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

Saturday, First Week of Lent 

March 11, 2017

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26: 16-19
Psalm: 119:1-2.4-5.7-8 (R.1b)
Gospel Reading: Mathew 5:43-48

by *Mr. Chinonso Vitalis Ugochukwu, SJ

The readings of today are quite honestly difficult to take from the realms of conceptual and analytical reasoning to practical realization. Some points and questions drawn from the above texts of scripture has brought some of the greatest puzzles to me as a Christian from my very early days. Is it possible to keep the statues and ordinances of the Lord without falling? Am I walking in the law of the Lord amidst my daily choices and actions? Is perfection ever possible? The above questions amidst many others make the readings of today loaded.

In my reflection, I try to narrow the above questions into one. I ask myself what made it possible for Jesus to live the kind of life he lived and how can I emulate that? I marvel at the singular purpose of the life of Christ, and how you and I are invited to follow this pathway of Christ this Lenten season. The pathway of Christ, the singular purpose, is that of the love of God. The love of the Father was the singular catalyst that motivated Christ through his time on earth to live the invitations that the scripture makes to us today. When we as Christians do go about our everyday lives with the love of God, allowing it to influence our choices and actions, we birth an attitude that changes things. This love transforms our lives, transcending sinful tendencies that radiate sorrow and makes us full of gloom to grace filled vessels giving joy.

To keep an attitude that points towards our Love for God as Christians is not without its trials and oppositions. Hence, we ought to keep strong in our struggles against evil in our lives just like Christ. It also means that sometimes we could fall, but based on the attitude we posses as Christians, we maintain an onward movement that urges us to get up and keep striving in the Faith as Christ did. Our Christian journey as pilgrims is one that invites us to a process leading to an end. This process of daily living in love and by so doing keeping the commandments as the reading enjoins us today, is where our perfection lies.

This Lenten season through the readings of today, invites us to have an attitude of love. An attitude that springs from our love of God, just like Christ, that influences our choices and actions, and aids our discernment in all things. We are also encouraged to know that in this journey God goes with us just like Christ. We have not just a model in Christ in how best to live as Christians, but more so we have our heavenly Father as company in and through our relationship with him strengthened and deepened in prayer, the scriptures and the Eucharist. May the Lord grant us the graces we need as Christians to live our calling in attitudes leading from the sorrow of sin to the joy of love and service to God and one another. Amen.

*Mr. Chinonso Vitalis Ugochukwu , SJ,  is a Jesuit Scholastic in first studies at Arrupe College Jesuit School of Philosophy and Humanities in Harare, Zimbabwe.

 

 

LET GO AND LET GOD

Friday, First Week of Lent

March 10, 2017

 

EZ 18:21-28   MT 5:20-26

by *Mr. Alexander Akalefu, SJ.

Dearly beloved in the Lord, the Church invites us during this Lenten season to pause a while and reflect on our lives, our relationship with God and our neighbours.  In the same vein, the readings of today draw our attention to two important themes: repentance and reconciliation, which are parts of the core themes of the Lenten season.

In the first reading, God sets before us life and death, a pathway to salvation and that which leads to damnation.  God sets before us the keys and conditions to our destiny, “if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.”  The ball is in our court; the choice is ours.  We obviously want to be saved; we want to go to heaven; but the question is: are we willing and ready to do what will help us gain salvation? 

  • What is my relationship with God like?
  • What am I holding onto or what is holding me back? 
  • What have I bottled up in my mind that is distracting or hindering my relationship with God?
  • Could it be fornication, unforgiveness, malice, theft, adultery?

Why not let go and let God.  Let go of your sinfulness and let God take over your life.  God is not interested in the death of a sinner but in his/her repentance.  God is interested in your decision to truly let go of your sins now and allowing him to take charge of your life. God does not keep a record or account of our past sins. In awe the psalmist exclaimed “if you o Lord should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” God is merciful and ready to welcome us back when we let go of our sins. Let us take a cue from the parable of the prodigal son in the gospel of Luke. The prodigal son realised his mistakes, and he didn’t hold on to them. He let go and let his father. Furthermore, Zaccheaus, Matthew and the thief on the cross with Jesus also repented. They let go of their sins and their pasts were forgiven and forgotten.  Jesus visited Zaccheaus in his house; Matthew became an apostle; and the repented thief gained a first class ticket to heaven with Jesus.

