BISHOP ALBERT FASHINA'S HOMILY AT THE 2ND PLENARY MEETING OF THE ASSOCIATION OF DIOCESAN DIRECTORS/ RELIGIOUS OF COMMUNICATIONS AT THE LOUIS BAUTIAN RETREAT AND CONFERENCE CENTRE, IJEBU- ITELE, OGUN STATE 9TH OCTOBER- 11TH OCTOBER, 2017
Good morning Brothers and Sisters in Christ
You are welcome to the Catholic Diocese of Ijebu Ode, we welcome you Brothers and Sisters of the Catholic Communications.
From the Readings (Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42), we could see how God communicates himself to us today, he took the initiatives because he loves to bring back his people to himself. He took this first step of calling us to repentance. We can see the drama of Salvation beginning from the Old Testament to the New Testament. We saw the steps he took to call his people back to him and he chose Jonah. Jonah resisted the voice of God because he felt it was a tedious work knowing the kind of people he was going to address. So we can see how God persisted and made the effort to draw Jonah back even after he tried running away.
Those in school have heard their teachers calling a student truant. They are students who always run away from the class with leave or explanation. Teachers care a lot about them and try to bring back the student because of compassion and the love for shaping the life of the boy.
So as we are, we are not different from the people of Nineveh. We can see what happened to the people of Nineveh happening to us presently. But God does not want us to perish, and as a loving father, he keeps bringing us back.
Jonah found the strength of God which led him and made him not afraid anymore. God was in charge and His Holy Spirit was in Jonah. After all the preaching, the people repented as seen in their penitential actions (sack clothes, ashes) as a symbol of repentance. Everyone in Nineveh went into the business of changing their lives and being sorrowful for their sins including the king.
The psalmist came to play again 'Lord, we have sinned, if you are to count our sins, Lord who will survive?”.
The church is now the voice of God for the world, for our countries, homes and families. The church becomes the Jonah of our time. The church is seen as a person, mother, prophet, evangelizer, sanctifier, in our ministers and in our members, because all the members of the church have been consecrated in Christ. We have the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. We are lavished with the love of God to be in his mercy and we are charged to preach the message of conversion to the whole world and that is what the church has been doing for over 2000 years.
In our own age, time, situation and our own country, we are in the same situation where men and women are far away from God. We have separated ourselves from God by Sin. We could see Jesus again through salvation coming in the gospel telling us what is more important and we can ask ourselves, we Catholics, so many questions with all the messages of repentance, Lenten, Stations of the Cross, fasting, praying, spiritual exercises and other penitential actions in the church.
Are we going to give up all these great things God has entrusted to us to bring the light of conversion to his people? We cannot give up and we must not give up and we must learn from the ways the church has done it over the years beginning from the apostles who were empowered by the Holy Spirit. Peter who was timid was always running away but when he became filled with the Holy Spirit, there was a complete change in him. He dared the Jews and the people, he spoke up confidently because it wasn't himself speaking, it was the power of the Spirit speaking in him. The timid Peter became stronger even till the extent they were referred to be drunk. We cannot give up the message of repentance and the message of calling sinners to repentance.
Now, are we really taking the message of penitential life seriously? Where have we gone astray as church, how many of the ceremonies have we gone through? For example, the burial ceremony of keeping a corpse for 3 months, building houses, buying clothes, inviting bishops and priests with packages of money after the mass and other celebration involving life. What about the brochure we use for burial services and other ceremonies in the church?
Jesus said in the gospel that we are frightened by so many things (entertainment). We buy clothes and emboss the picture of the bishop all in the name of celebration and because of this; the most essential which is listening to the word of God is given less attention.
Where are the penitential acts of the church? Where are the days of rogations? Where are the voices of Prophet Jonah at our masses, How many special collections do we take?
After Sunday masses, have we gotten time to sit our brethrens and talk sense into them. Where is our catechetical process? Are we not distracted in the church of God? Mary chose the better part just the same way the priests and religious have chosen a better part. We have our masses, confessions and sacraments which is worthwhile. These makes us to be Mary at the feet of the church but the problem is that how many of our young people know of all these things that should be done to live a life of holiness, a life that Is worthy of our Christian vocation and a life where we will not be corrupted by the world which passes by. Even though we are trying, we must do more.
Sometimes in Sunday masses where four people will come for thanksgiving and the priest will have to leave for another mass in another place, these people will want to dance from the door to the sanctuary four times; they cannot economize the time because it is the day of celebration. Sermon goes for 20- 30 minutes and once the priest exceed it, they will complain that the sermon is too long but to dance, enjoy and exhibit wealth doesn't take time for them.
We have to look at our liturgy again and again and see how much impact the voice of prophesy has helped to call people to Mass. We who are Priests, Sisters, Laity have to see that the voice of God is heard more in our hearts. Jesus told Martha in spite of her caring nature, she should take the part of her heart with God more seriously.
