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

HOW TO WORSHIP A HOLY GOD

Monday, First Week of Lent

March 6, 2017.

Lv 19: 1-2. 11-18/ Ps 19: 8. 9. 10. 15/ Mt 25: 31-46

by *Fr. Ugo Nweke, SJ

When the religion we practice fails to have an impact on our relationship with others, it becomes a waste. If our worship of God and relationship with Him cannot make us more ethical persons in our society, then, our religion becomes delusional and a mere drug that opiates, as Karl Marx once argued. However, true religious faith, true Christian worship actually helps us to be socially responsible and more ethical persons in our society and in our relationships.

Chapter 19 of Leviticus, where our first reading for today (Leviticus 19: 1-2, 11-18) was taken from, reminds us that our relationship with God and our devotion and worship of God, must necessarily show itself in the imitation of God’s Holiness. “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am Holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And, how do we imitate God’s holiness? Some of the highlights are as follows: verses 9 to 18 demonstrate that it is by good neighborliness. In verses 9 and 10 (which were not in our reading today), we are invited to be generous in our care of the poor. Verse 11 encourages us to avoid stealing, lying, fraud, and deception. Verse 13 reminds us to ensure that we pay laborers their deserved wages. As a matter of fact, denying a laborer or wage earner his or her wages is one of the sins that cry to heaven (Deuteronomy 24:14-15; James 5:4). Verse 14 invites us to avoid reviling or vilifying those who are physically handicapped. It also urges us never to take advantage of the weakness or vulnerability of others. God cares for the vulnerable and our relationship with Him challenges us to do likewise. Verses 15 and 16 appeal to us to be just in our judgment. The verses challenge us to avoid being partial in favor of the poor (undermining the wealthy). It also asks us to eschew showing deference towards the wealthy.  Verses 17and18 invite us to correct the erring, avoid hate and summarizes this section of chapter 19 by asserting the invitation to love our neighbors as ourselves. From the foregoing, holiness is not an apartness from the world or a sanctimonious glare and halos on the head, but an invitation to join the Lord God who is actively involved in the world to do justice, to love tenderness, and to heal a broken world. Four times, in today’s passage, we hear God saying to us “I am the Lord”. Thus, we are reminded that the reason that we are invited to be holy is that the God we worship, whose children we are, is a holy God.

The gospel reading (Matthew 25:31- 46) goes further by placing acts of mercy (works of mercy) at the heart of the final judgment by the Son of Man. Followers of Jesus Christ are expected to imitate the example of their Lord and Messiah in service to those in need. It is interesting that the emphasis is not on devotions or rituals but on care for the neighbor in need.

As we begin our lenten journey in this first week of lent, we are invited to imitate God’s holiness that invites us to allow our hands to be dirty in the works of justice, social ethics, moral uprightness, and mercy. The gospel reading challenges us to follow the example of our Messiah King in responding to those in need around us. This is so important that it is at the heart of the judgment of the Son of Man at the end of time. These two readings give us a yardstick to measure our worship of the holy God. Thus, there is no room for a Christian faith that does not have impact on daily life. Christianity cannot be an opiate, if practiced the way Jesus desired, taught and lived.

 

*Fr. Ugo Nweke, SJ, is the Socius to the Provincial of the ANW Province and works in Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria. 

 

 

First Sunday of Lent Year A

March 5, 2017

Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7; Psalms 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

by *Fr. Jamesylvester Urama, SJ

The endgame of temptation is violence unleashed and disarray. The kingdom of God in Christ suffers violence. The evil one tempts by wearing out our capacity to remain faithful to the purpose, for which we are created: stewards and God’s servants on earth. Lent echoes Jesus’ fasting and praying and reminds us of Israel’s 40-year desert experience. On the one hand, it is a period of the dark night of the soul. On the other hand, it invites us to intensify our prayer, our watchfulness, our reception of the sacraments and our daily acts of charity. We are called to put on Christ’s apron of service and be hosts to others.

Today’s Gospel underlines one fact: in Jesus Christ, the apron of Christ service is suffering violence. The first reading from Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7 recounts the sins of our first parents: sinning, they prepare for themselves aprons of shame and guilt. In God’s mercy, their aprons of filth are replaced by God’s modest clothing. In the Gospel (Matthew 4:1-11), Jesus’s apron of service remains unsoiled by the heckling of the evil one. In tempting Jesus, the evil one usurps the position of being a host to all human rewards and greatness.

