Today, Christians in Nigeria join their counterparts around the world to commence the 2023 Lenten season. The 40-day spiritual exercise begins with Ash Wednesday, where the foreheads of faithful are marked with ashes to remind them of their mortality and the somber mood that is expected of them in the next six weeks, culminating on Easter Sunday on April 9, 2023.
The tradition which has been on for many years and re-enacted every year is symbolic of the mortality of man and a call to humility by all Christians. The marking of the ashes, aside the mortality it symbolises, equates all humans and reminds all that from dust man was formed and to that very dust he/she shall return.
Lent stands on four cardinal tenets: fasting, prayers, abstinence and almsgiving. During the period, the faithful are enjoined to return to God in truth, pray continuously, abstain from sin and support the needy. And in doing these acts, they are enjoined to avoid hypocrisy.
In his 2023 Lenten message to the faithful, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia, Anambra State, Peter Ebere Cardinal Okpaleke said, “The Ash Wednesday not only invites us to decide to make the best of the Lenten season, but the season challenges us in the words of Moses: ‘Today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster’ – (Deut 30:15) or in those of Joshua: ‘Today you must make up your minds whom you mean to serve, Yahweh who saved you or other gods’ – (Joshua 24:15). The Lenten period is an invitation to all to choose to serve God who in Jesus Christ, out of love, suffered, died and was raised to life for us and for our salvation as we recite in the Creed. If we choose to do this, then we must embrace a life of love for all, commitment to the good of all, especially the poor, the disadvantaged, the lowly and the despised. If we decide to choose life in God, we are called upon to present our hearts to God in prayer to be transformed; to strive at self-conquest so that we become persons of character not easily distracted by selfish desires; and to invest our energy and resources in making life better for everybody. This will not only lead to individual transformation, but also to the transformation of our communities.”
We congratulate Christians for being alive to participate in another Lenten season and hope that they embark on this journey with ease and that at the end reap the benefits of the season.
The fact that the Lenten season is coming at this point cannot be overlooked. It is quite significant that a spiritual exercise of this nature is commencing just three days to the general elections, where Nigerians troop to the polls to select the man or woman who will steer the ship of this country for the next four years. It is also coming at a time when citizens are facing hardship, especially the recent ones occasioned by fuel scarcity and naira redesign policy. This period indeed provides an opportunity for Nigerians to fervently pray that things take a turn for the better.
As Christians, you are enjoined to perform your civic duties. Therefore, let the Lenten season cause people to take that duty seriously and indeed turn out to cast their votes so that a leader does not emerge from a minority vote, but from the majority. Clerics are enjoined to preach peace at this period so that the faithful will eschew violence and live with their neighbours and peoples of all faiths in harmony. As it is a period to specifically avoid sin, the faithful and indeed all Nigerians should start by ensuring that they abide by the provisions of the electoral law before, during and after the elections. Shun vote buying and selling.
We also call on leaders, politicians, those seeking elective positions and those supporting candidates to endeavour to do the right thing. Serving God includes treating everyone with respect and equality. No leader should abrogate undue powers to his or herself. They must do everything possible to ensure that the elections are conducted peacefully. Like Jesus Christ, upon whom the church stands, leadership is indeed a call to serve and not to be served. If leaders are guided by this principle, they will not see election as a do-or-die affair. They will be ready to accept results of free and fair elections, and that is what we require of politicians in the February 25, and March 11, elections.
There are other problems bedevilling the country, ranging from kidnapping to robbery to secessionists agitations. We urge the faithful to pray against all these so that Nigeria can overcome them. Religious leaders should use this period to harp on the importance of unity among all groups in the country so that citizens can be their brother’s keeper.
It is our hope that at the end of this spiritual exercise, all who participated will reap the rewards and that our country will be the better for it.