will be a great tool for us to encounter him better and partake in his agony to the cross.
  2. We must persevere in our earthly trials and cling on to the hope that comes at the end, everlasting life.

May the name of the lord be blessed in our hearts through Christ our lord Amen.

By *Mr. Anthony Kalu, nSJ, is a second year Novice at the Jesuit Novitiate in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria.


Wednesday, Fourth Week of Lent

March 29, 2017

Isaiah 49:8-15; Psalm 145:8-9.13-14.17; John 11:27-30

By *Mr. Ekesiobi Christian, nSJ

In the first reading, the Church presents us with hymns of comfort and promises from the oracle of God. It is a message of reassurance from God to the exiled and suffering people of Israel. "I will not forget you", He tells them. Despite God's assurance, the Israelites gave in to the weight of exile – they recessed into painful despair and conclude, "the Lord has forsaken us". Anyone who has experienced despair knows what it was like for the Israelites.

Jesus, in the gospel of today, also finds himself in a similarly difficult moment. He is aware of the impending chalice from which he must drink and foresees a wave of despair that awaits the apostles who have placed their faith in Him. Keeping all of these in view, He begins to reaffirm the faith and reassure the hope of his seemingly confused followers; thus reminding them of his oneness with the Father. He continues to reiterate his central axiom: "He who hears my voice and believes him who sent me has eternal life".

Closer reflection on both the readings of today basically reveals a string of discord between the proclaimed words of hope for comfort and the humanly realistic foresight of the people. How do you expect someone to dance to the resounding melodies of triumph and remedy to which he has endlessly listened and for which he has hoped in vain for its manifestation? – that was the plight of the Israelites. In the same vein, how would you expect the disciples to believe in the immediate hour of life for all who hear his voice, when at the moment all they can foresee is an immediate hour of death for the same master, and thus, destruction of hope for them? It turns out to be a crisis of hope for both parties.

Definitely, in our present time and condition, we share in the same derision of crisis. As the world drifts towards and fosters its own trends, entirely different from what we hold fast to as the gospel values, it continues to seem as if we are fighting a lost battle by upholding such values and belief. Imagine a corrupt socio-economic setting wherein the modus vivendi calls for the survival of the fittest and thus, you are robbed of your basic rights because of who you are... . Or an anti-moral or anti-humane setting wherein you become an outcast just because you refuse to compromise your standard. At times, it even becomes more excruciating when your exercise of the Christian virtues of faith and hope in God gets rewarded with more and more unbearable circumstances and challenges. All of these lingering to the very extent that one might be so tempted to doubt the promises of God for him, thinking that the best of hope is not to hope at all in God. At this point, the question remains: "How have we reacted or do we react to such giving?"

Perhaps, if in any way we have unconsciously fallen into such despairing laxity, and have been subsumed into the normal trend of the world, we are invited, most especially during this season of Lent to consider a redirection of purpose and reaffirmation of hope in God and his promises to save us. He is kind and full of compassion, ever ready to embrace and hold us firm. We must cling to him with an utmost conviction and hope in his promise never to abandon us, such hope that would endure every trial for a greater goal in God.

May the good Lord grant us the necessary graces for these. Amen.


By *Mr. Ekesiobi Christian, nSJ, is a second year Novice at the Jesuit Novitiate in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria. 



Tuesday, Fourth Week of Lent

March 28, 2017

Readings: Ezekiel 47:1-9.12; Ps. 46; John 5:1-16

By *Fr. Enyeribe Oguh, SJ

What a question to ask a cripple who has been bedridden for thirty-eight years! Why would he be lying in that dank and dingy place near the puzzling 'pool of grace' called 'Bethesda' if not for a healing? Ironically, the Hebrew word 'Bethesda' is also translated as 'a place of disgrace' – a name that is apparently derived from the horde of invalids that camp around the area. The pond strangely has five porches and healing powers. Legend has it that at a particular time regularly an angel stirs up the pool making it fresh such that the first person to enter the water at this time gets cured of any infirmities. Hence, many infirm people gather around the pond, waiting to wade in at the golden moment.

But, Jesus' question is crucial. It invites the cripple to make a personal profession of faith. 'Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool,' the man replies (John 5:7). Despite the weight of his infirmity, his response radiates radical faith and abject weakness. He longs to get in the water, but lacks the strength and friends to help him get there. Yet, he does not despair. He doesn't blame his family, fiends or foes for his illness. Thirty-eight odd years have passed! Still, he forges on trusting that some day he will be cured.

Such intense belief can seem like a bizarre act of insanity to some rationalists: thirty-eight years of waiting for godot! A cold statistician on seeing the teeming throng of invalids will have given the cripple a zero chance of ever stepping into that pool given his condition. 'Better try paying or bribing someone to assist you,' a pragmatist might have advised. Probably some realists will have taunted him for believing and doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.

However, to those who trust and persist, God is 'an ever-present help in time of distress' (Ps. 46: 1). His grace comes often in ways we least expect. The healing from the pool of Bethesda cures only external debilities. But when Jesus tells the cripple: 'Rise, take up your pallet, and walk' (John 5:11), he instantly receives both physical and spiritual restoration. 'See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you,' Jesus later warns him (John 5:14).

The church, like the pool of Bethesda, is a house of grace and arguably also a place of disgrace. It is the body of Christ and the source of our sanctification. Yet, the church is also composed of saints and sinners, adorable and deplorable pilgrims, who are all in need of salvation. But, like the invalids around the pool, being in or near the church is no guarantee of receiving everlasting healing (salvation). God knows our trials, faith and efforts. The Lenten period gives us the special chance to reflect and to respond in our unique ways to Jesus' invitation: 'do you want to be healed (saved)?' What an auspicious moment for an unforgettable encounter!

*Fr. Enyeribe Oguh, SJ, is a graduate student in International Law and Diplomacy at the University of Leeds in Britain. 


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