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Mercy Overflowing A FRESH START

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The Universal Character of Salvation

Today we have an offer of a fresh start from the risen Lord. His death and resurrection means we have a clean slate, no longer bound by the consequences of our sin. We are invited to embrace this fresh start and become a people of the resurrection. In the First Reading St Peter reminds the Jewish leaders and the people of their conspiracy against Jesus: “It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the prince of life”.  But very quickly he moves on from that and assures them that God has turned the evil of Christ’s passion into a definitive victory over evil, suffering and death. Christ has broken the bonds of sin and death, and opened the door to a new life. His resurrection makes holiness and lasting happiness possible for us. That is Peter’s message to the crowds, and that is what the Church is telling us: hope in Christ, leave everything aside to follow him, and he will work wonders in your life. That’s a fresh start!

In the Gospel passage Jesus offers one of his greatest gifts to humanity: “Peace be with you!” We are told that his disciples were frightened on seeing him, so he said those words to bring them calm and reassurance. He encourages them to move on from their fears and doubts and to believe all they had been taught by him and by Scripture. The Lord offers that same reassuring peace to us today, a peace that is enduring, free and all-embracing. It is an interior peacethat is not based on popularity, wealth, comfort, or power, but rather on love, mercy, and compassion. It is a peace that is rooted in contentment and total resignation to the will of God. That’s a fresh start!

St Maria Goretti was an 11-year-old girl who was stabbed to death in 1902 by her neighbour, 20-year-old Alessandro Serenelli for refusing his sexual advances, and resisting his attempts to rape her. Little Maria forgave her killer on her deathbed. In 1950 she was canonized by Pope Pius XII, the youngest officially recognized Catholic saint ever. Serenelli was sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in prison. When a priest came to see him soon afterwards he flew into a rage and attacked the cleric. But slowly his aggressiveness began to wane, and after six years in jail he was on the brink of despair. Then one night, he had a vision of Maria Goretti in which she smiled at him and recounted how she had forgiven him on her deathbed. It was the beginning of a fresh start in his life.

Serenelli began to experience interior peace and a desire to live a good life. He was released in 1929 after 27 years. Then on Christmas Eve 1934 he went to beg forgiveness on his knees from Maria’s mother. She forgave him asking how she could not when her daughter had done so already on her deathbed. He then accompanied her to Christmas Mass in the parish church where he spoke to the congregation, acknowledging his sin and seeking forgiveness from God and the community. Finally, Alessandro Serenelli moved into a Capuchin monastery, where he worked faithfully and diligently as a gardener until his death in 1970.The risen Christ, through the prayers and goodness of St Maria Goretti, gave this brutal murderer a fresh start, and turned him into a wise and happy Christian. A few years before he died Serenelli wrote: “…Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society… and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunmpta.” That’s a fresh start!

Brothers and sisters, this same transforming power of grace is available to us all right now. Jesus stands knocking at the door of our hearts. He so much desires to give us a fresh start. He knows how frail and fickle we can be in our judgments and actions. He knows all our thoughts and feels all our pains. He took on human flesh in order that we might share in his divine nature. He shared in our shame and defeat in order that we might share in his victory and exaltation. He shared in our brokenness in order that we might share in his wholeness. So let nothing stop us today! Let us accept this offer of a fresh beginning and let go of our sins, hurts, and difficulties.

But it doesn’t happen automatically; we have to let his grace penetrate our hearts and gently transform us. A few steps are necessary for us to achieve this fresh start. First, as St Peter spells out in the First Reading, we must “repent, and be converted.” To experience the fresh start we need to confess our sins and renounce our selfish inclinations. This is why the sacrament of confession should be a regular part of our lives! Second, as today’s Psalm reminds us, we must continue to turn to God in prayer: “It is the Lord who grants favours to those whom he loves; the LORD hears me whenever I call him.” During Lent many of us spent more time in prayer and other spiritual exercises. Those efforts gave more substance and verve to our daily lives. We must resist the temptation to abandon them now that Lent is over.  The devil surely wants us to reverse all the gains made during Lent but God wants us to keep growing in our journey with him through prayer.

