BY REV. FR. GERALD NWAFOR
Once a year we have time to reflect on our lives and the activities of our lives. This tradition is not exclusive to the Christian community. Other religious traditions have a time of fasting and prayer in anticipation of a big celebration, as we can relate to the Muslims and the Jews during Ramadan and Yom Kippur, respectively. Many others do prepare themselves in different ways for purification and celebration. But here we are concerned without our tradition that starts from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.
There are three recommended ways by the church to help us reflect, pray, and prepare for a successful Lenten season. Those are prayers, fasting, and almsgiving (charity). We are to use these tools consciously to help ourselves and our neighbors. I grew up in Onitsha, Awka, Enugu, Ekwuluobia, and Orumber axis.
Those areas have enough festive moments and enough liquor shops around them. They also have big-time markets where you can spend a lot of money in the name of celebration. Onitsha has the main market Onitsha (Otu-Nkwo), Enugu has Ogbaete, Awka has Eke-Awka, Ekwuluobia has Eke-Ekwuluobia, and Orumber has Nkwo-Umunze. In these markets, you can shop for food, wear, building materials, and anything that is of value in human commercialization.
So, we can choose to buy good things for our neighbor during this Lenten season or choose to deny ourselves goodies also during this Lenten season. Let us look at those tools separately.Prayer, according to the children’s hymn book we used in the early 80s, is the key that opens the doors of heaven so that the blessings of God would rain down on you.
And it did not stop at that, it went on to say that Jesus started with prayer and ended with prayer because that was the key to get to God. Now those who grew up going to morning Mass daily and going to the block rosary center every evening to pray the rosary should be able to know that it gives a sense of fulfilment when you have fulfilled your daily praying routine.
I remember my father telling Mr. Odinga that during the Lenten season, he doesn’t like to miss morning Mass because it is most likely that Jesus would come during that time. I was so young that I took it literally that Jesus would come during Lent, but now I know that Jesus comes every day. The problem is that we do not pay attention, so most times we do not see him passing by. I discovered that he could come in the person of a visitor, a stranger, an object, a subject, or as you.
When you stay outside the view of everyone, and you are smoking weed is it not the body Jesus gave you to take care of that you have made a conscious decision to spoil and destroy? When you know that throwing away the empty pure water bags and cans will clog the drainage system? Why should you not keep it with you until you have a good place to drop it? So, prayers call for good acts towards Jesus.Fasting is not only on foods and drinks.
If it were, many of us would be exempted from it, given the economic situation of Nigeria where the common three-square meal has become a challenge even to the middle class. Ten years ago, a bag of rice was 8,000 and the salaries of the civil servants were 30,000. Fast forward to today, a bag of rice is 60,000 and the salary of the civil servants is still 30,000 and the question I ask is, do we have human beings as government? Although it is not the topic of this discussion, it is very important to touch on an area that is very important to our common existence as human beings and as a nation.
On the other hand, those who can fast on food and drink can go on because some people are making money during this time of economic challenges. Our people said that the failure of government is beneficiary to the ruling class (Ana adiro mma bu ulu ndi nze). And distant countries are very close to people, so we know that some people are benefiting from this bad government. They may not worry about fasting on other things, other than food and drinks.
Those of us who cannot boast of three square meals a day can do away with gossiping and visiting and watching. We always visit that place where we gossip about people and waste time on unhealthy stories. We can avoid that joint for these coming forty days. We may choose to not watch soccer every weekend this time. Maybe every other week will be good. There are many ways to fast apart from food and drink.
So, let us proletariat think about it.Finally, the almighty charity that gels or synchronizes the three. The holy book started by telling us that charity covers a multitude of sins. And one of the greatest apostles St. Paul said that if you can do many things and fail in charity you are like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
Our charity must be active, it must not be dormant. After prayers and fasting God will reveal himself to you and what to do. Charity is a doing word which means it is a verb. During this time of Lenten season, we are called upon to share our love through charity so that our prayers and fasting will be efficacious.
How many times did Jesus feed the poor, both materially and spiritually? The Bible says that if the good work done by Jesus were to be written down, the whole world would not be able to carry the book in which it would be written. Therefore, we are to pray, we are to fast, but we must give alms and share our gifts with one another.