The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on Friday told President Muhammadu Buhari that the ruling All Progressives Congress was becoming a safe haven for corrupt politicians.
CAN, therefore, asked the President to make the war against corruption total and non-discriminatory in order to rid the nation of the corruption cancer which has eaten deep into her fabric.
The CAN leadership, led by its President, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, spoke in Abuja during a meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa.
“Like we categorically noted here during our last visit, the wish of the people is for the war against corruption to be total and without discrimination. Not a few believe that the ruling party is becoming a safe haven to some corrupt politicians in their bid to escape the trap of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,” Ayokunle told the President.
The leadership of the Christian body said Buhari must clear the negative impression that the anti-corruption was targeted at non-APC members.
It, however, commended, the government’s anti-corruption war, saying it had led to the recovery of some looted funds.
“CAN commends your boldness and courage in implementing the BVN and the Treasury Single Account system. There is no doubt that the two policies have greatly helped in sanitising the system,” it added.
On the 2019 polls, CAN asked Buhari to improve on the credibility of the 2015 polls that brought him into power by ensuring that next year’s general elections are freely and fairly conducted.
Specifically, the Christian body called for a Presidential Order directing the police and other security agencies to be non-partisan during the elections, adding that it was in Buhari’s interest to ensure that the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission surpassed that of 2015.
CAN stated, “A Presidential Order to the Police and other security agencies to be non-partisan, neutral and apolitical in the coming general elections, with a view to securing international respect and honour for our country in the comity of nations.
“The degree of desperation we saw in the politicians during the intra-party elections that took place recently do not give many people hope concerning 2019 unless serious steps are taken to let decency prevail. We appeal to you to make sure that the law enforcement agents and the election umpire do their work professionally without intimidation of voters, manipulation and any trace of violence throughout the period of elections.
“We believe that the survival and peace of Nigeria are greater than the ambition of any politician.
“We again request that your administration conducts free and fair election that will add to the accolades the country received from the conduct of the 2015 elections that brought you to power.”
On the security situation of the country, CAN raised concerns over insecurity in the country, saying the Buhari administration must double its efforts in bringing the killings in states such as Plateau, Adamawa, Benue, Zamfara, Kebbi and Taraba under control.
The leadership of the Christian body observed that as much as Boko Haram had been tamed to a large extent, the insurgents were still hitting “soft targets” and taking many lives.
It said, “The menace of bandits in states like Zamfara and Kebbi has become a nightmare, coupled with the unending killings by herdsmen in the North-Central geopolitical zone, especially in Plateau, Benue and Taraba states. Not only have these attackers killed hundreds of innocent lives on the Plateau, they are presently occupying homes of their victims in Gashish District of Plateau State.
“(The) appalling conditions in some of the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps are driving many into despair. Unarguably, the failure of the police to nip the activities of these criminals in the bud accounts for drafting of the military to quell civil insurrection.
It added, “Other criminal elements amidst us like kidnappers and hired killers are still perpetrating their havocs as if might has become right. It is not yet UHURU, and the long walk to bidding farewell to these criminal acts is fraught with tedious bends.”
Among others, CAN called for more intelligence gathering by security agencies and “a total overhauling of the security system with a view to replacing security chiefs who have overstayed their welcome.”
The body also asked for the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the killing of the late Director of Administration of the Army, Maj. Gen. Idris Alkali (retd.), and the “circumstances surrounding the kidnap and killing of the paramount chief of the Adara Chiefdom in Kaduna State, His Royal Highness, the Agom Adara, Dr. Maiwada Raphael Galadima.”
It also made a call for all efforts to be made to secure the release of the remaining Dapchi schoolgirl being held by Boko Haram, Leah Sharibu.
On the continued detention of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and the Leader of the Shi’ites, Mallam Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, CAN appealed to the government to ensure that the rule of law was adhered to in their prosecution. – Punch.
By Prof. Michael Ogunu
(Coordinator of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa)
The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was virgin during the birth of Jesus. This teaching grew out of the understanding of the Church, enlightened by the Holy Spirit. It expresses the belief that at the moment of her giving birth to Jesus, through a special divine action, Mary did not lose the physical signs of her virginity. The Fathers of the Church would say that the womb of the Blessed Mother remained closed and intact, and that Jesus passed through the enclosure of her womb much as he passed through the walls of the room where the Apostles were gathered on Easter night with the doors bolted closed (cf Jn. 20:19).
The Church also teaches that after the birth of Jesus Mary never had marital relations with Saint Joseph, but preserved her virginity intact for the rest of her life. Certain objections have however been raised against this belief over the centuries.
Non-Catholics, especially fundamentalists (including Pentecostals) contend that Mary had other children because Mt. 1:25 says concerning her and Joseph: “He had no relations with her at any time before she bore a son, whom he named Jesus”. Some translations use “till” or “until” instead of “before”. Regardless of the word in English, the Greek word for “until” does not imply that that which did not occur up to a certain point, had to have occurred afterwards. For example: in 2 Sam. 6:23 we read: “And until the day of her death Michal, the daughter of Saul, had no children”. Could it be possible that Michal had children after she was dead? The problem for them (fundamentalists) is that they are trying to use the modern meaning of “till” (or “until”) instead of the meaning it had when the Bible was written. In the Bible, it means only that some action did not happen up to a certain point; it does not imply that the action did happen later, which is the modern sense of the term. In fact, if the modern sense is forced on the Bible, some ridiculous meanings result.
