ABUJA ARCHDIOCESE BURIES MONSIGNOR ONYESO

It was a period of grief and sadness for the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja as the Bishops, clergy, religious and laity gathered to bury the late Rt. Rev. Msgr. Anthony Asoluka Onyeso, today, 29th March, 2021.

The late Msgr. Onyeso who died on Friday, 19th March, 2021, being the Solemnity of St. Joseph after a period of protracted illness, was born on 23rd April, 1950 and was ordained priest on 2nd October, 1988. On 26th July, 2020, he was installed a Monsignor at St.Agnes Parish, Wuye, Abuja.

In their homilies at the requiem Mass at Sacred Heart Parish Airport and the funeral Mass at Our Lady Queen Of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral, Area 3, Garki, Abuja, Rev. Fr. Lazarus Ishaku, his Associate at the time of his death, and Rev. Fr. Aloysius Achonwa, his long time friend of over three decades respectively attested to his many virtues, chief among which are his simplicity and humility, his openness and welcoming heart, his humility and love for those around him, and most of all, his dedication to duty, even till the very last moments of his life. He believed strongly in the philosophy of “being a true soldier and dying at his duty post.”

The internment, which took place at the Archdiocesan presbyterium cemetery located in Ss. Simon and Jude Minor Seminary Kuje, saw a large turn out of priests, religious and laity. The Archbishop of Abuja, Most. Rev. (Dr.) Ignatius Kaigama performed the last rites of commendation, accompanied by his Auxiliary, Most. Rev. Anselm Umoren, MSP and the Emeritus Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan.

The late Monsignor Anthony Onyeso was the Abuja Archdiocesan Chaplain of the Guild of Saint Anthony of Padua for thirty years. May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen

WHY ARE YOU HERE? (5TH SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm51; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

The entire 11th chapter of John’s account of the gospel is on the death and raising of Lazarus back to life; it also talks about the plot to kill Jesus as a result of this. This happened only about a week before the Passover Feast, so Jerusalem was teeming with people from all corners of the Ancient Near East, Jews and Gentiles alike. From 12:12-19 of the same John’s gospel account, we read of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and of the very many people who followed him, comprising mostly of those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus from the dead or who had heard about the event. The Pharisees felt helpless about all these that they remarked to themselves, “there is nothing you can do about it; the whole world is running after him” (John 12:19).

The gospel text of today’s Mass picks up from vs. 20, and it tells us of some Greeks who had also come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, coming to seek audience with Jesus. What they discussed with Jesus – that is, if they did discuss with him – we do not know, for John does not tell us, and he is the only one of the four evangelists who records this event. However, considering all that had recently happened, and taking cognizance of the fact that the Greeks were seekers of wisdom/knowledge (I Cor 1:22 says “Jews ask for signs and Greeks seek wisdom”), we may infer that they had come to question Jesus about himself and all they had seen or heard of him in the past few days. This, therefore, was most likely, not a faith encounter; it is very probable that they did not come into the presence of Jesus because they had found a new faith, but because they wanted to satisfy their curiosities. And this raises a question for us to ponder on today: Why are you here in the presence of God? Why are you seeking God?

For the purpose of this reflection, I like to make five categorizations of why people seek God, why people go to church, and by extension, five categories of Christians.

