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Lenten Reflections 2017 - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus


By *Fr. Peter Schineller, SJ

'This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad."
(Response of the Responsorial Psalm for Easter Sunday)

In the Christian Year, we have two solemn feasts that especially emphasize joy, namely Christmas and Easter. We also have the penitential season of Lent and the hope-filled season of Advent. But Christmas Day and Easter Sunday are the peaks of joy.

If we reflect on it, there is a different feel or tone to the joy and peace of Christmas and Easter. Christmas is the joy of new life, the birth of the infant Jesus, with the song of the angels, the visits of the shepherds and the three kings. Yet suffering is not far away: "there was no room at the inn." The Holy Family must flee quickly to Egypt to escape from King Herod.

In contrast to and deeper than the joy of Christmas is the joy of Easter. This is the joy that comes only after the suffering and death of Good Friday - the joy of resurrection, rising to new life from the darkness of the grave. The women and the apostles realize that the Word and promise of Jesus holds true. He had to suffer and die, be put to death, but on the third day he would rise.

We now share that joy in our troubled world. We see much suffering and death at the hand of terrorists, from natural and human created tragedies, and from sickness. But in light of Easter faith, hope and joy, we believe that suffering and death do not have the final word! The deeper reality is the joy and peace of Easter.

For we Christians believe in the third day! After the suffering and death on Good Friday. after the silence and waiting of Holy Saturday, there is the Third Day, Easter Sunday. Jonah was delivered from the belly of the whale on the third day (Jonah 2: 1-11); St. Paul received his sight on the third day (Acts 9:9); Jesus was found in the temple on the third day Luke 2:46); and Jesus accompanied and brought new life and joy to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on the third day (Luke 24:21) - so we rise with Jesus on Easter, the third day.

How should we celebrate Easter? The Jesuit poet Hopkins expresses it this way; "Let him Easter in us, be a dayspring for the dimness in us." Let the joy and new life of Easter fill our hearts, minds, and lives so that we become an Easter People. Surely difficulties and sufferings and death remain, but deeper still is the joy and peace of Easter. St. Paul describes Easter joy in this way: "As we have shared much in the suffering of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in his consolation" (2 Cor. 1:5).


*Fr. Peter Schineller, SJ, is a former Regional Superior of Nigeria-Ghana Region, which is now the North-West Africa Province and is currently working at the Jesuit Centre in Amman, Jordan. 



Good Friday


Is 52: 13 -- 53: 12/ Ps31: 2. 6. 12-13. 15-16. 17. 25/ Heb 4: 14-16; 5: 7-9/ Jn 18: 1 -- 19: 42

By *Fr. John-Okoria Ibhakewanlan, SJ

In 2013, when my sister Sandra was dying of Lupus (SLE) in far away India, my mum and I visited her there at Primus hospital in Delhi. Sandra was very devout. I expected her to be a bit bitter that God would allow her to face such a debilitating illness. She was only 27. Amazingly, we met her cheerful and full of spiritual maturity. How could she have appeared so composed while experiencing severe pain? I actually managed to ask her that question. "Sandra, how do you cope with so much suffering? I would have been angry with God?" She responded with a smile and said: "Angry? No way", and she immediately looked around her room. Then I noticed the many sacramentals and religious symbols that surrounded her. Pointing towards a crucifix, she added: "My pain is nothing, compared to this." I saw the crucifix anew.

We have become so used to the crucifix (quintessential Good Friday symbol) that we take it for granted. Good Friday becomes only a period of waiting for Easter. The truth is that, for those who did not know that Easter would come, there was nothing 'good' about that first Good Friday. In human terms, what happened on this day more than 2000 years ago was a painful, cruel and shameful, murder. In spiritual terms, we may insist that such sinless sacrifice was necessary to pay for our sin. Yet, what is the answer to the cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The pain experienced by millions of innocent people around the world today echo that cry of the crucified Lord. I believe that if Jesus came back today we would crucify him again. In fact, everyday we watch people die of poverty in the midst of plenty! Jesus comforts all these sorrowful millions by being one of them in the most radical manner. Those in pain can look up to Jesus and relate their suffering with that of the Saviour. The innocent, whose suffering stems from the injustice perpetrated by others, can pray for those who caused them pain (that is difficult). Jesus was betrayed and denied by his friends; condemned by those who knew he was innocent; crucified in place of a criminal. Hence this may well be the greatest of all the miracles that Christ performed, captured in the ultimate Good Friday words: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

What rightly makes my sister's suffering "nothing, compared to" that of Jesus is that our Lord suffered for the benefit of the very people who crucified Him. Whatever your cross may be in life, there is no greater sacrifice than this: to lay down your life for the benefit of your tormentors. Sandra was consoled by this mystery. The grace I invite us to seek, as we today behold the Crucifix, is 'to experience anew how the cruelty of the Cross is revealing to me the innermost heart of God.'