How about the raven that Noah released from the ark? The bird “went forth and did not return till the waters were dried up upon the earth” (Gen. 8:7). In fact, we know the raven never returned at all. Then there was the burial of Moses. About the location of his grave it was said that no man knows “until this present day” (Dt. 34:6) – but we know that no one has known since that day either. Or how about this: “And they went up to mount Sion with joy and gladness, and offered holocausts, because not one of them was slain till they had returned in peace. (1 Macc. 5:54). Does this mean the soldiers were slain after they returned from battle?
The examples could be multiplied, but there should be no need. It should be clear that nothing at all can be proved from the use of the word “till” in Matthew 1:25. Recent translations give a better sense of the verse: “He had no relations with her at any time before she bore a son” (New American Bible); “he had not known her when she bore a son” (Knox translation).
The other argument used by fundamentalists concerns the term “first¬born”. They say Jesus could not be called Mary’s “first-born” unless there were other children that followed him. This is a misunderstanding of the way the ancient Jews used the term. For them it meant the child that opened the womb (Ex. 13:2; Nb. 3:12). Under the Mosaic Law, it was the “first-born” son that was to be sanctified (Ex. 34:20). Did this mean the parents had to wait until a second son was born before they could call their first the “first-born”? Hardly. The first male child of a marriage was termed the “first-born” even if he turned out to be the only child of the marriage. This usage is illustrated by a funerary inscription discovered in Egypt. The inscription refers to a woman who died during the birth of her “first-born”.
Fundamentalists also say it would have been repugnant for Mary and Joseph to enter a marriage and yet remain virgins. They called married virginity an “unnatural” arrangement. Certainly it is unusual, but not as unusual as having the Son of God in one’s family; not as unusual as having a true virgin give birth to a child.
Why are fundamentalists, particularly those most opposed to Catholicism, so insistent that Mary was not perpetually a virgin?
Karl Keating in Catholicism and Fundamentalism says there are two reasons: One is dislike of celibacy for priests and nuns. They are aware that it is Catholic teaching that celibacy is to be highly prized, that there is much virtue and much common sense in priests and nuns giving up the privilege of marriage in order to serve Christ better. They know Catholics refer to the example of Mary when praising consecrated virginity. So, by undermining her status, they hope to undermine that of priests and nuns. By claiming Mary did not live her life as a virgin, they hope to make religious celibacy seem contrary to the gospel.
The other reason concerns Mary herself. In the Catholic scheme of things, she is certainly different from other women, so much so that “she is considered worthy of special devotion (not of course of worship, latria, but of a level of honour, hyperdulia, higher than other saints receive). Her status accounts for the attention paid her. Fundamentalists think that what she gets, by way of devotion, is necessarily taken from Christ. This is neither true nor logical, but they nevertheless think devotion to Mary must be discouraged if proper devotion to our Lord is to be maintained. One way to diminish her status is to show she was just like other women, more or less, and that can be done in part by showing she had other children. Their desire to do this tends to make impossible fundamentalists’ accurate weighing of the facts. Their presuppositions do not allow them to see what the Bible really implies about the “brethren of the Lord”.
Mary was always a virgin, both before and after the birth of our divine Lord. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
In the Liturgy of St. James she is called “Our most holy, immaculate, and most glorious lady, Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary”.
Theodorus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, said in the second Council of Nicea that “Mary is truly the Mother of God, and Virgin before and after childbirth; she was created in the condition more sublime and glorious than that of all natures, whether intellectual or corporeal”.
Mary’s perpetual virginity is also clear from the most ancient symbols of faith especially the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. It was also the constant belief of the Church both in the East and West.
In a recent discussion with a colleague of mine, he postulated that the richest countries in the world are not necessarily religious; meaning that prayer has got nothing to do with how people progress in the world. He argued that most countries with the highest GDP per capita are in Europe, Asia and America, and are characterized by atheism and secularism. In comparison, according to him, you find the worst of poverty in the world among the most religious nations like our dear country Nigeria.
In defining rich or poor countries, economists usually adopt Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures, per capital measures, Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) measures, or a combination of these methods. While GDP may not provide a clear picture of the level of wealth or poverty of a nation because of the distorting effects of population size, currency conversion etc., GDP per capital adjusted for purchasing power parity is usually the most reliable yardstick to gauge the living conditions in a country. GDP is defined as the total value of goods and services produced within a country.
According to the Global Finance Magazine, “A more accurate picture of living conditions begins with dividing the total production by the number of people, to look at GDP per capita. Per capita GDP tells a little more about how much wealth might be available to each individual person”.1
The Magazine added that without adjusting for currency fluctuations or the varying cost of necessary items such as food, clothing and shelter, a true picture of living conditions would not emerge. Quoting from the Magazine, “To know whether a country’s citizens are wealthy, we want to understand how much they are able to buy. Thus, a final adjustment factor is purchasing power”.
In a report published in February 2017 and based on data from 2016 report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Global Finance Magazine listed Qatar, Luxembourg and Macao with adjusted GDP per capital of $129,726; $101,936 and $96,147 respectively as the top three richest countries in the world. Others are Singapore ($87,082); Brunei ($79,710); Kuwait ($71,263); Ireland ($69,374) and Norway ($69,296) in the 4th to 8th position. The 30th position is occupied by Japan with a GDP per capita of $38,893.
