CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ISSELE-UKU
LENTEN PASTORAL LETTER
Worthy Of Our Christian Calling
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Eph 4:1-7).
- To my venerable brothers, all Priests, Deacons, Consecrated
Men and Women, Catechists and all the Lay Members of the Catholic Community of Issele-Uku Diocese. May the mercy, peace and love from our Lord Jesus Christ be multiplied among you all who seek Him with sincere heart (cf. Jude 1:2).
- For our reflection this year, I have chosen to look clearly into this passionate appeal made by St. Paul to all of us to organise our life patterns in such a way that they synchronize with our calling, our vocation. Paul begins this part of his discourse to the Ephesians and the other churches in which this Epistle was to be distributed by a strong appeal. His appeal is to “beseech” them. The word means to “call near.” It is like someone who has something special and important to say to you and leans over and in a compelling voice urges you to listen to what he has to say.
- Amongst Priests, Seminarians and Religious, when one talks of vocation, what immediately comes to mind is vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Actually, vocation, from its etymological analysis, includes other things too, namely, a call to other states of life. Of course, vocation also and perhaps, principally, connotes a call to the priestly or religious life. Now, however, I just want to consider vocation as deriving from our conviction of the purposefulness of our lives. The awareness that we are called to fill a special spot in the world and to be a unique object of God’s love both here and hereafter, is what we are in this context referring to as our vocation.
- St. Francis de Sales gave this all-embracing definition of vocation in the way we understand it now: “A good vocation is simply a firm and constant will in which the called person has to serve God in the way and in the places to which Almighty God has called him”. As you can see, this does not presuppose the priesthood or religious alone. Married life is a vocation too.
- Our Christian vocation imposes upon us the obligation to justify God’s love for us, God’s hopes for us. We do so when we try, day by day, to do God’s will to the best of our ability. This means that we make God’s will our compass, the norm and the guide of our lives. In all our decisions and in all our choices, ‘What God would want me to do’ must take precedence over ‘What I would like to do’. This does not mean necessarily that God’s will and mine will always be in conflict. Quite frequently God gets us to do his will precisely by making it attractive to us; by letting us think that the course of action he wants is one that we have gladly chosen for ourselves. But conflicts there will be: and we must be ready to surrender our own preferences instantly, any time that God’s will lies in a different direction. This is one of the infallible proofs of our love for God; that is what justifies his love for us.
- This unswerving attachment to God’s will also is what justifies God’s choice of us for his work. We rarely know what the particular job is for which God chose us – a job that no one else could do quite as well as we. It may be some certain person whom God can reach with his grace only through us. It may be some chain of events that only we can initiate or some evil that only we can avert. In most instances we shall not know, until eternity, what particular task it was for which we, and we alone, were best fitted. This is an added and urgent reason why we must try, day after day, to do God’s will in little things as well as big ones. We do not know which of our actions will be our exclusive and essential contribution to God’s plan, or which of our words are the fateful words on which God is depending. We only know that we must face each day and each moment of the day as though this were the day and this the moment. Otherwise we run the risk of failing God in the one thing which so greatly determined his choice of us; and in failing God, we shall fail ourselves.
- Our Christian vocation carries responsibility, but it has its compensations, too. One such compensation is the wholesome feeling of personal worth that should be mine. If I am important to God, then I am indeed an important person. (You remember monkey no fine but im mama like am). Other people may not rate me very highly. My talents may be quite limited, and to those who know me I may be just an average sort of person. My job may be a relatively humble one and I may be tempted to feel inferior as I see others around me making their mark in the world. Then I remember that money, position, popularity – all the yardsticks by which the world measures success – are to God nothing more than a child’s playthings. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9).
- In the meantime, if I am in the state of grace and am following God’s will as my road-map through life, then every least action of mine has an everlasting value. However lowly the world may esteem me, every breath that I draw is precious to God. There is something that has to be done which only I can do. What greater personal worth could there be than to be needed by God? It matters little that I do not know the nature of my essential role in God’s plan. It is enough to know that I am as valuable to God as the most distinguished person the world has ever acclaimed.
