A Call to a Positive Transformation

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B, Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama at Holy Trinity, Maitama, (Lenten Campaign, Abuja Archdiocese), February 28, 2021.

Readings: Gen. 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Ps. 115(116): 10, 15-19; Rm. 8:31-34; Mk. 9:2-10

The test of Abraham’s faith in the Genesis story to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, and Abraham’s unquestioning response, demonstrates his absolute faith and trust in God. Abraham passed God’s test with distinction. We too like Abraham, our father in faith, are expected to score very high, by obeying and trusting God unconditionally in all circumstances, especially during this Lenten call to repentance and interior purification.

The Gospel story in which Jesus was transfigured and His outward appearance changed and His clothes completely transformed to a certain whiteness and purity (cf. Mk. 9:3), is a call to a positive transformation of our character and conduct, not only during these forty days of Lent, but every day of our lives, as we look forward to the glory of Paradise which Peter, James and John had a momentary foretaste of in the Gospel account.

Today, by this flag-off of the Lenten campaign, under the auspices of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), with the theme, “Nigeria, Insecurity and COVID-19 Pandemic: The Way Forward”, the Archdiocese of Abuja invites us to progress from verbal prayers and interior purification to a more charitable relationship with fellow human beings especially the poor and the needy of our society.

St. James insists that faith without good work is dead (cf. 2:17) and says if you see a person hungry, do not ignore him/her for according to Christ, whatever good you do to the poor, you do it to Him (cf. Mt. 25). Hence, the need to practise the corporal works of mercy by giving to the needy (cf. James 1:27), beyond the eloquent and long recitation of prayers or the mere attendance of Church worship.

Like Corona virus, poverty is menacingly threatening our rights, values and entire existence. Parish priests or St. Vincent de Paul officials will tell you how many requests for material assistance they receive daily. Corona Pandemic aside, I too receive requests from many qualified but unemployed youths; requests to pay house rent; school fees, dowries, and even for funerals, as well as requests to buy cars! When you go to the periphery of our cities you see people who suffer the lack of basic infrastructure and worry so much about the safety of their lives and property.

Our poor social security system negatively affects millions of Nigerian security personnel, youths, retirees, disabled persons, and families of retired or deceased workers living and contributes to the rising crime rate, leaving the authorities in a quandary. Youths are turned into beggars and some embrace crime or violence or other criminal activities. Pensioners sometimes regret their faithful service to their fatherland as they languish in poverty, especially during tough times like these.

I understand that in Germany, those who cannot work during this COVID-19 period are given 60% of their salary and those, whose small private businesses are crippled, get economic help to cushion their hardship.

Humanitarian activities of Church-based organizations such as the Catholic Relief Services (USA), Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (Britain), MISSIO and MISEREOR, ACN in Germany have supported many poor people in Nigeria. Their income comes largely from Catholics who take up collections yearly; some of the organizations are supported by their Governments to reach out to us without religious or ethnic discrimination.

Despite all the Catholic Church has done and continues to do through social services, schools and hospitals, Government collaborative support of the Catholic Church needs radical improvement.

By this Lenten campaign we take up collections from Lenten boxes and other mandatory collections (collections during Stations of the Cross, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, etc) to meet the Church’s obligations towards the poor, widows, prisoners, youths, etc.

Maryse Quashie, a prominent Catholic human rights activist and former university lecturer in Togo believes the African Churches have matured to the level of being more self-sufficient, “to stop looking for handouts from the West”. She insists that it is time to stop being assisted Churches, but to grow up and become adult Churches; to begin to see that we, too, are rich and have something to share (cf. February 10, 2021 edition of La Croix). She was responding to the letter of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, urging dioceses in almost all of Africa, Asia and Oceania and some parts of Latin America to consider renouncing the subsidies from the Pontifical Mission Societies because donations have dropped considerably since the corona virus pandemic. Maryse Quashie says it is an opportunity for our Church to look for ways to be more self-sufficient.

We therefore commend the JDPC for this Lenten initiative as well as parishes, St. Vincent de Paul, Charismatic Renewal, Legion of Mary, Knights and many Church societies for their sensitivity to the poor.

Everything that we are and own is by God’s grace, not our personal efforts or achievements. God blessed Abraham for not withholding his only son (cf. Gn. 22:16); God promised him many descendants (cf. 22:17a), victory (cf. 22:17b) and blessings (cf. 22:18) through his offspring to all nations on earth.

God who knows you by name will continue to use you like Abraham to bless Nigeria and to bless humanity. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that God the Father did not spare His own Son‘s life but gave Him up as a ransom for many. Do not hesitate in sharing what you have with the poor. Be generous channels of God’s love and compassion to those in need and God will bless you very generously too.

As you give to support the poor, please pray also for the safe release of all kidnapped persons, especially the over 300 abducted school girls in Jangebe, Zamfara State. We pray that our authorities will take more concrete and immediate measures to ensure a holistic national security.

May God save us from all harm and help all Nigerians to live in peace and harmony.

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