The person and role of Mary in the church is a very significant feature of Catholic life. The tradition of asking for her intercession and honouring her in countless ways are part of our tradition that goes back to the first centuries of the Church. We have to acknowledge that in the recent times the place of Mary in theology and in the Church and devotion to her has become somewhat ambiguous. Older people nostalgically remember colourful processions, May crowing of statues of the Madonna, novenas and sodalities in her honour and the daily recitation of the family rosary often deplore the seeming lack of interest or lack of understanding of her person and place in the church today
It is therefore very necessary as we go on in the year of faith to briefly reflect on our Blessed Virgin Mary, her person, her role in the church and in our Christian witnessing.
Mary, the first disciple
Biblical scholarship on Mary shows that the overriding truth about Mary that emerges from the gospels is that she is a disciple of Jesus. Paul VI calls her “the first and the most perfect of Christ’s disciples” (Marialis Cultus n.35), Raymond Brown refers to her as a “true disciple faithful to the word of God”(R. Brown 1975:105).
In putting up their picture of Mary as disciple, biblical scholars and theologians interpret all the passages that speak of Mary in Luke’s gospel in the light of discipleship.
At the Annunciation (Luke 1:26ff), she is the one who is radically open to God, not in a purely passive way but by her free and active choice, at the Visitation (Luke1:39ff), she goes with haste to the one in need, and in her Magnificat (Luke 1:46ff) she speaks out strongly on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, in the episode of the finding in the Temple (Luke 2:48ff), she accepts that God’s claims over son, as well as over herself, surpass all other claims, even those inherent in the mother-son relationship. When she does not understand God’s word, she stays with it in faith, pondering it. She appreciates that her most authentic relationship with Jesus is rooted not in her physical ties to him as his mother, but in being like him, someone who hears the word of God and does it (Luke 8:19-21).
When we look at the other Synoptics too, we find in one episode which they all report concerning Mary, Jesus himself draws attention away from blood-relationship to him, focusing instead on the priority of disciple-relationship in the new redeemed order. This aspect he affirms again when the woman in the crowd tries to praise Mary because she is Christ’s mother (Luke 11:27-28).
Friends, what is it that you are trying to do in response to God’s call or in your Christian witnessing that Mary has not done perfectly. Her openness to the Holy Spirit was the natural result of a very deep humility. When you really know that by yourself, you cannot do a particular thing, then you are more open to receiving help from greater power. When Mary’s question, “How can this be done?” was answered with an assurance that it would be done through the power of the Holy Spirit, of course she banished all fear, all further questionings, and she bowed her head in quiet acceptance. Mary’s glory consists, not in anything she actually did, but in the fact that she allowed God do anything he wanted to do (J. McARdle 1994:105). This is the crux of discipleship and Christian witnessing.
Let me quickly say here too that the Biblical approach to Mary in which her discipleship is emphasized is not meant to belittle her, much less to deny her natural motherhood, but rather it is to highlight the simple truth that Jesus considers it more important to belong to his eschatological family than to belong to his physical family. This is what we achieve when we accept Mary as our mother and also be willing to imitate her deep humility and firmness in her witnessing.
Mary Role in Salvation
It is no longer news to talk about Mary’s role in the salvation of the human race. It is a constant belief in the Church. Mary as the mother of all Christians has a long standing tradition in the Church.
Lumen Gentium chapter eight treats extensively of Mary’s motherhood, it explains that this motherhood is in the order of grace, not in the order of nature. It is a motherhood which lovingly concerns itself with every detail in the life of those who are her children, having a special care for their salvation. This is exercised by her unceasing pleading with her Son on behalf of these her children. Devotion to Mary as mother has been and is for God’s people a source of comfort, strength and hope. In her we find someone, a mother, who understands us and is always willing to help, a mother who is never scandalized by our weakness and who consequently never rejects us.
Mary is never the centre of Christianity, as some might be accused of making her out to be, but she certainly leads directly to the centre, and is always found at the centre. She is there to encourage us to “whatever He says, you do” (John 2:50. Mary is always found with the friends of Jesus, out at the edge of the crowd, and Jesus is in the centre (Mt 18:46). She has a special mission in bringing people to Jesus and Jesus to people, in building a deep and lasting relationship between her first child and the rest of her children.
Mary and Our Christian Witnessing
Each of us would be permanently transformed for better if only we believed the good news we hear everyday. Mary heard and she believed “All these happened because you believed” Luke 1:45). When she accepted the word that was spoken to her by the angel, it passed from her head down to her heart, she accepted it totally; at that point “The word became Flesh”
Whatever we are called to be and to do, Mary is a perfect and clear model. She emptied herself totally of pride and self-seeking, and God could therefore fill her with His spirit. Her cooperation with the spirit made it possible for Jesus to come on this earth. She became the first Christian as she brought Jesus to Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, and in Cana in Galilee. Her visit to Elizabeth I see as Christianity in practice. She brought Jesus into that scene and the whole stress was on the greatness and goodness of the Lord and what great things he has done. Just to say that Mary’s visit is a challenge to our world of abortion on demand; it is so nice to think of the unborn John the Baptist leaping for joy in the presence of Jesus.
Again, when Jesus says that “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18). He meant it because Jesus never makes a statement that is totally unsupported and unconnected. Not leaving us as orphans is in connection or against the background of his other statements; “when you pray, say Our Father” (Mt. 6:9), and “Son, behold your mother…” (John 19:27). Therefore, we are all invited into the family of God, yet the choice is ours, we can decide to be a child of a single parent or to embrace the invitation into a real and full family.
At the waiting of the Holy Spirit, there was still a need for a mother; there was still work for her to do. Because of her unique openness to the spirit, she was the ideal person to conduct the novena for Pentecost. She had something that rough pragmatists like Peter and moody doubters like Thomas needed most. After a few days when nothing was happening in the upper room, Peter probably wanted to go home. He had to be doing something, like jumping out of a boat and half drowning himself, or cutting off someone’s ear and running away. Meanwhile Thomas may well be demanding for proof that something was going to happen, or he would go home too. In any case, Mary’s quiet waiting prayer, her unassuming but unshakable faith in God’s promises spoke louder to them than any words. Because of Mary, they waited, prepared for, and received their Pentecost. In a way, Mary had given birth to Jesus once again; this she does again and again in our lives as Christians and gives us the courage in our witnessing. As the apostles waited and received the spirit at Pentecost which enabled them to preach the gospel in words and deeds. She is not tired of interceding for us as her children and she is not tired of supporting us in our witnessing only if we appreciate her person and her role in our lives and our calling.
Mary was the first altar of sacrifice in the new covenant; she shared the Eucharist with Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna. She walked to Calvary and stood at the foot of the cross to get clear, graphic, and definite evidence of the horror of sin, the extent of divine forgiveness and the depth of divine love. Mary holds Jesus out to you and me, at times as an infant; reminding us of our own limitation and helplessness, at times as dead on the cross reminding us of dying and self-sacrifice inherent in the Christian witnessing.
Friends, if we have a place for Mary in our life, we will never find it difficult to identify the ‘authentic Christ’. As long as we recognize that Christianity is about a person-Jesus, then we will never have problem keeping a place for the Mother.
Iwuji M. Tochi
SpiritanInternationalSchool of Theology, Enugu
The Data of Forgiveness
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.
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.
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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