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

Wednesday, Third Week of Lent

March 22, 2017

Reading 1: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9      Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19

By *Mr. Nana Kofi Agyapong, SJ

The texts that the Church offers us today highlight an indispensable element for every communal life: laws. For any society to exist and function properly, it must be governed by laws. By their very essence, laws are at the origin of every social justice, peace and harmony. In fact, just laws inspire thoughts, words and actions of all who are in love with a just and peaceful life.

In the same light, Moses, God's mouthpiece and the people's guide on their way to the promise land, refers to the laws as statutes and ordinances received from God. When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they were confronted with the problem of organization given that they once lived under the laws of their Egyptian masters. God, who wanted to bring order to life of his chosen people, gave them the Ten Commandments through Moses. The Ten Commandments constitute the intelligence and wisdom of the people. As intelligence, the commandments enable the people to understand the world so as to discern the ideal way of living. And as wisdom, it enlightens the people to make the right choices at the right time in order to remain faithful to the will of God.

We can deduce from today's readings three attitudes necessary to responding appropriately God's laws in our life.
The first element to be considered here is the ability to listen. Moses said in the first reading "and now, O Israel, pay heed to the statutes and ordinances which I teach you". Listening is a fundamental attitude for every Christian to be able to live in conformity with God's laws. God speaks to us through men and women he has set aside for this purpose. He also speaks to us in the innermost part of our being; our heart and our conscience. For God engraves his laws in our hearts. To listen is to be attentive to what God tells us in the depth of our heart; that is not to be indifferent to the different situations knocking on the door of our conscience. The law engraved in our heart is the law of love; love for God and for neighbor. To love is to be able to sacrifice oneself for the good of the person one loves. It is the ability to manifest a particular attention for the person one meets on the way, and/or with the person one lives with. To love is to be Christian.

The second thing to consider is putting into practice that which we listen to. God did not give the laws only to be listened to but also to be practised. God's laws become meaningful only when they take flesh in our daily life. With the aim of becoming better Christians, an examination of conscience may help us to become more aware of the things we are doing right and vice versa.

The third of the three elements mentioned is fidelity to the transmission of the laws received from God. We can say that the will of God is one, undivided and perfect. Everywhere around us today we see different atrocities orchestrated in God's name. Sometimes, we tend to make our will God's will. We also sometimes fall into the trap of misusing the word of God. But Christ tells us again that "whoever relaxes one of the least of the commandments and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the Kingdom of God".

Certainly, every law has to be applied but not legalistically. It is in this sense that we can well understand the pertinence of what Jesus says in the gospel. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the laws and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them." For Jesus' contemporaries, the acts that Jesus offers appear contrary to the precepts (respect for the Sabbath, prohibition to touch lepers, fasting and even stoning of adulterers). However, it is in Jesus that we can attain the fullness of God's will for humanity. To follow Christ and be his witness in this world bring us close to the spirit that animates the laws that govern our societies and the precepts of God. It is to practise love. When we respond to the law of love in our heart through the graces that God gives us, our life becomes orderly and through the little things we do, we are able to bring joy, hope and peace to the people we meet. Lent becomes for us therefore a period where we repent from our lack of showing love through egoistic attitudes in order to respond positively to love of God in our heart by letting it bear good fruits.


*Mr. Nana Kofi Agyapong, SJ is a Regent presently teaching at St. Francis Catholic School at Idimu, Lagos State, Nigeria.

Forgiveness and Heart

Tuesday, Third Week of Lent

March 21, 2017

Dan 3:2, 11-20/ Ps 25:4-5ab. 6 and 7cd. 8-9/ Accl. Joel 2:12-13/Mt 18: 21-35.

By *Fr. Maduabuchi Leo Muoneme, SJ

Prior to sharing my reflection, it is imperative, in the circle of Jesuits, collaborators, and friends of Jesuits, to point out that fifteen years ago today Rev. Fr. Michael Madubuko, S.J. entered eternity—while doing his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago. I had the privilege of living with Michael for one year in the Jesuit Community at Ibadan. As far as my memory can bear witness, he had a deep mind, and he had a good and forgiving heart. May he enjoy eternity in our Father's home! Forgiveness and heart are the foci of my reflection today.