And so brethrens, we have many things to think about especially in bringing about the life of repentance, renewal for our people. We must dig the treasures of the church and see how the church has done it over the years and not waiting for 30 days of Lent. We organize vigils which is very good but what about the traditional ways of drawing our hearts to God especially in our devotion to God.
If the Pentecostals have taken over first Friday and Saturday from, how have we impacted that knowledge again. Our first Fridays are supposed to be in honour of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and our first Saturdays are supposed to be in honour of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They have taken over these dates from us. When we go or travel through the high ways, we see that the roads are blocked for 4-6 hours because some churches have programmes.
As Catholics, we have the nostalgia of these great devotions in the villages and in the town where Catholics are fully present storming heaven with prayers. Some are still doing it while some are still neglecting it.
And so let's look at these blessings, graces and favour God has lavished on us and bring them back to the church so that the renewal we get through God and through his son that died for us on the cross will fill us with life everlasting and to draw us to the presence of God. We have devotional confessions but young people feel it is right to go to confessions once in a year as said in the catechism. They say to themselves 'if I don't go to confession monthly at least they could go once in a year'. Many things are distracting our youths and so they do not have true knowledge of the church.
So let's see it from today how we must not be tired of carrying all these messages implanted in our hearts to share them to the community of the faithful so that all our Catholic brethren could share the messages in their working place, in politics, economy and other life situations, so that we could come renewed, revived and God could smile with us.
God relented from the punishment he wanted to give to the people of Ninevah, he resolved it because he found them repented. And Jesus in the gospel today commended Mary for listening and taking the gospel into her heart and observing the presence of the Divine Saviour with her. This is the only thing that can't be taken away from any believer. An armed robber could take you away; you could be kidnapped just like our brother priests who died in Orlu Diocese.
The days when we say 'do not lay your hands over the anointed and consecrated ones 'are over. Nobody knows who is anointed neither are they hearing the messages of anointing. Everybody is mixed up because they have the power of Gun and the act of manipulating people to get money.
And so the message in the Old and New Testament are really important for us. They are still real for us. Let us see how we can imbibe them and use them more and more following all the churches laid down for life. It is a strong message that God is still with us. God has made a home in our Priests. He has made a home for us where two or three gathered in His name. He has also made a home in the assembly of the faithful and in the liturgy.
The reference of God, the fear of God, the presence of God, the intimacy of God with us is so important. God is still with us and we rely on his divine assistance. Jesus makes himself present and cleanses us with the sacrament of penance. God is so good that he will not allow his people to perish and that is why he sent down His Son to lay down his life for us who shows a message of love, message of mercy and a message of compassion.
It is not all about money and what money can achieve. It is about the salvation of our souls. Our spiritual life has to be stronger in our Laity, Religious and Priests. We priests and religious have over dose of it but we are not sharing that enough with the laity. We need to do that more clearly, orderly and systematically to make it more effective so that the faithful do not leave the church because this is the true church founded by Christ. This is God’s true act of love on us. In the church we have the laid down way we can meet Jesus which comes through baptism and forgiveness of sins.
Our people need to know that they have to repent and be baptized. They have to know that confession is very important and that Jesus is waiting for us there. Those who are sick should come and we will anoint them with the oil of the sick.
Our Catholics no longer find Jesus in the Catholic Church because they have gone to another place. Could it be their lack of faith? Or could it be that we have not impacted the message or we have not taught it enough? Or we have not lived it well for them to see the examples? There are many reasons to this but the message is that God still loves us and still wants to save us by bringing us back to himself.
The message He is renewing for us today is for us to go to the market places, mobilize our laity by true formation and taking advantage of Sunday masses to get the message across our people. After communion, we could stop and give a teaching of 30 minutes for them to reflect and come back the following Sunday to talk about what they have learnt. The Muslims do that a lot on Fridays when they want to mobilize their people. They obey anything their chief priest, Alfa, tells them to do in the name of Allah.
There was an All African Conference of all the Islamic nations in Abuja and one of the bishops was sent by the Nuncio to go and represent him. In the conference, they brought in all their treasures and exhibitions. So, when the bishop with the invitation arrived at the big central mosque, the Muslim youths gathered round him and requested to know what he was doing there. They pulled his Cross, removed his cap because he was a minister of God coming into their midst of the Islamic people. They shouted 'Kafri'. Thank God the police rushed to the situation and rescued the Bishop to the conference hall where he sat among the ambassadors.. They are very strong especially when they use their tesbar praying, strong in faith.
We, Catholics are good at that too. It was demonstrated by Catholic Philippines some years ago using their Rosary to get the President out of government. This is the strength God is looking for, in us. We have the grace, love, mercy in us and so let's go to share it with the Nigeria Community that Jesus is alive and he wants to bring us back. There is still hope for us because Jesus is hope and love. He doesn't want the death of a sinner but he wants a sinner to repent. That is what he communicated to all the sinners he met. Your case is not hopeless just the same way the case of Nineveh is not hopeless. It was a message of hope and joy and people smiled when they received the message of mercy and compassion of God.
Jesus, we thank you for bringing such a love into our lives.