CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS WITH INMATES OF JOS PRISONS
Homily at the Mass of Christmas Day celebrated with inmates of Jos Prison.(25-12-2016)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, I greet you in the name of Jesus who is born, who is our Lord, who is our King and who is our Saviour and I hope you are all waxing well in the Lord. We are here to share the joy of Christmas with you as usual and I am happy that God has given us the opportunity to celebrate with you. I see how well you sing and how lively you are even despite the circumstances you find yourself. This is one great gift you should not lose; the gift of joy, the gift of happiness. Whatever happens to you, don’t lose this because it sustains you and keeps you going.
As u can see, we have come from outside. There are many people here than last year who have joined me to celebrate with you- some lay people from the parishes and Church societies, you can see the reverend sisters here, the journalists are here, even Father Christmas has come to celebrate with you. That tells you how much we care and how much we love you. I am truly grateful to God that I find you in good health, that even despite the challenges, God is keeping you alive and He knows why. Each and every one of you has a purpose in life. Each and every one of you has a destiny and you will fulfill that in the name of Jesus. Despite the temporary short coming or this situation you find yourself in, God still loves you, God still cares for you and what He has planned for you will come to be. So, my dear friends, we are here to tell you that you are human beings, you are good people, and therefore nobody should look down on you. As I saw the man who took the first reading, he read so fluently, then sang the responsorial psalm very well, I asked Fr, “are you sure he belongs here?” Fr said “yes”. Then the man who did the second reading in Hausa also read so fluently. Last year when I was here, you had a wonderful drama- very short but very meaningful. All planned and executed by you. Then I tell myself, “oh, here in this family, in the prison, there are very good people” and we have come to tell you that you are good. Let nobody tell you that you are bad. Tell somebody, “I might have made a mistake but I am not bad”. Tell somebody, “I am good”. We are all good people. It’s just that sometimes we make mistakes. I, as a Priest, as a Bishop I make mistakes. If God were to count my mistakes, maybe I will also be in prison. But, God forgives. So, nobody can claim he/she is better than you because you are here. So, I hope you get the message clear- that we are here to tell you God loves you and then, we also love you and that here in this prison yard, there are many good human beings with talents that can be tapped and they can contribute immensely to the growth of our society.
So, convince yourself that you are good and that you will serve your period here and come out a good person. Convince yourself that you can emerge from this prison and be the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. After all, there was a prisoner who stayed here. I know him. He came out and he became the President of this nation. You too can become a President.
When the Mass intentions were read and I heard you pray “that the Governor be blessed so that he will do justice and rule well and so that he will fulfill his promises to you”, I say I join you in that prayer. Not only the Governor here in Plateau State but the Federal Government. There is so much they can do for you. Imagine the raw talents I see here, imagine the goodness I see here. If only the Government can harness these, our society will be better for it. But when they turn their backs and concentrate on other issues that are not meant to help develop the human being, the citizen, you suffer, I suffer and all of us suffer. So, I join you in that prayer; may God touch the heart of our Government and may they do the right thing for the people at the grassroots. And for those who suffer, you in prison, those who are sick, those who have no food, those who are not educated, may Government do something that will bring about change and transformation. Amen.
The world is on fire with love. When I say fire, I am not talking of the fire that burns you but the fire of love. And Jesus is the cause. He has spread that fire of love, that fire of peace and this is what we continue to spread. Remember long ago, Prophet Isaiah prophesied. He lived between 767 and 687 BC. At that time, the nation was divided and there was serious problem; Israel in the north, and Judah in the south. They became two nations. They were one people before but problems and challenges caused this division. And they were always fighting. Somehow they even turned away from God that brought them out of slavery into freedom. They were also worshipping false gods. It was at this time that Isaiah denounced the moral and religious corruption of the time. He proclaimed salvation; that God will reward those who live well. He also told them that, despite their sufferings, a Saviour, a Messiah would come and he will bring them salvation. My dear brothers and sisters, that was announced in Isaiah 7:14 and that is what we are gathered here to celebrate many centuries after.
There was hope for Israel despite all their challenges and I want to say there is hope for Nigeria despite all our challenges. Do you agree with me? You and I can make Nigeria greater. We can make Nigeria better. We have all the resources given us; spiritual, human, material. God has given us so much. So much so that some people say God favours Nigeria too much. God became man and he is called Emmanuel. What is the meaning of Emmanuel? God is with us. God is with you. Do you believe that? God is with Nigeria. Do you believe that? God is with the world. Do you believe that?
Galatians 4:4 says “when the fullness of time came, God sent His son and he was born of a woman”. That son is the reason for this celebration today and we read in the Gospel of John 1, that “in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God”. This is our faith. This is our conviction. That the word was God and this word became flesh. This is the heart of our celebration as Christians. God became man in order to redeem man. This is the joy we celebrate because God had mercy on us. He did not allow us to be abandoned forever; He sent His son to redeem us.
