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May 21, 2018

Celebrating Ash Wednesday And Lent In A Troubled Nigeria

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This coming Wednesday, the Church allover the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike celebrates the peculiar feast of Ashes. This day has popularly been labeled“Ash Wednesday” on account of the ritual Ash in which almost all the Christians willingly participate. The ritual celebration of Ashes on this Wednesday marks the solemn beginning of the Lenten season. The rite of blessing and distribu­tion of burnt ashes on the forehead of every participating Christian is the major liturgy of the day. It lasts from morning to night and ashes are sent to those in the hospitals, those incapacitated, bedridden and those inprisons. To buttress the importance of this ceremony, the aged and the homebound receive the ashes on that same day through their priests wherever they may be.

The liturgical rite of placing ashes on the fore­heads speaks volume directly to the conscience of the recipient. In the Catholic Christendom, the priest echoes in a subtle voice while placing the ashes on the forehead, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” in line with the word of God in (Gen 3:19). Alternatively, fol­lowing the revision brought about by the Vatican II fathers, the priest may be free to use another formula which prefer to say “Repent and believe in the gospel’ following the words of our Jesus in (Mk. 1:15).These two catch phrases consolidate our Christian commitment to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ; they remind us that we are nothing but dust of the earth.

A deeper reflection on the message imbedded in these two similar phrases calls us to a standstill in our craze for materialism acquisitions and inordinate ambition. The phrases speak directly to our common dispositions to evil tendencies. Therefore, in the midst of current incessant terrorist attacks and other crippling vices such as kidnapping, robbery with either pen or arm, money laundering, human trafficking, prostitution, etc., the Church through this ritual continues to remind us that we are merely dust and unto dust we must one day return. As we continue with our usual political campaigns of calumny in this country, as we keep up with our ego projection in both the civil and ecclesiastical societies, as we glory in falsehood, dribbling and outsmarting each other, looting and embezzling public and Church funds and killing each other so as to rule the world, the ritual of Ash Wednesday strike a chord that all our glories are but passing shadows and one day we shall all return to where we came from; the dust of the earth.

The season of lent which kicks off today therefore sends an urgent call for repentance, a call which ap­peals to enlightened consciences and wills, a call which demands a total change in one’s life and program and an urgent call for total conversion of heart. In this period of lent, the regular summon for a radical transformation becomes very necessary. In the words of St. Paul,” we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:9). It is therefore a period when we implore God to change our hearts which is imbued with the tendency for evil doing in the family, Church, office and business.

The season of Lent offers us the opportunity to prepare ourselves to walk with Jesus in his sorrowful mysteries through prayer, fasting and abstinence. Let us not forget that the 40 days period of Lent is a replication of our Lord’s fasting for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert be­fore the tempter launched his attack (Mtt. 4:1). Even in the Old Testament, the peo­ple of Nineveh used the same 40 days to put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least to renounce their evil ways (Jonah 3:1) The Church therefore uses this 40 days of Lent to renounce sin in preparation for the celebra­tion of Easter. During this period, Church ministers are expected to preach the good news of salvation with the cross at the heart of their messages and not the gospel of prosperity which stresses miracles, quick wealth, open door, breakthrough and instant success. During this period, the priests should critically tackle the disturbing issues of syncretism, fetishism and the phenomenal of the gospel of prosperity which excludes the cross of Jesus Christ and dwells on material success. They should condemn the sermon by their colleagues which sees sickness or poverty as a curse

The major features of this season; Fasting and abstinence create respect for the proper use of material things and allow one to conquer the self through Christian discipline. Fasting in this season goes beyond just not eating physical food. The prophet Joel cautioned,“Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn (Joel 2:12-8). Fasting is not merely self punishment rather it is a tool that helps one to see the self better and helps one to rediscover the spiritual fruits promised by God in the Scripture.

In the words of St. Paul, these spiritual fruits are recognizable in them that rely on Christ for strength and these people communicate Christ to others.These fruits nurtured during this period include, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gen­tleness, self control (Gal 5:22-23). Paul went further to emphasize humility and putting aside all arrogance, pride and foolish anger. When we bear these fruits, societal evils like stealing, cultism, lying, rape, armed robbery, pen robbery, ritual killing and all forms ofviolencewill be thrown overboard and love will reign supreme.

In this Lenten season therefore, everyone should call to mind his being fashioned out of dust of the soil. We should bear­ in mind our nothingness before the Creator. Every Nigerian and indeed every Imolite should sincerely kneel down before God. We should make ef­fort to remove from our hearts all that constitute obstacles and impediment to a happy personal peace. During this Lenten period, the Church strongly recommends the sacrament of reconciliation and Holy Communion and fre­quent confession. It recommends mortification, almsgiving, work of penance etc. With these spiritual weapons, one makes a commitment to God. By a desired repent­ance and attrition in the Lord’s sacrament of forgive­ness our inner peace is restored and we are drawn closer to God.

This Lenten period is an­other unique opportunity to fill up the potholes in our spiritual lives, mend our relationships with God and humanity and depart from our sins in order to follow Christ more closely and serve Him in truth and sincerity of heart. Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. I wish you all a very fruitful Lenten season.

 


 

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu

Director of Media/Communications

Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri

 

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