Few days ago I was behind the steering hurrying to Enugu for an important engagement. About half kilometer to 9th Mile Corner, Ngwo, I came in contact with a long trailer travelling in the same direction with me. The low velocity of the long vehicle slowed down my speed. I viewed carefully at traffic from the opposite direction and it was clear. I started overtaking the trailer with maximum speed. But I was taken aback when I read the bold inscription on the trailer: “REMEMBER YOUR LAST DAY.” Immediately, I applied the break and stopped the overtaking. I drove back and packed my car by the road side. Then, I entered into an unprepared reflection. The trailer driver unknowingly has given me an assignment which I began to solve. Meanwhile, I forgot the important engagement at Enugu. Automatically I entered into the cognitive world.
I asked myself, “Could it be that today is my last day on earth? Why did I meet this trailer with the thoughtful inscription?” I buried my hands and my head on the steering as I was meditating. I stood there for about thirty minutes. I asked myself these fundamental questions: Why am I in this world? When will I die? After death, what comes next? What is my relationship with God, my Creator and my fellow human beings? At this point Psalm 8 which is my popular prayer ran into my memory. It reads: “How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth! Your majesty is praised above the heaven; on the lips of children and of babes you have found praise to foil your enemy, to silence the foe and the rebel. When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god; with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hand, put all things under his feet. All of them, sheep and cattle, yes, even the savage beasts, birds of the air, fish that make their way through the water. How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!”
The above Psalm touched me so much. My thoughts went beyond the skies. Fear grasped me entirely such that I slept off with the glasses wound up. After some time I was soaked with sweat. I was only awakened when a mobile police vehicle blaring wild siren stopped behind me. One of the policemen with Ak-47 knocked at my car glass and shouted, “Man of God, what is wrong? Are you normal? Why are you soaked with sweat and sleeping by the road-side? In fact you are under arrest.” Instantly, I opened the car's door and jumped out in a clerical manner. I cleared my eyes and came back to my senses. I told the policeman that was not sleeping but praying. He told me to go into the church if I wish to pray and not by the roadside. I replied that prayer can be said anywhere and anytime. He ordered me to follow them to the Police Station for further interrogation. I obliged without further arguments.
At the Police Station at 9th Mile Corner, Ngwo in Enugu State, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) welcomed me with smiles. He asked me, “Man of God, why did you commit traffic offence?” I replied him with a question, “Officer, what traffic offence did I commit?” He answered, “My boys reported that you were found obstructing the road and attempted committing suicide.” I did not allow him to finish before I chipped in these words: “Sir, I did not obstruct the road. Also I never contemplated committing suicide. Rather, I packed beside the road and was praying to my God as a result of the inspiration I received while driving to Enugu.” He laughed in an official manner. I joined him in the laughter. Afterwards he said, “Man of God, I hereby discharge and acquit you. Go in peace and drive with care.” I shook hands with him and appreciatively asserted, “Thank you Officer. You are not far from the kingdom of God.” He asked the constable at his office door to escort me to my car. The constable stood attentively as I entered my car with dignity. He saluted me like a police officer and added, “Man of God, safe journey. Anything for your boys?” I glanced at him pitifully and gave him N500 as charity. He received it with salute and went back to the office, dancing in a parade manner.
I continued my journey to Enugu. I got to my destination safely but late. I assured myself that it is better to be late than the late. The wise Socrates says that an unexamined life is not worth living. I have meditated on my life after reading the inscription on that long trailer: “Remember your last day.” There is no hurry in life. It is crucial to take stock of our lives from time to time, since that last day is not definite.
