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

Monday of Holy Week

Is 42: 1-7/ Ps 27: 1. 2. 3. 13-14/ Jn 12: 1-11

By *Miss Francisca Ziniel

Isaiah sets before us a perfect definition and example of God's people, they that call upon God their Father, Jesus their saviour. The Spirit of God through baptism has been poured into us to be and bring fair judgments to the nations, at our homes, work places, public places and at church. The Spirit of God in us is not the one that gets tired of doing good and what is right and just. It is not that which exploits the poor and weak, which takes advantage of the ignorant and needy, but one which draws inspiration and strength from God to be good and to do good always.

Many at times we complain of being tired of doing what is right, fighting for the right and being right and just ourselves, but Isaiah goes on to reveal onto Yahweh, the God we profess and claim to know, to love and to serve... "I, Yahweh, have called you in saving justice, I have grasped you by the hand and shaped you; I have made you a covenant of the people and light to the nations..."

Have you ever been grasped by the hand by a strong person before? Isaiah is telling us that YAHWEH, the God that holds the universe in place is grasping us by the hand and shapes us. This tells us that we can not be wrong and cannot be tired of doing good and what is right, because a force beyond strength and power is holding our hand and shaping us in all situations to be able to be light to the nations for which he has CALLED us.

We cannot but continually open the eyes of the "blind" to God's word, grace, love, mercy and saving power. We can not be tired but constantly speak and preach freedom to the mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually captive and ignorant of God's Word of love, mercy and judgement.

Isaiah perfectly brings to light to us who know God, our mandate, our calling and our purpose. It is not one of self worth, importance and comfort, but one that makes us take upon ourselves the mandate and calling of Jesus Christ, whose life and death we have been called and baptised into. We are being called to govern the nation by being good and exemplary leaders wherever God puts us.

All the above means that we will be challenged, opposed, hated, ridiculed, intimidated and victimized but the God that calls and grasps our hands still shapes us to be able to pass through it and do it all. God will never call any of us to something we can not do, remember he created and made each and everyone of us, therefore our strengths, weaknesses and abilities are all in the known to him.

*Miss Francisca Ziniel is a worships at St. Ignatius Church, an out-station of the Jesuit-run St. Anthony Catholic Church in Accra, Ghana. 



Is 50: 4-7/ Ps 22: 8-9. 17-18. 19-20. 23-24/ Phil 2:6-11/ Mt 26: 14 – 27: 66

By *Fr. Patrick J. Ryan, SJ

Judas, Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate—each played his part in the drama that brought Jesus to the cross. Other figures, more sympathetically portrayed, entered into the action—Gentiles or diaspora Jews, Pilate's nameless wife, Simon the Cyrenian, the Roman centurion and his men who confessed, at the crucifixion, "Truly, this was the Son of God!" Matthew wrote his Gospel precisely for a community of such diaspora Jews and Gentiles, the first members of the Church. Encouraging them in the late first century, Matthew gave them ancestors in the faith to sustain their hearts in a time of rejection by rabbinical Judaism and Roman officialdom.

God gave us three years ago at this time another ancestor in the faith, another person who has stepped up, not unlike Simon the Cyrenian, to help Jesus carry his cross, but—unlike Simon—he didn't have to be pressed into service. That person was a Dutch Jesuit a year older than I named Father Frans van der Lugt. Father Frans had refused to leave the people who couldn't be evacuated from Homs in Syria, and especially the mentally handicapped adults, Muslim as well as Christian, whom Father Frans had served for much of the forty-eight years he had lived in the Middle East.

Father Frans was taken out of the small Jesuit house in the Old City of Homs three years ago on a Monday morning and shot in the head, execution-style. An Egyptian Jesuit, Father Samir Khalil Samir, who knew Father van der Lugt well over many years, told Vatican radio some things about Father Frans and I quote Father Samir: "Father Frans was totally dedicated to helping people. He's probably the only one who didn't leave the house, our residence in Homs, not for even one day. He decided to remain, day and night there in the Jesuit residence receiving people the whole time. Anyone who needed to be helped knew that he would find help through Fr. Frans. Help meant to give them something to eat, somewhere to sleep... any kind of help. The house was open to everyone, Christians and Muslims. He refused to make any distinction between them. That's a very important point—no difference between Christians and Muslims. A person is a person and needs help, and that's all."