God frowns when a righteousness man turns from good to evil. The same condition as above also applies to him/her. His/her past goodness will not be recalled. He/she will die. The message for us, therefore, is that we should endeavour to be consistent and never become complacent with our Christian lives such that we begin to take things for granted. God is always interested in our present state and disposition, hence, let us endeavour to persevere to the end.

In the Gospel Jesus invites us to reconcile with our brothers and sisters. This reconciliation should start with being at peace with our neighbours. It is not enough to be in a good relationship with God as we claim and not have a good relationship with our brothers and sisters. How can one claim to love God and not love one’s neighbour? That is an abuse and contradiction of the word love. How is your relationship with your colleagues at the office, your classmates, and your community members? Your brothers and sisters, your husband, your wife?  If you are not at peace with any of them, or you feel they have something against you, now is the time to make peace. This is the time to reconcile. This is the time to drop your gift at the altar, go and make peace. Go and reconcile. This is the time to let go and let God. Make peace, then come back and offer your gift to God.

As we continue to journey with Jesus during this Lenten season, let us endeavour to follow the footsteps of the Master so that on the day of resurrection, we shall all move from sorrow to joy.  God bless you as you let go and let God.

 

*Mr. Alexander Akalefu, SJ,  is a Jesuit Scholastic in first studies at Arrupe College Jesuit School of Philosophy and Humanities in Harare, Zimbabwe.

 

QUEEN ESTHER’S PRAYER WINS GOD’S HELP IN A TIME CRISIS

Thursday, First Week of Lent

March 8, 2017

 

Est C: 12. 14-16. 23-25/ Ps 138: 1-2ab. 2cde-3. 7c-8/ Mt 7: 7-12

by *Mrs. Grace Evuen 

 

In the first reading, Queen Esther displayed what a real Christian should do when faced with crippling crisis that brings fear and anxiety, she pleaded with God first, before pleading with the king [with the right disposition-repentance humility and fasting], and it was evident in her prayers that  she felt quite alone except for the presence of God.

Nothing does more in prayer than the awareness of one’s utter and total hopelessness. Most times, we become too passive in prayer. Today, we see Queen Esther being jolted from complacency and she realized no earthly power can give her the help needed. She addressed her heart-rendering cry to God, and God answered her and saved her from certain death.

 Our journey through the season of Lent is designed to bring us to a deeper awareness that we are all in a predicament similar to Esther's. We are all individually and communally in mortal danger and faced with a choice of life and death, and the truth is that we do not have what it takes on our own to choose life without reservation, and most times, we choose half-heartedly; however, we make better choices when we cling to God in utter dependence.

Queen Esther trusted in God’s providential love for her people and built her faith. Empowered by her prayer, she spoke courageously and she prevailed. She asked for eloquence and favour and God answered her. She didn’t cave into her fear. Instead, she fixed her focus on God and his power to save her people and He did!!!       PRAISE GOD!!.

Like Esther, we live with great expectations from God, because He loves to do amazing things through average people with worries and weaknesses like you and me. All we need, is to stand firm in faith, when our emotions or crisis threaten to overwhelm us.

He still works in us and through us if we are willing to do the following;

    • Repent
    • Pray, as if our lives depended on it (utter dependence)
    • Have faith in God, who we are petitioning-It is faith that tells us that there is God,-the lord of all-,only people who believe ask God, seek His presence and knock at the door of His graciousness
    • Persevere
    • Trust in God’s providence

In the Gospel, Jesus wants us to seek God in our prayers, to knock on His door, to ask for what we need or desire in alignment to His will and most importantly, to have a faith that does justice. Jesus affirms the value of heartfelt prayer and also expands our notion of God’s generosity that far exceeds that of human nature.

