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The Practice of Prayer (2)

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– Rev. Fr. Dr. Anthony Njoku

The journey of prayer begins with this experience at some level and ends in it. Ultimately, prayer is homecoming, a return to our source, a waiting on God and a communion and union with God. In it is fulfilled the hunger in our hearts  as experienced by St. Augustine: “O God…you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Confessions, Bk 1, #1).  Adoration, praise, thanksgiving, supplication, intercession, etc, are prayer to the extent that they are a hunger and a preparation for acknowledgement, a consequence, manifestation and expression, of this experience.

Prayer adds nothing to the glory of God nor influences his ever perfect loving will. In prayer, as in all other man’s relationship with God, man is absolutely and always a recipient. He has nothing to give but all to receive  as he surrenders totally to God and his will. In this total receptivity and surrender he becomes fully alive and assumes his proper place and destiny in God. Perfect prayer is man fully alive. This is the glory of God and the ultimate fruit of all prayer. The man of prayer seeks the accomplishment not of his will but the will of God in imitation of Jesus who prayed:  “your kingdom come, your will be done” (Mt.6:10).

Prayer is answered, effective and “powerful” not when our will is done but when we come to want and accept the will of God as Jesus did at that most critical hour: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt” (Mk 14:36).  The man of prayer finds delight in the will of God whatever it may be. About his approaching death Jesus said: “He has no power over me, but the world must be brought to know that I love the Father and that I am doing exactly what the Father told me. Come now, let us go” (Jn. 14:31).

Luke, the evangelist, tells us: “Now once he was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples”(Lk. 11:1). In answer to this request Jesus gave them what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. He asked them to persevere in prayer with confidence in the goodness of God. He ended saying: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”(Lk 11:13). This, in fact, is Jesus’ answer to their request that he should teach them how to pray. In effect, Jesus is saying to them, ask the Father and he will give you the Holy Spirit who will pray in you. Prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. To the Romans Paul said: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (8:26).

We see this in the life of Jesus.  After his baptism, it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness to pray (cf. Lk 4:1). In another moment of prayer Scripture says of Jesus: “Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the cleaver…”(Lk 10:21). We are able to pray, to cry: Abba, Father, because God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts (cf Gal 4:9) for “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit”(1Cor 12:3).  Prayer is the birthright of those who have become sons and daughters of God, a work accomplished in them by God’s transforming Holy Spirit. It is as such that He, the Holy Spirit, is the principle and source of Christian prayer.

Yet it is man who prays. He does this principally by preparing himself to receive the gift of prayer. He makes room and provides space for the Spirit who “makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15) in response to the divine testament over us, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”(Mk 1:11). He must go into prayer as a guest worthy to be here, worthy because he is ready for God who is merciful, and as a son coming home because “the spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons” (Roms. 8:15) and with  Mary who has chosen the better part (cf Lk. 10:38-42). The better part is to sit and listen at the feet of the Lord who said, “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3) “and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”(Lk 10:22). Therefore, he sits at Lord’s feet listening with the consciousness of the servant of Yahweh who declares: “Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear” (Isa 50:4).

Therefore, training in listening is most fundamental in the life of prayer and so is silence. There is no road to God that does not pass through silence. Silence is not merely the absence of word or thought, imagination or memory but being present, being in the now, not worrying about tomorrow. God, the object and subject of our prayer, is the eternal NOW. It is only in the now that we can meet the NOW. The big training, exercise and preparation for prayer must be learning to be present, learning to manage and overcome distraction. Prayer at its purest, contemplation, meditation, mystical experience, union with God is being present to the Present, God, in the manner of loving him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”(Lk. 10:27).

The greatest obstacle to attaining presence so essential for prayer is the human mind, rather our lack of control and mastery of the mind. It is taken as normal that the human mind must wander, dwelling on the past as memory and on the future as imagination, without a switch off button. It is our identification with our mind living in the past and in the future that makes being present in the now difficult for most and impossible for some. In this situation prayer becomes saying prayers and performing rituals while absent though bodily present.

How, then, one may ask, do you live in the now? The Lord gave the secret two thousand years ago when he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). Children do not set their hearts on the past or the future in worry and anxiety. They live in the present. They leave the rest –past and future- trustingly in the hands of their parents. This attitude, reinforced with  discipline of doing one thing at a time, will lead to a progressive mastering of the mind, a curbing of its wandering and to an inner silence and peace. With this done, one is ready to pray.

Before we look at the practice of prayer we need to reiterate and underscore what  we have earlier said, namely, that our prayer adds nothing to the glory of God nor does it change him and yet he wants us to pray, indeed, ceaselessly( cf 1Th 5:17). Somehow it means something to God, but what and how? In prayer man willingly takes his rightful place before God as a creature and dependent. He enters into right relationship with God, being and becoming what God intends him to be. Thus, the glory of God is revealed and manifested in him. Prayer transforms (transfigures) the man who prays and in him, fully human, reveals the glory of God. In his adoration and praise he willingly and lovingly stands in the truth of his creaturehood, acknowledging the creator. In thanksgiving, supplication and intercession he confesses his total dependence on the providence of God. As said earlier God’s glory is man fully alive, that is, being and becoming what God intends him to be. Prayer gives  glory of God to the extent that the man who prays becomes fully alive, living always and consciously in the presence of God, in union of will and in absorption in his Being.

Community prayer, public prayer and liturgical prayer are rooted in, built upon and authenticated by personal private prayer. Prayer in the synagogue is an ordinary part of the private and public life of Jesus (cf. Matt. 13:54, Mk. 6:2, Lk. 4:16) however, the Gospels dwell more on his private personal prayer in telling the story of his life and experience of prayer.

“Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened. And the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”(Lk. 3:21-22). In the grace of this experience he launched into his public life and to this grace he often returned. “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there” (Mk. !:35). And as “his reputation continued to grow, and large crowds would gather to hear him and to have their sickness cured…he would always go off to some place where he could be alone and pray” (Lk. 5:15-16). In the face of mortal threat from the Scribes and Pharisees “he went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God” (Lk. 6:12). In the presence of the disciples prayed alone (Lk (9:18) and later “he took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning” (Lk. 9:28-29). He was so regular, consistent and frequent in this act that “once he was in a certain place praying and when he had finished one of the disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11: 1).

To be contd.

 

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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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