Nigeria’s GDP per capital in 2016 was $2,458. According to Trading Economics2, this translated to 19% of world average. Although this may have been affected by the economic recession that hit the country in 2016, the highest GDP per capita since 2008 was recorded in 2014 at $2,563. The average for Nigeria from 1960 to 2016 was $1,648.
The top ten most religious countries in the world (in the order of highest ranking) include Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, India, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Oman and Turkey.
United Arab Emirates (UAE) which occupies the 5th position in the top 10 most religious nations, sits on the 9th position of the world’s top 30 richest countries. Logically speaking, then, my colleague’s argument that the world’s richest countries are not religious does not hold water. At least, the UAE is not an exception, but a proof of the fact that being prayerful does not preclude success. There are many factors that inhibit poor countries of the world from advancing in development and improving standards of living.
One common factor is endemic corruption which is an absolute denial of God, His will and His kingdom. Corruption is a breach of the virtue of justice because it denies others what is due to them. It goes against the virtues of charity, honesty and fortitude. It breaches the greatest commandment of God – love of God and love of neighbour (Mk 12:28-34). So why does the society face the menace of corruption?
There is, what I may call, the vicious cycle of corruption or the corruption loop. By this, I mean that corruption is the cause of even more corruption.
Recently, the Nigerian senate revealed that Nigerians spend about $1 billion (N360 billion) annually in foreign medical treatment. This, according to them, is because of the poor state of public and private health facilities in Nigeria. Policy makers have destroyed the medical services and reduced most of our former centres of medical excellence to mere consulting rooms or even just mortuaries. The rot in this sector is caused by corrupt practices in the form of diversion of budget allocations to the sector into private pockets, poor remuneration of medical personnel among others. These are clear forms of endemic corruption.
In a similar development, it was reported that in 2016 alone, Nigerians spent over $2 billion (N720 billion) as capital flight on education. This is a reflection of the lack of confidence in the quality of primary, secondary and tertiary education in Nigeria. The cause of the defamed quality of Nigerian education products is the fact that, albeit with a low budget allocation to the sector, funds earmarked for education sector are not usually channeled appropriately to the sector as most of it are usually stolen for private use.
Selfishness, fear of the future and injustice are at the heart of corruption in Nigeria, and corruption is the root cause of Nigeria’s underdevelopment. This is exacerbated by the absence of strong institutions and systems to holistically address the ravaging corruption. The justice system is weak and itself immersed in stupendous corruption.
I am not a fan for the buzz phrase “strong institutions”. In my view, Nigeria as a nation has all the institutions (even more than necessary); has the laws and the enforcement systems to guarantee a big war chest to end corruption. But alas, the goat always eats the yam put in her care. In my interactions with various government agencies, I have seen the penchant of public officials to grab every opportunity to corruptly enrich themselves at the expense of the public interest. It appears some of them think that the nation is up for grabs and the resources will soon run out.
Why this penchant? The fear of the future plays a significant role here. Stolen funds will assist the Nigerian to assure him/herself that if he gets sick, he/she can afford foreign medical treatment since there are no assurances of any improvement in medical care at home. He/she would want to save up more money to ensure that his five children acquire foreign education since they have destroyed the local universities through embezzlement of funds allocated to such institutions, and destructive education policies. This is why I see this as the vicious cycle of corruption.
Now, what has our underdevelopment got to do with our prayerfulness? The proliferation of churches is not a measure of godliness. Those who worship God do it in truth and in spirit (Jn. 4:23-24). We worship God when our attitudes, actions, and words declare that He is worthy of our praise. If we are good Christians, we will identify with the Christian virtue of justice, and charity and we will have love of God and of our neighbor. The absence of justice is evident in the “dog-eat-dog” syndrome we have seen in Nigeria.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted stated that3 “Justice is the virtue that enables us to assume our responsibilities and to give others their due”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1807) teaches that “justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbour… Justice towards men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good”.
I have a strong conviction that the only path to progress in our society is for us to return to God with all our hearts (Joel 2:12). As we celebrate the risen Lord, and emerging from the holy season of Lent, let us all seek God in the light of justice for all. If we don’t repent, we shall all perish. The ill-gotten wealth cannot save anybody. God is watching us, from a distance.
NB: Mark Oguh, a Fellow of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and a Financial Management Expert wrote in from St. Anthony’s Parish, Gbaja, Surulere, Lagos. Contact email@example.com
By Prof. Michael Ogunu
The Church views politics as an important aspect of human life. The human person belongs to the earthly (temporal) as well as heavenly (divine) Kingdom. The public affairs of the earthly kingdom are what constitute politics. The success of public affairs calls for the existence of peace and justice. Peace and justice are necessary and desirable if a nation is to develop and progress. Therefore, Christians have a social responsibility in politics.
Basic Christian Principles for Nigerian Christians in Politics
There are some basic Christian principles to guide the Christian in politics. The Catholic Church has a well articulated Catholic Social Doctrine which is based on the foundation of Holy Scriptures. The following are among the main items on this social teaching as regards political leadership:
- God is absolute ruler and creator of all men and women and of all our resources. He alone rules by right, and all power belongs to Him. Man is created in the image and likeness of God. Because of this, he enjoys some inalienable rights. No human being should ever be treated less than his dignity demands.
- At the same time, man is created to live in society. That is why for his self-fulfillment, he must be part of a community. The African wisdom says: “I am because we are”, which means that unless I am in a community, I cannot survive. The fact that man lives in community raises the issue of rights and duties. The role of civil authority, and therefore of those who lead civil authority, is to pursue the common good in line with God’s will and for the good of all.