Prayer:

O LORD , as we lift up our nation to you in distress, please forgive our sins and cleanse us from our iniquities, strengthen our faith and trust in you, that we may ask, seek, and knock  with perseverance, open our eyes and hands to the needs of others… AMEN

 

*Mrs. Grace Evuen is a member of the Ignatian Spirituality group at the Jesuit run Christ the King Catholic Church at Illsamaja in Lagos, Nigeria. 

Wednesday, First Week of Lent

March 8, 2017

Jon 3: 1-10  Lk. 11:29-32

by *Mr. Pius Friday, SJ

Recognizing the person of Christ in our world today has become a difficult task. We have been caught up in so many activities that block us from identifying the face of Jesus. Often times, we cling to things that separate us from God’s presence. We find it hard to stand with Christ because we do not properly admit him into our lives; instead we try to fit him into our own perceptions, forgetting that Christ cannot be systematized, neither is he limited to our concepts of Him. Emmanuel Levinas, in his essay Totality and Infinity, argues that conceptualizing people is an act of inflicting violence on them. Levinas rather proposes that a close encounter with the face of Christ reveals the transcendence and heteronomy of Christ. By dialoguing with Christ, I am invited to a true relationship. It is a relationship that gives me a new and truer identity. The ‘I’ vanishes and an untainted, truer better dignified self-welcomes the Messiah in.

Many of us look for specific interventions before we believe in Christ. Also, the rate at which our world is progressing threatens our relationship with Christ. Modern day offers us better technologies, scientific inventions, etc. The different ideas that are arising today make us even more blind to who Jesus is. Easy and corrupt money making, miracle-today sermons and the like just continuously trap us in blindness to the real truth of our Saviour. These ideas challenge our faith in Christ. That is why today’s reading is a true reminder to us.

The Gospel reading alerts us to how we perceive Christ in our daily lives. So often we fail to recognize Christ because we have constantly set up a benchmark by which we identify him. Like the Jews we seek signs and wonders to confirm the power of Christ.

My brothers and sisters, Christ is bigger than our views of him. Over and over again, it has been repeated Christ cannot be contained. Have we forgotten that Christ is bigger than our problems or demands?  We cannot set a benchmark for Christ to fulfill. No wonder Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises tells us not to pray for health or sickness, nor to pray for riches or poverty. Our primary aim should be to please the Divine Majesty. He tells us today in His words that He is greater than the prophet Jonah and even Solomon.

Make no mistake. He does not downgrade Jonah and Solomon, but He is greater than them. However, He teaches us something that we are still struggling to grasp, when He calls us to put aside all these norms, ideas and beliefs in order to embrace Him as He truly is. He calls us not to be as stubborn as the Jews were, demanding signs. By acting like them, we will remain in our sins; doing things according to our thoughts rather than discerning in and with Christ.

During this Lenten Season, we are reminded to recognize our sinfulness like the people of Nineveh and repent from them. We should imitate the people of Nineveh by fasting and praying and giving alms. Although this should be a regular thing as a Christian, we can increase these actions.  May God help us all. Amen.

 

*Mr. Pius Friday, SJ is a Jesuit Scholastic in first studies at Arrupe College Jesuit School of Philosophy and Humanities in Harare, Zimbabwe. 

Tuesday, First Week of Lent

Perpetua and Felicity

March 7, 2017 

 

Is 55: 10-11/ Ps 34/ Mt 6: 7-15

by *Fr. Reginald Tiesaah, SJ

Life is replete with examples of people who keep their word. We can hardly doubt the words of good and honourable people. Their character and personality speak for them. The trust we place in them is not so much because of what they purport to do but rather who they are before us. The power of words can be harnessed for good or evil. We know that life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who use it shall reap its fruits (Proverbs 18:21). Carefully chosen words can inspire courage, zeal, fortitude, and even excellence. The Book of Proverbs attests to this: “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in silver settings (Prov. 25:11). We witness the inspiration and courage instilled by mother and children to one another at the martyrdom of the seven brothers (2 Maccabees 7). Similarly, words can break the will and enthusiasm of others. People have committed suicide or even driven to violence or depression because of comments from others.