*Fr. John-Okoria Ibhakewanlan, SJ, is a the Principal at Hekima University College in Nairobi, Kenya. 


Holy Thursday

Ex 12: 1-8. 11-14/ Ps 116: 12-13. 15-16bc. 17-18/ 1 Cor 11: 23-26/ Jn 13: 1-15

By *Fr. Martins Okoh, SJ

"Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" John 13:1. This opening verse from the gospel of today captures succinctly the core of Jesus' mission and what we celebrate yearly during every Easter triduum. That is, Jesus loves his own in this world and loves them to the end." Jesus not only loved us in the past, he loves us even now. Jesus not only loved us when we were sinless, but he loves us even as sinners. Jesus not only loved at the beginning, he loves us even to the end. Jesus is never tired of loving us. There is no limit to Jesus' love for us. He loves us in good and bad times. He loves us when it is convenient as well as when it is hard. There are no deceits, no pretense in Jesus' love.

This type of love can be difficult to comprehend because it stretches the limits of our imagination and mind. It is a love that wows and overwhelms us with delight. The Blessed Virgin Mary experienced this love and her reaction was that outburst of praise, the Magnificat. Imagine that love that makes God human. The love of Jesus makes him who is without sin to be ridiculed like the worst sinner. The love of Jesus makes him who is a king to be a slave.

As an expression of Jesus' love for us, he does something strange and unheard of among his contemporaries. He washes the feet of his disciples. He washes the feet of John, the Beloved; he washes the feet of Peter who denies him and even the feet of Judas Iscariot, who will betray him.

During this Mass too, Jesus will wash us all. He washes both the saint and the sinner. He washes not only our feet but our sins too. Another interesting thing that Jesus will do for us is to serve us. He serves us with his body and blood. There is nothing that he cannot give us because his love is boundless.

On this day, we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the establishment of the priesthood. A good friend of mine, a fellow priest whom I respect a lot once said to me, "the main function of priesthood is servitude—washers of feet." I believe genuine love and humble service cannot be separated—to love is to serve humbly. Every priest serves because of his love of God and neighbor. But not only ordained priests, the main attribute of those who are fed by the body and blood of Christ is to love and serve like Jesus as well.

On this Holy Thursday, may we imitate Jesus; may we imitate too that woman who anointed Jesus with that expensive aromatic oil from pure nard because she knew she had received much. Remember, one who has received much love, loves much.

*Fr. Martins Okoh, SJ, is a Graduate Student in Business Administration at Santa Clara University in California, USA. 



Wednesday of Holy Week

Is 50: 4-9a/ Ps 69: 8-10. 21-22. 31 and 33-34/ Mt 26: 14-25

By *Hiifan Ikyondo, SJ.

The physical and human suffering of Christ is the subject or central meditation of the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. This meditation or form of prayer stands in contrast with the reaction of our world in the face of suffering especially where we are consciously schooled not to express any sign of emotions of pain because, our society tells us that it is a sign of weakness. This contrast is further heightened by the events of this week and specifically by the texts of today.

The images proposed for our reflection are troubling because they invite us to sense suffering in the form of contrary pairs. We are faced with the challenge of the price tag of obedience and disobedience, companionship and animosity, loyalty and betrayal, hope and despair, silence and noise, consolation and desolation, strength and weakness. While we are generally inclined to see and celebrate strength over weakness, the Third preamble of the second contemplation of The Spiritual Exercises and of course, the texts of today invite us to seek and find the grace that we are invited to ask for during this Week: "ask for what I want. It belongs to the Passion to ask for grief with Christ in grief, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and interior pain at such great pain which Christ suffered for me" (SpEx 203)1.

