A Call to Practice True Religion and Repentance
Ash Wednesday homily by Archbishop I.A. Kaigama
In Latin we say, “Tempus fugit” (time flies). I know some of us who still have remnants of some of their Christmas gifts, and I still notice some Christmas decorations in some public places and homes. It is as if we celebrated Christmas only a few weeks ago, yet, Lent has come!
This is a reminder that it is only God who controls times and seasons. They belong to Him. The National Assembly, the Presidency, the security chiefs, the Judiciary and the most powerful and rich people cannot change night to day; turn back or fast forward the hand of the clock, making today to become yesterday or yesterday to become tomorrow.
Scripture says you are wise only when you realize and recognize that God is the author of life, the world and all we have that sometimes lead us to become too proud of our achievements. Aware that all we have and are, come from God, our attitude should turn to that of humility, honour and obedience to Him.
Dear brothers and sisters, welcome to the Lenten Season of 2021. Some people have texted, “Happy Lenten Season” to me. Perhaps we can add “fruitful” to it and say, “Happy and Fruitful Lenten Season.” It is a journey of 40 days of interior conversion, during which period we ask God to forgive our sins and to make us clean as we prepare for the feast of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of Lent even the colours of vestments change. We normally wear green, white, red as the occasion permits, but now, we use purple, a sign of sorrow and repentance.
The symbolism of ashes is to remind us that we are sinners and like people of the Old Testament, its use today signifies our desire for genuine conversion, to return to the Lord. We are expressing ourselves by telling God that we have sinned. We don’t want to remain in that sinful condition anymore. We want to change and be positively transformed. Our prayer is: “Have mercy on me God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt and from my sin cleanse me….” (cf. Ps. 51:1ff).
In the book of Jonah the people of Nineveh (great and small, children and adults, together with their King and even the animals) fasted to attract the mercy of God. God had pity on them and forgave them.
The question is what will make us to truly change or to move us to true repentance? Diseases or death do not seem to deter or move us enough to change, especially where money or the things of this world are involved. We prefer to do things our own way. Money, good as it is, has corrupted our thoughts and feelings. Let public funds be made available to feed the sick, the prisoners, the school children; to provide boreholes, clinics and roads to rural dwellers; to care for internally displaced people, they are diverted without any sense of guilt. Where jobs are said to be provided for the restless youths, only those who know influential persons get them. Some officials, it is alleged, sell the jobs to the highest bidders. Even when there was a lock down in order not to spread diseases, money could earn one a free passage on the roads! What will really make us change?
Lent calls us to purity of heart, intentions and actions. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt. 5:8).
We are required to practise true religion, not the outward show we display so that people will say we are a godly people. We are called to practise true religion that inspires us to really fear God and to avoid bad things, whether in the night or day time, alone or with someone, in your bedroom or with people. Do not plan evil against anyone made in the image and likeness of God. We should consider our common humanity first, not our religious and tribal affiliations.
I repeat that Lent is a call to practise true religion which is more than the recitation of long and eloquent prayers or the regular attendance of religious worship. St. James in 1:27 states: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world”.
During this Lenten Season, please pray well, fast well and be charitable to all, especially the needy.
Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius A. Kaigama
Catholic Archbishop of Abuja