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March 7 Tiesaah, SJ - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus

Tuesday, First Week of Lent

Perpetua and Felicity

March 7, 2017 

 

Is 55: 10-11/ Ps 34/ Mt 6: 7-15

by *Fr. Reginald Tiesaah, SJ

Life is replete with examples of people who keep their word. We can hardly doubt the words of good and honourable people. Their character and personality speak for them. The trust we place in them is not so much because of what they purport to do but rather who they are before us. The power of words can be harnessed for good or evil. We know that life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who use it shall reap its fruits (Proverbs 18:21). Carefully chosen words can inspire courage, zeal, fortitude, and even excellence. The Book of Proverbs attests to this: “a word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in silver settings (Prov. 25:11). We witness the inspiration and courage instilled by mother and children to one another at the martyrdom of the seven brothers (2 Maccabees 7). Similarly, words can break the will and enthusiasm of others. People have committed suicide or even driven to violence or depression because of comments from others.

In the first reading, we see the positive energy God’s word exerts on the world. God is trustworthy and we can rely on God’s word. Failure or imperfection cannot be associated with him. Like the rain and snow that have a positive effect on the earth so are the words that proceed from the mouth of God. God’s word is dependable and life-giving (Luke 4:4; John 6:63; Psalm 119:50, 93, 130). Nothing stands in the way of God’s word. It is fruitful (Matt. 13:8, 23). It has a purpose, a destiny – to draw us into the very life of God (Jeremiah 29:10-11). These attributes of God’s word are nothing short of the nature of God. What proceeds from God carries the imprints of his divinity and life-giving character. God’s goodwill, aspirations and dreams for you and for the universe are enshrined in the DNA of his Word and Spirit, who proceed from God’s self. It will thrive and succeed irrespective of the odds. This is directly witnessed by Sts Perpetua and Felicity, the African women, who did not fear to identified with Christianity in the face of persecution, separation from family or death in the catacomb during the persecution of Septimus Severus at Carthage. Perpetua encouraged her fellow prisons and her words and resolve saw the conversion of one of the wardens.

Jesus is that word made flesh, who accomplishes the purpose of God par excellence. By virtue of the incarnation God’s word has entered creation and human history and restored the broken relationship that existed between God and humanity. In him God is well pleased (Matt. 3:17) and we find a perfect union between human beings and God because the fullness of divinity was pleased to dwell in him (Colossians 2:9). Receiving Jesus in faith can bring that transformation God desires for all just as Isaiah says God’s word produces. He is God’s way of becoming human and our way of attaining union with God – the hypostatic union – fully human and fully divine; our way to the Father. 

The season of Lent affords us the opportunity to internalize this life-giving character of the Word of God, which cannot but accomplish God’s purpose. We can begin by changing our attitude and approach to prayer as Jesus has taught us. We are aware of the call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving during this period of preparation for the celebration of Easter (when God’s Word accomplished God’s salvific plan). Our prayer would be efficacious if it is borne from a character of faithfulness and trust exemplified by Christ himself.

The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer exemplifies this: “Our Father, who art in heaven …” Jesus teaches us that prayer is about relationship that can never be severed (Father – son). It is a relationship in reverence to God’s Holy name; a relationship that permits God’s justice (kingdom) to flourish and horizontally transform those around us (Isaiah 58:7-10). How could this be if we have not learnt to allow the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God to accomplish its purpose in us? How could God’s will (justice) roll down like waters and righteousness like a never-ending stream (Amos 5:24), if God’s word has not reached us like the rain and snow to water and soften our hearts? Unless this is true, we will live in the utopian paradise that irrespective of our relationship to God, it is the eloquence of our words or speech in prayer that moves God to answer. St. Augustine says, ‘Jesus does not wish much speaking, but desires more praying.’ Our actions should speak louder than our words. For St. Ignatius, our expression of love for God and neighbour is to be seen in deeds than words.

Many a time, our Lenten observances prove fruitless because we have taken the Lenten call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a duty than as the necessary product of our relationship with God. Hence, the forty days of fasting pass and we fell like the seeds that fell in thorns or rocky soil. The lack of depth and the pressures of life soon bring about the withering and fruitlessness in our lives (Matt. 13:21-22). We certainly need deliverance the evil within us as the Lord’s prayer beckons.

Tertullian was right to describe the Lord’s Prayer as “a summary of the gospel.” God’s reign of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17) should flow like streams of mercy to heal our world plagued by religious tensions, political genocides and the breakdown of love and family values. The ‘daily bread’ of God’s word (Matt. 4:4), which horizontally translates into forgiveness of one another is what Christ enacted and commissioned his disciples to do at the resurrection appearance in John 20:22-23. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit, giving them a new life just like the creation of Adam (Gen. 2:4-7); and commissioned them to the ministry of forgiveness. Forgiving others their sins as God forgives us is therefore, the new life of the Church which is a continuation of the life of Christ. Our acts of mercy (forgiveness and reconciliation) or almsgiving should equally be life-giving as signs that God’s word has accomplished God’s purpose in us, and through us, to heal the world. Amen!!!

 

*Fr. Reginald Tiesaah is the Socius to the Director of Novices at the Jesuit Novitiate in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria.

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