  • Social Christians: These are people who come to church, who present themselves before God, not truly because they seek God, but because they have come to fraternize and to socialize. They are in church because others are in church; they are in church because they will get to meet that friend or that business prospect in church. What happens during Mass or church service as the case may be, is of little interest to them; many of them pay little or no attention during the homily but distract themselves and others by talking or punching on their phones. After Mass, they take the most pictures and selfies with other people.
  • Occasional Christians: This group appears before God in church only when there is an occasion in church like a birthday thanksgiving, a wedding, child dedication, harvest and bazaar, and even funerals. Some only come to church twice a year – on Ash Wednesday and New Year Eve.
  • Convenience Christians: These ones come to church only when it is convenient for them; they do good only when it is convenient for them; they do charity only when it is convenient; they also pray only when they find it convenient to do so. The day it rains or the heat of the sun is much, you won’t see them in church; on special occasions like when the bishop is coming to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Mass may take longer than usual, you won’t see them; if there’s anything that will give them the slightest discomfort, they tell God to wait till when it is more convenient. They are fair weather Christians.
  • Crisis Christians: We have very many of these ones everywhere and in every church. They are the ones who only remember God when there is a crisis in their life. They see God only as a problem solver; they are the miracle seekers. When they need God’s intervention in their lives and situations, they make the church and chapel an annex of their homes, praying long and with head tilted at an angle 45º. Once they find a solution to their problems, they “divorce” God, only to seek for a “remarriage” when another problem arises.
  • True Christians: These ones are true to God at all times, in season and out of season. They seek God and come into his presence because they want a faith encounter with him; they strive to be close to God because they want to grow spiritually; they pray because they desire to converse with God their father; they do what is right and just whether it is convenient or not; just like Jesus, as reported in our second reading, they rely completely on God to save them in moments of crisis. The true Christians seek God for God and nothing else.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that with the first four groups, there is something fundamentally wrong, and it is the simple fact that their relationship with God is on a wrong foundation. We are therefore challenged to reappraise the underlying reason why we seek God, why we go to church, why we enter into God presence. In John 6:26, Jesus chided the Jews for seeking him, not on account of the power of God expressed in the multiplication of bread, but because they ate their fill. Today and always, let the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33 – Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness – be our guiding principle in our relationship with God. So, you that is here in this church today, why are you here?

MERCY AND JUSTICE HAVE MET (4TH SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

In a number of ways, the readings of today’s Mass speak to us about the love and mercy of God towards us, his children. St. John, in our gospel text, unequivocally states that it is the love of God that made him to send his son into the world so that those who have faith in him might be saved. St. Paul re-echoes this in Reading 2 when he stated that God’s rich mercy and great love for us gives us new life in Christ Jesus after we have died to sin. Reading 1 recounts God’s response to the cry of the people of Israel which we sang in the Psalm, by delivering them from the Babylonian captivity through Cyrus, the Persian king. In all of these, we see God displaying his immense love and mercy towards us in a manner which we really cannot comprehend, despite our very many sins.

The pages of sacred scriptures are so full of proofs of God’s love and mercy towards us; these are great boosters in our relationship with him, and his love should compel us to strive to live righteously. Ironically however, the love and mercy of God has become a reason for spiritual mediocrity in the lives of very many Christians today. Many Christians have chosen to see only the merciful side of God that they fail to see the justice side of him. In their minds, believing the lie of Satan from the pit of hell, they think that God is too merciful and too loving that he cannot but pass their “little” waywardness, so they go on living in sin. To such people, Saint Paul says that because grace abounds does not mean that sin should increase the more (cf. Rom 6:1). Some are even bold enough to say that the death of Jesus has taken care of all sins for all times, nailing them to the cross, so it really doesn’t matter. There are yet others who imagine that the God who punishes sin is “the God of the Old Testament” but we are in New Testament times, forgetting that God does not change (cf. Malachi 3:6). To make matters worse, there are more and more preachers in our world today who only preach and emphasize God’s mercy and love while completely ignoring any message about God’s justice, thereby emboldening Christians to live without the dread of repercussions for sin.

