CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ISSELE-UKU
LENTEN PASTORAL LETTER FOR 2019
GOD COMMANDS US TO “GO FORWARD”
10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 17 Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers” (Ex 14:10-18).
To my venerable brothers, all Priests, Deacons, Consecrated Men and Women, Catechists and all the Lay Members of the Catholic Community in 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).
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, once in a while, even God himself provides an occasion for his children to be together and praise and thank him. We find such occasion, for example, when we gather for Sunday Celebrations in different Churches and even in different Denominations. By the very nature of human beings God himself has arranged that it would always be through cooperation and collaboration that we would be able to live together and better the lot of each and all. However, it is not infrequently that even while working together we all succumb to the limitations and frailty of our humanness. This happens when we encounter the difficulties and problems that we, as human beings, are not in a position to surmount.
My purpose this time around in this Pastoral Letter is to refer to a precedent in the Word of God and to pull from it, the kind of force that can propel us beyond such limitations, such problems and difficulties; such stagnation and specifically to move us forward. In the spiritual plane, there is no standing still. One is either moving forward or sliding backwards. Our task, therefore, is to examine what the forces are that could propel us forward and what the enabling environments are that could sustain such momentum.
The original principles of solidarity and subsidiarity necessitate that the Church and the State should be involved in the integral development of our people. The Church is involved in development. The State is also involved in development. But as usual, what appears to be the issue always, is the matter of Streamlining things, what and what should be done; delimiting boundaries, how far could one go to still be within boundary; defining competencies, who can do this or that; determining whose authority should have the upper hand in what areas. Because, actually, disentangling ecclesiastical from civil affairs in modern society has proved difficult, as controversies over a host of different issues indicate. Examples of these controversies include the question of whether religious bodies—their properties and profits—should be taxed; whether religious observances should be permitted in state schools; whether government should support chaplaincies; sponsor pilgrimages; and whether religious groups should exercise an influence on public questions and policies and even whether the crucifix should be hung in a classroom where people of other faiths than Christianity also study.
Here, it is important to realize how the utilization and maximization of the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity would enhance the updated functionality and utility of the collective efforts of both the Church and the State at development. If everybody does what he or she does best, the whole group would be the better for it in the end. It is equally important to consider the justification or otherwise, of the imaginary line that is often drawn and purported to make a clear cut distinction between the Church and the State. This results from the misunderstood statement credited to Jesus in Matt 22:21 where Jesus used a very carefully worded statement to disarm the Scribes and Pharisees who had set a trap for him. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
This was not meant to be understood as though Caesar, who here represents the State, is God’s partner and perhaps that it is even contested who is the senior of the two. No. All times and season, every created being belongs to God who is their creator. Therefore, Caesar and all he has, including the coin, belongs really to God. So I feel that some difficulty will arise in determining who has the moral authority, like Jesus had, in ordering what should be given to whom. In other words, who can order the rest to move forward? Who has the moral authority to say so or to do so?
Accordingly, it is vital that governments should be guided by certain Christian or perhaps we should better call them ethical or humanitarian principles as well as common societal interests. Utilitarianism which preceded Socialism which the like of Jeremy Bentham was proposing in Britain, postulated a philosophy of the “greatest happiness” of the “greatest number”. But we know that in logic, the “greatest number” cannot be said to be an absolute or universal term since it is not all inclusive. Besides, perhaps the Utilitarians themselves recognized the sheer impossibility of conceiving a philosophy that could create maximum happiness for each and every person in the society. I do not also think that any Government has ever been able, even where the resources are ample, to deliver policies which create perfect joy for society. And yet their policies postulate socio-economic targets in universal and not particular terms.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Governments who have benefited from the Christian virtue of humility, have readily acknowledged the necessity for the cooperation and collaboration of the Church in the provision of complimentary social amenities which are also often of better quality. The difference between Mission Schools and State Schools is not only in the higher pay for State Schools Teachers. It is also observable in the superior quality of the Mission Schools.
The State has a lot of power, although some of it is expended in mischief, abuses and excesses and unless they are guided by a corresponding degree of morality, the tendency would naturally be for absolute power to corrupt absolutely. And yet, all that power, is, at the end of the day, ephemeral and short-lived, whereas the power and strength of the Church, being spiritual in nature and origin, is more enduring, and hence its vision penetrates horizons and relativizes life in this world as not being an end in itself but as a means of attaining eternal life in the world to come.
A Government whose policies also derive from, or are reinforced by, basic Christian or moral values becomes a much more enriched and powerful force for the attainment of a society or nation whose members are bound together by a system of moral values that, because they are intrinsic virtues, will, in our square of logical reasoning, repel or reject contradictory norms, the numerous vices that have become rampant in our modern society, and which must always be viewed as utter negations of the good, the very good that makes society morals disciplined, decent and superior.
Where separate authority structures exist, many relationships are possible. At one extreme is the subordination of politics to religion and the other extreme entails subordination of the religious institutions to the political regime. Between these extremes, various ranges of relationships are possible and the terms that explain this relationships are: solidarity, subsidiarity, cooperation and collaboration.
