CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF ISSELE-UKU
LENTEN PASTORAL LETTER
“IF YOU, O LORD, SHOULD MARK OUR GUILT!”
3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say? 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.* 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? 11She said, No one, sir.* And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again (John 8:3-11).
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 sister in Christ, I grew up at the time when the still present Mercedes 911 were pre-eminently the greatest means of the transportation of goods and even of people. One of such Lorries has one Maxim written on its forehead which has left an indelible impression in my head. That Maxim is: If Men Were God. I used to only read it and shake my head with one concurring sound hmmmm. At later time and until now, I quickly add: “Thank God that men are not God. Nobody can imagine what would have happened if men were to be God for even a few minutes.
There are many incidents and events in our lives that exemplify very concretely the fact that Men are not God indeed. I have chosen to elucidate this matter drawing from the lesson of Jesus handling of the case of the Adulterous Woman as found in the Gospel of St. John 8:1-11. The story of the Adulterous Woman in Johns Gospel is very well known and it is very popular. Its popularity is for two reasons. First, because it concerns a sexual sin, which for many people is the most difficult kind of sin or actually The Sin. Secondly, because it shows the greatness of Divine Mercy. We need to see this gospel in the light of the Old Testament prescriptions, (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:13-24) to understand how it is that Christ changes the wilderness of sin; how He reveals that it is no longer through obedience to the Law of Moses that His people will find salvation.
They caught the woman red-handed. She was definitely guilty of that sin. And that sin had a clear penalty under Mosaic laws: those who willingly choose to destroy their marriages and their families through adultery were subject to the death penalty by stoning. The Pharisees, those who had such a difficult time with Jesus forgiving of sinners, brought her to him to try to trap him. Either Jesus would side with Moses and say this woman had to be stoned and everyone would see that he could not be merciful to great sinners like he was teaching, or he would side with the woman and against Moses. It would then immediately be said that he was teaching men to break the Law of Moses and that he was condoning and even encouraging people to commit adultery. They thought they had an air-tight case. But they were wrong.
They made the woman stand out in front of everyone, alone. Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. Moses ordered such women to be stoned. What do you have to say about the case? Jesus merely wrote on the ground for a while. The saints throughout the centuries have given their guesses about what Jesus would have been writing. The speculations about and the conjecturing of what Jesus must have been writing on the ground even went up to suggesting that he must have been writing down the individual sins of those who were in front and with such specificity and correctness that when they saw it, they too were quickly hiding their faces, which is why they even began to sneak away one by one beginning with the elders (8:9).
It is not written in the Bible and it is not clearly stated in the Bible what He was writing but I too have no reason to disagree with the pragmatic speculations. Whatever he was writing, when they persisted in their questioning, Jesus stood up and said, Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her. He then wrote again. One by one they left, beginning with the elders. Besides, all through this drama, the fact that a woman does not commit adultery with herself alone did not come up for consideration. And it is not recorded that women were in the majority of those who wanted to stone their fellow woman.
Lets stop here for a moment. Sometimes we can be amazed at Jesus wisdom in his replies to those who challenge him. We can say to ourselves, I sure wish that if I were ever in trouble that Jesus would be my lawyer. But Jesus here is being much more than witty or sharp or smarter than his accusers. He was seeing straight into their hearts, particularly their sinful hearts. That was the reason for his challenge to them let him among you without sin be the first to cast a stone because he knew that it was precisely because of their sin that they were trying to bring the woman to be stoned.
The reason why Jesus message of forgiveness was so difficult for the Pharisees to understand was because they themselves had never truly experienced forgiveness or a God who loves them so much that he does forgive them. Their notion of the law, of religion, was all those things we have to do, but there was no joy in it. Anyone who enjoyed life for them was a sinner, and the Pharisees only justification in living such a miserable, loveless existence was the fact that others would have to pay for their misdeeds. When they caught someone in sin, they wanted the maximal penalty, and there was no room for any love or mercy, because like the older son in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:25-30, they lived not as sons and daughters of God but as slaves of a severe master.
But what Jesus also knew was that although they might not have been committing similar deeds with their bodies, they were committing them with their flesh. One of the great principles of the spiritual life is that if you personally have a problem, a particular sin youre struggling with on the inside, and youre not honest with yourself in giving it to the Lord, what you end up doing is to find that sin in everyone else. Its the principle of seeing the speck in everyone elses eyes while avoiding the plank in our own (cf. Matt 7:3-5). How was it that these men ended up catching this woman? Probably because they had been checking it out for weeks, lusting after her.
Its the same way with us today. Thats why this Gospel is so important. When we find ourselves merciless with others, its almost always a cover for our own sinfulness. If we find it difficult to forgive others a particular sin, very often its because we ourselves are struggling or have struggled against that sin and never really been honest with the Lord and therefore humble enough with ourselves.