But hear me, child of God, and hear me well. As much as God’s love for us is boundless, it does not negate his justice, so do not be misled to think that God does not care about your sins: he does! The love of God made Him keep company with Adam and Eve, visiting them “in the evening breeze” (Gen 3:8), but when they sinned, his justice expelled them from Eden (Gen 3:23); the love of God made him forgive David when he sinned (2 Sam 12:13), but the justice of God punished him for that sin; the love of God grants pardon for our many sins, especially by the death of Jesus (Eph 2:4-5), but this same Jesus will come again as a just judge to judge us and reward us according to our deeds (Mat 25:31-46); as Catholics, the love of God forgives us our sins when we go for confession, but the justice of God requires that we do penance for the confessed sins. It is true that God does not treat us according to what our sins deserve but would rather see us repent and live (Ezek 33:11; Psa 103:10-12; 130:3), but God will still deal justly with us if we fail to turn away from our sins (Col 3:5-6). My dear people of God, bear it in mind today that God has immense love for us, yes, but his mercy does not overrule his justice! Our God is merciful, but he is also just. So in God, mercy and justice have met!

As we have mentioned above, God is not quick to condemn us, so he repeatedly gives us many chances to repent. Our first reading today tells us that God persistently sent messengers to his unfaithful people, because he had compassion on his people. But if we abuse his mercy like they did by failing to repent of our evil ways, we may have to experience his justice, just as we also see in the same reading. The bible says “they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, till the wrath of the Lord rose against his people…” (2 Chron 36:16). I therefore appeal to you to never take God’s mercy for granted. It is important to point out that even when God gets angry at our sins, it is also borne out of his love for us. When parents get angry at a wayward child, it is not out of hatred for the child but out of love, seeing that the child is gradually being destroyed; so also is it with God. Let us therefore, live our lives in such a manner that the justice of God will not overtake us. Amen

“TAKE THESE THINGS AWAY…!” (3RD SUNDAY OF LENT, YEAR B)

By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus AMEH

Generally, we often only want to think about Jesus as very soft and tender, gentle and never taking faults against no one, so, whenever this episode of Jesus cleansing the temple is read by some, just as we have read today, they tend to be in shock and disbelief. Some people cannot just come to terms with the imagery of Jesus being so angry that he would scatter people’s business wares. But this is what the gospel narrative tells us today. And interestingly, this event is reported by all four gospel accounts, thus, highlighting its great significance. To fully grasp what happened here, let us do a background check of the facts surrounding the circumstances of this event, and so, come to a better understanding.

This event took place during the Passover Feast. This is one of the three compulsory feasts for all male Jews to attend, the others being the Feast of Pentecost (or Weeks) and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Shelters). By divine law, nobody coming for the festival must come empty handed; they must all come before God with something to sacrifice to God (cf. Deut 16:16). God also commanded that the burnt offerings, the tithes, sacrifices and heave offerings must be offered only at the one place which he shall choose to dwell and nowhere else (and that place, is Jerusalem) (cf Deut 12:5-6); but God also acknowledged that it may be difficult carrying the items for the sacrifices and the tithes, etc, from distant places to the one place of sacrifice, so He made allowance for the items to be sold, the money taken to the place of sacrifice, where the animals for the sacrifices can be bought (Deut 14:24-26). God also categorically and repeatedly warned that every animal to be used for sacrifice must be unblemished, else they won’t be accepted. Leviticus 22:19-21 reads, “You shall offer of your own free will a male without blemish from the cattle, from the sheep, or from the goats. WHATEVER HAS A DEFECT, YOU SHALL NOT OFFER, FOR IT SHALL NOT BE ACCEPTABLE ON YOUR BEHALF. And whoever offers a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, to fulfill his vow, or a freewill offering from the cattle or the sheep, IT MUST BE PERFECT TO BE ACCEPTED; there shall be no defect in it.”

From the foregoing, it is obvious then, that there was a genuine need for the presence of an animal market in the temple premises. It was also necessary for the money changers to be there because only the temple shekel was the acceptable legal tender; no Roman coin or any money from any gentile territory could be used, to avoid defilement. Hence, the whole set up that Jesus came and scattered was actually necessary and legitimate! Why then did He chase them all out? Why did he overturn the money changers’ table? Why did he whip them all out? The reason is simple: what was legal was turned into an opportunity for sin to thrive. How was this so?