- Rulers have to acknowledge the nobility as well as the limit of their role. Their role is noble because the ruler acts in God’s name who alone has absolute power. If that is so, the ruler must handle authority with great care.
- To misuse power which belongs to God is to insult God. That is the highest moral atrocity. Because the position of the ruler is sacred and noble, it should never be desecrated by greed; pride and dishonesty.
- There is therefore due limit to political power. On the one hand, there are the limits imposed by the will of God, who remains the Lord of lords and the King of kings. The ruler must respect the will of God. For Christians, this is summarized in the Ten Commandments of God.
- Not even a democratic majority can legitimately go against the law of God, as we are now seeing in some so-called developed countries, who are legislating in favour of abominations like abortion and same-sex “marriages”. The power of rulers is also limited, on the other hand, with regard to the responsibilities of rulers to the people. Thus, the ruler has no absolute power over his people. He must respect their rights and serve the common good.
- The citizen, on his part, has the duty to contribute to the common good. Part of this is to promote and defend his or her rights and the rights of others. We have no right to allow ourselves to be treated like animals.
- There is also the need to pay attention to the need of the weakest. It is a basic principle of Catholic Social Teaching that the society and especially the rulers must take particular care of those who cannot take care of themselves, whether they be physically handicapped, mentally challenged or simply sick, old and aged. The greatness of a nation is to be gauged by how it treats its weakest members, just as the strength of a chain depends on its weakest link. This is important in a country where the poor and the weak tend to be totally neglected while the rich and the powerful are pampered beyond their needs and rights. The bible is full of many injunctions calling for care and attention for the poor, the widows and orphans. (See especially the Book of Deuteronomy, 23:16-26; 24:5-25:4, and also Ex. 22:20-24).
Principles of Good Governance
The following are some basic principles of good governance:
Participatory Democracy: A Government has to listen to the diverse views of its people. It has to consult the citizens from the grassroots before making major decisions. Listening to the views of others, analyzing and synthesizing them is imperative. Democracy is listening and including the majority while accommodating the minority, then coming up with ONE WHOLE IDEA. The PEOPLE must agree on how they want to be governed. A constitution therefore, which is a country’s lifeline, must be community/people owned. People must be governed through their will and consent.
Dignity of the Human Person: Regard for the dignity of the human person means respecting the rights of others and protecting them. Justice has to be dispensed without partiality. All are equal and have to be treated in the same way (cf. Gal 3:28). No person should be discriminated against on account of gender, race, ethnicity, creed or disability. The dignity of all must be upheld; Ideas and policies that are agreed upon should be implemented impartially. There has to be respect of the law by all. Democratic principles must be clear and the will of the people must be supreme if it is in accordance with the will of God.
The rights and duties of the individual, of the family and of the community are contained in the natural and revealed laws of God. The happiness of the individual and the family depends on the recognition of the peoples’ observance of these laws based on the constitution. These must be respected and upheld by good governance.
Visionary Leadership:Visionary leadership is crucial in the running of any country. It must be beneficial to all and must promote the common good. Effective governance must give direction. It must have a vision for the country. Presupposing respect for all persons, focusing on the social well-being and development of every person and promoting peace at all levels of the political community. This is good governance.
Leadership with vision has to point to and lead the nation to higher ideals, “Show them the way they must follow and what their course must be” (Ex 18:20). Good governance ensures that sectors such as Agriculture, Education, Health and Natural resources have sustainable plans. It must be able to effectively address issues of unemployment, just wages, gender, justice and sustainable economy. It should not set precedence where well connected people plunder national institutions in the belief that their actions will be later regularized to make it respectable wealth. Good governance has to create a conducive environment for the economic development of the people. A visionary leadership devotes its energies to holistic development as opposed to dividing people. The welfare of its peoples is at the centre of priorities.
Integrity and Credibility: Good governance should be credible. This is through social integrity, honesty, faithfulness, and truthfulness in the management of public and private affairs of the country. It must be seen to be hardworking. “Sincerity and truth is what you require. Fill your mind with wisdom” (Ps. 51:6; cf. Ps 91:4; 2 Tim 2:22-25). Everything else will fall into place.
Promote Cohesiveness: A cohesive society is mandatory for development and promotion of the common good. Effective governance must create harmony within the nation and its institutions. This is by respecting the right to different opinions, association, movement and ownership of private property, as well as right to life and bodily integrity. It should also promote the right to necessities of life and decent living. Good governance has to lead to happiness, peace, prosperity for the individual, family, community and the nation at large.
Good governance must create responsible citizens by promoting solidarity, patriotism and respect for others thus leading to unity among the people. As St. Paul states, “Do your best to preserve the unity which the spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together” (Eph 4:3).
Equitable Distribution of Resources: A country’s resources must be shared by ALL, exploited for the benefit of the people and the country. A country’s most precious resource is her people. Therefore, a responsible government has to provide for its people’s shelter, food, education, health and development.
It has to practice fairness in employment; that is employment by merit. Resources must be well managed for the present and future generations through proper registration. Resources include land, water, forests and people. Natural resources should not be used to enrich a few individuals in pretext of settling squatters. As St. Peter states, “Behave like free men and never use your freedom as an excuse for wickedness. Have respect for everyone and love for your community, fear for God and honour the emperor” (1 Pet 2:16-17; cf. Gal 5:1). This is social responsibility of freedom and prosperity.
