USE LENT TO REFLECT ON YOUR WAY OF LIFE – BISHOPS URGE GHANAIANS IN 2017 LENTEN PASTORAL LETTER
“…We entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he (God) says: ‘At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation’. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation…” (2 Cor. 6:1-2).
- Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, we, the Catholic Bishops of Ghana, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Independence of Ghana, greet you in these words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, and we wish to use this Lenten Pastoral Letter to call for personal and national renewal.
“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation…” Lent is that period in the Church’s liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, before the three days of the saving Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a time for self-examination and repentance. This forty-day period calls to mind three biblical images, namely, Moses’ forty days on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:18), the forty years of Israel’s sojourn in the desert (Num 32:13; Deut 8:2), and the forty days of prayer and fasting by Jesus in the wilderness (Mt 4:2; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2).
- During Lent, the Church invites us to reflect on our personal lives, on our relationship with God, and with our neighbour, and, from the example of Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life (see John 14:6), she recommends four pathways which are:
- Listening to the Word of God:
- Prayer and
2.1: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). These words of the Gospel of the first Sunday of Lent (Mt 4:1-11) speak to the heart of every Christian, indeed to every citizen of our nation. Before his public ministry, Jesus withdrew into the wilderness to pray, to commune with his Father. The acknowledgement of God and of his divine presence and providence in one’s life before every human undertaking is key for success. As a nation, may we never lose sight of our need for God!
After forty days of fasting, Jesus was hungry (Mt 4:2), a human condition that he fully shared in with you and me. According to St. Matthew our Lord was tempted three times. The first temptation, to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy his hunger, brought Jesus face to face with the world which proposes material well-being as the only way to happiness. This temptation is truly real for every citizen today; the craving for money and material possession at all costs continues to corrupt many individuals while its effects on the family and on the society at large are evident for all to see.
2.2: The second temptation of Satan to Jesus Christ was to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem, “…for God will give his angels charge over you and they shall hold you up lest you strike your foot against a stone…” This is today’s irresistible temptation to indulge in “religious” showmanship and exhibitionism.
The Temple was a place of prayer, a place of personal encounter with God. True faith seeks God in (the) humility (of the heart), and not in wanton displays of power. Ghanaians, unfortunately, are daily being offered a “new Christian religion” which emphasizes glamour, opulence and apparent success, but not sacrifice and selfless service. Jesus rejected this, and so must his disciples; “…for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28).
2.3: The third temptation, to bow down and worship Satan in order to be given all the kingdoms of this world, is a temptation again for power and possession. The power to control other people and their lives, and to seek or place one’s self-interests ahead of others is increasingly becoming a trap of the evil one for many. Instead, Jesus invites us to “…seek…first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all the others shall be yours as well…” (Mt. 6:33).
2.4: While it is true that we are challenged at every turn by the temptations that assail us, we are encouraged to learn from Jesus how to overcome these temptations of power, pleasure and possessions. Jesus teaches three things which we must also practice conscientiously during this period of Lenten penitence in the year of our 60th Anniversary of Independence. Jesus prayed; he fasted; and he reflected on and obeyed the Word of God.
Jesus was a man of prayer; he prayed even though he was the Son of God. He did not rely on his strength alone but invoked his Father’s assistance in times of human weakness. He fasted at length, depriving himself even of that which was legitimate in order to stand firm against the lure of Satan. He obeyed resolutely the Word of God, submitting to the will of God his Father even though he was God (see Heb. 5:7 and Mk. 14:36).
By so doing Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, has given us the perfect example, how we will be empowered to overcome personal temptation, sin, and the sinful systems and structures that hold us in bondage; we must pray constantly, seek the face of God and his divine assistance; we must also make sacrifices where necessary in order to overcome sinful habits. In addition, we must desire not our will but the will of God who made us and who calls us his daughters and sons to be holy as He is holy (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pt. 1:16). Now to Ghana @ 60!
