The Christian Struggle Against the Devil and Sin
FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT (A), OUR LADY QUEEN OF NIGERIA PRO-CATHEDRAL, ABUJA, 26.02.2023. HOMILY BY ARCHBISHOP I.A. KAIGAMA.
Readings: Gen. 2:7-9; 3:1-7, Rom. 5:12-19, Mt. 4:1-11
The Christian Struggle Against the Devil and Sin
Another season of Lent is here; an opportunity to start again, since life is a series of beginnings. We were privileged on Wednesday to witness the solemn ceremony of the blessing and distribution of ashes at Mass during which we prayed for the strength to undertake the Lenten spiritual journey of forty days, which will culminate with the celebration of the passion of the Lord and His glorious resurrection at Easter. We kick-started the season with a clear call from Prophet Joel to repent of our sins. God is not overwhelmed by our many sins. He knows their magnitude and seriousness, but as long as we accept to choose the path of light, not darkness, good, not evil, life, not death, He is ready to wash and cleanse us.
We can achieve this through three basic elements of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Our first Sunday of Lent therefore presents us the theme of temptation and suggests to us ways of overcoming it through careful meditation on the Word of God, through bodily mortification, through prayer and through performing works of charity. We are called in a special way to remain vigilant and to avoid sin. We are invited to a vertical relationship with God; to be more faithful and committed to Him, resisting the temptations that lead to a breakdown of our relationship with God; and a horizontal relationship that leads us to appreciate our brothers and sisters, by respecting and helping them, especially those who are sick, poor or disadvantaged.
In our first reading from Genesis, we read the account of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, who yielded to the temptation by the Serpent. In a bid to ‘be like God’, they disobeyed His command and fell from ‘grace to grass.’ By disobeying God, they allowed sin enter into their hearts and minds, corrupting them and subsequently, human kind.
St. Paul in the second reading presents Christ as a ‘type’ of Adam, a new Adam, who, by His obedience, has come to restore for us the gifts of grace lost by the disobedience of the first Adam. Instead of allowing us to be crushed and destroyed by the sins of our first parents, St. Paul highlights the abundant love of God Who gave us His only begotten Son, to lead us to full reconciliation with God the Father Who loves us without conditions.
In the gospel passage, the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness under three aspects: food, personal glory and material possessions. The same devil that tempted our first parents in the garden of Eden, found his way into the wilderness to tempt Jesus, and is still prowling round like a roaring lion today, looking for people to devour (cf. 1 Pt. 5:8-9). The best weapon against the devil is as Jesus reveals in His response to the devil: “Man does not live by bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4; cf. Ps. 119:105).
Jesus also teaches us how to overcome temptation by vigilance. In this Lenten Season therefore, we should attend Mass more regularly, participate in the Stations of the Cross, receive the sacrament of penance along with other pious devotions that can solidify our bond with God. Our fasting should not be because we seek commendation, but because we have that genuine and strong desire to distance ourselves from sin to come closer to God, and to become more generous in almsgiving to the poor and needy. Here in the Archdiocese, we have the Lenten bag collections and other collections to assist prisoners, the internally displaced and many other poor ones.
In the third temptation, the devil tried to lure Jesus to seek political power and wealth instead of embracing His mission of suffering, death and resurrection. The devil in our days, masquerading as friends or relations tempts us to compromise, strike evil bargains or cut corners, to the extent that sin becomes sugar-coated and is hardly confessed for what it is. If a politician lies, it is said that he or she is only being human; if an accountant steals public funds, it is only a mistake of judgement; if a civil servant receives bribe, he or she is only receiving water to drink or kolanut.
We performed our civic responsibility yesterday by voting for who will become our President and those to represent us at the National Assembly. It is clear that Nigerians truly want a change, and this is the only way we can have that change; not through violence or the reckless use of ill-gotten wealth, but the correct use of the ballot paper, with our votes being treated as sacred. Even though international election observers have commended the fact that in many places the elections were peaceful, we should maintain the political maturity to accept whatever the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) faithfully presents before us and before God as the authentic results.
We fervently pray that there will be no manipulation in the transmission of election results, to enable people accept the results without bitterness or hostilities. We call upon the election officials, security agents, the judiciary and all those involved directly or indirectly in the elections to do nothing to suggest that they have been compromised. They should stand for truth and justice, so that these elections will see Nigerians evermore united in true brotherhood and sisterhood, devoid of hostile religious and ethnic antagonism.
Some, like me, believe that the first rain that fell yesterday in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) may be God’s sign that we truly need a new Nigeria, washed from evil, corruption, immorality, division, etc.
May our Lenten season help us and all Nigerians to have a true change of heart, focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us.