Third, we need to share with others the good news of Christ’s resurrection. In springtime, trees grow new leaves. These leaves absorb the sunrays, which provide fresh energy for the trees, and then get transformed into growth, flowers, and fruit. Without spreading their leaves, the trees wouldn’t receive the new energy necessary for growth. The same goes for our spiritual lives. We are called to reach out to others with the fresh start that we have received this Easter – the faith, hope, grace and charity that are the hallmarks of the resurrection. If we don’t reach out in this way, through our Christ-like words, example, and actions, we will be like trees that never put out new leaves – Christ’s new life will wither and die in our souls. That’s not a fresh start!

But with our co-operation the love of God is able to transform our world disjointed by sin, and restore peace and harmony to our hurting lives. We are called to become channels of the fresh start, to become gateways to the divine superhighway – men and women aflame with the love of God. When a lactating woman is full, bursting at the seams with the milk of life, the only thing she wants to do is to breastfeed her baby. She itches to lavish on her child the milk of life and nourishment, the milk of maternal love. Similarly, when we are filled with the fresh start of the resurrection, the only thing we want to do is to share it. We want to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

This week, may we be so filled with that love and fresh start as to say to everyone we meet: come taste and see that the Lord is good. That’s a fresh start!

Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalms 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9; First John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

 

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The Data of Forgiveness

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The Universal Character of Salvation

The most important ingredient in today’s media economy is data. The amount of data available determines how much and how long we can work or play on the internet. Currently, many of the service providers offer unlimited data plans but we know that those “unlimited” plans are not always unlimited. Sometimes, your download speed can get slowed down when you cross a certain point. Today, however, Jesus gives us the divine model of an unlimited plan. It is the unlimited bundle of compassion and forgiveness which never gets slowed downed shut down for maintenance. The theme for this week is that we must learn to forgive without limits no matter the injury committed against us.

In Matthew’s Gospel, today’s teaching on unlimited forgiveness comes after Jesus had told his disciples the parable of the wandering sheep, so it is plausible that some would have wondered among themselves how many times a good shepherd should go after the same sheep if it keeps wandering away. In those days, people believed that forgiveness was limited to three times only – a fourth transgression was not to be forgiven. So, by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, Peter was probably aiming to increase the limit to seven times. And Jesus makes it clear that we are to forgive others, “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matt. 18:22).That means we must dispense an unlimited data bundle of mercy.

In Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of a debt we could never pay. Sin is an offence against God and a direct rebellion against his authority and creation. The debt of 10,000 talents mentioned in today’s parable symbolizes the magnitude of the offence that sin causes in God’s eyes, but he is always willing to forgive without limits. However, we can easily cut ourselves off from God’s river of mercy when we refuse to forgive others. We end up restraining God’s mercy and putting ourselves under strict justice. To unfold his mercy without compromising his justice, God leaves each person free to choose between the two. If we insist on strict justice when we are offended, we bring God’s strict justice upon ourselves. But if we offer an unlimited bundle of mercy to others, we draw God’s unlimited data of forgiveness upon ourselves.

The secret to forming a forgiving heart lies in recognizing the evil of our sin and the immensity of God’s goodness in forgiving us. Until we see the ugliness of our ingratitude and selfishness, we will never appreciate the generosity of God’s forgiveness. Let us examine ourselves now to see how much forgiveness we are giving. Is there someone we still cannot forgive even after they have expressed sorrow for their actions? Have we judged someone too harshly because of something they said or did that we did not particularly like? How many times have we failed to help somebody because we are still dwelling on an injury that we suffered many years ago? How many times have we treated someone differently based on preconceived notions or stereotypes? These are some of the factors that shackle us like chains and that disrupt the unlimited data of divine grace in our lives. When we close ourselves off to people or dismiss them based on our preconceptions, mistaken judgments, and prejudices, not only do we make them suffer, we suffer as well.

But it does not have to be that way. Jesus came to free us from and the burden of sin and unhappiness. Forgiveness is like mercury, which runs away when it is held tightly in the hand but is preserved by keeping the palm open. When we lose forgiveness, we lose the ability to give and to receive love because love is the foundation of forgiveness. And since God is the foundation of love, whoever refuses to forgive automatically rejects the love of God. This is the essence of today’s parable and it is highlighted by the contrast between what was owed by each man. The wicked slave owed his master some 10000 talents. In gold terms, that is 350 tons and at today’s price, he owed his master USD21.8 billion. This was way more than King Solomon made in a year which was 666 talents of gold or USD1.45 billion in today’s value (cf. I Kings 10:14). So, this unforgiving servant owed his master what no individual could never payback. In contrast, his fellow servant owed him the equivalent of one talent of gold or USD2.1 million; so a man who was forgiven $21.8b could not let go of $2.1m, and his wickedness landed him in the hands of torturers.