- The sense of personal worth is not pride. It is not even vanity. Pride consists in declaring my independence of God, as though I alone were responsible for whatever merit I possess. Vanity is simply a silly pre-occupation with God’s lesser natural gifts, such looks or talents. It would not be humility, it would be a belittling of God’s wisdom and goodness to pretend that I do not amount to much, that my life is meaningless, that I would never have been missed if I had not been born. It is quite true that apart from God I am nothing. It is just as true that God’s love has made me great. To admit this is doing simple justice to God. I must never surrender to the temptation to feel, ‘I am no good. I am a failure’.
- Neither must I ever surrender to self-pity; to the feeling that ‘nobody loves me, nobody cares about me’. That would be an awful thing to do after all the love that God has expended and is expending on me, to brood and sorrow because I do not receive as much human love as I might wish. That would be about as silly as the complaint of a millionaire at not winning a few coins on the Kalo Kalo machine. A self-pitying person can only be one who is weak in faith or ignorant in religion. God’s love for us is such a tremendous thing.
- From my sense of Christian vocation there follows another effect: freedom from serious worry. If I really believe that God loves me with an infinite love (as he does) and that he wants what is best for me (as he does) then I cannot worry very long or very intensely. God is infinitely wise; he knows what is best. God is infinitely powerful; he can accomplish anything he wishes. Then how can I go wrong, how can I lose, as long as I try to do my best with such talents and knowledge as God has given me? I could still make mistakes, I have not become infallible. Yet, out of my very mistakes God will bring good, and my very stupidity God will in some way turn to good account.
- I must see this, too, in the miseries that come to me and others through the malice of my fellow-humans. God has endowed us with free wills in order that we may be capable of loving him. Without freedom there can be no love; love must be freely given or it is not love at all. Yet, freedom is a dangerous gift. It can be, and often is, abused. As a consequence, innocent persons sometimes suffer because of the evil will of another. Thoughtlessly we say, ‘Why does God let them do it?’ We forget that if God were to destroy every person who was on the verge of causing unhappiness to another, you and I might have been eliminated long ago. Why do you think the weed will have to be allowed to grow up with the wheat until the harvest time? The reason is because stray bullets cause a lot of regrettable damage.
- The pertinent point is that the evil which men do does not defeat God’s purposes. He simply fits the evil into his plan and bends it to his will. The hatred of the Pharisees for Christ became the tool of our own redemption. The cruelty of Roman emperors peopled heaven with glorious martyrs and speeded the growth of the Church. Coming down to our own level, that unkind deed that was done to us yesterday will end in profit, not loss, to me; of that I can be sure. It is the kind of confidence which Job had when in the midst of his suffering he could still exclaim: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-26).
- I cannot exaggerate God’s love for me, God’s care for me. He loves me a hundred times, a thousand times more than I love myself. I am never out of his mind or his attention. And it is not just my happiness in the next life that interests God. That most of all, of course. But just as Jesus had compassion on the hungry multitude and worked a miracle to feed them corporally, so too is God concerned with my happiness here and now. Being human, I cannot escape suffering entirely or dismiss worry completely. But, understanding God’s urgent love for me, his concern for me, I will never be crushed by suffering or defeated by worry.
- In Baptism God gave us a super natural life, a kind of life above the nature of human being. God raised us to his own level. He chose to share with us his own divine life. The exact ‘how’ of it must remain largely a mystery, until in heaven we discover fully what has happened to us. We do know that at Baptism God entered into our soul in a very special way. Joining our soul to himself, he gave us the new kind of life which we call sanctifying grace. We do not cease to be human, we do not become little gods. But we do become God-like. With our new powers, what we say and do now reaches God and has value in his eyes. God in turn is able to reach us with his graces and inspirations, is able to guide and strengthen us. There is communication between God and ourselves.
- Moreover we can begin to enjoy what God enjoys. Here and now we can share God’s happiness only to a very limited degree. We can find joy in holiness and rich inner rewards in our love for neighbour and for God. Yet our soul is restricted in its divine activities by the necessity of working in and through a physical body. For the full operation of this divine life in our soul, we must await the final act by which God’s joy will become ours also. This will be when God confers upon us what theologians call ‘the light of glory’. It is a special power which, added to the supernatural life that is already ours, will enable us in heaven to see God as he really is (cf. 1 John 3:2).
- In the meantime, assuming that we have the habitual desire to make our will one with God’s, all that we say and do and think has an eternal significance. Because of our union with God, God himself is working in us and with us in all that we do – everything, except sin of course, is increasing in us the process of divinisation, and enlarging our capacity for the final happiness that awaits us.
