CHRISTIAN LOVE CAN TRANSFORM NIGERIA

By +Godfrey Igwebuike Onah.

(Catholic Bishop of Nsukka)


A Homily preached on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity at the Democracy Day Thanksgiving Mass of the Enugu State Government at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Ogui Enugu on Sunday 27 May 2018 «Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commandments I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time» (Mtt 28: 20). In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

My dear Friends, This is the beautiful conclusion of the Gospel according to St Matthew. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after he had risen from the dead, appeared to his fear-stricken and bewildered disciples and charged them – by now 11 simple, uneducated men – to take his message of salvation to all nations! These same men, who could not stand their ground before the Jewish priests and the representatives of the Roman government who unjustly condemned and crucified Jesus, were expected to dare not only the rest of the Jewish nation, but all the nations of the world with the same message that had brought their Master to such a horrible and horrifying death. How on earth were they supposed to do this? They hadn’t the faintest idea then. Jesus had made them a promise: «I am with you always; yes, till the end of time». But then, he left! Was that supposed to be a joke?

About 2000 year later, we now know that it was not a joke. The project of Christ’s disciples in turn making disciples of all nations is far from being fully realized. But it has come a long way. Despite all attempts to supress it, which today have been intensified in many parts of the world (including some parts of Nigeria), the message of Christ has had a truly worldwide outreach and its influence can be felt in some form in almost all the corners of the globe. The explanation for this is to be found in the mystery we celebrate today – the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. To understand the message of Christ for what it really is, it has to be accepted as God’s revelation, not some human wisdom (St Paul thanked God that the Thessalonians when, they received the word of God that was preached to them, accepted it for what it truly is, the word of God and not the word of men – 1 Thes 2; 13). What Jesus taught and did was from the Father, for he and the Father are one (Jn 10: 30); and when he left, he sent the Holy Spirit to bring his teaching and his work to completion (Jn 16). The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God in three Persons, is the central mystery of Christian faith and life, and the source of all the other mysteries of faith. O bu ife omimi nke ka uche mmadu: Ato n’ime Otu Chineke di Ngozi. Anyi g’ekwelu maka Chukwu kuzili ya: Ato n’ime Otu Chineke di Ngozi. Kele ya, ngozi diri; kelee, ngozi diri; kelee, ngozi diri Ato n’Otu di Ngozi.

Faith in the Blessed Trinity is an indispensable condition for receiving Christian baptism and one is baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In this way, the life of the Christian is immersed in the Trinity. As a constant reminder of this, every Christian prayer begins and ends with «In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.» (Those Christians who prefer to begin and end their prayers simply “in the mighty name of Jesus” should remember that there have been and still are thousands of Jesuses. But there is only one second Person of the Holy Trinity. They should therefore be careful not to join those who would rather take Jesus Christ out of the Trinity and relate with him only as man.) Without the Son and the Spirit, the Father becomes a distant, cold and austere creator who is out there looking for whom to punish for disobeying his commands and whom to bless for obeying them. Without the Father and the Spirit, the Son becomes either a radical revolutionary who got killed for his extreme views and outlandish actions (that was how the Jewish religious leaders of the time saw him), or a gifted prophet who did a lot of good and worked many miracles (this is how the Muslims and even some Pentecostal Christians see him). Without the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit becomes only «an impersonal divine force… [which some believers think] they can throw like stone at their enemies while shouting “Holy Ghost… Fire!”» (cf. Fr Ben Agbo). (Christians should be careful lest they commit the grave sin of blasphemy by using the name of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, the way the adherents of the traditional religion use the names of Amadioha and Adoro-Ero) The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is one eternally living, ever loving, creative and merciful God. The Holy Trinity is the God of love in whose image and likeness every human being has been created; and whose life of love we are called to imitate.

This is the truth about himself and about human beings which God has revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ and which Jesus has charged everybody who believes in him to announce to the whole world, so that others may accept it, live by it and be saved. Sadly, though, most Christians today in Nigeria, especially we Catholics, have become very complacent and have forgotten the mandate Jesus gave to us to bring his message across to everybody. Not only are we not ready to inconvenience ourselves by taking the message to where it has not been heard, we are no longer even interested in sharing the message with those who have not heard it when they come to us. What is worse is that among the disciples of Christ, only a few seem to take the commandment of love seriously and some Christians have now even turned the message of Christ into a big business, distorting it and using it only to manipulate others for the sake of accumulating material wealth and worldly power. Little wonder then the mere numerical increase in the number of Christians in Nigeria has not led to a better Nigeria. Yet the commandment of love that Jesus Christ gave to his disciples to observe has the capacity of transforming every human society, including our dear country, Nigeria, into a peaceful, prosperous society.