Dear friends, forgiveness is an act of compassion which is expressed in the free choice to pardon one another’s shortcomings every day, and to also pardon ourselves for own mistakes Forgiveness transcends the fear of being wounded again; it is a deliberate act in imitation of the redemptive work of Jesus, the advocacy of the Holy Spirit, and the loving kindness of the Father. The whole point of today’s parable is that our Father in heaven will do the same to anyone who refuses to forgive others. Whoever refuses to forgive is doomed to a life of bitterness, and as the ugly trend continues, the person ends up building invisible walls of resentment around themselves, thereby blocking off not just one’s relationships with other people but with God as well. Forgiveness is not just an emotional expression or a sense of righteousness; it means being merciful not only when there is an explanation or apology, or a promise of amendment from the offender, but even when the offence is deliberate, and the offender is adamant. Forgiveness is a precious gift of grace, which does not depend on the worthiness of the receiver. Forgiveness is what we called to do, and the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us in that regard. Amen.

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Imo Deputy Governor’s giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture

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Imo Deputy Governor's giant strides towards revitalizing agriculture
By Joy Opara

The increasing cost of Agricultural products in Imo State in recent times has continued to be a major source of concern to the citizens of the state.

A critical appraisal of the development of Agriculture in this state reveals that successive governments had neglected this major sector of the economy, over three decades now, and this has adversely affected the revenue of government.

In line with the vision of the “shared prosperity” government of the Hope Uzodinma administration, the revolution of agriculture is among its cardinal programmes for which a high powered committee (on agricultural master plan for Imo State) has been set up.
For the purpose of resuscitating all moribund agricultural industries and facilities in the state, it is not surprising that this committee is headed by a world class Professor of Agriculture and Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku.

The need to diversify the economy cannot be over-emphasized. It is a well known fact that there is no better and more sustainable means of diversifying the economy than through agriculture. It would be recalled that after the inauguration of his committee, the deputy governor went into action, first by visiting all moribund agricultural facilities in the state, which included Adapalm in Ohaji/ Egbema LGA, Avutu Poultry farm in Avutu, Obowo LGA, Songhai farms, Okigwe road, Owerri, ADP farms in Nekede, Owerri West. Others are Acharaubo farms in Emekuku, Owerri North, Imo Rubber Plantation in Obiti, Ohaji/ Egbema, amongst others.
Prof. Njoku in one of his speeches during the tour described agriculture as the economic base of most countries of the world. Considering the dwindling oil revenue, he said it should be a source of worry to people of good conscience that the vision of our founding fathers to generate revenue, food security, economic advancement, industrialization, employment and eradication of poverty was destroyed by successive governments.
The Deputy Governor, who not only is acknowledged as one of the greatest professors of Animal Science, a renowned Agriculturist and former Vice Chancellor of a leading University of Agriculture, the Federal University of Agriculture, Umudike, made it clear that the present government led by Governor Hope Uzodinma is desirous to return agriculture to its former glory.

The Ikeduru-born technocrat and farmer per-excellence said that the 3R Mantra of this administration namely: Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery is a base for making the dream of Imo State as the food basket of the nation come true.

Noting that government is a continuum, the deputy governor promised that his committee will build upon what is already on ground by rehabilitating the ones that could be rehabilitated and bringing in new facilities where necessary to ensure that the passion of the governor towards agricultural revival is achieved.

Meanwhile, in most of the establishments visited by the committee, it was discovered that indigenes of the communities had badly encroached into the lands and converted them to personal use. Investigations by the committee revealed that agents of some past governments in the state connived with the communities to make it possible, for their personal aggrandizement.

The deputy governor, whose humility has become legendary pledged his total support to the Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma whom he described as God sent to right all that were done wrong by the previous administrations in the state. He called on all to give this administration the needed support to rewrite the history of Imo State in gold, especially the agricultural sector.

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Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust

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Child Abuse: A case of betrayal of reciprocal trust
By Christian Uzoukwu

Some years ago, while as a kid, I fell out with my father due to an occasion of sheer disobedience and on that very day, I was given no food and was ultimately battered by hunger. Child abuse includes both acts of commission and omission on the part of parents, guardians as well as care-givers.