In Luke 12: 37, Jesus sets out his manifesto of service. From being a servant leader, he urges us to serve. We will be subjected to the world’s offerings that come in the way of serving in the name of Christ Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, the evil one exploits our deepest human desires: food (biophysical nourishment), fame (recognition of greatness) and falsity (false ideas) as opposed to facticity. In these temptations, Jesus is shown the possibilities of his power:  he is urged to forget his down-to-earth humanity and THROW HIS DIVINITY AROUND, if he had one. When did the evil one create the world to become a host for Jesus Christ (Psalm 24: 1; 1 Cor. 10: 26)? Has God relinquished God’s sovereignty? The second reading (Rom 5:12-19) celebrates this victory of grace over sins through Jesus’ obedience: “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

Jesus chooses to go the human way: earthy and vulnerable. A point is that the evil one plays on our capacity to create and to imagine possibilities. A sane approach to life is diametrically opposed to “I can… therefore, I do”. Yes, Jesus can do all these suggestions of the evil one. Why would he prove himself to an invitation that detracts from his original intention of abiding with humans? The one who receives the ministration of the angels is a minister of humans. Yes, for the Son of man came not to be served but to serve… (Mk 10: 45). He is a servant of God; he is girded in his apron (girdle) of service. Christ, the firstborn of all brethren, walks his talks: whoever wants to be first must be a servant of all (Mk 10: 44).

Having exhausted the ruse of the evil one, Jesus is left alone. The devil left him! Christ Jesus represents for us the victory of God over evil and all who do evil (d’evil). “Even” the Son of man comes to serve. Purposefully and resolutely, Jesus places himself within the human habitation. He dwells with us and he is tempted in every way. He becomes sin without sinning (2 Cor 5: 21). Jesus not only becomes a servant leader but a host. He invites us into our own humanity. During the mixing of wine and water at the Eucharist, the priest echoes this saving position of Christ for our humanity “by the mingling of this water and wine, may we share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Christ Jesus comingles with us. He brings the divine primal experience of his perichoresis (intermingling of services and self-giving within the Blessed Trinity). He pours his divine self. He reveals all. Nothing is hidden. The mystery of God in Christ comes home to humans. The dust that is human (soil) is raised to divinity. The eastern fathers recognised that Christ became humans that we might become God. Made a little less than gods, human beings are co-opted with the clear victory of God in Christ: I have overcome all evils.

Our response to this sheer gift of Christ’s eternal pedagogy for the humble and the humans ought to allow us to be true to ourselves. Humanity is not evil. Evil inheres in evil intent we harbour in the inner recesses of our hearts. If we are righteous, what can we give to God? What can God receive from our hands (Job 35: 7)? In Christ, the grace of God is unleashed.

May the mind of Christ, his choice of serving without lording it over others, be ours. May Jesus who was a Son and learned obedience through suffering continue to console us with the fragrance of his presence (Heb 5: 8). May he who goes through the human condition heal our bruised hearts and dissonant minds. May we imitate the One, who rules well in his own house (1 Tim 3: 4). Lent is a time of watching and waiting: may we put our apron of service as we wait for our Lord and Master. The same quality for waiting for the coming of the Lord is the same disposition we need to cooperate with the grace of God to overcome all evils. May we be ever-ready to open the doors of our hearts to our Christ (Luke 12: 36).

*Fr. Jamesylvester Urama, SJ is a  professional helper: a coach, counsellor, relationship consultant, and therapist who works at the St. Ignatius Centre in Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria. 

 

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

March 4, 2017

 

Isaiah 58:9b-14

Psalm 86:1-2, 3-4,5-6

Luke 5:27-32

by *Dr. Ifeyinwa Adegbulugbe

 

Listen? Listen! Our first reading today invites us to listen, and in our noisy world now, that is a gift we need to rediscover (Job 33: 31,33 – “keep listening, don’t interrupt, I’m not finished yet…I’m going to teach you the basics of wisdom”).