The Third Week teaches us that in the face of human suffering and misfortune, instead of lament in despair, we may see in suffering new 'meaning about life'. We are invited to believe that such hurts contribute in the salvation narrative exemplified by the Passion of Jesus-Christ.

As a result, the Third Week is not simply a spiritual detached meditation, but a proper contemplation of the suffering Christ, one that permits us to see Him still present in people around us today. We are thus forced not to remain indifferent because it is not a disconnected exercise but a genuine moment of God encountering human suffering. Christ therefore reveals himself all through this Week in those who suffer in silence, die of hunger or as victims of human violence and betrayal. He reveals himself on the bed of those who are suffering or (dying) of diseases such as AIDS, cancer and diabetes today. At the table of Passover, Jesus also reveals himself to the depressed faces of abused girls and women, refugees and migrants from war torn cities and villages of the world.

Ultimately, our contemplation of the Passion of Christ pushes us be committed and choose between good and evil. This implies that our choice must not be a passive response but an active choice to reject and stand up to greed and to the evil price tag of betrayal in all its forms. The price tag of betrayal is not an imaginary or theoretical aspect of evil; but concrete form of all the injustice that we must not promote through our personal or collective selfish interests. It is there in the crosses pierced into so many bleeding hearts: the poor, the falsely accused, judged and condemned. The price tag of evil is introduced and installed on every occasion when we refuse to listen and see the suffering in people. Yes, it takes only one action to define your price tag between good and evil. Jesus chose a price tag of obedient-suffering for us as opposed to the price tag of greed and betrayal in the person of Judas Iscariot. Perhaps, the most important question for us here is: what is your or my price tag today?

*Hiifan Ikyondo, SJ, is a scholastic studying theology at L'Institut de Théologie de la Compagnie de Jésus in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.  

1SpEx - The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola



Tuesday of Holy Week

Is 49: 1-6/ Ps 71: 1-2. 3-4a. 5ab-6ab. 15 and 17/ Jn 13: 21-33. 36-38

By *Mr. Anthony Gyening-Yeboah

When a patient reports to the hospital, the doctor usually asks a number of questions and then performs a series of physical examinations before requesting some laboratory investigations to help make a definitivediagnosis and further aid in adequate treatment of the patient. The questioning and physical examination inform the doctor on the most probable diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment. The doctor has to be observant in order to identify the very signs and symptoms that characterize the particular disease the patient is presenting with and makes other diseases less likely. The doctor has be cautious enough not to follow red herrings, lest he misses the very disease or complications that can cause the death of the patient. Being aware of both the subtle and conspicuous in clinical practice is very crucial to diagnosing and saving the lives of patients.

Similarly, in the gospel reading, Jesus' disciples missed the point when he answered the question – "Who is it, Lord?" The seemingly harmless thought, "Oh, Judas is the treasurer. Jesus is only sending him on an errand" made the disciples miss the point – "It is the one who to whom I give the piece of bread that I dip in the dish." In this season of Lent, the gospel is inviting us to be aware of the subtle and the ordinary things that have the potential of leading us away form our Christian calling; the ordinary moments on social media that that can siphon hours from the day that we forget to pray or forget to serve the needy. It is subtle, and it is ordinary, but we need awareness lest we miss the voice of God.

Jesus had once rebuked Peter for being against His dying and resurrection – "Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don't come from God, but from human nature." Peter repeated his hindrance when he said to Jesus in today's gospel, "Why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Why did Peter miss the point the first time when he was rebuked? What was he focusing on? Was he thinking more of himself than Christ and the will of his Father? Was Peter more self-centered than Christ-centered? Just like Peter we can also miss the goal of our Christian calling if we focus more on vainglory than the humble acceptance of the will of God like Mary, the Mother of God. Our fasting and charity this Lent can become more self-centeredness than Christ-centeredness, if like Peter we become unaware of the conspicuous distractions – vainglory, pride and self-centeredness.

The calling to holiness and perfection invites us to the daily awareness and self-examination. We are invited to understand how both the ordinary and conspicuous could distract us from the voice of God. We are invited to "find God in all in things" even as distractions abound.

*Mr. Anthony Gyening-Yeboah is a Medical Student at University of Cape Coast School of Medical Sciences, Ghana


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