These acts have led to a lot of actual and threatened harm meted out on countless number of children. In 2014, the WHO made an estimate of 41,000 children (under the age of 15) that are victims of homicide and other related offences. This estimate, as expounded by this world body is grossly below the real figures due to the views of the society in relation to corporal punishment experienced by children. Girls are always most vulnerable to different forms of child abuse during unrests and in war-thorn territories.

Cases of child abuse can be established in some deadly human vices such as child trafficking, child labour, forced adoption as seen in the one-child policy prevalent in China. In the Asian country, women, by law are only allowed to have one child. Local governments would sometimes allow the woman to give birth and then they would take the baby away stating the mother violated the one child policy. Child traffickers, often paid by the government, would sell the children to orphanages that would arrange international adoptions worth tens of thousands of dollars, turning a profit for the government.

Other striking examples of child abuse are the various forms of violence against the girl-child which involves infanticide, sex-selective abortions, female genital mutilations (FGM), sexual initiation of virgins in some African cultures, breast ironing in some parts of Cameroon – involving the vicious use of hot stones and other tools to flatten the breast tissue of girls who have attained the age of puberty. As if those were not enough, female students are also subject to maltreatments in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is not to talk of recurring kidnapp of female students in some parts of Nigeria, as we saw in the case of Dapchi and Chibok schoolgirls.

Based on simple analysis, child abuse can be defined as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”.

This definition by WHO also falls in line with the definition propounded by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that child abuse are acts of commission. This commission includes “words or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child”, and acts of omission (neglect), meaning “the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.

In Nigeria, most cases of child abuse have become cumbersome due to the fact that these acts of abuses are regarded as mere punishments to unruly young ones and by so doing, should be justified and doesn’t call for any further discussion and/or scrutiny. According to various statistical studies and researches, child abuse is a vast societal cankerworm and has four profound tentacles viz:

Physical Abuse: this involves undue hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, burning, strangling, insertion of pepper into the eyes and pubic regions of children, maltreatments from house-help(s) and seniors at boarding/day schools, suffocating and forcing children to live in unwholesome conditions.

Sexual Abuse also includes persuading a minor into acts of sexual intercourse, exposure of the child’s private parts, production of child-related pornographic contents and actual sexual contacts with children.

Psychological Abuse of children can be seen in cases of excessive scolding, lack of proper attention that children should be receiving from their parents and guardians, destructive criticisms and destruction of a child’s personality.

Neglect of children can also lead to children dropping out of schools, begging/stealing for food and money, lack of proper medical care for minors and realities of children looking like ragamuffins.

Consequently, the causes of child abuse can be judiciously related to sex, age, personal history, societal norms, economic challenges, lack of Rights’ Protection Agencies, parents battling with traits of alcoholism and family size. These causative agents of child abuse can bring untold effects upon the society at large and these effects can be emotional, physical and psychological as the case may be, giving rise to individuals with dissociative lifestyles.

Furthermore, the treatment of individuals who have been malformed with respect to the abuses they experienced abinitio, can be a long process because it involves behavioral therapy and other forms of neoteric therapies. Treatments of psyche-related problems are not just a one-day process due to the long-lasting effects of abuses on various conscious mental activities. It is also noteworthy to point out that, prevention is always better than cure and holding fast to this true reality, entails that agencies who have the responsibility of protecting the rights of children must continue to do the needful which requires proper oversights of parent-child relationships.

To conclude this piece therefore, we must agree that untold hardships have been a great challenge for children especially in Africa and some parts of Asia. Children with long histories of abuses turn out to become societal misfits. To this end we encourage that: Children should be given a free platform to express themselves on many topical issues and issues relating to their existence.

Children should also be allowed to freely ask questions on any issue, no matter, how weird it seems to be.

Governments should make regulations outlawing societal norms and values that might amount to child abuses.

Corporal punishments by parents, guardians and care-givers should be discouraged at all levels, thereby making parents/guardians/care-givers who seem to be incorrigible, to face the full weight of justice enshrined in the law of the land.

Education system (both conventional and unconventional) in Nigeria should be able to train up young ones into becoming critical, analytical and evaluative individuals with a view of defending the vulnerable.

And again, since children are said to be leaders of tomorrow, it is pertinent to note that to secure their future, their present existence must be cherished and protected.

Christian Chimemerem Uzoukwu
08100029867 / 09025760804
Admin Critical Thinkers’ Forum.

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