God is asking us to slow down and create an enabling environment to listen, tuning into His whisper, the still quiet voice. A whisper connotes intimacy between two persons, so what’s God saying to you? (Psalm 81:5 – “I heard this gentle whisper from One I never guessed would speak to me”) Come closer still, “follow Me” Jesus says, did you hear Him?

Jesus invites Levi to do the same. Levi must have heard of Jesus or how else can we explain his leaving everything behind, with unquestioning abandon, to commit to Jesus (Proverbs 5:7 – “so my friend, listen closely, don’t treat My words casually”). Where does Jesus invite Levi, and all of us to this Lenten period? To a place of healing, renewed strength, the evergreen place, “to reveal and revel in His Light1. To be a people who bring healing and comfort as we have been comforted, …repairers of the breach, restorers of ruined homesteads.

We are invited to a state of mindfulness, as St. Ignatius advocates in the Examen, so that we can experience growth. To live our ordinary lives with extraordinary purpose, by translating God given values into daily practice. God invites us to look at those on the fringes of our lives, people whose lifestyles, qualities, attitudes we may not approve of. He asks that we act with openness and generosity.

 A chance to cooperate with God by removing desolation, loneliness, dehumanization. To share the grace of being loved with another human being, to see their humanity, to “recognize” them and let them know they are valued despite their circumstances. It’s not enough to be devout but we must be actively involved in providing comfort for those on the fringes of society, an inclusiveness. Levi was such a person, judged by his means of livelihood or character, But Jesus chose to come abide with him at table, very scandalous behavior as adjudged by the Pharisees. Our Lord who was “manger-born”2 understands how it feels not to meet expectations.

Our responsorial hymn says ‘teach me…to walk in Your truth” Listen again

Let’s thank God for His friendship and kindness towards us, always. Amen.

 
 

 *Dr. Ifeyinwa Adegbulugbe is a Consultant Paedodontist who worships at the Catholic Chaplaincy of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

1"to reveal and revel in His Light”  - Beatitudes by Malcom Guite 
 
2"Manger born"  from the song "Bread of Heaven" by Fred Hammond.

 

 

 

FRIDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY

March 3, 2017

 

EYE SERVICE SPIRITUALITY

 

Isaiah 58:1-9a;

Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19;

Matthew 9:14-15

by *Mr. Kingsley Madubuike, SJ


'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' (Isaiah 58:3)

I live and work in a Jesuit secondary school. My life and work in this school involve a lot of interaction with school children. And that can be both interesting and a learning process. One thing I have observed about our school children (and perhaps children elsewhere) is their ability to impress adults and seek some form of attention. This may not be wrong in and of itself. These children, however, can be superficial in their activities either because they desire some positive reinforcement or they are trying to curry some favour and friendship with their teachers and school administrators.

God's people in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah are not much different from our school children. They lament that their spiritual activities consisting of fasting and humbling of oneself in prayer go without any notice or acknowledgement by the Lord GOD. It is easy to spot out here that this kind of spirituality is quite superficial and childish. It is a spirituality that seeks attention and rewards or compensation for the spiritual activities done. It is a kind of spirituality that is neither deep and flows from within nor does it go any more than the mere actions of fasting and praying. This kind of spirituality is activity based and not transformational. At its best, it is a trade by barter spirituality and an eye service or "notice me" spirituality.

The same attitude is almost what we see the disciples of John display in our Gospel reading. They seem to have a problem with the fact that Jesus and His disciples are not observing the ritual fasting that is part of the Jewish religion. This attitude can possibly reduce people to mere observants. In this sense, religious disciplines like fasting and prayers become external activities which do not come from the beings of the adherents of such religions. Jesus is quick here to correct this attitude by alluding that what is of more importance in religion is not to simply observe religious disciplines but to build relationships with persons and especially with God.
Contrast all these attitudes of God's people and the disciples of John with that of the psalmist in Psalm 51. Tradition attributes this psalm to King David; his prayer of repentance following his sin of adultery and the intervention of the prophet Nathan. David had tried to cover up his sin with Bathsheba by sending the husband Uriah to a fierce battle field where he was slain.

The psalmist here is a broken man who cries out from the deepest recesses of his being in a prayer of true and profound repentance to God. He begs God to consider his broken and humbled heart and his willingness to turn away from his iniquity. This should be the disposition of a real Christian in observing practices like fasting and prayer, and the likes. This psalm indeed underscores the point that God is not interested in the externals of sacrifices and burnt offerings but in the interior life of constant repentance and friendship with God (Cf. v.16-17).