Whatever has a beginning must have an end. Human life begins in the womb after the fertilization of the female ovum by the male sperm. It is at that moment that God implants the soul. The baby in incubation lives in the womb for nine months. Life outside the womb begins at birth. The span of human life depends on the Creator. My village women often sing this famous Igbo song at funeral: “Abali abuo, abali abuo ka mmadu nwere n'uwa: mbosi omumu na mbosi onwu!” The translation is: Every human being has two days to live in this world: the day of birth and the day of death. All those who have been born have already spent the first day which is birth. They are now awaiting the second day, which is the day of death. After death comes God's judgment. Saint Paul says, “Each and every one of us must give account of his life to God on the last day” (Romans 14:12). This last day, which is the day of death, is not certain when it will occur. What is certain is that we all must die. God hides that day from us. We are only told to be ready. God will judge our thoughts, words, actions and omissions. I say it once again, that if God does not temper justice with mercy, then heaven will be empty. I recommend to everyone to read these two books: 1. Preparation for Life. 2. Preparation for Death. Are you prepared for both? Some years ago I went into a bookshop and saw the two books. I bought only Preparation for Life. I told myself that I was not yet ready to die. Indeed ignorance is a chronic disease.
The Lenten season has begun. On Ash Wednesday, we were signed with ashes on the forehead. As the minister dispenses the ashes, he says “You are dust unto dust you shall return again.” The second form is: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” By subjecting ourselves to be signed with ashes we profess that we shall die some day. When we die, our body will be buried. It decays and turns into dust. The day of death is the last day on earth. Death continues to take us unaware one by one. One is alive today and tomorrow he is no more. Death is a mystery beyond human control. It cannot be subjected to laboratory test. Also it cannot be computerized. It does not know age limit. It does not respect one's status no matter how highly placed. If death can receive a bribe, then the rich will be spared. Death claims the rich and the poor alike.
Lent is a period of forty days before Easter, when we remember the crucifixion and death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ himself went into the desert to fast and pray for forty days and forty nights. He encountered Satan who tempted him thrice. He came out triumphantly. As Christians, we follow the footsteps of Our Lord by going into our own desert for forty days and forty nights. We pray intensively within the Lenten period. We also observe fasting. We make reduction in the quantity of food and drinks we consume in order to discipline the body which draws us towards concupiscence. The best form of fasting is avoiding sins and occasions of sin. Pope Francis asks us one crucial question and provides concrete answers. “Do you want to fast this Lent?
Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.”
The devil does not spare us during lent. He tempts us in various ways and at various occasions. Temptation itself is not sinful but can lead into sin. Our prayer in times of temptation should be: “God, help us to overcome temptation. Do not allow temptation to overcome us.” However, we have freewill or freedom of choice. We are responsible for whatever choice we make, good or evil.
Charity covers a multitude of sins. Therefore, we are admonished to give alms to the less privileged in our society. Charity knows no boundary, race nor religion. After Stations of the Cross during lent, we call for general collection for the less privileged in our society. Individually, we should also assist the poor in our midst from time to time. In the Scripture a certain young man approached Jesus and asked him, “Master, what shall I do to inherit the Kingdom of God?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus told him to keep the Commandments of God. Happily the young man asserted that he has been observing those Commandments. Jesus looked at him and loved him. Then Jesus made additional demand from him, “Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor; then come and follow me” (Mk. 10:21). The young man's face was filled with sadness and he went away. At this Jesus said, “How hard it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God” (Mk. 10:24). This young man's experience can happen to you and me. Apart from keeping the God's Commandments, we should crown it with generosity. According Very Rev. Monsignor T.O. Onoyima, “Misers die miserly.” Are you a miser? How often do you help the less privileged in your midst? The rich should help the poor. The poor should help the poorer. The poorer should help the poorest.
Lent is a period of preparation for Easter as well as a special period of atonement for our sins. We equally prepare for the last day by the call to repentance. Our destination as Christians is heaven. We are often asked this essential question: Where will you spend your eternity, in heaven or in hell? The answer depends on each and every one of us. The English adage says, “As you make your bed, so you will lie on it.” We prepare for the last day by going about our normal daily activities but in the right direction. I wish you a fruitful Lent and a blissful Easter in advance.