As we begin this Holy Week, let us look at the cross Jesus bore two thousand years ago, and the cross born by so many others today: in Syria, in Iraq, in South Sudan, in so many teeming slums and impoverished ghettos throughout the world. Let us ask ourselves the three questions Saint Ignatius poses for all of us early in the Spiritual Exercises, the questions that Father van der Lugt has finally answered with his blood: "What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?" In the way we live our lives, how we answer those questions could make all the difference.

*Fr. Patrick J. Ryan, SJ,  is the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University in New York and has also worked for in Ghana and Nigeria. 


Saturday, Fifth Week of Lent

April 4, 2017

Ez 37: 21-28/ Jer 31: 10. 11-12abcd. 13/ Jn 11: 45-56

By *Mr. Francis Aziza, SJ

Tomorrow we begin Holy Week where we will be focusing on the events leading to the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I reflect on the readings of today, they set the tone for the entire Holy Week. In the first reading, God promises, through the Prophet Ezekiel, to bring his own people back to their own land. God declares that he wants to unite all his people from all the nations where they were scattered. God wants to free his people from their sins and to purify them. God reassures the people that they would be his people and he would be their God. In my reflection over the course of the Lenten season, I find that in many ways, I have been separated from God. I recall how much I have sinned against God and against my neighbours. I realize how, due to my selfishness, the three keys of Lent- prayer, fasting and almsgiving have seemed like such a terrible burden to me. I sigh disappointedly as I remember how poorly I have kept some of my Lenten resolutions, such as being a person of greater love, service and charity.

Indeed, the words of God resound in my heart and in my mind. How pleasant it is to realize that God still wants me back as his own. How deeply edifying it is to be once again under the banner of Jesus, to have him as the sole King and ruler of my heart and my life. Yes, it is truly great and indeed that is what happens during Holy Week. God shows how desperately he wants me back. God holds nothing back in order to secure my salvation. That is why he sent Jesus my Lord to pay the ultimate price for my redemption. This Jesus, in the Gospel reading, is a victim of injustice and selfishness which my sins perpetrate in many ways every day.
Contemplating on the Gospel, I feel a deep sense of shame because at so many times and in so many ways, I have allowed evil to thrive due to my silence, my inaction, my passivity, my fear as well as my failure to stand up for the truth, just like the members of the Jewish Council. Caiaphas, the High Priest, suggests that it is better for one man to die than for the whole nation to be destroyed and this kick-started the plot to kill Jesus.

Yet, in the midst of my shame and confusion, I still see God's loving plan at work. What I consider a blatant display of injustice has been transformed into God's means of gathering together into the body of Christ all the scattered people of God, including me.

I feel moved to beg God for the grace to partner with him in his mission to unite all peoples with Christ as our King. I also pray for the courage to resist injustice and other evils in the world.

*Mr. Francis Aziza, SJ, is a Regent Scholastic teaching at St. Francis Catholic School in Idimu, Lagos State, Nigeria. 


When Life Throws Stones At Us!

Friday, Fifth Week of Lent 

April 7, 2017

Jer 20: 10-13/ Ps 18: 2-3a. 3bc-4. 5-6. 7/ Jn 10: 31-42

By *Fr. Benedict Ebogu, SJ

Let us for a moment pay attention to emotions; the emotions in the texts we just read: those of Jeremiah and Jesus but also of the psalmist and the Pharisees. The text of the first reading from the book of Jeremiah is annexed by verse 9 and verse 14. The former reveals the inner battles of Jeremiah, that is, whenever he refuses or hesitates to proclaim the word of God, "his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." The later verse reveals the pain of Jeremiah over people's rejection of the word and subsequent attack on him should he proclaim this same word of God, "cursed be the day I was born"! One could imagine Jeremiah complaining in pidgin: If I talk, wahala! if I no talk wahala!