How different are we from the people in our first reading or the disciples of John in our Gospel reading? We live in a Christian era where fasting, prayers and other religious activities are either done with careless abandon or have become baits to twist God's arms and get Him to do our biddings. These religious observances no longer help in our engagement with the interior life but are now focused more on the acquisition of material things and getting back at our perceived enemies. During this holy season of Lent, we may run the risk of fasting, praying and giving alms without them having any effect on our lives as Christians. We also may fall into the temptation of competing in carrying out the traditional pillars of Lent (fasting, abstinence and almsgiving) and standing in judgement of those who may not be living up to our expectations in these regards.

The grace we are invited to ask of the Lord on this day of Lent and throughout this season is to allow our external observance of Lent to become incarnational in our day-to-day lives of repentance, conversion, compassion, generosity, sensitivity, justice and service. May the Lord GOD of mercy grace us thus.

*Mr. Kingsley Chikwendu Madubuike, SJ, is a Jesuit Regent and works as the Vice Principal, Student Life, at Jesuit Memorial College (JMC) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. 

 

THURSDAY AFTER ASH WEDNESDAY

March 2, 2017

 

 

Gospel: Luke 9:22-25

by *Fr. Tersoo Gwaza, S.J.

What does it mean to deny oneself, to take up one's cross and to follow Jesus? Theologically speaking, to deny oneself implies to “act in a total selfless manner without concern for personal advantage or convenience but open to ‘the things of God’… in favor of the divine necessity of his suffering and death.” In addition, “This utterance of Jesus challenges all believers to authentic discipleship and total commitment to himself through self-renunciation and acceptance of the cross of suffering, even to the sacrifice of life itself.”  Stated differently, to take up one’s cross [“Stauros σταυρός is the Greek word, usually translated cross, that in the Bible is used in reference to the device on which Jesus was executed.” Moreover, the cross “was well known to Jews as the ultimate Roman punishment,”] means the willingness to accept rejection, oppositions, sufferings, etc., for the sake of the kingdom of God. “Thus, for the followers of Jesus to ‘take up one’s cross’ means both to be willing to accept, like Jesus, the literal ‘cross’ of a martyr’s death by crucifixion and/or to accept the metaphorical ‘cross’ of whatever opposition, rejection or suffering comes one’s way in accord with God’s will.” On the contrary, “Those who are bent on saving their bodily life at the cost of the treachery [betrayal] to Jesus and his mission will experience only its loss, whereas those who sacrifice their life for a higher goal, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will save their true self.” In other words, the mission of Jesus should be the priority of his disciple, even if it means to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others and the gospel. Jesus will in turn bless and reward us with eternal life in his Father’s kingdom. This is what is implied by ‘losing to gain.’

My dear friends, it is crucial to note that “…our whole culture so urges us on to become the ‘man [woman] who has everything’ that these words represent a total reversal of our values... Such a deliberate reversal is what ‘repentance’ means. It means turning away from one set of values and accepting another.” We live in a world that is characterized by money and materialism. Many people are very materialistic, and often think that their wealth can buy them happiness and eternal life. Undeniably, life is more enjoyable when one has money and material things. However, wealth and money cannot guarantee one’s happiness or eternal life. Moreover, “Profiting by gaining the whole world (having) is judged useless besides forfeiting one’s life (being). If a man [or a woman] has literally spent his [or her] life to gain money, for example, what he [or she] has spent is infinitely more precious than what he or she has gained. The loss is irrevocable…Nothing is more precious than the gift of life itself.” Thus, we are encouraged to pursue spiritual things, such as life and the kingdom of God that are eternal, rather than focusing on material things, which are perishable.

May God grant us the "Spiritual Capital" to deny ourselves, to carry our crosses daily and to follow Jesus, particularly during this time of Lent. Remember, if there is no cross, there would be no crown! If there is no Good Friday, there would be no Easter Sunday! Are we ready to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily to follow Christ?  Have a grace-filled Lent!

*Fr. Tersoo Gwaza, SJ is the Director of Vocations for the ANW Province and is based in Lagos, Nigeria.

 

 

 

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