Homily at the Chrism Mass of 27.3.2018 at Our Lady of Fatima Cathedral Jos, by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos.
This week marks the peak of our period of Lenten observance, a period during which the Church calls us to more intense prayers, sacrificial giving and personal discipline, not only about food and drinks but discipline about our life style and the discipline of making deliberate efforts to be nearer to our God in purity of mind and heart. This last week of Lent can be compared to what is for the mechanic, a time for overhauling the engine of a car, for the student, a time of revision or extra mural studies, for the trader a time of reconciling accounts, for the footballer an extra time during a match, for the priest a period of self examination or retreat and for every Christian a time to return with all our hearts to God.
The readings during the Lenten season have been consistent and consoling and not judgmental. Knowing our sinful nature and disposition, God rather calls us to genuine repentance and interior healing; to be washed clean of our sins. God the Father says he does not wish to see the death of a sinner. I will forgive their iniquities and never call their sins to mind (cf. Hb 8:10-13). Jesus says “Come to me”. He never says “go away from me”. The only time we hear Jesus say “go away” is when rebuking the evil one or commanding the evil spirits to get out of a possessed person. I urge us to use this golden opportunity, this last card, to renew ourselves. O that today you listen to his voice harden not your hearts.
I appreciate you who make the sacrifice of time and try to be personally present to join our yearly gathering of the family of God in the Archdiocese of Jos at the Chrism Mass during which offers us the opportunity to emphasize the need for unity among priests, with prayers for priests to exercise their ministerial duties in close collaboration with the Bishop and to be very dedicated in their ministry of preaching the good news to the poor, to bind broken hearts, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to console prisoners, to comfort those who mourn – the hungry, the poor, the unemployed and to assure them of God’s unfailing love (cf. Is6: 1-3).
The oils of sacred Chrism, the Catechumen and the sick will be blessed at this Mass for the use of all of us in the next one year. We thank God for his gifts.
The Chrism Mass has become for us a joyful and happy event, a time to celebrate visibly and sincerely that we are brothers and sisters irrespective of the accident of history and geography that may define who and where we are. We priests on this day ask for special prayers as we renew our priestly commitment. We pray to be able to lead you the flock through our priestly service to Jesus the Alpha and Omega; that we be effective signposts to Christ, bridges to cross over to Christ, instruments to facilitate reconciliation with Christ and among the people in the society we live in.
In the OT the priest offered sacrifices of bulls and goats for the sins of the people and his own sins. Sin was seen as a destructive agent which had a terribly crippling and disruptive effect, among the people. Because sin had the capacity to poison relationships and create tension, conflicts and crises in the society the symbolic ceremony of the goat of Azazel in Leviticus 16 was expected to rid the community of the poisonous and murderous effects of sin. Aaron was to bring out a he-goat and laying his hands upon its head confess all the iniquities and offences of the people, and a man would lead the goat to the desert, the goat carrying away all their iniquities to a solitary land and the man would return but before joining the people he would wash his clothes and body with water. Because sin disrupts our relationship with God and damages inter personal harmony the ancient Israelites had their way of getting rid of it. What can we do in our days of rampant sinning?
In our days we are not only witnesses but also victims of the terrible consequences of sin which include brutal killings, kidnappings, immoral and anti social activities in different parts of Nigeria, which I believe are brought about by the cumulative effect of our sins. There is no quota system in the sins committed by Nigerians. You don’t have Muslim sin or Christian sin or sin committed according to the six geopolitical zones. Irrespective of which Nigerian who sins, the act is a gross disobedience to God and it affects us all. By choosing to do our will rather than God’s will, we are all guilty whether as Muslims, Christians or Traditional religious worshippers. It is only when we stop offending God that the negative and harsh social realities we are witnessing today will stop. We unfortunately blame only those in political leadership but forgetting that we are all individually and collectively responsible for the state of things today. Sin among the children, the young, the adults, the old is multiplying like in the days of Noah, the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, the days of Nineveh. How can we expect the society to remain normal? To the cripple Jesus said, “go your sins are forgiven you”. To the woman caught in adultery go and sin no more. We Nigerians have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We violate God’s laws and also violate our neighbors’ integrity and rights. We seem not to have a godly conscience or a sensitivity to the sanctity of life.
Among Nigerians today there are people who rejoice at the sight of a severed human head, flowing human blood and burning human flesh! We claim we are religious yet when a human being is killed as long as he or she is not of our tribe or a member of our religion we pretend to worry but deep down we are like Cain who was angry and jealous of his brother Abel and pretended not to know where his brother was even though he knew he had killed him. He even said to God, “am I my brother’s keeper”? (Gn 4:9).
The ministry of Jesus as we read in Lk 4: 18-19 quoting from Isaiah 61 is the same ministry we priests share in, namely, to lead people to hope and the path of salvation by challenging them to repentance. If there is one commodity Nigeria and Nigerians need urgently today, it is repentance – genuine repentance. The importance of this is attested by the fact that Jesus’ first words at the beginning of his public ministry were “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
An urgent task for ministers of religion (Christian, Muslim or Traditionalists) is to convince our flock that beyond their narrow worldview, they should learn to see others as fellow human beings (indeed brothers and sisters) and treat them with respect, justice and equality and encourage the culture of forgiveness rather than the revenge mentality which degenerates into a circle of endless violence that results in the gruesome murder of innocent citizens.
Amidst the rough and wild wind of conflicting ideologies and religious and political voices of hatred and violence, we priests should lead our people to love and reconciliation instead of to hatred and enmity. We need to emphasize more often the positive actions or values as well as our commonalities instead of our differences or only focusing on our hurts with bitterness.
For us in Plateau State a lot has been done to restore peace but some agents of destruction are bent on spilling blood and sending fellow human beings prematurely to the grave. We appreciate the effort of the Governor and his team to ensure that these “killings by night” should stop. The security agents should reciprocate this gesture by honestly and sincerely standing with the people to protect them.
Disturbed by incessant crises we composed in 2010 the prayer for political , ethnic and religious peace in Plateau State. This prayer must be intensified. I carry a copy with me always and whether I at St. Peter’s Basilica Rome, at Eucharistic adoration in Elele PortHarcourt or at Fatima Portugal or at public events, I pray it for my people in Plateau State.
Nigerians must stop the finger pointing and arise like the prodigal son and return to God the Father and say “we have sinned against heaven and before you”. Members of various tribes, religious adherents must acknowledge that we all have sinned against one another and against God. What will save us from destruction is when we seriously begin to see God in one another, that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. I am yet to see a Muslim who has ten fingers and a Christian who has fifteen fingers or a Christian with only one eye and a Muslim with three or a single tribe that has the monopoly of intelligence and live to be 150 years while the so-called inferior tribes live only 50 or 60 years. If God made us all equal then why all the mud slinging, this competition for superiority, the futile attempt to forcefully convert the others to one’s religion not with exemplary conduct and good moral life but with force and violence?
What is expected of all of us is nearness to God and civility towards other people who may not share the same religious or cultural values.
At this period of grace, Nigerians should seek the Lord while he is still to be found and ask him to create a new and pure heart within us, to take away the hearts of stone and replace them with the hearts of flesh. I call on all Nigerians especially Christians to seek and find the Lord during this grace-filled days of Holy Week and if we do so sincerely we shall be filled with grace and peace by Him who is, who was and who is to come. That, I strongly believe will mark the end of our troubles and predicaments as a nation and as a people. Our help is in the name of the Lord.