With the laws given by God to use only unblemished animals for sacrifices, and the fact that only the temple shekel could be used as an acceptable currency, over time, a cabal was formed between the priests, the traders and the money changers to exploit the people and make wealth for themselves. It was the prerogative of the priests to determine which animal was unblemished, and, if your animal is rejected as being blemished after dragging it for several miles to Jerusalem, you are forced to buy another one. You will then have to either drag your animal back to your home or sell it at a low cost. To avoid the stress of bringing an animal to Jerusalem only to have it rejected, most people resorted to simply come with money, change it to the temple shekel and buy their animals right there at the temple. The traders then colluded with the priests to not accept any animal that was not bought from them. This gave them the monopoly of selling all the sacrificial animals, and the result was an inflation of prices that were mostly not affordable to most devout pilgrim Jews.

The money changers also formed a ring of extortionists, increasing the exchange rate to fleece pilgrims of their hard earned money. The result was that people paid in excess to have the temple currency, and they also paid in excess to buy the sacrificial animals. Thus, into this arrangement God made to make people’s lives easier, greed, selfishness, extortion, robbery and other social sins were introduced and committed, all in God’s name. These were the things that Jesus was actually chasing out of the temple; so when Jesus said “Take these things away from here”, he meant take the greed, the stealing, the selfishness, the extortion and all the sins out of the temple of God.

For us as Christians, we no longer have any business to do with the old temple sacrifices, so we may not worry about its pollution. However, what Jesus kicked against as we heard in today’s gospel reading is still very much with us. In fact, in some cases, the practices are worse off than in the days of Jesus. Not only is the social sin of extortion, bribery and corruption rife in civil society, it has very much entered the church. Today, very brazenly, some so-called ministers of the gospel are doing very terrible things in the house of God: robbing people and extorting from people, wrecking homes and destinies, turning the house of God into business empires and all other such evils, all in God’s name! False prophets everywhere, trading false gospels and stealing from people in a place that is supposed to be the house of God. As my friend and brother, Fr. Sebastian Sanni will say, “The bible of a false prophet robs faster than the gun of an armed robber.” And as this is happening in churches, more in having in civil society: offices, banks, schools, business places, and worse of all, in government offices where systemic corruption has been established.

Dear friends, as Christians, we must also worry about and be careful not to pollute the new covenant temple of God, which we are. The bible says that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and we must not desecrate it (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). So, the same words of Jesus which he used that day in Jerusalem are echoed to us today: “Take these things away from here!” Today, Jesus is also asking us to take away from the temple of God in us, every kind of sin capable of polluting it. We must take away from our lives, the evil of greed, of selfishness, of deceit, of extortion, of sexual immorality, of gossip and slander, of disobedience, of malice and every kind of vice.

To guide us in purifying our inner temples, God has given us instructions/laws, which we read in the first reading today, and which we know as “The Ten Commandments.” If we follow these laws of God, they shall guide us aright and lead us in the path of life eternal; they shall purify our lives of every iniquity and revive our souls; they shall also give us the wisdom to know and avoid those things and circumstances which can defile us. That is why the Psalm todays says “The law of the Lord is perfect; it revives the soul. The decrees of the Lord are steadfast; they give wisdom to the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

Today’s gospel is also an invitation to all of us to rise up against the sin of social injustice and indeed, all social sins. Jesus saw the evil going on in his days and he rose against it; like Jesus, we too should rise against the evils being perpetrated around us, beginning with ourselves. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Unfortunately, many of us are doing nothing; many of us have accepted the status quo to be normal; many of us are even actively participating in, and promoting this evil. Today, Jesus says to us, “Take these things away from here!”

As we continue in our journey of the season of Lent, let the words of Jesus always ring in our ears and our hearts: “Take these things away!” Let us take away, day by day, every sinful habit, and let us always be guided by the laws of God, that we may gain salvation for our souls.