St Ignatius keenly advised that we should use our senses and imagination to pray. Today's gospel and the spate of structural engineering failures in some parts of Nigeria instigated my imagined anecdote. There was once a town with draconian laws, such as, "sentence to death by hanging for anyone who burglarized another's home." Someday Kufre went to his place of work, while his hungry and unemployed friend James broke into Kufre's house and looted electronic equipment. When Kufre returned he was mad when he realized that his house had been vandalized. He felt greatly victimized and betrayed when investigations revealed the vandalism was done by his close friend James. Kufre took the matter to the town's draconian court, cognizant that it would be death sentence for James if he is found guilty. Before the day of trial, James came to Kufre and pleaded guilty outside of court and begged Kufre for forgiveness. Kufre refused to listen to his horrified friend and kept bragging and shouting, "We must follow due process in a legal framework!" The following day, James, aware that death was imminent, mounted the dock. As the trial was about to begin, there was a windy rain storm that caused the court house to attain natural frequency. Within minutes, the court house began to collapse. Unbelievable! The judge was the first to run out. The policemen took to their heels; and so did the lawyers and members of the audience. After the sudden disintegration of the building into rubbles, only two people were inside the building: James had fallen, and he was mesmerized, while Kufre was buried under the rubble gasping for air. When James heard Kufre struggling to breathe, he immediately rose and ran towards Kufre and began to dig away the rubbles of heavy mortar and wood. Finally James pulled out Kufre from the rubbles. Kufre was ashamed and humbled, and he exclaimed: "The man I wanted dead is the same man who saved my life!" That was the end of "due process" or "legal framework." This fortuitous experience of building collapse humanized Kufre's stony heart; and he and James became even deeper friends for the remainder of their lives.

In today's gospel, the Lord is unequivocal: "Unless each of you forgives your brother and sister from your heart, the Father will not forgive you" (Matthew 18:35). The Greek word "to forgive" is aphiemi, which means to unbind, to untie, or to let go (Hart, 2007). In the light of the Hebrew language, forgiveness (nasa, ns') means to lift away, to carry away, or to remove (Walts and Gulliford, 2004). Reyes (2004) avows that the disconnection between a person's heart and mind induces that person to become a potential danger to others. The word "heart" (kardia—Greek, Cor—Latin, Lebab—Hebrew) occurs over a thousand times in the bible and three times in today's readings. An unforgiving heart practices the praxis of domination as portrayed by the unforgiving servant in today's gospel. Freire (1970/1993) stated, "Domination reveals the pathology of love: sadism in the dominator and masochism in the dominated." Victor Frankl (2000) suggested that the more we forget ourselves and give ourselves to a cause or another person, the more human we become. According to Martin Luther King Jr., when we look in the face of every person and see deep down in that person, "the image of God," we begin to love him or her in spite of what he or she has done. Similarly, Pope Francis (2013) argued that "forgiveness is possible once we discover that goodness is always prior to and more powerful than evil." The wicked servant in today's gospel had experienced restorative justice from his master. Why did this wicked servant not also encourage a sense of inclusion and recognition of the common humanity of his fellow servant? In the African philosophy of ubuntu, a human being is a human being through the eyes of the other. A person with a forgiving heart feels that he or she belongs "in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished" (Tutu, 1997). As a final note, I end today's Lenten reflection by reminding all of us that forgiveness is also a spiritual work of mercy. Therefore let us all work towards forgiving offences since our Heavenly Father has also forgiven us. "Be merciful as the Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36)! When we imitate the Father, we will journey from sorrow to the great joy of Easter!

*Fr. Maduabuchi Leo Muoneme, SJ, is a lecturer and Special Adviser to the Vice Chancellor of the Catholic Univeristy of Nigeria (Veritas) in Abuja. 

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Husband of Mary

March 20, 2017

2 Sm 7: 4-5a. 12-14a. 16/ Ps 89: 2-3. 4-5. 27 and 29/ Rom 4: 13. 16-18. 22/ Mt 1: 16. 18-21. 24a 

by *Fr. Andrew Setsoafia, SJ

About week before the feast of the Annunciation, which is nine months before Christmas, we celebrate Saint Joseph in his role as the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. Pius IX established today's feast in 1847 and in 1870 he declared Joseph patron of the universal Church. In 1955, Pope Pius XII established the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, apparently in response to Communist "May Day" celebrations.
Joseph was named after Jacob's eleventh son in the Old Testament, who was sold into slavery, descended into a dungeon and then ascended to the Pharaoh's right hand. Joseph had similar gifts of political astuteness and dreams. He first saw what was happening around him; then he prayed and waited and "slept on it" and then acted upon the instructions of Angel from his dreams.

In Christian tradition, Joseph has been given a lesser profile than Mary. There are two reasons for this; the first is, whereas we give the title "Mother of Jesus" to Mary, the title "Father of Jesus" is reserved for the heavenly Father, to highlight Jesus' divinity. Secondly, we are reluctant to call Joseph "husband" of Mary, just to highlight Mary's virginity. Vatican II tried to correct this by presenting Joseph for what he really was: husband of Mary and father of Jesus even if not in a biological sense.

