“Is this not the sort of fasting that pleases me: to break unjust fetters, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break all yokes? , Is it not Sharing your bread with the hungry, and sheltering the homeless poor; if you see someone lacking clothes , to cloth him and not to turn away from your own kin?
Then you cry for help and Yahweh will answer, you will call and he will say… if you deprive yourself for the hungry and satisfy the need of the afflicted, your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkness will be like the non,. Yahweh will always guide you, will satisfy your needs in the scorched…” (Is. 58: 7- 1 0).
It goes without saying that Fasting is a pious act. Nevertheless, the prophet Isaiah declares that true piety does not consists only in such ritual acts but in responding to the practical demands of justice such as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless poor, clothing the naked etc.
This is because these acts of piety do as much to restore the community that practices them as they do to restore the poor; for when oppression and afflictions are removed from a community it is revitalized. In other words, fasting that becomes ritual and does not bring relief to the poor and needy and freedom for the oppressed is a pious exercise in futility.
This is to say that if our Lenten observances especially as they concern fasting are to benefit us at the end of the day, they should lead us to the performance of the corporal works of mercy, namely, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting those in prison, visiting the sick and burying the dead.
These are the tangible ways of making our Lenten exercises fruitful for us and beneficial to others. And we do this either personally or by supporting the work of charity groups such as the JDPC/ Caritas, St. Vincent de Paul poor box, parish food pantries and soup kitchens etc.; mindful of the fact that every charitable act is a stepping stone to heaven.
And as someone has said “to do the corporal works of mercy does not a require fat donations but a generous soul”. Maximus the Confessor makes the point even clearer when he said that: “Not only by the distribution of money is a charitable intention made manifest; no, far rather by the distribution of the word and physical service of others. So, do not say that you are the Lord’s temple; nor say mere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ can save me.
For this is ineffective unless you also possess charity for him through good works. As to mere believing; the devils also believe and tremble” (2nd reading of the Office of readings of Sunday, Week 7 of Ordinary time).
In matters of helping the poor and needy, Jesus urges us to do so preferably in secret because the loving eyes of God see every good work and rewards in secret (cf. Matt. 6:1-4) The saying is apt here: the quiet reward is better and true virtue does not draw attention to itself.
While it is a good and commendable thing to take care of the poor and provide for their immediate need, however, as an institution and faith community, the church has a duty and obligation to find out and to help address the root causes of poverty especially the kind of poverty we have in our country – self-inflicted caused mainly by a lack of good political leadership, the kind of leadership that uses common resources for the common good.
It is indeed incredible that our country is where it is today given the enormous resources both human and material that God has blessed it with.
And given where we are right now, a queueing nation where citizens queue to get what is theirs by right especially essential and basic necessities of life, it is right to ask: How did we get here and where did we get it wrong? What is the way out of this quagmire of poor political leadership? Are we doomed forever because of poor political choices we make? Shall we continue to repeat the same mistakes of the past of choosing leaders who care less about the citizens and more about themselves and their cronies?
The good news is that we now have a chance to turn things around using our Permanent Voters Card (PVC) to elect men and women of proven integrity and character and this is a duty that is incumbent on every eligible voter in our dear country, Nigeria.
Dear brothers and sister in Christ, the Lenten season calls us to repentance. However, we all know that repentance that does not involve a change of heart, it will not lead to a change of life. And repentance that does not lead to a change of life is like decapitating weeds while leaving their roots intact.
The Lenten season is a decisive time, a time to make up our minds and take responsibility for our actions and inactions. It is a time of spiritual renewal and rejuvenation. Indeed, it is a time of new beginning and starting afresh.
The long awaited 2023 general elections are upon us. It is now time to go out and exercise our franchise to vote men and women of proven integrity that will lead our country out of the deep mess that it is in right now.
Our nation is indeed at the threshold and all eligible Nigerian voters have a role to play in helping it turn a new lease of life. Indeed, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of political salvation for our dear country Nigeria. We must seize the moment by going out
to vote guided by our good Christian conscience. And as we all know, the good Christian conscience would neither subscribe to unjust and inhuman political programmes nor support political parties or candidates that espouse ideals that contradict the essence of Christian faith and morals (cf. Taking Responsibility for our Common Destiny, Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria (CBCN), 2007, no 7).
If there is anything our dear country needs today, it is a new and fresh beginning. The Bible tells us that new wine should be put in fresh skins (cf. Matt. 9:17). And Lent is about new beginning. Let us seize this God-given time of spiritual renewal to renew our country politically by voting in fresh and less spoilt and less contaminated leaders, leaders who are not already set in their ways and still have something at stake and to look forward to.
Brothers and sisters, “the upcoming elections provide us with yet another opportunity in our national history to choose leaders capable of governing for the common good of all. This appeal comes at a time when Nigerian citizens are expectantly looking forward to a sense of direction in our common affairs and a halt to our national drift” (CBCN Pastoral Letter on 2023 General Elections). Christian men, women, and indeed, all people of goodwill can become important change agents in society.
The forthcoming elections provide us with the opportunity of choosing our leaders in accordance with our consciences and good judgment. I therefore, call on all Christians to become manifestly active in determining who governs them at all levels following the conclusion of the current election cycle.
In building a strong and resilient society, we must be active agents and not merely passive receivers of electoral outcome. Therefore, I urge Nigerians to stoutly resist the odious practice and resolve to vote according to one’s conscience and convictions (cf. ibid).
No one in our country today needs telling that our dear country is in dire need of good governance at all levels. Consequently, and with the CBCN.
I “renew our call on all our faithful – laity and clergy alike – to come out en masse to vote for people of unassailable integrity, who have the character, capacity, and track record to lead our nation out of the present socio-political and economic doldrums, irrespective of party, religious or ethnic affiliations. It is through the right political choices that our current situation can be ameliorated.” (CBCN, September 2022, n.4).
I am not oblivious of the hardship, difficulties and challenges that most of our citizens are going through. This notwithstanding, I plead that whatever sacrifice it takes to cast your vote and protect it, please make it for the future and common good of our dear country. In terms of suffering, we seem to have hit the rock bottom.
I believe that it can only get better and your vote may be the magic wand that can make things get better for our country. Go out and cast your vote come February 25 and March 11. May God reward our efforts with caring and compassionate leaders, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I wish to inform you that the 2023 Archdiocesan Lenten Campagne flag-off comes up on Sunday March, 12, 2023 at Holy Family Parish, Barnawa at 9am while the stepdown in parishes, pastoral areas, chaplaincies will hold on Sunday, March 19, 2023.
As always, a good chunk of the proceeds are used for skills acquisition for youths, widows and others as well as the provision of safe drinking water through the sinking of boreholes in needy communities. As always, individuals and corporate bodies wishing to help sink borehole(s) for needy communities through the GDPC / Caritas are most welcome.