The Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, has described the doctrine that says suffering and difficulty are not the portion of Christians as an improper one, noting that Christians, as followers of Christ, should see suffering and difficulties as part of the journey to eternity.
Bishop Ezeokafor who stated this at St. Patricks Catholic Cathedral, Awka, while delivering his Easter message, said Christ suffered and won victory for mankind and that in the same way people faced difficulties in life, they would at the end of the day come out triumphant and happy.
In a similar vein, the auxiliary bishop of Awka Catholic Diocese, Most Rev. Jonas Benson Okoye, has described Easter as Christ's triumph over various barriers that limit the human quest for holiness.
Bishop Okoye who stated this at St. Joseph's Pro Cathedral Ekwulobia after celebrating Christ's triumphant entry known as Palm Sunday with Catholic faithful from Ekwulobia, noted that Christians were expected to rise with Christ at Easter, having been part of Christ's sufferings.
For Bishop Ezeokafor, who is the chairman, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Committee on Laity, Easter presented an opportunity for the faithful to thank God for the opportunity of being part and parcel of it, as well as a time for telling themselves some home truths.
'This time around my message to the people of God and all, especially those of us living in Nigeria, is that there is still hope. Because we know that, according to St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: 18:14, the fact that Christ is alive should give us hope, otherwise our lives would have been in vain,' he counselled, even as he preached a message of hope and trust amid the trying times.
The bishop said that despite the stressful times, people should trust in God by emulating Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane who, despite his travail, did not give up.
'There are difficulties but it is only the living that would come up to tell the story. So, let us stop living as if we are hopeless. There is hope and Christ showed that hope in the father; went through suffering and you can see that at the end of the day, his resurrection brought us life. Christ took up that challenge; so I challenge all of us to take up whatever challenges that life brings. Suffering is already part and parcel of our lives and nobody can be immune from it,' he said, even as he urged Nigerians to shun corruption and lead a life of righteousness in the spirit of Easter.
Speaking on the programmes the Church had slated for this Easter period, Bishop Ezeokafor said, 'We know that Easter is one of the celebrations in the Church that have very long preparations. When it is Christmas, you just wait for the 25th and it is Christmas day. But for Easter, you start preparing 40 days before Palm Sunday which in all, implies you prepare for Easter for about 50 days.
'So, we have lent whereby we go through the process of fasting, abstinence and making sacrifices and also giving alms to the poor and needy. And then, just one week before Easter, we have what we call the Holy Week. It is the time when the preparation process is intensified.
'Then, three days to the day, things become very more serious with what we call the Tridum; the Maundy Thursday activities, the Chrism Mass, the Mass of the Last Supper, whereby Christ washed the feet of the twelve at the Last Supper, showing what it means to serve; that the greatest among us should be servants. Showing us that the master of the house has to take the position of a slave.
'Anybody that knows the culture of Israel knows that washing of the feet is meant for the slaves in the house. But in this case, our Lord Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples.
'Then on Friday, we have the Good Friday. We call it good because something good happened; with Jesus' death, he conquered the world.
'Though Christ himself suffered and died, it is Good Friday because he bought us redemption. He bore all the misrepresentations, false witnesses and all forms of dehumanization, just for our sake. Afterwards, we have the vigil of the Easter, the mass before the Easter, to usher in the resurrection of Christ which is the hope of all mankind, being the Easter Sunday.
'You know Easter is the greatest feast of the Church because, without the resurrection of Christ, there would be no hope for Christians. That is why in the lives of saints, they are judged on the day they die, not the day they were born. We celebrate the birth of the likes of John the Baptist, Our Lady and others, because we are sure of them. Every other person we don't, because we are not so sure. The resurrection of Christ is our hope, without which we have nothing,' Bishop Ezeokafor stated.
Reacting on the mentality of people to seek to be holy only during the Lenten period after which they return to their normal lifestyles, Bishop Ezeokafor described such attitude as unserious, noting that in life, perfection was achieved gradually, with people continuing to get better every day.
'What you have been doing, whether it is during the Lenten season, particularly this Holy Week, and especially during this Tridum, should fortify you and prepare you to continue.
Bishop Ezeokafor prayed for God's continued blessings on Nigeria and wished all a happy and spirit-filled celebration.
For his part, the auxiliary bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Jonas Benson Okoye, charged Christians never to leave behind the experiences gathered during the lent nor return to their past life as such entailed condemning oneself without enjoying the joy emanating from the Easter celebration.
He maintained that Easter celebration was the basis of Christian faith and hope, noting that if Christ had not risen, Christianity and the whole mission of the Church would lose its very meaning.
In his words, 'The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God, the father, raised him and made him the lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death. Having joined in Christ's suffering for 40 days; Christians should also partake in the joy of his resurrection, because, having been part of the cross, we are bound to be part of his resurrection.'
He said the celebration was not all about leaving the lenten experience behind as it flowed into the new life in Christ, the life of redemption, of life, of conversion, of life of salvation.
He beckoned on Christians to imbibe the virtues of Christ in their individual lives in a bid make permanent, the new life in Christ attained by them through his humble death on the Cross of Calvary.