- Ghana 60 Years On: Mobilizing for Ghana’s future:
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus and dear fellow citizens of Ghana, in life, every one may (in fact one should) have expectations and even big dreams of progress, success and development. If, however, at sixty he/she has not achieved all the goals, he/she still has good reason to thank God, and to celebrate the gift of his/her life.
Similarly, when our forefathers and mothers struggled for independence, they surely had grand expectations for Ghana’s self-government. Even if, as a country, we may not have achieved all of our expectations and goals, Ghana has made significant progress. Secondly, even though our democratic forward-march has suffered some political challenges and derailment in the past, God has spared us the worst, namely civil strife, wars etc. Our dear country Ghana has certainly chalked laudable successes and there are still very good prospects of a better future. So, dear fellow citizens, let us continue to give thanks and praise to God Almighty, the most Merciful Creator.
It is in this light that we commend the theme chosen for our 60th Independence Anniversary celebration, “Mobilizing for Ghana’s future”. It calls for stock-taking, a key element of the Season of Lent, then for planning and mobilizing for the future.
We, your Catholic Bishops, therefore, wish to conclude our Lenten exhortation with a brief reflection inspired by the five letters that spell Ghana as we celebrate Ghana 60 years on and mobilize for her future: G for God; H for Heritage; A for Achievements; N for Nation; and A for Africa.
3.1: G for GOD: God is the first word in our National Anthem: ‘God bless our homeland Ghana…’ Yes, God has indeed blessed our homeland Ghana with so much; just to name a few like gold, diamond, bauxite, forests, rivers, oil and gas, and above all, great human resource, intellect, as well as religious and cultural wealth.
In acknowledgement for all these endowments, on the dawn of Independence, specifically on the March 03, 1957, at the Holy Spirit Cathedral, Accra, Ghana was consecrated to God through the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. On that occasion the Most Rev. William Thomas Porter, SMA, the then Archbishop of the Gold Coast stated that: “the people can embark on the task of promoting the true welfare of the country when they realise that God is their Father and that His laws are their surest protection and shield”.
It is, therefore, our intention also, in line with the above exhortation to renew the consecration of our nation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the occasion of this Diamond Jubilee of our Independence. Furthermore, we are also going to hold the 4th National Eucharistic Congress of Ghana from August 07 to 13, 2017, in thanksgiving to God for his faithfulness to us as a nation.
If truly, God’s laws have been our “protection and shield” then we must eschew all those vices that have engulfed our society, such as armed robbery, the illegal use and sale of narcotic substances, bribery and corruption etc. As a people “incurably religious” and God-fearing, let us work hard, be honest and just in all we do, accepting and giving no bribes, doing away with all forms of corruption and immorality. Only in this way shall we and our descendants enjoy God’s abundant blessings and favours on “our homeland Ghana”.
3.2: H for Heritage: Our National Pledge states: “I promise to hold in high esteem, our HERITAGE won for us through the blood and toil of our fathers”.
Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Ghana, it is thanks to the blood and toil of our fathers like Sgt Cornelius F. Adjetey and his colleagues of February 28, 1948, that of Dr Kwame Nkrumah and the others of the Big Six, and of many others, that we have received this heritage of independent Ghana.
In the last six decades, again, through the blood and toil of our illustrious traditional leaders and heads of state, of our ministers and parliamentarians, civil and public servants, for instance teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, police officers, military men and women, the clergy, religious men and women, industrialists, farmers, musicians, sportsmen and women, media men and women, engineers, labourers, market women etc., God has brought our heritage Ghana this far.
3.3: A for Achievements: Let us be proud of our country’s achievements, fellow Ghanaians! Dr. Ephraim Amu, Ghana’s legendary nationalist and song-writer in the very well-known and virtually second national anthem of this country, Yen ara asase ni! (This is our land!), exhorts us all thus: Aduru wo ne me nso yenso, se ye beye bi atuaso! In English, it is now our turn to do our bit, to contribute our quota, our achievements to Ghana’s development.
