Embrace holiness of life in imitation of Christ
Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, St. Augustine’s Parish, Dutse-Sangbagyi. Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama
Readings: Lev. 19:1–2, 17–18; 1 Cor. 3:16–23; Mt. 5:38–48
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2).
Most of the 75 Catholic Bishops in Nigeria were present at our recently concluded one-week conference in Abuja. They send their greetings and blessings to you all. Rather than bless you alone today, the 75 Bishops are blessing each Catholic, each Nigerian and our entire nation, praying for divine intervention in our political and economic situation, especially as we go to the polls on Saturday to elect new leaders.
Our God is all holy, all powerful, all knowing, and is everywhere. He created heaven and earth, all that is in them that live and move. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (cf. Is. 55:8). His command to us today to be holy is a call to avoid the path of un-forgiveness, dangerous life styles of drugs, rituals, violence, superstition, etc.
How can we be holy and perfect as God? The Holy Spirit can make it possible. St. Paul challenges the people of Corinth to live holy lives and never to submit to defilement because their bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and the dwelling place of God. By this admonition, St. Paul cautions each one of us to do away with sinful habits that deny us the privilege of living as good and dedicated Christians.
Those for confirmation will receive the Holy Spirit to fortify them to preserve themselves as living temples of the Holy Spirit. They, and all of us, must strive to be true to the Spirit and be firm in the practice of the faith, and avoid as St. Paul cautions in Gal. 5:19-21 the works of the flesh; fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, etc. Rather, to bear the fruits of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, kindness, and self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22-23).
On this last Sunday before the Lenten period, beginning on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded to embrace holiness of life in imitation of Christ; to practise the virtues of love, forgiveness, generosity and patient endurance in suffering, to prepare for the celebration of Easter.
Fr. Cyril Nwafor asked me to come today to dedicate the new altar of your church. Dedication is an act of faith and an expression of our desire that not only our lives be holy, but whatever is associated with our worship should be holy: the church itself, the tabernacle, the vessels, the altar, etc., which explains why when we pass the church we make the sign of the cross.
When I sadly heard that some persons desecrated the Blessed Sacrament, in Saints Peter and Paul Church, New Site, Lugbe, an outstation of St. Monica’s Pastoral Area, Sauka, on 4th of November, 2022, I was reminded of the sons of Eli who as we read in 1 Samuel 2:13-16 desecrated the altar, stole from the Lord’s house, extorted the people, took bribes and perverted justice. Desecration of the Blessed Sacrament is not only blasphemous but a challenge to God. Even though Masses of atonement have been celebrated, I shall by God’s grace be there on Ash Wednesday to celebrate yet another Mass of atonement, begging God to forgive this act of sacrilege.
In our first reading today God urged the Israelites to prefer love over hatred for neighbour, fraternal correction of one another and forgiveness instead of retaliation. Similarly, in the text of the Gospel today, Jesus asks us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. He extends the Levitical law of love for neighbours and friends, mandating us to love our enemies too and pray for them.
By loving our enemies, we also become like Jesus who loved us when we were still sinners and enemies of God (cf. Rm. 5:10). He so loved us that He gave Himself up for us (cf. Gal. 2:20). Today, Jesus calls us to love those who ordinarily do not merit our friendship due to the depth of hurt they have caused us and the harm they have done to us.
The communique given at the just concluded first plenary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria can be summarized as a call to Government leaders to love the people they lead through good governance. The Bishops decried the worsening insecurity caused by so-called unknown gunmen, and so urged the government to do more to safeguard the lives and property of citizens; to improve the economy of the nation as the high cost of goods and services continues to skyrocket.
Nigerians must play their role in creating a better Nigeria by participating in the elections in six days time. This time we want an election of credible and competent candidate and not an election marred by manipulation or violence that scares away voters. Our earnest prayer is that the INEC, the security agents and the judiciary will not bow to pressure from any quarters and compromise their work so that only true winners in the elections who as Philippians 4:8 says, are honourable, just, pure, lovely, can emerge and free Nigerians from the bondage of economic hardship, criminality and needless division based on tribe and religion.
The recent bank policy has plunged many Nigerians into untold hardship, because of very limited access to physical cash. However, when we are not comfortable with certain decisions, we should react in an enlightened manner. The unruly acts of rioting in some parts of the nation that attacked bank ATMs, beat up some bank staff, vandalized banks and destroyed bank properties, blocked streets, forcing businesses to close, etc., are not signs of maturity.
Lessons for today:
1) Jesus teaches us to be holy. But we must avoid the temptation of “holier than thou” imagining that we are superior to others because we pray or perform religious obligations better or quote the bible or pray in tongues.
2) St. Paul teaches in Romans 12:20-21 to feed and give drink to an enemy and not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good.
May God’s Holy Spirit poured into our hearts make us truly holy, exemplary and faithful children of God. Amen.