The word "husband" as generally understood today, refers to a man who is bonded to a wife. Originally, however, the word simply meant "master or owner or caretaker of a house," without a direct reference to a wife. Husband was therefore more of a function which Joseph exercised in a heroic manner. In obedience to the divine plan, Joseph makes a U-turn in taking Mary, his wife, into his home. And just like God had a plan for Joseph, God has a plan for each one of us. God simply wants us to be upright and righteous.

Are we ready to relinquish our plans in favour of God's plans? Are we ready to change and go east with faith and trust in God when our original plan is to west? Are we ready to or do we try to exercise our spousal and fatherly responsibilities in the family with diligence as Joseph did? God wants us to be loving parents, loving husbands and wives. For those who have been called in any capacity to be spiritual fathers of the people of God, do we care for and nourish the family that God has entrusted into our care?

As we journey through Lent, may St. Joseph inspire us to open our hearts to God's plan to love unconditionally and to be good and faithful servants. God's plans are for his greater glory and the good of all humanity. God has a plan for everyone. Even for a simple carpenter.

*Fr. Andrew Setsoafia, SJ, is an assistant priest at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Nungua, Accra, Ghana. 


Coming to Our Senses Through the Examen

Saturday, Second Week of Lent

March 18, 2017

Mi 7: 14-15. 18-20; Ps 103: 1-2. 3-4. 9-10. 11-12; Lk 15: 1-3. 11-32

by *Mr. Eziokwubundu Amadi, SJ

Without a doubt, and with clarity, I still recall one of my precious Easter gifts from my parents as a young boy growing up in the bustling city of Lagos. It was a small picture of the painting of Murillo Esteban's The Return of the Prodigal Son. The painting illustrates repentance and divine forgiveness, with props and thespians effectively positioned to bring out the message of the drama. I still remember the sparse shots of ecstasy I felt seeing the father reaching down to cuddle his returning son while the son reveals the trappings of a true penitent. And a dog's joy at witnessing a friend's return means more than just artistic filler. As I saw it then – as I still do – the painting is not only an allegory of God's mercy and love but also an invitation to participate in the giving and receiving of forgiveness, very common themes in today's readings. But, in my older years, I have come to think that examen, though salient, is part of what the parable invites us to consider. It is the same with Micah's prayer.
In the first reading, prophet Micah makes a deep, personal prayer that reveals God's acts of forgiveness – and love; for forgiveness is a function of love. God and the Israelites have come a long way; and the Israelites can testify to His merciful love. So it is possible that if we turn on our power of imagination and imagine Micah as he prays, we can almost see the weight of gratitude in his tone and gesture to a faithful and loving God. Yet, Micah knows, as did other Israelites of his generation, that they have wandered off from God – they have been prodigal sons and daughters – and must return to Him "who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance". He is always ready to cuddle them with love, something the prodigal son hopes for on his return to his father.
And so for the returning son in the gospel reading, the story of forgiveness is pleasingly redemptive. For the son the reunion is genuine. There is no weight of sin to struggle with. There is the joy of having a clean slate on which to write the next stage of his life. And while the absence of a sequel to the parable gives us the opportunity to guess our way into the possible continuation of the parable, I would like to imagine that after forgiveness has taken place today in his father's house, the prodigal son does not resume his old ways tomorrow. He has come to his senses and has gotten another chance. He must be a new man, building on the gifts that were already there but never used before.
The readings are not tales of fictions. They are mirrors of everyday life. We can connect to Micah as much as we can connect to the father and his two sons in the parable. The different roles of the two sons show how differently people respond to God's generous love for us: some with stunned and humble delight, others with proud and peevish resentment. Who among us has never sinned against the Father and our fellow human beings? Is there anyone who has no experience of ache of remorse as well as the joy of being forgiven? But we should look also into our hearts and see if we harbour any of the elder son's spirit. Do we secretly envy sinners, crave for the pleasures they indulge in? Do we feel cheated when they return to God, thus seeming to have won the best of both worlds? Do we stand in the way of forgiveness and love? Surely, one would have to be an outright optimist or skilled with self-delusion to claim that one has no sin from which one wants to be forgiven and to forgive others.
But there is something that sets the act of seeking forgiveness and forgiving, of looking back and wanting to return to the Father in motion. It is the examen. This is the salient theme of our readings today. The examen is way of praying that allows you to review how God has been present to you throughout your day. It is, one Jesuit said, an act of "rummaging for God" like "going through a drawer full of stuff, feeling around, looking for something that you are sure must be in there somewhere". While rummaging, examen invites you to look at the quality of your response to God in everyday life.
