The importance of the Lenten season in the Christian liturgical calendar cannot be overemphasized. It is a penitential period of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Traditional Christians observances of Lent include fasting and penitence, both in preparation for Easter and as a way of spiritually "joining" Jesus with the fasting and meditation he did in the wilderness. As it is the tradition of the Catholic Church, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI calls us to reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: charity. This is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews: "Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works".
If we venture to make a moral evaluation of the multitude of problems facing Nigeria today, we shall discover that the course is the lack of consideration for both God and human beings. In simple terms, many of us lack the virtue of charity, or love for one another and God himself. The most prominent sins being committed in this land are hatred, corruption, accumulation of riches, violence, and unduly living at the expense of the commonwealth without contributing. A critical look at the above mentioned sins will reveal that they are sins against charity. Therefore, I think it is a safe assumption to posit the claim that despite the proliferation of churches and the seeming "hyper-religiosity" of the vast majority of Nigerians, love-in-action, the loving response to God's love and friendship has been hampered in this country. Despite the large turn out of "worshippers" at Sunday services, night vigils, revivals and numerous crusades, the crime rate, corruption, moral decadence, religious bigotry, and continued polarization of the country is astonishingly high and very disturbing. Are the perpetrators of these evils from the outer space?
Our so-called elite are not helping matters. In fact, they seem to be most responsible for what has befallen us since they use their wealth, intelligence, and influence to perpetrate scores of wicked and uncharitable acts, thus condemning a vast majority of Nigerians to sub-human existence. This raises the question of responsibility towards each other. Do we really show concern about the other person? Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. According to Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2012 Lenten Message, he stresses that: "The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts"
If Nigeria is to climb out of the dark valley of oppression and distress it has found itself to the top of the mountain of liberation and bliss, which we all desire, it is high time we made both an individual and a collective "Fundamental Option for Charity; making conscious effort to love.
If only we can strive to restore the full meaning of the theological concept of charity and its full dignity, thing can become better. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes states that: "the social order must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow everyday towards a more humane order." Prominent Catholic theologian, Benard Harring, says that the truth of love must shine forth not only in person-to-person relationships but also in the life of the community and society. No wonder the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that charity is the greatest social commandment, which respects others and their right. This requires the practice of justice, and inspires us to selfless giving which Christ exhorts us to do in Like 17:33.
We must never be satisfied to simply give alms to people where we can assist them by way of justice that is breaking the yoke of oppression, which can then enable them satisfy their needs by their community. If those who act unjustly offer alms to the damaged instead of repairing their injustice, as many people in Nigeria do, it is not love-in ÔÇôaction, but an offence against the dignity of their neighbour. According to the Holy Father in his 2012 Lenten Message, "The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands." Concern for others here would mean being aware of their needs to justice and working towards attaining to them.
The various Human Rights Organizations and NGO's offer us the opportunity of dressing charity in the garb of justice. Though the foundation of Justice is love, in a certain sense, the involvement of justice in creating happy human conditions precedes the works of charity. This is why more concerted effort should be given to issues bordering on justice in Nigeria. This offers a better option of liberating many Nigerians from oppression, ignorance, economic and political marginalization.
This eventually leads to the Church's "option for the poor." This was the option Jesus made while on earth. This clearly shows in his ÔÇśmanifesto" as contain in Luke 4:18. Charity demands being in union with those in most need of solidarity, just as God did the same for thr oppressed Israelites while in Egypt. Throughout the history of the Israelites, as seen in the Old Testament, God was always in solidarity with them, especially when they were suffering. The same goes for the human race through the solidarity of Christ.
Charity constantly seeks ways where it can come alive more powerfully. In politics, Charity finds the most powerful instrument that ought to be used to help Christ carry out his "manifesto" in present-day Nigeria. Politics also offers the avenue to translate into action the criteria that will be used to judge us all at the "Final Judgement" (cf. Mt 25:31-43). If a Christian ought to act everywhere in love of God and for his neighbour, in solidarity with all God's children, this also applies to his/her political choices.
For long many people have thought that a "committed" Christian should not be involved in politics that has been perceived as a dirty game. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or unchristian about politics. Rather, it is the people who participate in it sometimes that make it look ugly. Gaudium et Spes focuses extensively on political involvement of Christians. Christians are encouraged to enter into politics. Though it does not mean that Christians will transform all of politics into pure love, where the redeemed love of Christians is active, politics of dictatorship and depositism cannot hold sway. If Christians opt for politics with charity and the discernment befitting their faith, they will always opt for the political parties that will always work towards meaningful solutions to conflicts and promote the all-round development of the society.
Furthermore, charity demands that we stand up against whatever will jeopardize the integrity and credibility of the country and its future generations. In the present political dispensation where liberty, security of life and property, and authentic democracy has gone to the dogs, charity demands that we stand up against such flagrant abuse and caricature of authentic democracy process. What becomes of a country where its political leaders have sold their souls and the people's constitutional right to elect their leader in a proper democratic process? When the self appointed political leader(s) have agreed to make Nigerians get their leader through a referendum instead of a broad-based election, and Nigerians themselves are so confused and paralysed because of their empty stomach to resist in unison, then the country has shot itself in he foot. Whatever we do or do not do today has far reaching implications. And charity demands that we act.
The exigency of the present moment demands that really committed Christians and Moslems in charity should work for the flourishing of proper politicking in the country. This is an uphill task because it is the same "Christians and Moslems" that are in the forefront of those earnestly yearning for just one person now. However, the journey back to sanity and credibility in this land begins with one step, and true Christians and Moslems should lead the way.
In conclusion, we only need to give a trial to the practice of charity in our lives and our society, and we shall not be disappointed at the result. We may not be justified to say that ÔÇśwhat can a fraction of the teeming population of Nigerians do?' we should remember the saying that "a little bit of yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise." If according to St Paul, sin has a social dimension (cf. 1Cor 5:6-8), how much more the call to be charitable?
We should always bear in mind, that according to St John of the Cross, at the evening of our lives, we shall be judged on love ÔÇô love firmly rooted in action. This is completely in line with what we see in Mt 35:31-46 where Jesus stated that we shall be judged on acts of love (charity) that we did or failed to do. St Paul re-echoes this in 1Cor 13:1-13 when he categorically stated that when the chips are down, what really matters is not the different charisms/gifts we have, but charity. Put differently, on the day of reckoning, we shall be judged on our charity to God, which overflowed to ourselves and our neighbours; the extent to which we were "Light to the World" and "Salt to the earth," especially at such a time as this in Nigeria. Thus all our religious and social activities should be based on Charity*