One of the great tragedies of our lifetime has been the scourge of abortion. Im convinced, however, that really the only reason abortion was ever able to get off the ground is because if a young woman were caught pregnant outside of wedlock, everyone would condemn her, would forever think of her as a sinner. But as a matter of fact, all dogs enjoy a certain delicacy but only the one that does not wipe its mouth well afterwards is considered a glutton.
One of the most promising aspects of the pro-life movement now is that we are finally becoming more Christ-like in reaching out to women who are pregnant, no matter what the circumstances. Weve prayed for the conversion of those in the abortion industry, and, upon their conversions, embraced them with open arms.
Likewise, if were going to be truly Christians, we always have to embrace the sinner. Notice I didnt say the repentant sinner. We have to embrace the sinner, to love the sinner always, while, with Jesus, hating the sin and trying to sin no more and encourage others to do the same. Let us observe Jesus. When everyone had left, dropping their stones on the ground, Jesus found himself alone with the woman, stood up and said to her, Woman, has no one condemned you? No one sir, she replied. Then Jesus said with words he so desperately wants to say to each of us when we find ourselves enmeshed in sin, Then neither do I condemn you. The only one who could indeed have thrown the first and second stone said instead: neither do I condemn you because he does not see as men see. If indeed men had been God, one can only imagine!
Jesus came down from heaven to save us, not to condemn us. But he does hate sin, and tells the woman, Go and sin no more. Jesus doesnt pretend that adultery is all right, that these types of sins are fine. He wants all of us to stop sinning, now, and to come to him for forgiveness. If we do, then he will be able to say to us, as he does every single time we go to confession, confess all our mortal sins, with true sorrow and a firm intention to change our lives, Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.
The question we have to answer, however, is this. How do we balance loving the sinner and hating the sin? How do we balance dissuading people from premarital sex, or adultery, or theft, or abortion, or murder, while still loving the person who commits these sins? How do we really live Jesus Gospel? In order to have any chance at all, we have to come to grips first with the fact that we are all terrible sinners. That if Jesus allowed sinners to be stoned, we would be the first ones to be hit. To have a great humility about our own struggles, so that we can mercifully treat all others with theirs, and have compassion when they fall, because we know just how often we fall too.
Most of the time those who are the greatest sinners act as if they are very holy. We need to look into the mirror and drop the stones we are often too tempted to throw at everybody else. At the same time, though, we have to recognize the great damage that sin always does to us and to others. Because we love others, because we see the damage done to them, we want to help them get out of the sin. Sin really does kill us, it kills Gods life within us. We should hate the sin because of this damage that it does to us or to others.
Because we love sinners, we have to hate sin, because it does so much damage to others, in the same way, if we love our children, we are going to hate loaded guns in the home because it could kill them. The same thing with all of these sins. We hate sin because of the damage it does. We hate contraception because it destroys families and leads to divorce. We abhor abortion because it leaves one dead and one wounded. We hate sin ultimately because if a person dies in the state of mortal sin, they will live forever outside of Gods presence, and we love sinners too much to ever want that to happen to anybody.
God would never want us to pretend as if sin isnt sin like so many in our world today who preach tolerance, trying to pretend as if sin isnt really all that bad, as if it really didnt kill but rather than preach a fake form of mercy tolerance he wants us to call sin by its real name (spiritual poison), while doing everything we can to help people to come back to God.
The Evangelist John gave us this story in this Gospel passage to force us to realize that we indeed are so much like that woman in the story with whatever our sin may be, and even more like those others who were trying to stone her. It was ultimately our sins that formed the nails which hammered Christ to the tree. We killed him. We are all murderers to put it bluntly. Those same judgmental Pharisees were at the Cross taunting him, as if he were a sinner himself. But from that Cross, Jesus looked up to the Father and said, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do! (Luke 23:34).
So my dear brothers and sisters, the most important lesson which I want us to learn from Jesus is that in Jesus, there is the gospel of the second chance. Jesus is always intensely interested not only in what a person had been but also in what a person could be and could become. From today go na im dem de tell thief. Jesus did not say that what the Adulterous Woman had done did not matter; broken laws and broken hearts always matter; but he was sure that every man or woman has a future and particularly that every man or woman has a past. At the end of the day, it will continue to be a difficult task for anyone to pretend to be able to throw the first stone.
God our Father,
On the Cross your Son stretched out His arms to embrace all mankind.
May men and women from every nation, who are themselves sinners also, turn to Him in faith and find His forgiveness and love, and learn to accommodate fellow sinners.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Given at Issele-Uku, this 26th day of February, 2020. In commemoration of the Sixteenth 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
26th February, 2020.
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 26th February, 2020 and Holy Saturday is on the 11th April, 2020. 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 26th February and Good Friday, 10th 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 11th April to Pentecost Sunday, 31th May 2020.
- 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 ones 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, 9th April at 9.00a.m. in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Issele-Uku. Cathedraticum is an occasion for showing a Catholics 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 26th Day of February, 2020. In Commemoration of the Sixteenth 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.
26th February, 2020.