In the first reading, we see the positive energy God’s word exerts on the world. God is trustworthy and we can rely on God’s word. Failure or imperfection cannot be associated with him. Like the rain and snow that have a positive effect on the earth so are the words that proceed from the mouth of God. God’s word is dependable and life-giving (Luke 4:4; John 6:63; Psalm 119:50, 93, 130). Nothing stands in the way of God’s word. It is fruitful (Matt. 13:8, 23). It has a purpose, a destiny – to draw us into the very life of God (Jeremiah 29:10-11). These attributes of God’s word are nothing short of the nature of God. What proceeds from God carries the imprints of his divinity and life-giving character. God’s goodwill, aspirations and dreams for you and for the universe are enshrined in the DNA of his Word and Spirit, who proceed from God’s self. It will thrive and succeed irrespective of the odds. This is directly witnessed by Sts Perpetua and Felicity, the African women, who did not fear to identified with Christianity in the face of persecution, separation from family or death in the catacomb during the persecution of Septimus Severus at Carthage. Perpetua encouraged her fellow prisons and her words and resolve saw the conversion of one of the wardens.

Jesus is that word made flesh, who accomplishes the purpose of God par excellence. By virtue of the incarnation God’s word has entered creation and human history and restored the broken relationship that existed between God and humanity. In him God is well pleased (Matt. 3:17) and we find a perfect union between human beings and God because the fullness of divinity was pleased to dwell in him (Colossians 2:9). Receiving Jesus in faith can bring that transformation God desires for all just as Isaiah says God’s word produces. He is God’s way of becoming human and our way of attaining union with God – the hypostatic union – fully human and fully divine; our way to the Father. 

The season of Lent affords us the opportunity to internalize this life-giving character of the Word of God, which cannot but accomplish God’s purpose. We can begin by changing our attitude and approach to prayer as Jesus has taught us. We are aware of the call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving during this period of preparation for the celebration of Easter (when God’s Word accomplished God’s salvific plan). Our prayer would be efficacious if it is borne from a character of faithfulness and trust exemplified by Christ himself.

The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer exemplifies this: “Our Father, who art in heaven …” Jesus teaches us that prayer is about relationship that can never be severed (Father – son). It is a relationship in reverence to God’s Holy name; a relationship that permits God’s justice (kingdom) to flourish and horizontally transform those around us (Isaiah 58:7-10). How could this be if we have not learnt to allow the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God to accomplish its purpose in us? How could God’s will (justice) roll down like waters and righteousness like a never-ending stream (Amos 5:24), if God’s word has not reached us like the rain and snow to water and soften our hearts? Unless this is true, we will live in the utopian paradise that irrespective of our relationship to God, it is the eloquence of our words or speech in prayer that moves God to answer. St. Augustine says, ‘Jesus does not wish much speaking, but desires more praying.’ Our actions should speak louder than our words. For St. Ignatius, our expression of love for God and neighbour is to be seen in deeds than words.

Many a time, our Lenten observances prove fruitless because we have taken the Lenten call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a duty than as the necessary product of our relationship with God. Hence, the forty days of fasting pass and we fell like the seeds that fell in thorns or rocky soil. The lack of depth and the pressures of life soon bring about the withering and fruitlessness in our lives (Matt. 13:21-22). We certainly need deliverance the evil within us as the Lord’s prayer beckons.

Tertullian was right to describe the Lord’s Prayer as “a summary of the gospel.” God’s reign of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) should flow like streams of mercy to heal our world plagued by religious tensions, political genocides and the breakdown of love and family values. The ‘daily bread’ of God’s word (Matt. 4:4), which horizontally translates into forgiveness of one another is what Christ enacted and commissioned his disciples to do at the resurrection appearance in John 20:22-23. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit, giving them a new life just like the creation of Adam (Gen. 2:4-7); and commissioned them to the ministry of forgiveness. Forgiving others their sins as God forgives us is therefore, the new life of the Church which is a continuation of the life of Christ. Our acts of mercy (forgiveness and reconciliation) or almsgiving should equally be life-giving as signs that God’s word has accomplished God’s purpose in us, and through us, to heal the world. Amen!!!

 

*Fr. Reginald Tiesaah is the Socius to the Director of Novices at the Jesuit Novitiate in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria.

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