Jesus has had more than a fair share of attacks from the Pharisees who just before today's text, confronted him with a dubious question – are you the messiah? He gave them a dose of truth-telling that they were not yet ready for. Well, we can safely add that Jesus was equally surprised when he saw stones rising up and ready to send him to an early grave. And with a rather unusual stunt, Jesus escapes from his detractors. It must have been a day of many surprises! He has had enough of it! And he goes to where John the Baptist was baptizing – where this ministry of many joys and troubles had all begun. If one had sat down with Jesus in the silence of the running river of Jordan to feel and to share in his pains and hopes, which faces of Jesus would one see? Understand? And love?

Circumventing a little, the emotions of the Pharisees is captured within the context of the feast of the dedication of the temple, within which the fight and the conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees is handed down to us. This feast is a memorial of the Maccabean revolt when a group of Jewish freedom fighters rose up against an oppressive pagan regime that forced them to adopt pagan rituals. The temple in Jerusalem was thereafter re-dedicated to God. Nonetheless, the dream of total freedom, religiously and politically, burdened the Jews who over the centuries were subjected to a series of pagan governance and all its moral decoys. This is the political context of their question, "are you the messiah?" There is a hunger in the question, a hunger for wholeness, by means of the political, to their covenant relationship with God. If we are allowed to enter into the emotions of the Pharisees, should we be mad at them for trying to stone Jesus? They have been with this promising Jesus, a courageous one at that, that truly care about their plight. A good candidate for another Maccabean-like liberation! How could he have dashed all of these in an unthinkable manner by blaspheming? Let us sit with one them, perhaps the eldest and listen to his story about his own people, his own family and his own pains and hopes. Which faces would we see? Understand? And love?

The stories of yesteryears share a common denominator with our stories of today: the stories of our province, our apostolates, our families and countries – they all carry a hunger for wholeness amid fragmented life experiences in both the political and the religious spheres. It is this hunger that drives us to muse on the reading of today and to listen to stories of deep brokenness but also of admirable courage.

In the first reading of today, the prophet Jeremiah finds new confidence amid his many tribulations. He decried his agonies but soon turned with confidence unto the lord, "But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior." Such sudden surge of confidence from a pitfall of "tiredness with life" is special but not unusual. And must have only arisen from within a space of genuine dependence on God. In Jeremiah's narrative, we see a faith-journey that suggests that the strongest feelings of faith in God sometimes comes from the deepest downturns in our lives. And perhaps, it is often within such downturns that we experience an intimacy and tenderness that gives "a new life" for those who genuinely turn to the LORD.

The Psalmist evokes such emotions in his praise to God, a God who came to his rescue when he was in deepest need: "the cords of the graves coiled around my distress I called to the LORD". If we take a moment to read this psalm not as a psalm of thanksgiving, but as a love song, we may begin to see, understand the emotions of psalmist who has just been rescued from a near death experience by his great lover and God. It is this love experience that has enabled him to now know who his God truly is and to have a joyful confidence in him.

In the Gospel, Jesus goes back to where it all began; the place where his father publicly called him his beloved son. Let us now return to where we were sitting beside Jesus. What has been going on since then? What would he had said? Did you tell him what the old man said about his people? What did Jesus do to be healed, to forgive and to confidently rise to continue his work? Humanly speaking, the stoning experts may not have changed, but Jesus' feeling towards them did. His feeling seems to have become one of deeper understanding and deeper love for each of them. He must have known a few of them by their names. He loved them more, made more sacrifices for them and trusted in the Father's wisdom. Does the wisdom of God's way as we are seeing heal the soul and the land? Yes, it does! It has always allowed God's salvific plan to enter uncommon places and bring healing and wholeness. As it was in Jeremiah's time and David's time and Jesus' time so it is in our time!

The flip side of this is a secular orientation for overcoming turbulent situations. "We want Change!" And when the change comes, "No! change the change!" Ok, and after that? "Things bin better before, before oh." Ok, so you want before, before now? No problem, go and carry before-before! And the circle of blaming the other continues to feed our own brokenness!