Right to Vote Freely: Citizens have the sovereignty of choice. They have a right to elect their leaders and to drop them when they fail or do not measure up to the standards of the governed. The government must meet the hopes and expectations of the electorate, otherwise it quits (cf. Eph 6:9). Those in authority should always remember that, “They are working for God when they fulfill their duties” (Rom 13:6).
Respect for God: Good governance has respect for God and freedom of conscience. There should be freedom of worship, so long as the worship is not repugnant to social decency, for example devil worship is not a product of freedom of conscience as it has no respect for human rights. Freedom of worship and religion should not infringe on other peoples’ rights.
Good governance has to vet sects and cults that are a threat to the wellbeing of its citizens. It must foster development, goodness, faith, knowledge, self-control, godliness, brotherly and sisterly affection (cf. 2 Pet 1:5-9).
Promotion and Protection of the Family: The family is the basic unit of any society. Its welfare has to be the priority of any responsible government. A dependable government has to provide the necessities of life, food, shelter, health and education to its families. No child should miss school due to lack of school fees or shortage of schools. No person should die from curable illness due to expensive medicine or inaccessibility to health care; street families should be unheard of; family violence, child defilement and rape should be dealt with firmly by the law. Good governance has to protect the born and unborn. Abortion threatens families: As Ronald Reagan once put it, “All those advocating for abortion have been born. They were not aborted”. The family needs a firm foundation as it is through the families that “God will bless all nations” (Gen 12:3).
Sharing of Power: Good governance delegates power. It decentralizes activities for effective service to the people. The delegation of power ensures that there is no temptation of setting personal interests against that of the community. Delegation of power guarantees that the exercise of authority facilitates freedom and responsibility by all. Those in authority should exercise distribution of justice wisely.
A sound constitution is one of the most fundamental factors of successful governance. It has to clearly spell out the role of the legislature, judiciary and executive with no overlap or one being more powerful than the other. It has also to state the implementation strategies, give checks and balances.
Christians in politics and governance have a strict obligation to have absolute regard for and defend fundamental contents of Catholic faith and morals.
In this context, it must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political programme or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. Nor can a Catholic think of delegating his Christian responsibility to others; rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives him this task, so that the truth about man and the world might be proclaimed and put into action.
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person. This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such. The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. In the same way, one must consider society’s protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example). In addition, there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which “the rights of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged”.
[Prof. Michael Ogunu is Professor of Educational Administration and former Head of the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations in the Faculty of Education, University of Benin]
The devotion to the Passion (sufferings) of Our Lord and Saviour is, of all forms of Catholic devotion, the most ancient, the most venerable, the most universal.
Jesus Himself has written the remembrance of His Passion deep into the hearts of His faithful. In order to imprint most deeply in our souls the remembrance of His Sacred Passion, Christ instituted Holy Mass, the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
Perhaps there is no subject for meditation more suitable for every class of persons than the most sacred Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In it many sinners find the encouragement and graces necessary for their conversion; from it many beginners derive strength and fervor wherewith to subdue their passions; in it many good Christians discover fresh incentives to advance in the paths of virtue. In short, there are none who will not find in it an inexhaustible mine of hidden treasures, and an endless source of graces and spiritual blessings. In all ages it has been a favourite exercise of the Saints, who greatly to their consolation have been in the habit of spending hours, day and night, in meditation on the bitter sufferings of their Saviour. So much is not required of the average devout Christian, but he/she is expected to daily spend half, or at least a quarter of an hour, in attentive consideration of some point of the Passion of Jesus.
How to Meditate on the Passion of Christ
We can practice devotion to the Passion (sufferings) of Our Lord by:
- Performing the Stations of the Cross (not only during Lent, but throughout the year)
- Meditating on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
- Saying prayers in honour of the Passion such as the famous fifteen prayers of
St. Bridget which can be found in “PIETA” prayer book. A collection of prayers in honour of the passion can also be found in an excellent little publication (booklet) by TAN Books Publishers entitled “DEVOTION TO THE PASSION OF OUR LORD”.
Anne Catherine Emmerich’s famous book on the Passion – THE DOLOROUS PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, is a great treasure. THE DOLOROUS PASSION has been inspiring thousands since it first appeared in 1833 — being based on the detailed visions of Our Lord’s Passion and Death as seen by Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774 – 1824), a German Augustinian nun, and recorded by Clemens Brentano, a prominent literary figure of the day. A saintly person from her youth and a great mystic and victim soul, Sister Emmerich was privileged by God during almost a lifetime of ecstatic visions to see all the events of Our Lord’s suffering and death, which visions we can now understand in hindsight were a great gift from God to the world. Her account of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, while faithful to the Bible, is heart-rending, edifying and surprising — because of its intimate detail. THE DOLOROUS PASSION recounts with incredible precision the horrendous sufferings undergone by Our Saviour in His superhumanly heroic act of Redemption. Also illuminating is its description of Mary’s participation in the sufferings of her Son, so that this book gives the reader a poignant understanding of why Our Lady is often called our “Co-Redemptrix” and “Queen of Martyrs”, THE DOLOROUS PASSION is a singular book that conveys a lasting impression of the terrible Agony of Our Lord, of His infinite love for us that motivated His Agony, and how His Passion and Death were brought on by each person’s sins. Copies of the book are available in Pauline bookshops.
Also useful for meditation on the Passion of Our Lord is a book entitled – THE MYSTERY OF THE CROWN OF THORNS written by a Passionist priest. But there can be no substitute for reading and meditating on the accounts of the passion narratives in the Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark and Luke in Catholic Bibles.
In meditating on the Passion of Jesus, one should also meditate on the sorrows of Our Lady, especially those associated with Christ’s suffering and death. The Stabat Mater (At the Cross Her Station Keeping) hymn is perhaps one of the most poignant reminders of the sufferings of Our Lady.
In order to facilitate the practice of this holy exercise, Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus in his book on the Passion of Christ entitled – THE SCHOOL OF JESUS CRUCIFIED has arranged a Meditation, divided into three points, upon the principal mysteries of the Sacred Passion of Christ, for every day of the month.
He advises that whatever mystery of the Passion one takes for the subject of meditation, one should always bestow attentive consideration on the following five points:
- The infinite greatness of Him Who suffers.
- The excess of suffering and ignominy which He endures.
- How great is the love with which He suffers.
- The infinite unworthiness and vileness of those for whom He suffers.
- That His principal aim in all His sufferings is to be loved by men.
In his words,
Let these reflections sink deep into your mind, and if one of them, or any other point of the meditation which you are reading, should make a lively impression upon your heart, dwell awhile on it without caring to go on any further. You may even make your prayer upon the same point for several days, and even weeks, in succession, if you find it productive of good thoughts, reserving the other points for the following days, and you will soon perceive how useful such repetitions will be to your soul. After your mind has been employed in attentively considering and reflecting upon the mystery and its attendant circumstances, it will not be difficult for your will to be excited and touched by different holy affections, which you ought to pass some short time in exercising with great calmness of spirit, giving free vent to the emotions of your heart, and following the sweet impulses of God’s grace.
The principal affections to which one may excite one’s mind during meditation upon the sufferings of Jesus, according to Fr. Ignatius, are as follows:
- Admiration — How is it possible, you may say, that a God can suffer so much for the love of me, a vile creature? Oh, what excessive love and charity!
- Gratitude — By exciting yourself to interior emotions of gratitude and appreciation of the greatness of the benefits bestowed upon you by Jesus in His Passion, feeling how much you are indebted to your dear Redeemer, and resolving constantly to praise and thank Him for His infinite love toward you.
- Compassion — By compassionating your Crucified Jesus overwhelmed with sorrow and suffering, and by earnestly desiring that you had been present to have afforded some relief to your most afflicted Lord.
- Contrition for your sins — By considering all that those guilty pleasures in which you have indulged contrary to the law of God have cost Jesus Christ, and how large a share you have had in His Passion and Death. Bewail your sins at His feet, and firmly resolve to die rather than ever more to offend a Father so worthy of your love.
- Love — By protesting that you will bestow all the affections of your heart upon Him who has so much loved you, and by desiring to have, if possible, a thousand hearts solely occupied in loving Him, and corresponding in some measure with His infinite charity. Offer and consecrate yourself entirely to the love of Jesus Crucified. Desire that He may be known and loved by all men.
- Prayer — By asking of Our Lord grace to love Him, to imitate Him, and never to offend Him. Endeavor to inspire your heart with lively feelings of confidence that God will grant all your requests through the merits of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Your most fervent request ought to be for grace to correct some habitual fault, to overcome your predominant passion, and to practice that virtue in which you are most deficient, and which has occupied a prominent place in the subject of your meditation, thereby to imitate Jesus Christ; for the imitation of Christ should be the principal object of every meditation on His Passion. Having made the affections, you should proceed to resolutions. Promise Our Lord that you will never more displease Him by mortal or even deliberate venial sin. Determine to avoid such or such a fault (name it), and to make use of such or such means (specify which). For example, to fly from such or such a house, to avoid such and such a companion, instantly to dismiss this or that thought, immediately to curb those bursts of passion, to place a guard over your eyes, to keep silence on such and such occasions, etc.
It should be remembered that the principal fruit of one’s prayer consists in these resolutions, and far more in keeping them faithfully. Place them in the sacred Wounds of Jesus, and in the hands of Mary, and implore grace to put them in practice. Keep them in view during the whole course of the day, and an occasional examination as to the manner in which you are practicing them will be a most efficacious means of ensuring your fidelity.
Whoever follows the instructions here given, the writer assures us, will discover by experience how easy a practice is meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Meditation is in fact nothing more than the exercise of the memory, understanding and will, upon some mystery or truth of our holy Faith. Now, if we are accustomed to exercise those powers from morning till night on sensible objects which are often sinful, we should be able, with the assistance of God’s grace, to exercise them in the consideration of the bitter Passion of Jesus Christ, our most loving Redeemer.
Benefits Derived from Meditating on the Passion of Christ
Tauler, one of the great mystics of the Middle Ages, says: “Once when a venerable servant of God asked Our Lord what a man merited who exercised himself devoutly in meditating upon His Passion, Christ answered: ‘By such meditation he merits:
- To be cleansed from his sins.
- To have all his negligences supplied by the merits of My sufferings.
- To be strengthened so that he will not easily be overcome by his enemies.
- That My grace will be renewed in him as often as he reflects on My sufferings.
- That I refuse him nothing that is profitable, if he earnestly ask for it.
- That I lead him to perfection before his death.
- That I assist him in his last hour, protect him against his enemies, and give him an assurance of salvation’”.
It cleanses us from our sins:- It is impossible for a soul who takes Our Lord’s sufferings seriously to heart, to continue offending God willfully, especially by mortal sin.
St. Alphonsus impresses this upon us by affirming: “A soul who believes in the Passion of Jesus Christ, and frequently thinks thereon, will find it impossible to go on offending her Saviour”.
It strengthens us against temptation:- Frequent and devout meditation on the sufferings of Our Lord has the wonderful power to enable us to overcome our passions. St. Augustine writes in his Confessions that whenever he was tempted by the demon of impurity, he resisted Satan successfully by meditating on the Wounds of Jesus. “As often as I am tempted”, he says, “I seek refuge in the Wounds of Jesus. I fly into the Heart of the mercies of my Lord!”
It will lead us to perfection before our death:- One of the principal sources of our sanctification is the tender and compassionate remembrance of our Saviour’s sufferings. St. Bonaventure addresses these words to the soul seeking perfection: “If thou, O man, wouldst advance from virtue to virtue, if thou wouldst lead a perfect life, then meditate daily on the Passion of Christ. Nothing else can so powerfully urge the soul to holiness. The painful Wounds of our Saviour’s body penetrate even the hardest of hearts and inflame the coldest of souls with love”.
It gives us the assurance of a happy death:- St. AlphonsusLiguori says, “Souls that are tormented by the devil and tremble for their eternal salvation will feel great consolation in withdrawing their eyes from the outward world and fixing them on the Cross where Jesus hangs, bleeding from every wound”.
It insures for us a special glory in Heaven:- This was revealed to St. Gertrude. Once on the feast of St. John the Evangelist she beheld how this beloved Apostle enjoyed a special bliss in Heaven because he had always begun his contemplations with the remembrance of our Saviour’s Passion, of which he had been an eye witness.
Moreover, we should love to meditate upon the Passion because therein our Saviour makes His virtues shine forth with great brilliance. He possesses every virtue in His soul, but the occasions of manifesting them especially arise in His Passion.
His immense love for His Father, His charity for mankind, hatred of sin, forgiveness of injuries, patience, meekness, fortitude, obedience to lawful authority, compassion ― all these virtues shine forth in a heroic manner for our imitation. Jesus in His Passion is our Divine model in suffering. If, therefore, we frequently contemplate His sufferings and strive to imitate His virtues, we shall receive special graces which will transform us little by little into His likeness and prepare us to share in His glory in Heaven.
According to the promises of our Lord to Sister Mary Martha Chambon,
“Those who pray with humility and who meditate on My Passion, shall one day participate in the glory of My Divine wounds. Their members will receive from them a resplendent beauty and glory”.
“The more you shall have contemplated My Painful wounds on this earth, the higher shall be your contemplation of them glorious in Heaven”.
“The soul who during life has honoured and studied the Wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ and has offered Them to the Eternal Father for the Souls in Purgatory will be accompanied at the moment of death by the Holy Virgin and the Angels; and Our Lord on the Cross, all brilliant in glory will receive her and crown her”.
“My Holy Wounds sanctify souls and insure their spiritual advancement…Offer Me your actions united to My Sacred Wounds, and even the smallest will have an incomprehensible value…
“Offer them often to Me for sinners because I thirst for souls. At each word of the invocation that you utter, I will let a drop of My Blood fall upon the soul of a sinner”.
The Passion of Christ is one of the most profitable sources in attempting to facilitate a more intimate union with Our Lord and it traces a sure path towards holiness. This is why meditating on the Passion of Jesus has been a favourite theme for many of the saints during the whole course of Church History. Our Lord Himself, in numerous occasions throughout the ages by means of all His saints, His most privileged souls and the Magisterium of the Church has spoken of the transcendent importance of meditating on His Passion, and not simply meditating on it but living out interiorly, intensively and continuously all that Jesus Himself suffered for love of us.
St. Augustine assures us that there is no spiritual exercise more fruitful or more useful than the frequent reflection on the sufferings of Our Lord. St. Albert the Great, who had St. Thomas Aquinas as a student, learned in a revelation that by simply thinking of or meditating on the Passion of Jesus Christ, a Christian gains more merits than if he had fasted on bread and water every Friday for a year, or had beaten himself with the discipline (whip) once a week till blood flowed, or had recited the whole Book of Psalms everyday.
Lord Jesus, crucified for love of us, Your heart was pierced by a lance and flowed with blood and water. In your mercy, draw us to your open heart, cleanse us from our sins and help us to grow daily in your love. Amen.
Prof. Michael Ogunu is the Coordinator of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa
A Mystic essentially is anyone who actively and wilfully seeks a direct relationship and union with God through prayer and devotion. A Mystic need not be one who receives extraordinary mystical graces such as vision, ecstasies or inner locutions. In other words, a Mystic need not receive direct communication from God. This article and subsequent ones on the subject, however, will explore the extraordinary mystics who are called by God to a special sacrificial union with Him. By the express Will of God, the Mystics are united with Jesus and Mary in suffering for the conversion of sinners. As victim souls, they are fastened to the Cross in union with Jesus in order to continue our Saviour’s offering to the Father in reparation for our sins. In other words, they are co-redeemers with Christ and their mission is to lead souls to God. They are the great lovers of God who offer and give of themselves completely to “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24). The first of the extraordinary Mystics of the Catholic Church which I shall write on is St. Gemma Galgani – The Gem of Christ, Stigmatist and Victim Soul.
