Dearly beloved brethren, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
I welcome you to the month when we begin a great journey with the Church; the journey in commemoration of what our Lord and saviour endured in order to bring us to eternal light and life. He was born to die. He came to give his life. His public ministry was ever a steady outpouring toward Calvary. The Via Dolorosa, the road to Calvary, was traveled by Christ 2000 years ago on the way to His crucifixion. Ever since that time, we, as Christians, have ensured to journey along the path of the Lord in spiritual likeness during the most treasured and penitential season of Lent, especially through the observance of the Stations of the Cross.
During his public ministry, Jesus repeatedly expressed to his disciples, his commitment to go to Jerusalem. He says to them: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mk 10:33-34 see also 8:31; 9:12, 33; Lk 9:51). He was willing to walk this journey of pain and sorrow up to that mountain where he will be crucified on the cross.
The Lord and Master has set the pace for us to follow so that we may reap the ‘reward’ that this journey bestows on us. The ‘reward’ is properly crafted in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as he says, “the love of Christ urges us on… He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). We are born to a new life of grace through the Passion of the Lord that enables us to conquer selfishness and the tendency to live solely for private interests but solely for Jesus. This will only be possible when we look at every step that the Lord took as one with the intentionality and love.
He did not go on this journey with any spec of constraint but willingly; (see John 10:17-18: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father”) and through his intentionality to suffer and to die, we are able to see the degree of his love for humanity (see John 3:16-17 “for God so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”).
We too, operating on these principles, must make the journey to Calvary, keeping in mind that the reason why Calvary is very important and popular today is because a particular kind of Cross stood on that hill that changed the world in drastic measures. The Cross is why we make this journey, the Cross of Jesus. This is the very Cross which the veteran apostle and preacher, St. Paul, loved so much that he no longer gloried in anything but the Cross (see Gal 6:14). In one of my previous messages, I had said that the Cross of Jesus, with all the shame, horror and social stigma which was sneered at by the Gentiles and abhorred by the Jews was what St. Paul graciously admired and proudly boasts in. He understood that the instrument of torture has become a source of life, pardon, mercy, a sign of reconciliation, peace, love and victory. Carefully note his inclusion which has a profound spiritual touch: he does not refer to the instrument of torture per se, but he speaks with an especial reference to The Cross of Jesus, distinctively marking it from others which cannot give life and healing. When we speak about the Cross today throughout the world, it is almost undoubted that the reference is to the Cross of Jesus because by His presence on the wood, a great revolution took course that the emblem of suffering and hate had become the symbol of the greatest love a man can have (see Jn. 15:13). The Cross of Jesus is the mystery of the universality of God’s love for men, it is (as Pope Benedict XVI says) “a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us.”
The 40 days movement to Calvary, is ultimately a journey of our own revolution where we are changed and turned away from ourselves to a greater person (Jesus) and a higher vocation and purpose (love). Paul tells us that this happens nowhere other than in the experience with the Cross but we must remember that this would not be possible without the apt intent on doing this. In the cross, we are turned away from our passions to the Passion of Jesus, where and when we experience our own crucifixion so that all worldly desires are crushed and do not excite us anymore. The world is proving more difficult considering the spate of horrendous events taking place especially in our own country but we cannot conceive of these evils as reasons to abscond from the Cross. If anything, it provides ‘opportunities’ where we stand out to give love to all and sundry in a society that is hostile to true love of God and neighbor. The terrain our Lord worked in his life on earth and the journey to Calvary was not a friendly or cozy one. It had all the elements of hate, rejection, pain and scourging towards him, yet he did not bend or revile. Undergoing this same experience as the Master, without being cool to ‘paganism’ or the way of the world is actually not living according to our desires but living unto a greater person whose mission and identity cannot be separated from Love.
Taking advantage of the situation in this hallowed direction will be a good way for us to journey with the Lord to Calvary this year, 2018 in Nigeria. Will it be a painful journey? Yes it will be. Will it be a long journey? Yes it will be. Will it feel like we should quit? Yes it will be but we must not. Will be a journey in futility? Evidently, it will not be. The Lord who himself was helped on the journey, knows that we will need as much help too to go on this spiritual pilgrimage, therefore, his grace and strength never lacks. The point is that when we sincerely and intently make this movement, something happens in us because our whole being is touched. Our rapport with the society and the world around us is totally different because it is seen with the view from and of the cross.
St. Paul, having encountered the cross says that he can no longer give to the world those things that would gratify and motivate the world because he operates on a frequency that is higher and holier which would not let him condescend to the paralyzed bandwidth of the world. In fact, the best explanation for this new relationship between himself and the world is found in 1 Corinthians 4:13, where he says “… we have become and are now as the rubbish of world, the dregs of all things.” If we have become the hogwash and filth of the world, then truly and rightly so we cannot (and should not) give to the world what it seeks. The moment we have a fueling hatred for sin, we can be rest assured that we have started our crucifixion; we are becoming the scum to the world. However, pause a moment and think of this; how many times have we been to confession to relinquish old habits of sin and resolve to live worthy lives that please God yet we fantasize about those sins and occasions of sin and even relish them, gradually slipping back into murky state of sin? By the very act of envisioning those sins or evil structures again, it means they have not been crucified to us because they beckon on us and we lovingly yield. Remember, the words of Jesus in the Stations of the Cross, ‘no force on earth and none in hell can take away your will, your will is yours’; a strong will to journey with the Lord will not be broken by pain because at the end of it all is an eternal gain.
I wish you a Spirit filled Lenten journey.
+ Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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