- We can, of course, lose this divine life. We can refuse God the one small price that he asks in exchange for it: our love. That in effect is what we do if we reject God’s will and, by grievous sin, choose self in preference to God. Yet, even then the root of life is present in the form of the baptismal character. Just as the feebly pulsing heart of the rescued drowning victim cries out for a return of air to the lungs, so does the baptismal character cry out for a return of the sinner to God. A humble and heartfelt ‘God I love you and because I love you I am sorry’ is enough to bring life rushing back into the soul again.
- If we let ourselves think of sanctifying grace as a vague theological abstraction, then we shall lose nine-tenths of the zest of Christian living. This divine life in us is more real than the blood in our veins. It should flavour our every waking moment. Without this divine life the greatest man in all the world is, in God’s sight, of less account than the humblest labourer whose soul is in the state of grace. So who can still look at his or her life in Christ and consider himself or herself of little effect?
- There are little pot holes on the way though. Unless we are far advanced in sanctity, we have more than a grain of spiritual conceit. We overcome a temptation and we feel quite proud of ourselves. We do an act of genuine charity and we fairly glow with self-approval. True, this is not wholly a matter of conceit. It is the function of a good conscience to commend us when we have done well, as it is also the role of conscience to reprove us when we have done evil. Yet we are prone to magnify by many points the approving voice of conscience. The reason why we seldom give God full credit may be that we so often do not refer to the magnitude of God’s concern for us, the persistence with which he pursues us with his grace.
- Now and then we are able to see God’s helping hand in some circumstances of our life; as when, faced by a strong temptation and on the verge of surrender, something saves us from collapse. Perhaps the temptation itself is taken away, or a circumstance intervenes to make the sin impossible or no longer desirable. As we stand almost trembling from the closeness of our fall, we know that it is a power outside of us which has rescued us.
- It is not always in matters of sin and temptation that we can detect God’s grace at work. Sometimes we plan a course of action that seem attractive to us. It may be a course of action that appears useful and necessary at the time. But just then, obstacles arise that defeat our purpose. At the moment we are bitterly disappointed, but the day comes when we look back and see how fortunate it was that our plan did not succeed. As things turned out, we are ever so much better off. God’s view is the long view, and his plan for us is a life time plan, not a five or a ten-year plan.
- All of us can find instances such as these in our lives. What we may forget, however, is that for every time God’s hand comes openly into view, there are a thousand other times when his hidden hand is just as actively at work. God never forgets us, never takes his hand off us and never leaves us alone.
- The day-to-day and moment-to-moment helps which God gives us, we call actual graces. These actual graces may take a limitless number of forms. God may see to it that we read a certain book which will have a special meaning for us or that we hear a sermon whose message we particularly need. God may lead us to encounter a specific person who will influence us for good, or he may take away a friend whose companionship may ultimately be hurtful. According to how it may contribute to or against our best interests, God may steer us towards or away from this or that job or place or event. Nothing that touches us is unimportant to God.
- The person of good will, established in sanctifying grace and trying prayerfully to make his or her decisions and solve his or her problems as best as he or she can, is receiving actual graces all his or her waking moments. With a little push here and a gently nudge there, God continually is guiding us towards heaven. Even the sinner lives and moves amid a ceaseless bombardment of grace. In the case of the sinner, God’s anxious care has but one objective: to find a little opening wherein his grace may find entrance and the sinner be aroused to repentance. Only when that step has been taken can other graces become operative and God’s guidance fully effective. However, in his lavish bestowal of actual grace, God still respects the free will with which he has endowed us.
- The interaction of grace and free will is one of those mysteries which we can hope to understand fully only when we look into the divine mind in heaven. Here, with our limited created intellects, we can grasp but dimly God’s ways of dealing with his creatures. (cf. the example of power steering in a car). So, in our good deeds and our conquests of temptation, it is God’s grace which does most of the work. Yet it remains for us to give that last little touch; that ‘I will or ‘I will not’ which puts grace to work or leaves grace unused.
God our Father, you have called your chosen people into loving fellowship with you and to be united in praising your name in their different activities. May we be witnesses of your love to the world and strive for good things which alone last for ever. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Given at Issele-Uku, this 14th day of February, 2018. In commemoration of the Fourteenth Anniversary of my Episcopal Ordination and Installation as the Third Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku on the 21st February, 2004.
