A Lenten message to the priests and laity of theCatholic Diocese of Sokoto
By Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH.
1: Lent is here again and it often means different things to different people. Often, we focus on the issues of physical denials, human deprivations, abstinence and other forms of sacrifices that we are called upon to make. In the light of this, we are often tempted to see Lent as an interruption of the social rhythm of our lives. We look forward to its end and then, with a sense of excitement, we all say, ‘thank God, we survived it’. Yet, sadly, it was never meant to be this way as an exercise of survival. Lent is a period of inner search for a personal life changing spiritual encounter with God. This encounter should not be full of drudgery or mere ritual.
2: A mechanical view of Lent is dangerous to our faith and stunts our spiritual growth. Lent is a time of renewal of our faith, a time to rethink the salvific mission of Jesus in our lives. It is a time to personally ask how close we have come to following the footsteps of the Saviour. It is a time for us to place the cross of Christ before us. It is a time to focus on the incarnation ofthat gift that God gave the world when He sent His only begotten Son(1 Jn.4:9).
3: Over time, blind materialism and the search for personal comfort have offered us a cross-less Christianity in which the cross is a burden, a curse. We hear it in the popular saying today, ‘Itisnot our portion!’Lent offers us a chance to understand that; our present sufferings cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed (Rom. 8: 18). Lent helps us understand that as Christians, trials, anguish, persecution, hunger, nakedness, the sword cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8: 35). Lent prepares us to embrace the triumph of the risen Christ. This is why Christians can endure, nay, boast of their trial because they know that; these trials produce patience; patience produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured into our hearts(Rom. 5: 5ff).
4:The Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his Lenten message for the year has enjoined us to focus on fasting, prayer and almsgiving. We need to reconnect with these three pillars of Lent. For many of us Christians, our attitude to fasting leaves much to be desired. Lent is a Catholic event and it is the Catholic Church that has over the years built a ritual around it. We enact this every year as we, with the blessed ashes, are encouraged to remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. Lent offers us the best opportunity to reflect on our mortality and the ephemeral nature of life. COVID-19 has sounded alarm bells around us.
5: Sadly, many Catholics have come to see Lent merely from the ritual of receiving the ashes on Ash Wednesday, participating in the Stations of the Cross and abstaining from meat on Fridays. This is very unfortunate and there is an urgent need for a renewal and a return to seeing Lent as really and truly a period of genuine show of repentance and prayer.
6: We must return to fasting as abstaining from our schedule of three meals a day during this season. I appeal to you all, especially families, to take this period seriously. Parents should lead by individual and family examples. Children can be encouraged to fast from their favourite snacks such as ice cream, chocolate or biscuits and the likes. Children should be encouraged to understand the season and to use this time to pray and sacrifice for other children especially those who are not as fortunate as they themselves are.They should also be exposed to almsgiving and encouraged to participate
7: The Holy Father also reminded us of the need to fast from the things that weigh us down.Too many things weigh us down and stop us from coming close to God. It is left for each of us to make a deliberate effort at identifying the heavy baggage that we carry, those issuesthat stop us from giving our undivided attention to God.These include, social media, entertainment and telephone, among many others. Amidst the noise, the chaos and the daily routines of work, we often have little time to commit to God. Our God understands but He is patiently waiting to receive us at that special corner of our room, before the blessed sacrament in our chapel, parish, church. Use this Lenten season to tell God of your dreams, your frustrations, your hopes, your fears. You will hear him remind you: ‘Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me(Jn. 14: 1)
8: This is the time to say, ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening’(1 Sam.3:7). Let us try this and in the end, Lent wouldbe for us a period of retreat, renewal, new strength and purpose to carry on as we meet the resurrected Christ. If we remain faithful; we shall receive strength, we will run and never get weary, we will walk and never tire (Is.40:31). May the Lord let his sacred face shine upon us and drive away the dark clouds of fear and doubt that threaten to engulf our land. God bless us and bless our dear country. Amen.