Rejoicing even in the midst of adversity

Third Sunday of Advent (A), Holy Cross Catholic Church, Kuchigoro (Our Lady of Fatima Pastoral Area, Karmajigi), Abuja, 11th December, 2022.

Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama
Readings: Isaiah 35:1-6, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Rejoicing even in the midst of adversity

This 3rd Sunday of Advent, also called ‘gaudete’ (rejoice) Sunday is a name taken from the verse in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near” (Phil. 4:4-5). As a visible symbol of the spirit of rejoicing, the penitential violet vestments are today changed to rose colours. The Church invites us to kind of take a short break from the sober and penitential nature of the Advent season.

Being joyful is a gift from the Lord. One can be president of a country without joy, a billionaire with no joy, own private jets, houses in London, Paris, etc., travel frequently abroad for shopping and holidaying but without joy. St. Paul states that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22). And St. Augustine says “Our hearts are restless (joyless) until they rest in the Lord.”

We read from the Prophets about God’s judgments upon the Israelites because of their unfaithfulness, but in the first reading from Isaiah today, there is a promise of great mercy. The people had been humiliated and northern Israel had fallen to the Assyrians. God however spoke words of consolation through the prophets and gave a reassurance of His abiding presence with them. He urged them not to be fearful, but to be of good cheer and courage because He [God] will give them new strength, secure their freedom from hardships and guarantee their return to Zion (cf. Is. 35:10). The message that their land, turned desolate, will prosper and blossom again brought them relief. It was because God pierced through their darkness of despair to give hope and strength that they defeated the massive Assyrian army sent to conquer Jerusalem and Judah, and the retreat of the Assyrians in shame must have brought about great joy in the hearts of those who witnessed it (2 Kgs. 19:35).

As Nigerians a people of hope and resilience, ‘gaudete’ Sunday urges us to have joy, in spite of and in the midst of formidable challenges and social contradictions. We must continue to remain strong in faith that the sunrise of salvation is getting nearer, and Jesus, the source of our true peace and joy is coming. For this reason, we are invited to be full of holy optimism.

Our experiences of evil and social injustice, violence, kidnapping, terrorism, banditry, political hooliganism, inequality, corruption, unemployment, economic crisis, sickness, death, and a myriad of problems besetting us in Nigeria seem to contradict the good news we hear today. We cannot deny that they pose a threat to our faith and become a temptation against it. But we must not let ourselves get swallowed up in despair or succumb to the dictates of unchristian solutions. The words of St. James in the second reading are comforting: ‘Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain….” (Jas. 5:7-8). God will come again in glory, at a time of His choosing, and we ought to keep our gaze fixed on Him and remain hopeful and patient.

We find a great example of one who knew the meaning of patient suffering in the life of John the Baptist. John the Baptist had been arrested because he condemned King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife while he was still living. In the gospel reading, we are told that from his prison cell, John the Baptist heard about the good works of Jesus and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the one Who was to come, or they were to expect another. The disciples took the good news back to John that Jesus was the Christ, the fulfilment of the prophecy and right there in his prison cell, John could rejoice because the expected Messiah had arrived, and he [John the Baptist] had done his part in paving way for Him. John the Baptist found joy in this role, of bringing the people to Christ. Though in prison, he experienced joy of the heart. The experience of John the Baptist shows that we can still experience inner joy and peace even when we suffer bodily.

The level of poverty, unemployment, hunger, etc, in the country is taking away joy from many people’s hearts. Nothing therefore should be done to add to their joylessness. The central bank on 6th December, in its ongoing implementation of cashless policy limited the amounts of money to be withdrawn by an individual and organization weekly as ₦100,000 and ₦500,000, respectively; withdrawal above these limits shall attract a processing of 5% and 10%.

While there may be some merit in this policy, namely, that it will contribute significantly in curbing and curtailing the payment of ransom to kidnappers, bandits and other criminal financial activities, regulating vote buying and money laundering, addressing growing inflationary trend and stabilizing the value of the Naira, there are genuine fears that the new policy will cripple medium and small businesses. Authorities must always put measures in place to cushion the harsh effects of policies no matter how laudable the policies may be.

Most of our rural communities may not have the type of phones needed for electronic transactions. This policy will also adversely affect agents of points of sale (POS) who facilitate transactions for small scales businesses. These POS agents get their cash from banks and the cash withdrawal limit inevitably makes it difficult for them to serve their customers efficiently. This inconvenience affects also artisans who accept cash for their services. It will be a nightmare for a farmer who wants to sell either four bags of grains or sizeable rams/cows for a weekly withdrawal for an individual is just but ₦100,000; individual buyers of such goods for ceremonies are not exempt.

We understand that some corrupt Nigerians who have huge cash stashed away have resorted to purchasing and warehousing large quantities of foodstuffs, building materials, etc., with the heartless intent of benefitting from future price increments. There is already a shortage of food items in some markets due to high demands that have also led to price surge. This Christmas should be one of joyful exuberance rather than one of lamentation due to harsh economic factors.

In concluding, I wish to commend you Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Nweke and your close collaborators and the people of God in Holy Cross Catholic Church, Kuchigoro (Our Lady of Fatima Pastoral Area, Karmajigi), for giving a good example of how to develop a pastoral area. You started with very little but today you do not only have a flourishing community, you have improved on your place of worship, built a father’s house and started a school to cater for the many children in your community. Your pastoral area in the spirit of self-reliance rather than dependency on the chancery syndrome is able to take care of the priest, the catechist and manage to keep going modestly as well as contributing to the central fund of the Archdiocese. Congratulations!

As you prepare your hearts to welcome the Lord who comes, I say to you with St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice”.

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