Of course, it must be admitted that there are modern vicissitudes which have eroded this neat compartmentalization. It is now evident that the pattern in contemporary secular societies differs significantly from the pattern of traditional societies. On the one hand, religious bodies appear to have lost the power to assert exclusivity over religious belief and practice. Equally important, governments have increasingly concerned themselves with aspects of individual and collective life traditionally considered the province of religion.
Now as religious leaders and as Christian communities, we received a delegated authority to be forceful witnesses to the truth that liberates. Any time we compromise this exalted position of ours, we fail in our duty of witnessing to the truth and we disappoint God who had reposed such confidence on us. We do not appear to have much latitude here to play with. Our light must shine in the sight of men so that people can see our good works and give the praise to God our Father.
Now, this is where we see clearly the evils of complacency and minimalism. A complacent person will not have the courage to call on the people to march on when there appears to be visible obstacles like the red sea and the Egyptian Army. The person would even discourage some people who might want to swim across. Make we kuku stay here. Where we want go now? They don catch us finish. And that is if the person is not benefiting from the situation. In the so many number of times that we have had acute petrol scarcity in this country, I am not aware that those who wanted the situation to change were those petrol dealers and black marketers who were profiting from the misfortune of others.
The sacred duty of the Church is to be an unbiased umpire of the game of the development of peoples and resources in the field of politics. The emphasis is on the word “unbiased”, that is, non-partisanship. A situation where the religious people lend themselves to easy manipulation by politics and politicians, erodes the moral credentials that are necessary for effectiveness in our duty of witnessing. So we cannot afford to compromise our position.
We are very familiar with the popular slogan that the only thing that is necessary for evil to thrive, is for good people to do nothing. So, that is an evil that could not only work against our mandate but could even also make us a disappointment to God himself. And unless God would extend his usual mercy to us, the lot an unproductive tree is to be cut down and cast into the fire.
Our role as religious leaders and as Christian Bodies is to continue to be the stabilizing factor in the polity in such a way that we truly become the conscience of this nation. One of the very good things that anybody can still say about Nigerians, is that we are very religious people. When sometimes, and perhaps, even many times, when Nigeria could have overturned because of her excesses, many people have only been restrained from dangerous extremities by their religious conviction. Apart from the cynical remark about Religion being the opium of the people, in Nigeria, we understand religion as being a great stabilizing factor.
It would be a great act of disservice to ourselves if religion were to be so corrupted, or worse still, to be so politically manipulated as not to be able to have the authoritative voice to ask our people to march on, to move forward. This could happen if we compromise the integrity of religion itself by relativising the values that the Church preach about; values like Honesty, Faithfulness, Sincerity, Justice, truthfulness and so on, in order to suit or justify the issue at hand. Ours is a prophetic voice. Whenever we fail to extol these virtues, we would automatically become false prophets. I think that this is why the Church cannot afford to be sycophants, because these ones clap for their god-fathers, whether they win or lose, whether they are right or wrong.
As I say this, the image of what Moses did in the battle of the people of Israel against the Amalekites comes clearly to me. This account is in Ex 17:9-16. Moses asked Joshua to pick out some men who would go out and fight for them, while he himself would do the one thing that ensures success for every battle, namely, the lifting of the staff of God and his hands in prayer to Yahweh. Anytime his hands grew weary and he dropped them, the people of Israel would begin to lose. This necessitated the having to permanently stabilize the hands. This also ensured the permanent victory for the people of God.
In like manner, as long as people lift their hands in prayer, so long would we continue to be victorious over every forces militating against us as a Church, as a State and as a Nation. So long would we continue to march on, not minding the obstacles that surround us, including even the red sea of Boko Haram and Kidnapping. Unfortunately, the frightful prospect of the opposite is also true. But may God not allow us to be defeated by the evils behind and before us; whether it is the evil of the red sea or Egyptian army; whether it is the evil of political brigandage or the militarization of our Democracy.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, our theme has been on how to move forward; who could ask others to move ahead and what authority does the person have to have in order to be able to give the order. Our response to this has also been that the Church stands in a better position to do this but that in order to be able to do this, the Church should not compromise her position by in any way being false to her calling and mission.
For our context and for our purpose, the Promised Land is still in the front. Therefore, whatever obstacle that lies in front of us must be crossed. On the authority of the word of God, even with knowing that we are surrounded by all kinds of problems, God still commands us: “Go forward” (Ex 14:15). And so on the authority of the word of God it can only be “Forward Ever”.
God our Father, in the midst of all our troubles, you have always been our protector and provider. Grant us the alertness of the mind to still hear your command and the courage and confidence to go forward through all our troubles and difficulties. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Given at Issele-Uku, this 6th day of March, 2019. In commemoration of the Fifteenth 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
6th March, 2019.
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ISSELE-UKU
LENTEN REGULATIONS FOR 2019
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 6th March, 2019 and Holy Saturday is on the 20th April, 2019. 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 6th March and Good Friday, 19th April. 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 organized 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 20th April to Pentecost Sunday, 9th June 2019.
- 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.
- 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.
- Chrism Mass and Cathedraticum: This will be on Holy Thursday, 18th April at 9.00a.m. in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Issele-Uku. 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 6th Day of March, 2019. In Commemoration of the Fifteenth 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.
6th March, 2019.