+ Most Rev. Dr. Michael Odogwu ELUE,
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku, NIGERIA
14th February, 2018.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ISSELE-UKU
To: All Priests,
Consecrated Persons and Lay People of God in the
Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku.
The holy season of Lent begins from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. This year, Ash Wednesday is on the 14th February, 2018 and Holy Saturday is on the 31st March, 2018. The Lenten Season has two characteristic elements: the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it and Penance. The stages of the proximate preparations of Catechumens for baptism are celebrated during the Lenten Season, strictly according to the Rites for such. Through Lenten Observances, the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of the greatest feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 109).
- The two days on which we are bound to fast and also to abstain from meat or our favourite dish or drink are Ash Wednesday 14th February and Good Friday, 30th March. Those bound to fast are those who have completed their 18th year of age and have not reached 60 years of age. Fasting according to the law of the Church is having one full meal a day; it does not necessarily have to be in the morning.
Those bound to abstain from meat and things prepared from meat or with meat are those who have completed their 14th year of age.
Every Friday of the year is a day of penance.
Lent is a period of penance, of return to God, of intensified practice of our Religion. Here are some of the ways we can spend this period of Lent in preparation for Easter.
(a) Avoid all sin. Repent and return to God by a good sacramental confession and do appropriate penance both those imposed at confession and other voluntary acts of penance.
As usual and to facilitate the recourse to Sacramental Confession, all priests in the diocese are hereby given the faculty to absolve from the censure of excommunication attached to abortion and to any other hitherto reserved sins in sacramental confession during this period of lent. Times for confessions should be published and faithfully adhered to by the priests of the parishes and those times must be adequate and chosen with an eye to the best convenience of the parishioners.
– Deny yourself something that you like; be more generous to others this year.
– Pursue and achieve reconciliation with any one with whom you are not in peace.
– Make greater efforts to spread the Kingdom of Christ and help others to know or return to Christ.
– Go to Mass often if possible daily and not only on Sundays.
– Attend the Stations of the Cross on Wednesdays and Fridays or do it every day if you can.
– Be faithful to the family rosary.
– Take full part in the Holy Week Ceremonies.
– Attend Catholic Doctrine Classes on Sundays. Classes are also to be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for those preparing for Sacraments.
– Be part of the Lenten Retreats that should be organised in every parish during this Lenten period for the various groups of people in the church.
- Request for Prayer and Support: I ask you to specially keep the work of our Diocese, its Bishop, Clergy and all of our People in your prayers and offerings this Lent for security and peace. The sacrifice of prayer is the cornerstone upon which all of our efforts for the Lord rest. We, your pastors and servants assure you of our continued blessings and remembrances for you and your loved ones.
- Easter Duty: All the faithful who have made their First Holy Communion are bound to receive Holy Communion at least once in a year at Easter time which begins this year from Holy Saturday Vigil Mass 31st March to Pentecost Sunday, 20th May 2018.
- Solidarity with the Poor: Our Penance should flow into solidarity with others and generosity in everything especially in giving to the needy and contributing to the works of the Church. The Faithful are encouraged to embark on Charity, almsgiving and remission of debts, payment of just wages. Donations should be generously made for the various projects of the Church and particularly for the support of the Pastors according to one’s means.
- 5. Special Project: This year, we are still at the point of trying to round up and continue with the furnishing of our Diocesan Pastoral Centre in Asaba. Therefore, I am still earnestly requesting the assistance of all kind hearted individuals and various groups in order to successfully complete this project this year to the glory of God.
- 6. Chrism Mass and Cathedraticum: This will be on Holy Thursday, 29th March at 9.00a.m. in the Cathedral Church. Cathedraticum is an occasion of showing a Catholic’s love for and loyalty to the Bishop of the Diocese as the Father and Chief Shepherd. The generosity of everybody is hereby highly solicited so that, apart from thereby demonstrating your filial love for him, you would also be supporting his work as the shepherd of your souls.
- May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ enable you to practise the virtue of Penance during this season of Lent so that you may thereby be enabled to partake in the joy and glory of the risen Christ here on earth and later in the kingdom of Heaven.
Given at Issele-Uku, this 14th Day of February, 2018, the Fourteenth Anniversary of my Episcopal Ordination and Installation as the 3rd Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku on 21st February, 2004.
+ Most Rev. Dr. Michael Odogwu ELUE,
Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku, NIGERIA.
14th February, 2017.