So, we have come here, my dear friends, to share this joy with you, that God is good and that God continues to do well for us. Can you sing that song, “God is good, He has done me well, oh my soul, rise up and praise the Lord”. Okay. Thank you…At least you acknowledge the fact that God is good. Even as you are suffering and having problems, do you believe that God is still good? So, remain in God. Abide in Him and His goodness will never fail you.
My dear friends, we say “God is good” but we in the world, do not reciprocate God’s goodness. There is so much sin and corruption the world today. But thank God the Light is here and that Light is Jesus. Therefore, if we embrace Jesus, we can change the world, we can change our society, we can change our lives. That sin, that corruption, that evil that is in our lives can all be changed. We can be transformed because of our Lord Jesus Christ. So let us embrace Jesus and abide in Him and we will see the wonderful miracles that will take place in our lives. When we talk of miracles, people think it’s all about jumping, healing and all that. No! If you were doing bad things and God’s grace touches you and you change, that is a miracle. So, we hope that there will be a miracle of change, miracle of transformation. When we are changed in our hearts, Nigeria will become better, families will become better, you will be a happier person. So may this change take place in the name of Jesus.
My dear friends, let us put God at the centre of everything we do. There is so much religion in Nigeria but there is no holiness of life. The Muslims have their mosques everywhere; the Christians have their churches all over. If you are going to Abuja, you will see mosque here, Church there and everybody is competing to have their own bigger and taller. Everybody is competing with the noise they make, with the microphones and the loudspeakers. Religion is not about noisemaking. It’s about doing good. It’s about good behavior. It’s about change. It’s about transformation of life. But we make so much noise that is all about religiosity not transformation of inner life.
This Christmas I saw so many Governments organizing big Christmas carols and funfair. They must have spent huge amounts of money to organize that. Is that just external show? Is that just to tell people we are Christians? How do you live as a Christian in your personal life? As a Governor, as a Councilor, as a Minister, as a President, how do you live as a Christian and how do you live as a Muslim? Because the Good Books all teach us to do good. The Quran, the Bible, they all teach us to do good, to love our neighbor and so on but we do not do. That is why politics is in trouble, economy is in trouble. We have removed God from the centre. We have replaced God with ourselves and that is why we are suffering.
Many people have removed Christ from even the Christmas we are celebrating. Nowadays Christmas is about commercial business, it’s about fun, it’s about hedonism, that is all. And I am telling you, that we should return Christ to the heart of Christmas and this will save us a lot.
Finally, St. Bernard said there are 3 coming of Christ; the first coming was when He came in the flesh, the third coming is when he will come to judge the living and the dead but the second coming is when He comes into your life. When you receive Jesus as Lord, as Saviour, as Redeemer, then he has come into your life. Remember that we are told that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, if you open the door, He will enter and dine with you (Rev 3:20). If you are a Christian and you have received Christ so well, you can say like St. Paul, “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19). Also, St. Paul says in 1 Cor 3:16, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So, Christ lives in you. He abides in you. Do not think about Christ as somebody who came from Jerusalem or who dresses like Father Christmas. No! Christ is that person who touches your life and transforms it.
Today is a day of gratitude. We thank God for being so kind, for being so merciful. God Almighty has intervened in the history of humanity. We also thank Jesus who according to Phil 2:7 abandoned his equality and accepted to come and dwell among us. And then, what of Mary? Mary bore Jesus in her. She was the instrument God used to bring Jesus into the world. We thank our Mother Mary for the role she played in our salvation history. The Angel announced the word of God to her and she accepted “behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your will”. The Angel said “hail full of grace”, that was God talking. If God could honour her like that, why can we not honour her? When we Catholics honour Mary they say we are worshipping her. Do we worship Mary? No! Mary is not God. But she deserves our honour. Jesus honoured her, God honoured her and therefore we should honour her.
What of Joseph? Joseph was a patient young man. He was about to marry and God took his wife away from him; made her pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Joseph would have fought and denounced Mary and they would have stoned her to death. The Bible says he was a righteous and holy man. The Angel said “don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife” and he embraced Mary. See how he took care of Mary? Fled to Egypt with the child, even when Mary was to give birth, there were no midwives, it was in a manger and he was there to see Mary through all these. He was a great man. We thank St. Joseph for the role he played.
And then I say thank you to all of you for listening to me. Thank you for accepting Jesus into your life. Remember Matt 5:16 says “let your light shine” so that people can see the glory of Christ in you . I say to you on this Christmas day, “let your light shine!”
May God bless you all.