A Fractured World
Amidst so much pain, injury, war and death, what can we say today about Christmas and its message of Joy and Peace to a fractured world? Everywhere we turn, blood is being spilled in the name of God and Religion. People, including people of faith, find it difficult to explain the dark clouds that hover over our horizon. In April this year, I issued an Easter Message titled, Do not let our enemies ask, where is your God? However, although people might claim that things now are even worse, we know in our hearts that our hope will not disappoint us.
Struggle for Power
Today, the path to peace is littered with so much debris of human pain, both here in Nigeria and abroad. The excesses of Boko Haram still haunt the landscape. The Chibok girls have still not been found and we will spend yet another Christmas without their laughter ringing in our homes. The engine of political change has still not gathered the steam we had hoped for. The political calendar continues to shift as we witness a domino effect of overturned elections across the States. All in all, new anxieties, new battles for power among the elite will likely lead us to loss of more innocent lives and blood. The contest for power continues to take its toll and we continue to yearn for a stable state.
Has Religion Failed Us?
Amidst so much pain, injury, war and death, Religion is a key player. Some people think that Religion has failed to bring blessings and is instead to be blamed for the woes of the world. While this position may not be correct, we believers cannot turn our eyes from the fact that we must take a substantial part of the blame. For us as Christians, we must ask what has become of the message of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Saviour?
Where is the Laughter, the Joy, the Peace that is promised in the different Christmas carols we continue to sing year in and year out? Where is the light that Jesus brought and entrusted to us to drive darkness from the world? Today, more than ever, we Christians must rise up and take full responsibility for what we have done or not done. We Catholics confess our sins during the celebration of the Holy Mass, we accept and plead with God to forgive us for “what we have done and also what we have failed to do”. Often the sins we commit by omission can be as serious as the ones we commit by actions. Let us not be bystanders. Each of us must commit ourselves to doing good today.
Blame Government but take responsibility
We have learnt to blame the government for everything as an excuse for our own sins of omission. But, how, for example, is a government responsible for parents whose irresponsible lifestyles lead to their children being sick or out of school? How is government responsible for men or women who decide to marry and bring children into the world when they have no means of taking care of them? How is government responsible for domestic violence? How is government responsible for the collapse of family life? How is government responsible for students who decide to cheat in their examinations? How is government responsible for people who choose armed robbery rather than hard work? How is government responsible for people who decide to choose a life of prostitution? Government can and must create conditions, but we must all become instruments of change.
Christians, Show the Way and Be like Christ
A poor man kept showing up in the Church but each time the warders would not let him in because he oozed some odour and they feared that his presence could offend some of the big shots in the Church. He got fed up one day with trying and, holding the cross in his hands, he cried to Jesus: Lord, I heard your message and have tried to enter the Church to worship you, but the people in the Church will not let me in. Please, forgive me but kindly accept my prayers here on the streets where I am. Jesus said to him: Sorry, my son, my fate is not different from yours. Even I have tried to enter their Church, but they have refused to let me in too!
Today, we Africans pride ourselves on our expansive, expressive, explosive, superfluous and ubiquitous show of dubious religiosity matched by a most deplorable lifestyle of deceit, banditry and criminality. Today, we Christian leaders have created the conditions for our men and women in public life to misbehave in the name of God, and indeed we Christian leaders have mutilated the message of Jesus Christ.
We Christians all share in the fraud that has engulfed our nation and we must therefore find the courage to ask ourselves some very hard questions while searching our consciences. The drama and theatre that masquerades as Christianity should be a cause for concern for all of us and an invitation to soul searching.
Jesus did not ask us to become famous healers, wonder workers, miracle hawkers, fortune tellers, money doublers, stargazers, or prayer warriors for the rich and the powerful. In His real life, He chased all of these false prophets out with whips. The prophetic voice today should thunderously warn that the mighty could be cast down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up. Instead, what we see is an army of obsequious sycophants, groveling and kowtowing before the thrones of power. From their Hymn books, they sing deceitful ululations assuring those who have stolen wealth and power that it shall be permanent because it is the Lord who has done it. Suddenly, all of us have become princes, and we have a God who does nothing but butter our bread. Suddenly, all of us have to be rich, and none of us can fall sick because sickness is a curse. We are told that wealth and power are the signatures of God’s love and blessing and that everyone outside our small circle of fraud is a sinner, to be cast out and burnt by Holy Ghost fire. But did the real Holy Ghost fire not burn out fear and enable the tongues of the Apostles to speak the truth?
Jesus called us to be Witnesses. Jesus did not ask that we should be called His followers; neither did the early Apostles go about saying so. Rather, it was unbelievers who saw His followers withstand torture and humiliation, they saw His followers literally walking in His footsteps, it was then that they called them, Christians (Acts 11:26).
From the first day that Pope Francis was elected till date, he has shocked the rest of the world, including my humble self with the way He has presented Christ. He has released Jesus, the man from Nazareth and allowed Him to go about doing good (Acts 10:38). The Pope has shown this by lifting up the lowly (Lk. 1:52). He has also shunned the pomp, pageantry and all the paraphernalia and trappings of power. The entire world has come to see the Catholic Church differently through his eyes. Pope Francis has added a sense of urgency to the struggle to close the unacceptable gap between the rich and the poor, insisting that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God.
Christmas celebration is not meant to be a mere ritual on the calendar. The idea is for us to pause and assess where we are in the struggle to create God’s Kingdom here on earth by being His witnesses. We must constantly reflect on why we have chosen to be Christians and how we are engaged in the collective work of spreading the Word of God to all the corners of the earth by our example.
He was born in a manger with animals as his first neighbours.
He had no house of His own
He had His last supper in a borrowed House
His last journey to Jerusalem was on a borrowed donkey
Even in death, He was buried in a borrowed tomb
My dear friends, these are difficult times for us as human beings, but they are also times of promise for believers. The Prophet Isaiah reminds us: Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly. Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
Our duty as Christians is to turn to Christ for answers rather than erect false gods. St. Paul enjoins us to be in the world but not of the world. We must point our people to the cross of Christ, to the values and virtues of Christianity. Jesus taught us how to love not how to seek revenge, how to serve not how to oppress others. It is easier and more profitable to raise an army of prayer warriors to prophesy about all our problems. The grammar of Christian life enjoins us to seek contentment and joy. Poverty is not a curse and riches are not necessarily a blessing. We already know that accumulating resources is no guarantee of happiness. So, as we celebrate the Prince of Peace, let us truly beg him to not only grant us peace, but to make us instruments of Peace. All of this is within our reach. So, let us pray:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
I wish each one of you a very blessed and happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year 2016.
— Matthew Hassan KUKAH, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese