Friday, 25 December 2015

Read Bishop Ezeokafor Christmas Message to Awka Diocese

Bishop Ezeokafor of Awka Catholic Diocese

2015 Christmas Message, of His Lordship Most Rev. Paulinus C. Ezeokafor, to the Family of God in Awka Diocese
Situating My Reflection
My Dear People of God,
May grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Songs of joy is once more in the air! We hear them sung, enjoy their lovely melody, and generally savour the flavour of Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians traditionally associate this season with songs as an expression of the joy in their hearts. By so doing, we join the angel and the heavenly hosts who sang their hearts out when Jesus was born in the manger. In Luke’s Gospel, after the angel announced to the shepherds the birth of the child Jesus, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Lk 2: 13-14). My prayer is that our Christmas songs be a point of contact between heaven and earth, so that as we reflect on their contents our hearts may draw closer to God in love.
I have chosen to reflect with you on one of the great mysteries that this season invites us to focus on – the magnanimity of God’s mercy made manifest by the incarnation of His only begotten Son. I chose this theme because this year of the Church is a year set aside by Pope Francis as a year of Mercy. In his Year of Mercy Letter, Pope Francis expresses the wish that the year be “a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.”
Christmas as Incarnation of God’s Mercy
By God coming in human flesh (Jn. 1:14), Christ did not just bring God’s salvation close to humanity, but made it pervasive of the human nature. He healed humanity from within itself. Therefore, God’s mercy is no longer exterior to our nature but has become, more or less, an integral part of it. This happened because of His love for us (Cf. Jn 3:16). The mercy of God is thus a meeting point between heaven and earth. By the divine mercy of the incarnation, so to speak, we may no longer search for God’s mercy in a faraway mountain or in the desert, because He has become us. He is dwelling among us. This is the major difference between Christianity and other world religions – God becoming man. Jews, for instance, worship the God of creation, who has delivered them from bondage and done many mighty works for them. They never worship Him as incarnate God. For us Christians, however, we worship not just the God of creation but also the God of incarnation.
Mercy is not a recurring act of God, as if God withdraws his mercy at a point and gives it out at another. Instead, his mercy has become a subsisting and permanent reality, an expression of the strong bond of love, making humans sharers in God’s nature. In Christ, who took flesh for us, God’s mercy also ceases to be a channel or a sort of conveyor belt, which transmits God’s magnanimity and reconciling clemency to humanity. If it were to be a channel, it may imply that it can exist independent of God. On the contrary, mercy is part of who God is. It is His nature. It is self-contradictory to conceive God without mercy. A merciless God is not God but anything else.
Humans can exist without being merciful. Even when we practice mercy, it only remains an external attribute, which we acquire by our partaking of God’s mercy. That is why we often fail to show mercy once we distance ourselves from God. We depend on God’s mercy to be merciful ourselves. Often, just like the unforgiving servant of Mtt 18: 21-35, we receive the mercy of God ourselves, but fail to show same to others. We throttle our fellow human beings for little transgressions against us, while God meets us with his unmitigated mercy over great infractions of His commandments. God never calculates his merciful love for us. It goes beyond sympathy or mere emotive surge of pity. It is like an ocean the boundaries of which are invisible. Our problem is that we often project our weaknesses to God. We make Him seem weak in his mercy because we are weak ourselves.
Forgiveness is an expression of the mercy of God. God has forgiven us in Christ because of His bounteous and boundless mercy. He enjoins us to show the same to others. Thus, in the Lord’s Prayer, He teaches us that it is the measure we forgive others shall we ourselves obtain the mercy of God (Mtt 6:12). This way Jesus reminds us of the need not to slumber, or do things the way we like, believing that God will always forgive us. He tasks us to strive with good deeds in order to appropriate, as well as tap from, this ocean of mercy of God already brought to our reach.
Christians as Bearers of God’s Mercy
The incarnation or the taking of the flesh of the Son of God is not a theoretical idea but a historical reality. Christianity is not based on a set of fanciful ideas or theories but on lived experience. Christ’s injunction that anyone who wants to be a follower of His should take up his cross daily and follow Him is a concrete demonstration of the practical implications of true discipleship. A Christian without a forgiving heart is only so by name, and thus is not a true Christian. James captures this when he says that faith without good deed is dead (Jas 2: 14-26). In clear terms, he also states, “For judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). The Church has only a single mission on earth: to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by word and by deed. Hence, we should not only be a people who preach about the forgiveness of God, His love, and care for a fallen humanity made manifest at Christmas. We must be seen to live this out in the conduct of our lives. To celebrate Christmas without allowing the message of Christmas to permeate us is to miss the mark.
Christmas is a moment for Christians to reflect on how to show mercy to their fellow human beings. This mercy is very much in great need in our today’s society. Regrettably, it is in short supply. It should not be restricted to our friends and relatives; it should touch our enemies. It must spread far to non-Christians and Christians alike. The more we do this, the more we show appreciation to God for His mercy in our own lives. On the contrary, if we refuse to show mercy, we show we are ingrates and do not acknowledge God’s love for us.
It is unfortunate that what we see more often are vengefulness, anger, and unforgiving spirit. Many families are divided because they have no room for mercy and forgiveness. To shut our door to these is to shut the door to God, and we can never have peace once this is the case. Many couples today find no reason to be together because they have not allowed God’s mercy an inroad into their lives. They keep God at bay and concentrate on their own selfish ends. To be merciful entails untying the strings of selfishness and embracing one another with deep affections of love.
Ambassadors of Mercy at Christmas
Christmas season is a special period for us Christians to show God’s mercy to our brothers and sisters. We can do this by performing corporeal and spiritual works of mercy. These are “charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbour in his/her spiritual and bodily necessities” (CCC 2447). In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, these works of mercy are treated in chapter two of the second section dealing with love of one’s neighbour. This arrangement portrays the fact that mercy has its origin in love and strives to perfect love. It is impossible to show genuine mercy to people unless we first love them. If our mercy does not proceed from love, it is not Christian, but mere formality. On the contrary, if we show mercy out of love, it becomes an expression of the depths of Christian self-giving shown us in the being and life of the Incarnate Son of God.
The corporal works of mercy include, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead (Cf. Mtt 25: 31-46). The Spiritual works of mercy are instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and bearing wrongs patiently. We should utilize this season of Christmas to put smiles on the faces of those who suffer either psychological, physical, or material privations. They need to see in us the face of Christ, who has come to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord (Lk 4:18). We must act and live as Christ’s ambassadors, especially in the world of today torn apart by hunger and strive. So many will not be celebrating this year’s Christmas with their loved ones because they lost them to the ongoing conflicts in many parts of the country. All these are evils we live with on daily basis. They are very painful realities. We should not relent in our love because of all this. I encourage everyone to take courage and forge ahead in our commitment to the love and mercy of God. We also pray for the conversion of heart for those who glory in violence, so that they may also learn to love their fellow human beings as Christ loves us, and express it to them through a life of mercy, forgiveness and commitment to the good of others.
I conclude this reflection by inviting all of us to allow ourselves to be touched by the Holy Spirit at this Christmas, so that our witness to the faith will be strong and unflinching.
Wishing you a merry Christmas and a promising and successful New Year 2016.
God bless.
+Paulinus C. Ezeokafor
Bishop of Awka



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