Now the time has come for us too to toil for our motherland, and where necessary even to be ready to shed our blood in selfless service and sacrifice to sustain our heritage, and to contribute towards the progress and advancement all Ghanaians today and tomorrow, those who will celebrate Ghana @ 100 and even beyond. Let us be Patriotic! Next to God, let us think of Ghana.
It is high time we acknowledged the achievements of our fellow citizens and most especially our heroes and heroines of the past sixty years, in all sectors of Ghana’s political development, cultural and social life. Our present generation should, therefore, be educated and encouraged to hold in high esteem our heritage and to emulate the values of honesty, hard work and humility of all our forebears, both home and abroad.
After sixty years of statehood and twenty-five years of uninterrupted multi-party political and democratic governance, is it not time we now turned our attention to work more assiduously and decidedly with greater commitment at nationhood?
3.4: N for Nation: The second verse of our National Anthem states: “Hail to thy name, O Ghana, to thee we make a solemn vow; steadfast to build together, a nation strong in unity…” Ghana (as some have said) seems to be merely a country and not yet a nation 60 years on.
We have not yet attained the status of “a nation strong in unity…”
Tribalism, ethnocentrism and partisan political conduct are now very rife in our body politic; and the shame and bane of our very recent past
electioneering and political campaigning, not forgetting the post-election agitations and misconduct by some misguided political party activists attest to the deepening political disunity in the country.
Ethnocentric sentiments and partisan political considerations of late play determining roles in marriage, job-seeking, land-acquisition, the choice of even political and traditional leadership and what have you. In contrast to this ugly situation, it is again time to reflect on these words of our President in his Inaugural Speech on January 07, 2017: “Since March 6, 1957, we all say as a matter of routine that we are Ghanaians. It is (now) time to define what being a Ghanaian ought to mean.
“Being a Ghanaian must stand for something more than the holder of a birth certificate or a certain passport. Being a Ghanaian must put certain responsibilities on each one of us. Calling yourself a Ghanaian must mean you have signed up to a certain definable code and conduct. Being a Ghanaian puts an obligation on each one of us to work at building a fair, prosperous and happy nation. And calling yourself a Ghanaian must mean we look out for each other.
“There should be no higher praise than to be able to say I AM A GHANAIAN … A new dawn has arisen in Ghana, which will enable us to build a new Ghanaian civilization which will be the beacon of Africa and the wonder of the world”.
Dearly beloved, we are all Ghanaians. Indeed, our vision for this country should be One Nation, One People with One Destiny.
3.5: Finally, A for Africa: Sixty years ago, as our country came to birth, our first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, said that: “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa”. By this prophetic pronouncement, he invariably linked up Ghana’s destiny as a nation with that of the whole continent of Africa, a destiny that we cannot run away from as the first-born country of our “continent”.
Ghana should be truly the Star of Africa – a symbol of Hope for Africa’s total liberation, as emphasized somewhere in the third verse of our National Anthem: “Raise High the Flag of Ghana, and One with
Africa advance; Black Star of Hope and Honour, to all who thirst for liberty…”
Ghana, as the first born of this continent is truly called to nobility of purpose. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus and dear fellow citizens, God has been good to us in these six decades. Let us continue to thank God for our heritage and ask for his forgiveness where we have failed, one and all, in our various vocations and professions to contribute to making Ghana what God is calling us to. We can and God is ready to give us the graces and strength and wisdom to do so, if only we shall eschew vice and embrace virtue.
- Concluding blessing: Yes, Lent is the acceptable time to do this. And may God continue to bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great, strong, prosperous and God-fearing!
We, your Bishops, promise to pray and work still more assiduously for this, during this period of Lent and hereafter. Amen.
Most Rev. Philip Naameh
Metropolitan Archbishop of Tamale &
President of GCBC