Gemma was born on March 12, 1878 in Camigliano, Italy, and soon after her birth, her family moved to Lucca, Italy, where she remained the rest of her life. Her mother Aurelia, a holy woman, died when Gemma was only 8 years old. The loss of her mother at such a young age was a sword of suffering upon her little heart. Eleven years later, at age 19, she also lost her father, leaving her and her brothers and sisters orphans. Not long after this, she became gravely ill with spinal meningitis, becoming bedridden and on the verge of death. It was at this point that the extraordinary graces in her life began to manifest.
The Passionist Venerable Gabriel Possenti (now a Saint) began appearing to her in a series of visions, encouraging her and helping her to make a Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in hopes for a cure. It was at this time that the attending doctors left her to die. On March 3, 1899, Jesus appeared to Gemma and cured her on the last day of the Novena, which coincided with the First Friday of the month (which is devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus). It was at this time also that Gemma began receiving inner locutions (interior words) from Jesus, and she began seeing her guardian Angel who inspired and instructed her in the practice of virtues.
A few months later, on the morning of June 8, 1899, Gemma was enlightened during Holy Communion that she would soon be receiving a great grace from Jesus. That evening, the Blessed Mother appeared to her, along with her guardian Angel. The Blessed Virgin told her:
“Jesus my Son loves you very much and He wishes to give you a grace. Do you know how to make yourself worthy of it?” In her misery, she did not know what to answer. Our Lady continued, “I will be your Mother. Will you be a true daughter?” The Blessed Virgin then spread her mantle and covered Gemma with it. At that moment Jesus appeared with all His wounds open, but blood no longer came out of those wounds. Rather, flames of fire issued forth from them and in an instant these flames came to touch Gemma’s hands, feet and heart. Gemma felt as if she would die. “I fell to the floor”, reported Gemma, “but my Mother supported me, keeping me covered in her mantle”. Gemma had to remain several hours in that position. Finally Our Lady kissed her on her forehead, and all vanished, and she found herself kneeling on the floor. But she still felt an intense pain in her hands, feet and heart. She arose to go to bed, and then noticed that blood was flowing from those parts where she felt pain. She covered them as well as she could, and then with the help of her angel, she was able to go to bed. These sufferings and pains, although they afflicted her, filled her with perfect peace. The next morning she was able to go to Communion only with great difficulty, and she put on a pair of gloves in order to hide her hands. She could hardly stand on her feet, and she thought she would die at any minute. The sufferings continued until 3pm on Friday afternoon, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It was at this point that Gemma began suffering as a victim soul for the conversion of sinners. She continued this extraordinary mission until the end of her life. At times accompanying the Stigmata were also the Crown of Thorns and also the Scourging which is well documented by her Spiritual Director, Venerable Father Germanus C.P.
Along with suffering in union with Jesus for the conversion of souls, she was also drawn into the most remarkable and sublime ecstasies where she conversed and often pleaded with Jesus for sinners, for the souls in Purgatory, for love and for mercy upon humanity, always telling Jesus of her love for Him, and offering herself as a holocaust and victim to obtain these graces.
In September 1902, Gemma became severely ill with Tuberculosis. By that time the fever of disease had begun to consume the innocent victim of divine Justice. Early in September she became very sick and vomited blood in quantities. One who watched by her bed wrote to her Director: “She is reduced to skin and bones; she suffers excruciating pains. One cannot bear the torment of not knowing what to do to relieve her. Gemma feels great need of you. Come quickly and tell us what to do”.
Thus the months dragged on with Gemma living in the closest union of love and suffering with Jesus Crucified. Through the offering of her sufferings in union with Jesus, the Victim Soul was obtaining countless graces each day for the conversion of sinners. Holy Week arrived and now the victim of Jesus was to be made conformable to His Death. On Good Friday, April 10, 1903 she said to Cecilia Giannini who was attending her: “Don’t leave me until I am nailed to the Cross. I must be crucified with Jesus. He has said to me that His children must be crucified”. She then went into ecstasy and gradually extending her arms, she remained in that posture for about three hours – an image of Jesus dying on the Cross. All that day and night her agony continued.
On the morning of Holy Saturday, April 11, 1903, at about 8:00a.m. she received Viaticum and the Last Anointing. At around 1:30pm, with the crucifix in her hands she said: “Jesus, now it is indeed true that nothing remains for me. If it be Thy will, take me”. Glancing at the picture of Mary, she added: “My Mother, I recommend myself to You. Ask Jesus to have mercy on me”. Then, in a feeble voice: “Jesus, I commend to You this poor soul of mine. Jesus”. These were her last words. She kissed the crucifix, placed it over her heart, folded her hands over it, and closed her eyes. Then, after a few moments, she turned her head on the pillow and ceased to breathe, and thus her holy soul took flight to be forever united with the God whom she loved with all the strength of her heart.
The priest who was reading the last prayers of the Church never knew the moment of her passing. “I have assisted many sick people”, he said, “but I never knew one to die in that way, without a tear or a sigh. She died with a smile and the smile remained on her lips so that I could hardly convince myself that she was really dead”.
And one of the Nursing Sisters from the Order of St.Camillis de Lellis who was caring for Gemma in her last days attested: “We have cared for a great many sick people, but we have never seen anything like this”.
The inscription placed on her tomb read:
“Gemma Galgani of Lucca, a most innocent virgin, while in her 25th year, consumed rather by the fire of Divine Love than by the violence of disease, flew into the arms of her Heavenly Spouse on Holy Saturday, the eleventh of April, 1903. Peace be to Thee, O sweet soul, in company with the Angels”.
— St. Gemma, pray for us!
By Prof. Michael Ogunu