PALM OR PASSION SUNDAY 2020 AT OUR LADY QUEEN OF NIGERIA PRO- CATHEDRAL, ABUJA, HOMILY BY ARCHBISHOP IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA
The Holy Week which is the peak of our Lenten observance begins today with this Palm Sunday celebration. During this week we are going to be journeying with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem and then to Calvary where He will pay the supreme sacrifice to save us from our sins and the sins of the whole world.
We Catholics are not used to an empty Church. Our Churches are known for being well crowded. I know that you who are watching or listening from home would have loved to be in Church today but that you cannot do so is not your fault. I know those of you who hunger and thirst for the Holy mass, to receive Jesus in the Holy Communion and adore him in the Blessed Sacrament. Some of you like to attend daily Mass and many unfailingly attend Mass every Sunday.
However, remember that in the Eucharist we pray for the living, the dead, those who are present for the Mass, those far away like our brave soldiers in the North East doing security work and now many of you who are at home watching or listening, either because you are sick or elderly or because you are obeying the restriction orders by the government to stay at home as a measure to curb the ravaging coronavirus.
A part of Eucharistic prayer number one says: Remember Lord your servants and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them we offer this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them: for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.
The power of this Eucharist we offer here now is so strong that it can transcend mountains, valleys, rivers, forests and penetrate the innermost part of your homes, even if your homes are surrounded by high or low fences. Just open your heart and keep trusting in the Lord. Nothing should separate you from the love of God.
I appreciate the presence of media practitioners here from different media houses who are a great asset in fighting the spread of the coronavirus virus. They are our great bridge, getting relevant and authentic information to you and you can see how important their role is in linking us at this Eucharistic celebration here to you by bringing this Holy Mass to you either directly or through the news they will give about it later. God bless and reward you media practitioners, just as we ask God’s blessings and reward on medical workers who are sacrificing their comfort and sometimes their lives to give professional help to the sick at this time.
The phenomenon of not being able to attend Mass and to receive the Holy Communion is not new. In the early history of the Church Christians suffered terrible persecutions and many died. Those alive could not assemble for Mass and so they resorted to hiding in the burial grounds (catacombs) where if possible they celebrated Mass secretly. During the persecution in Ireland the Irish Catholics had to escape to the rocks to celebrate Masses. They could not participate at Mass safely in their Churches. Many priests and bishops were forced into hiding or exile.
Bishops and Cardinals and priests imprisoned for years in Communist China had no chance of celebrating Mass. The Chinese underground Catholics even up to now hide in homes or any available space to celebrate Mass or to pray.
In Madagascar when the French missionaries were expelled, the Church continued to remain functional through the initiative of a few young men who kept the faith after the expulsion of missionaries during the French war with Madagascar. Even without the celebration of Mass they had spiritual communion and kept the Church going until after the return of the missionaries who found a flourishing Church. The point here is that the catechists and laity kept things going by their daily prayers and doing what they could do as Catholics even when they had no opportunity to have the Mass or do their normal Eucharistic devotions.
Dear brothers and sisters, Coronavirus has kept you home. You did not choose not to come to Mass which is a spiritual obligation for all Catholics. This is due to the peculiar circumstance we find ourselves in. Be at peace! We pray and hope that very soon a cure can be found and all our anxiety will be over by the grace of God and we can resume our normal spiritual and pastoral activities.
Even though a tragedy, this period is also a providential one in the sense that we are learning to trust God and to rely on him more than before. God has the final word not man, whether he is president of a super power or a well endowed scientist, man cannot be omnipotent as God. God is numero uno. Number one! If before we served God partially, haphazardly, indifferently or even in a distracted manner, at this time of being in a sober mood and in the solitude of our homes, we can develop a much deeper spiritual communion with God.
I appeal to you that we continue to do the normal things we Catholics are expected to do every day in a more recollected way: the moment you wake up from sleep, say your morning prayers; pray the angelus at 6 am, 12 noon, 6 pm; say your prayers before and after meals and work as well as your morning and night prayers. Develop the habit of saying ejaculatory prayers such as: “Jesus I love you”. “Jesus I trust in you”, “thank you Jesus”.
Constantly make the sign of the cross invoking the presence of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. My short prayer I say in my language of Jukun-Kona when I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament is: “Nsa usuko kurmam, kurmam wha yi vo yai.” (I thank you God, O God come to help me).
Even now that we are obeying the stay-at-home order, let us not make the mistake that Jesus is on holidays. Jesus still remains EMMANUEL, God with us. He is present with us. He can visit you at home as he visited Martha and MARY; as he visited Simon Peter’s mother in-law who was sick with fever; as he visited and dined with tax collectors among whom was Zacchaeus, who was notorious for cheating many people.
In Rev. 3:20 Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock who welcomes me and opens the door I will come and done with him Rev. 3:20. Let the Saviour in, into your hearts and homes.
Today we hear that Jesus rides on a donkey to Jerusalem. The donkey is a symbol of peace. If he rode on a horse it would have symbolized war or military might. Zechariah 9:9 – 10: says, “Your king will make peace among the nations”. We are called to global peace and harmony and the need to serve our common humanity positively. Peace is what the world should promote at all times, not war.
The gospel which contains the passion of our Lord according to Matthew is a preview of the series of events that would happen to Jesus on Good Friday. We read about Jesus’ willingness to offer Himself to die for our sins and our salvation. We read about the last supper; the betrayal by Judas; the arrest of Jesus and the cruelty of Herod, and unfair judgment meted to Jesus leading him to the way to Calvary, the brutalization of Jesus by soldiers, the denials by Peter and the courage of Simon of Cyrene, the loyalty of Mary and John, the death and burial of Jesus. etc What will you be remembered for? Are you a Herod, Peter, a Judas or a John?
Hosanna means “save us”. We cry out to Jesus to save us from our sins and eternal death as well as the coronavirus. We are carrying a heavy cross in the world today.
Our prayer is that as we come to the end of the forty days so shall we experience the end of the coronavirus. We should continue to say the prayer of Pope Francis to MARY during the corona pandemic.
Since this is the peak of the Lenten season, if we procrastinated, this is injury time. Do more: alms, prayer, fasting. Government, apart from imposing understandable restrictions of movements in order to minimize the spread of the coronavirus must ensure that people don’t suffer lack of food, water, electricity and basic medical care. Those entrusted with the responsibility to remedy this unfortunate situation must make judicious use of funds donated or provided by government and see to the adequate provision of medical equipment to hospitals and the safety and effectiveness of health workers. Keeping people indoors for too long can have its unpleasant repercussions. Psychological support and spiritual and pastoral care must be available in some form or the other. Security agents must be understanding and gentle with people who are full of anxiety and fear. There must be no intimidation or extortion.
We as a church must sacrifice from the little we have in solidarity with those infected or affected as well as those who stay home with very little to survive on. The St. Vincent de Paul and the Justice and Peace department of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja are hereby being officially tasked to ensure that the little that the Archdiocese can afford is used to help the suffering.
I had promised using the money I got during the recent Cathedraticum to support the building of the new cathedral, but considering the gravity of the situation of our people, I shall divert it along with other food items collected to support within our limits the people during this critical period.
I call on every Catholic including the clergy and the religious to make personal sacrifices. All men and women of goodwill should help with whatever they can. Let us act fast. No time to waste.
For the sake of the sorrowful passion, Jesus have mercy on us and on the whole world.