The Lenten season

2010-02-19
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper

NIGERIAN Christians are joining millions across the world to observe this year's holy season of Lent, a period set aside for prayer, fasting and abstinence, with almsgiving and sundry works of charity. The season which in a way commemorates the 40-day period of Jesus' desert experience of intense prayer and fasting begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday. Many believers in mainstream Christianity will at this time seek to identify more readily and to participate more worthily in the mystery of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ that culminates in the celebration of the resurrection at Easter.

Reminiscent of Jesus' time of withdrawal in the desert, the Lenten season is characterised by austerity, detachment, discipline and self-control. The practice of prayer, fasting and abstinence during Lent puts the believer in a disposition of both vulnerability and receptivity, enabling him/her to reflect on the destructiveness of sin, and to respond more readily to God's call to repentance and conversion, as well as to engage in the practice of virtue.

Lent is the time to emphasise self-denial, self-control and sacrificial love. It is the time to recognise that the way to true greatness is the way of service, humility, generosity, kindness, mellowness of spirit and self-sacrifice, not the aggressive competition for power, the blind pursuit of pleasure or the rat race for wealth and prestige that often result in social injustices, violent conflicts, war and untold hardship for the generality of people.

Nigerians celebrate Lent 2010 in the midst of multiple crises and uncertainties on the political front, as many of those in leadership positions at all levels continue to engage in open display of brigandage before an apparently helpless population. We celebrate Lent this year in the midst of a worsening security situation nationwide, where armed robbery and the phenomenon of kidnapping terrorise citizens in parts of the South, while the so-called religious and ethnic riots consume precious lives in parts of the North. Finally, we celebrate Lent this year in the midst of a nearly comatose economy that has seen to the collapse of social infrastructure and generated widespread unemployment, destitution and youth restiveness. And all this is happening in a country that is otherwise very well endowed by the Creator, as indeed the affluent lives of a few conquerors of the Nigerian state and champions of the corrupt system could testify.

Lent this year should provide an opportunity for individual and group soul-searching on the true quality of our religiosity. It is a time to take seriously and address the inherent contradiction in our priding ourselves as religious people, and in our being brandished as the most religious nation on earth, while many in our rank exhibit some of the most irreligious, unholy, hateful and despicable behaviour, including the killing of one another in the name of religion, whereas we know that the God of peace can never be glorified by human violence. Lent is the time to address the anomaly of ritual religiosity flourishing side by side with our widespread corruption and social immorality. Lent this year is the time to confront squarely the hypocrisy and empty sloganeering that have become a prominent feature of the Nigerian religious enterprise, and to do something about this.

Religiosity is traditionally associated with the virtues of honesty, truth, selflessness, frugality, justice, sacrificial love and concern for the common good. These among other qualities are the true mark of authentic religion, and truly religious people through the course of history have tended to exhibit these virtues. But the embarrassing truth is that the practice of religion in our country today does not seem to have yielded these dividends. In fact the present generation of Nigerians seem to be giving religion a bad name, as they carry on the practice of indiscipline, corruption, ethnic hatred, religious bigotry, treasury looting, election rigging, document falsification, contract inflation, hired assassination, kidnapping, social injustice, political brigandage, arson and killing at the slightest provocation, while professing to be religious, and filling our worship houses, our print media, our billboards and our airwaves with pious slogans.

This corporate madness must stop. This communal death-wish must be arrested. We cannot continue indefinitely along this route of self-immolation and expect that the prayer warriors and the merchants of "dry fast" will turn the tide, or that the mere multiplication of night vigils and daylight crusades will save the day. This Lenten season challenges Nigerians to move away from the life of greed and graft, to reject the culture of hatred and violence, to eschew the politics of acrimony and brigandage, to choose good in place of evil, to follow the path of truth instead of falsehood, and to disengage from all forms of social injustice. Lent is the time to make reparation for the sins of the past, and to show a renewed commitment to towing the path of righteousness.

The Lenten season is typically a period of training in the practise of virtue. In this country overwhelmed with the runaway passion for wealth and power, a country subsumed under the crippling culture of corruption, and governed largely by disorder and impunity, Lent admonishes all Nigerians to tie up their religiosity with the sterling virtues of discipline, truth, love, justice, service and self-sacrifice which Jesus makes an imperative for any wholesome life. Nigerians at all levels and of all creeds need a good dose of these virtues, and we must set about acquiring them for our individual survival, and the corporate survival of our nation-state. On this note, we wish all our readers a fruitful Lenten season.

 

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