“And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to the tenth month of this year 2015, the month of October. We are near to the end of this year. It is my prayer that the Lord will journey with us through to the end of the year and beyond.
For us Nigerians, the month of October is very significant in our history as a nation; at least, the first day of the month of October. On this day, we celebrate our independence and in a manner of speaking; the birth of our country Nigeria. And for us Catholics, it is another month dedicated to the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I rejoice with you all as we celebrate our independence this month. Some may argue that there is not so much to rejoice for in our country today. This they owe to the fact that we are blessed abundantly by God with rich natural and human resources that have been put to wrong use. This is true. But what is even truer is that we have forgotten God in our dealings with one another. It is like what the prophet Baruch said to the people of Israel when he saw them in a situation they ought not to be as the chosen people of God. In Baruch 3:10-13, he comments, “Why, Israel! Why are you in the land of your foes? Why are you growing old in a foreign country, contaminated by pagans, counted among those who go to the pit? … It is because you have abandoned the source of wisdom (God). If you had walked in the way of God, peace would be your dwelling place forever.” In this same light, Isaiah said to the people, "Had you paid attention to my commandments, your peace would have been like a river..." (Is. 48: 18). If only we live in the fear of the Lord, the turbulent storms we face now would not be there.
A Happy Beginning
Though things may not be in their best shape now, it has not always been like that. When we gained independence on the 1st of October, 1960, it was a happy beginning. Things were not perfect but there were no unnecessary burdens. In most spheres of life, the condition was helpful and promising. Good food was available and affordable; roads were constructed and more were being constructed; education was available and the government encouraged many to go to school by subsidizing the fees; jobs were available even before one left school; we saw a promising nation.
But these did not last long. With the Civil War which started on July 6, 1967 and ended on January 11, 1970, there was a decline in our condition of living. This affected mostly our economy and inter-personal relationships. This couldn’t have been caused by anything other than man’s selfish motive. Like James 4:1 puts it, “Where do these wars and battles between you first start? Is it not precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves?” Thereafter, we became blind to the needs of others and failed to see the other person as a brother or sister. Up till now, we have plunged deep into the very problem our hands have created.
Our Situation Today
As a nation, we groan and yearn for a way out of our present predicament. Not even our democratic experience in the last sixteen years has been able to take us to that state our hearts yearn for. Corruption, terrorism and other vices have formed the storms of our life as a nation. Good food is scarcely available to many and when available is not affordable to the ordinary person, many graduates are roaming the streets because of lack of employment opportunities, electricity is not yet stable, even the oil in our land is often not available.
There may have been genuine efforts on the part of some of our leaders, which need the cooperation of all of us to pull through. However, we cannot help ourselves. The hearts of the people must be purified and changed. We must return to God to be healed from the blindness of thinking of self alone (Philippians 2:3). We must be ready to accommodate.
Hope of a Good Future with God
Though there is a deep sense of fear regarding the future of our country, God still has the power to establish us in the path He had hoped for us as His people. This is the great faith and hope we have. But we have to walk in God’s ways to see this come through. We have experienced what has broken other nations, yet, we remain because the hand of God is upon us. There is the hand of God in our history. This attests to the fact that there is a great hope for the future for us. With the help of God, things will get better. Our past may be dark but God says, “Do not dwell on the past, or remember the things of old. Look, I am doing a new thing…” (Isaiah 43:18-19). Our present situation may be shaky and turbulent, but the Lord exult us to trust in him and not worry.
Yes! In the midst of all these storms – terrorism, corruption, hunger, tribalism, loss of the dignity of human life, misplaced priority, and greed; he asks us to come to him. It is now, more than ever, that our nation groans in pain of untold burdens that we need to remember his words, “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We only have to trust and turn back to him to heal us and make us well. When we do, he will remember his words and fulfill them, “If my people who bear my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my presence and turn from their wicked ways, then I will listen from heaven and forgive their sins and restore their contry” (2 Chronicle 7:14).
He has not forsaken us nor has he stopped loving us. Rather, we are the ones who have left him to walk in other paths, to trust in ourselves and sought help in other places. God is still in control and there is no storm in our life as a nation that He cannot make calm. The disciples of Jesus understood this and turned to him when they encountered the great storm of wind on the sea, “And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (Mark 4:38). When we do this as a nation, then, and only then would he arise and with authority rebuke whatever is bedeviling us as a nation with these words, “PEACE, BE STILL!” (Mark 4:39).
We rely on the help of God to make our country better. But we too, must make efforts to cooperate with the help of God. I say “Happy Independence” to you all. May Our Lady Queen of Nigeria always intercede for our nation. Amen.
Alfred Adewale Martins Archbishop of Lagos
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