This way of praying builds on two realities. First, we have a great deal to be thankful for: our health, our family and friends, our opportunity to learn and to use our talents, the way in which we have helped people – all are moments of our partnership with God. Second, we usually had some areas of life where we need to forgive and to be forgiven. We can be hurt. We can also hurt people. We can waste the opportunity that life gives to us through God. We can get caught in gossip and bigotry and paltry angers.
The power of the examen lies in the way we become aware of our collective and individual relationships with God, others and the world. During the examen, we begin by expressing appreciation to God; then seek light; then review our life; then note our experience of life in patterns; and then orient our future. The position which forms the background from which Micah and the prodigal son speak shows an act of thanksgiving. Micah starts his prayer with a convincing hope that God cares for the Israelites, knows them and loves them with an everlasting love. On his own part, the prodigal son juxtaposes life in his father's house and life in the pigpen, and realises how much of the father's love he has taken for granted. Micah's prayer and the story of the prodigal son are also evidences of people seeking meaning of life and their place in it. By hacking back to the Sinai covenant, and by replaying his position in his father's house, both Micah and the prodigal son sought clarity about who they are, what their gifts really are, to learn from who they are – children of the prodigal sons and daughters.
Seeking light is necessary for reviewing one's life. While noting their gifts and blessings Micah and the prodigal son also noticed where they felt closer to God and where they felt distant from Him and asked for pardon and self-acceptance. God's presence to Micah's forefathers in the land of Egypt and the enumerable acts of forgiveness are necessary indicators of how he stands before God, reviewing life. The prodigal son looked back that the comfortable live he led in this father's house as opposed to the one he found himself in in the distant land that hosted his extravaganza, as a review of his life. Both Micah and the prodigal son relied on their individual history to be led to a more personal sense of how God calls them, noting patterns.
But their examen did not end with noting patterns. They also orient their future. Both look ahead out of the failures and successes of their experiences. They now would live with the growing sense of God's mercy and trust in their lives. At the welcome party, after the son had repented and committed himself to a new life, the father clothed him in a colourful robe. Whatever else the robing accomplishes, it is, most certainly, not meant to honour his son's past life. Rather, it is a sign to the son and to everyone else (even to the puppy in Esteban's impression of the story) that something important has taken place. He was the same old son, but he is a new son, and acceptance of the robe is a sign of a covenant between the repentant son and the loving father.
This is what this season of the Church's liturgical calendar invites us to. The Lord invites us as a loving Father to confess, to amend our lives, and to walk always in his paths. The God that Micah addresses in his prayer and the God Jesus speaks of in the parable is not a bookkeeper who tallies every lapse and decree lashes for each offense. In His home we are always welcome.
Lenten season, as we have seen in our readings, is a period of shedding and of germination. To rise and go to "my[our] Father" require naked sincerity of heart and purpose. But to make this bold, redeeming step we have to examen ourselves: what we are before God and man, and who we must become – prodigal sons and daughters who know that reconciliation with the Father, others and the world is important for the life we called to live.
We live in a fast-paced world, where stuff is thrown at us and where we throw ourselves at stuff. And we can lose our balance in the process wilfully or not, if we do not take great care. Examen gets us back on balance as it did to the prodigal son. It can also reinforce our relationship with God. Examen can help us come to our senses. We come to examen as prodigal sons and daughters to meet the Father already waiting. You are wise to stop now and do an examen, however brief. May God give you eyes keen enough to discern any traces of the elder son in your heart, give you a Micah's spirit of thankfulness and the prodigal son's self-discovery and renewal during the time of our Lenten journey and thereafter.

*Mr. Eziokwubundu Amadi, SJ is a Jesuit Regent who teaches and is also in charge of the service program at Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja, Nigeria. 





Friday, Second Week of Lent

March 17, 2017


Matthew 21: 33-43, 45-46

by *Fr. Peter Chidolue, SJ

We have dreams or goals in our lives. Importantly we are God's dream and hope for our world. And as a dream, we are like a building that God is constructing through and with the events of our life. Each of these events are like stones that make up the house or the dream. We should never take any of our experiences in life for granted, because that experience may be the cornerstone; that is, the particular event that makes all our dreams come through. Joseph's experiences of betrayal by his brothers, slavery and time in Egypt are his own 'cornerstone'. These experiences were painful and yet he remained faithful to who he was called to be. He did not reject his experiences or became bitter, but transformed them and became blessed.
Every event in our life is a kernel with something to offer. Since we will never know which event will be the cornerstone, let us never allow any event to go without benefiting from it.
May God bless you with His dream, which is beyond all human understanding!

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


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