The popular adage that informs the title of this reflection holds that "When life throws stones at you, build a house!" and I would add, "and when the house falls blame everyone else!" But seriously, perhaps the central point of our reflection lays within this adage after all. Perhaps, we should not start building while we are still hurting or frustrated! Perhaps, we should first return to the flowing waters, to the Kairos moments of our own faith journey, to God, so that we can see, understand and love genuinely, the faces of God and humanity around us. Any inspirational exploits outside of this God centeredness may be in error. It is this overshadowing of God that allows us to heal, to find our forgiving selves and even our laughter. It is only thereafter that we may forge the how and the when and the where and the who that we may need to create relationships and experiences that are modelled on Christ our LORD. Thereafter, we can then hope for a life that is of Christ and that is oriented towards the furthering of his kingdom on earth. And we may now have the joy and the freedom but also the courage to sometimes face and accept the cost of what we and our family and our province and our country needs: my way of the cross; my commitment to wholeness. In the characteristic Johannine motif of fulfillment. Jesus became the fulfilment of the feast of the dedication and everything it represents on the cross, a self-sacrificing act that transcended all hate and stones, all misunderstandings and conclusions, all fears and uncertainties. The cross!

So therefore, may the way of Jesus Christ be our way and may we seek continual change and conversion in our hearts so that we may to be bearers of the good news to everyone that encounters us to reconcile and be reconciled, to love and to accept love, to understand and to be understood, to laugh and to be laughed at, and maybe to share a bottle of Udeme with "that" brother or "that" sister. May St. Ignatius who reminds us to be attentive to the many emotions that springs up within us and around us each day, help us to hear within them the consoling voice of God inviting us to something greater. And may Christ grant us the courage to keep walking in his wisdom even in "near stoning experiences" when the time comes!

*Fr. Benedict Ebogu, SJ, is a Graduate Student in Scripture at the Biblicum in Rome, Italy.



Thursday, Fifth Week of Lent

April 6, 2017


Gen 1: 3-9   Jn 8: 51-59

By *Mr. Thomas Djabaku, SJ

"O that today you would hear his voice ... harden not your hearts"

In today's first reading, the Lord spoke to Abraham "behold my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham". When Abraham did according to the words of the psalmist, "O that today you would hear his voice ... harden not your hearts" (Psalm 95:7d.8a) we saw what the Lord did in his life. In the gospel, Jesus Christ reminds us today about the importance of listening, for there is no better way of accomplishing the Father's will than to listen to the Son. "Amen, Amen, I say to you. Whoever keeps my word will never see death.

Listening is essential in keeping a relationship alive. Our world is broken today because of the many broken relationships at various levels that predominate our societies today. The cause for this brokenness perhaps can be attributed to the lack of listening among friends. In our spiritual life, we often experience dryness when we fail to listen. More frequently, we tend to do the all the talking anytime we strike a conversation with Christ during prayers, but always fail to listen to Christ speak to us. Just like the Pharisees, we harden our hearts anytime Christ attempts to speak to us.

Our life may seem meaningless when we become deaf to the words of Christ. In our deafness, we fail to understand whatever God tells us. The Pharisees thought Jesus was possessed when they failed to understand all that He told them. Just like Abraham, we can only be blessed when we listen to the words of Christ and to the feelings of our brothers and sisters. Remember the Father made it known to us that we should listen to Christ. "This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him" (Matthew 17:5).

As we continue our journey from sorrow to joy, let not only our ears be attentive to the words of Christ, but our hearts be soft in receiving the words; for it is in receiving the word that we keep it.

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


Teach me to listen, O God, to those nearest me, my family, my friends, my co-workers.
Help me to be aware that no matter what words I hear, the message is, "Accept the person I am. Listen to me."
Teach me to listen, my caring God, to those far from me– the whisper of the hopeless, the plea of the forgotten, the cry of the anguished.
Teach me to listen, O God my Mother, to myself. Help me to be less afraid to trust the voice inside — in the deepest part of me.
Teach me to listen, Holy Spirit, for your voice — in busyness and in boredom, in certainty and doubt, in noise and in silence.
Teach me, Lord, to listen. Amen

John Veltri, S.J.


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