In two days Nigeria will be marking what has come to be called the “Democracy Day.” As would be expected, in the days ahead, many Nigerians will voice their disillusionment at the turn we have taken in the journey we started 19 years ago, when the ballot boxes replaced the armoured tanks as the means of changing government. (We wrongly presumed that democratic elections alone were enough to produce democrats. But the reality staring us in the face is that the military dictators have recycled themselves back into the system through the ballot boxes) Many will likely draw attention to the insecurity and fear that now envelop the nation; the restiveness of our youth and their lack of sense of belonging; the growing rate of poverty, suffering and misery among a large segment of the society; the attempt at some levels of governance to intimidate the opposition into silence; the brazen winner-take-all attitude of some who are now in power; the ever-increasing depth of corruption in all sectors of our public life – in spite of all the anti-corruption mantras; and, above all, the seeming deafness and blindness of some of our rulers to the cries and plight of the citizens. It will not be surprising if some will even doubt whether the form of government we have in Nigeria now should at all be called a democracy, government of the people, when most Nigerians are not even considered part of “the people” by the ruling oligarchs. The media, especially the social media, will be awash with negativities about Nigeria in the next few days.

I would, however, like to remind us that no amount of complaint about the state of affairs in Nigeria or criticism of her leaders will transform Nigeria. Only visionary, focused, committed, self-sacrificing, Nigerians can transform Nigeria. And YOU could become one of such. Today, Nigeria is badly in need of convinced Christians who will bring the gospel values into the public space; Christians who, through their personal life and public action, will teach others the commandment of love that Jesus gave to his followers. Rather than wail and lament about the bad state of affairs in our country, rather than blame everyone else about this state of affairs, we should all ask ourselves what we are doing as Christians to spread the Christian message of love in our country. That is the only message capable of reversing the speedy race to self-destruction which the Nigerian nation seems to have started.

When we pray for the gift of good Christians who will assume public office in Nigeria, it is not so that they may use their position to favour their fellow Christians and their religion to the disadvantage of others, the way some public officers in Nigeria today are favouring one particular religion and its adherents, without shame and without apologies. It is rather so that such Christians may bring into office such Christian values as equality of all human beings, respect for human life – every human life, leadership as service, real concern for the common good and, above all, love of neighbour, including those who hold different political and religious views. These values need to become part of our culture, if we hope to survive as a nation. We need to teach them to our children. This would be the best way to guarantee and secure their future; not by stealing and stashing away enough money for them.

Today we celebrate Children’s Day. Very often the only way our governments celebrate this day is by bringing school children out in the sun and rain for march-pasts, after which they go back to their dilapidated schools to meet their demotivated teachers. We all know that the education system in our country has collapsed, largely owing to the government take-over of mission schools. Some State governments, like ours, who have realized this are attempting to rehabilitate the system by involving the missions and other voluntary agencies again in education. Unfortunately, this move is being resisted by some public officers, most of whom are Christians and parents of the children of school age – all because of greed and other selfish motives. Give our children good education. That is the best way to prepare them to face life in future. Many Nigerians in my generation have been able to overtake their parents because they received sound education. Today, however, many Nigerian children may not even be able to get to the level of their parents, let alone overtake them. That is why some parents, the very ones who have destroyed the present and the future of their children, think that they can now provide for their children and grandchildren by stealing public funds. If you want to provide for your children, educate them well. Offer them Christian values and they will be able to take good care of themselves and of others.

We thank God for the Governor of Enugu State and for all those others in public office who are trying to show by their style of governance and leadership what positive results convinced Christians can achieve for the good of all. We ask God to bless and strengthen them. As the general elections now approach, the skyline of Enugu State is filled with billboards of those who want to show their support for and “endorsement” of the continuation of the Governor, come 2019. I believe the Governor is not fooled. He ought to know that many of the sponsors of these glossy advertisements are simply jobseekers who are frantically seeking to be noticed and consequently be rewarded after the elections. Endorsement or support for a leader in times of election are not just a matter of billboards, but of votes. The best, therefore, that one should do to obtain the desired results in the coming elections would be to register now, vote wisely when the time comes and encourage others to do the same. Some who are currently serving in the various legislative houses are not known to have done anything for the people they represent. Yet they are scheming to be allowed to continue, as a condition for supporting the current government. I appeal to the parties not to field such people again – irrespective of the internal arrangements of the parties. The welfare of the people (or the common good, as it is called in Catholic social teaching), not the presumed claims of individual politicians, should be the central focus in a democracy. For those in public office, the best “endorsement” they can give to the Governor would be to key into his people-oriented programmes and help him realize them fully. We know that there are many Christian public officers in Enugu State who with the Governor are loudly affirming that «Enugu State is in the hands of God», while they themselves show by their work that they are entirely in the hands of Satan. Jesus told people like that: «You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires» (Jn 8: 44). The same should be said of all those who kill innocent persons in the name of religion or for other criminal reasons. You can honestly say that Enugu State or Nigeria is in the hands of God only if that part of the State or Country that God has put in your hands are in safe, Godfearing hands, moved by a loving heart.

Sometimes Christians who struggle to bear witness to their faith in public life are persecuted, even by fellow Christians, and they may feel that God has abandoned them. «Know», says the Lord Jesus, «I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.» If more and more Christians live out the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the mystery of love, in their lives, others who have not known Christ will be drawn to him through them. For then their life will shine like light before others who, seeing their good deeds, will give glory to our Father in heaven saying: «Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.»


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