By Nwafor Sunday
The Parish Priest of the Catholic Church of Visitation, Festac town, Lagos, Rev. Fr. Panachy Ogbede, has called on Christians around the world to seek the better way of doing things on earth rather the easier way.
He disclosed this in his homily on the 10th December, 2017, while drawing life analogy of today’s Christians and John the Baptist.
According to him, Christians have derailed from the path formerly made by God and chooses to establish their own mundane path seen, recongnised and now partly accepted in some quarters to be the easier way on earth.
He urged Christians to return back to their former path with God and hearken to his voice for their redemption.
Read his words bellow:
Today, the second Sunday of Advent I wish to make five points – the first is that – we need to go back to the original idea to understand some of the core values that sustained the early church – to go back to the source ‘Redire ad fontes’.
In the Gospel reading we hear that John the baptist was described as “The voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight his paths!” According to Raneiro Cantalamessa trying to go back to the original idea – he analyses Isaiah, to tell the truth, said: “A voice cries out: in the desert prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3). It is not, therefore, a voice in the desert, but a way in the desert.
We need to know and understand why that way is created in the desert. To do this in the modern time – we too must learn to pay attention to history – we need to evaluate ourselves, where are we coming from and where we are going to – how are we faring on the journey?
The original intention of the church therefore was the salvation of the humankind – to achieve this, Jesus sent the disciples out – this is called ‘mission’ – he gave them the mandate to preach/proclaim the Good – news and wherever they go they should make an impact on the life of the people for instance heal the sick and this is called service – At the heart of the early church therefore was mission and service.
Now my second point is – develop this mission and service without losing the essence or improve upon without losing the message – Cantalemessa explains that “The Evangelists, in applying the text to the baptist who preached in the desert of Judaea, modified the punctuation, but without changing the message’s meaning”.
From ‘A voice cries out: in the desert prepare the way of the Lord’ Is. 40:3 to ‘The voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight his paths! Mk.1:3 – so what remain constant is that a road must be made but what perhaps changed is where the road would be made. In John the baptist’s call – this path is not made on land but in the heart of every man; it is no longer built in the desert but in one’s life. To build it – there is no need to engage in material labor but in conversion.
While the first stated for the creation of the road/path, the second seems to suggest more that where ever the human person exists the road should be fixed well. In applying this to the practical situation in line with the first point made – what must remain constant in the church in relationship with the society is the idea of mission and service – for instance – our schools in time past fulfilled the need to serve the people and was affordable.
One could argue that this was also possible because we got subsidy and everybody was willing to offer services at a minimum wage – the idea has however changed today from mission and service to investment and profit. No!!! – What was suppose to change was the methodology of the structure of the building not the idea – the ancient building techniques could have been outdated by now.
So what can we do – we can still get indigenous people to subsidize this and also use from the many funds received – however it would require sincerity on the part of the Church personnel to ensure that the money collected is used for what it is collected for.
Having said this – my third point would be to take a look at the wardrobe of John the baptist – John the baptist wore camel’s hair and a leather belt – the voice of prophecy was not heard in the land of Israel for 400years and all of a sudden they were able to identify John the baptist as prophet the minute they saw him – why – because of his attire – the simplicity of his dressing and his message.
Can people still identify us today for our simplicity and sense of modesty? Does the message delivered today portray the mind of God? We have really complicated our ways with sin and we are tied up with a lot of unnecessary things.
Isaiah and John the baptist spoke about ravines, mountains, twisted roads and impervious places – we can call these things like Cantalamessa suggested pride, sloth, selfishness, violence, cupidity, falsehood, hypocrisy, imprudence, superficiality, drunkenness of every sort (you can be drunk not only on wine or drugs but also on your own beauty, intelligence or yourself, which is the worst drunkenness).
According to an author- the happiest of all people are not those who acquire everything or own everything but those who are contented with what they have – it’ not the amount of wealth we accumulate for ourselves that makes us happy – there are too many people who have a lot of things they don’t really need – for instance if you have a cloth you have not put on for the past six months – do you really need it – you can actually do without it – so dash it out to someone who needs it – says a friend.
keeping in line therefore with the idea of mission and service – simplicity and modesty are important tools because they will help to create that compassion that moves us to want to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need.
Fourth – let’s see his kitchen or perhaps his food – John the baptist lived on locust and wild honey – these are product of nature not human hands per se – he didn’t depend on anybody for survival – he wouldn’t have to keep going to knock on someone’ door – he had the basic minimum to survive – can we create a system where the average human being is comfortable and wouldn’t have to depend on us – food is a necessity why do we have to make it a luxury for some – the prices of food commodity could be dropped and made available – as a church we could buy and create farmlands and employ more people – and sell our products for less – in this way we help to subsidize with money realized from the common pulse.
Still on this same point, it is perhaps notable that the most standout description of John the Baptist was that he was a “voice”.
That voice thundered all through the land of Israel when he preached in the desert summoning people from Jerusalem, Judea and all the surrounding country side villages.
A voice that spoke the truth to all classes of people irrespective of whose ox is gored. A voice that did not discriminate between the haves and the have-nots, between slaves and freeborn, between kings, nobles and the low-lifers.
What gave such power to his voice? It is precisely because of the same point made earlier – he did not depend on any man for his food because locust and wild honey is not the product of human labour. His food was obtained, as it were, through direct providence on God.
Many people, be they religious or political leaders, have lost their voices because they depend for their very existence on what they can get from vested interests – godfathers, patrons, various other contributors and sometimes from the exploitation of the poor they are suppose to protect or speak for.
Little wonder John the baptist would not shy away from speaking the truth to Herod when the latter took his brother’s wife as his own. John the baptist knew well the consequences of such an action but he was a voice and could not do any other thing than to speak.
In today’s world where many have lost their moral voices, a look at John the Baptist, the voice per excellence, his simplicity and modesty would surely point us in the right direction.
Fifth – seek the better way rather than the easy way – finally the scripture invites us to prepare the way, clear the way and we could add – get out of the way. In certain instances, we are the obstacles on the way – we find it difficult to let go at times – one builds a system and ends up destroying or running down the system.
Whereas the scriptures through the voice of John the baptist encourages us that we must descend while He must ascend. Seeking and wishing the best for others therefore is a part of the goal. Straightening a path for the Lord, thus, has a very concrete meaning: It means reforming our lives and converting.
In the moral sense the hills that must be made low and the obstacles that must be removed are the pride that leads us to ruthlessness and to be without love for others, the injustice that deceives our neighbor, perhaps adducing specious pretenses to mollify and compensate for silencing our conscience, to say nothing of rancor, revenge, betrayal of love.
The valleys to be filled in are laziness, apathy, lack of self-control, every sin of omission. It’s easier therefore to buy a generator but it’ better to provide the electricity, it’ easier to buy a Jeep but better to fix the road, it’ easier to buy bottle water or sachet water but it’ better to provide drinkable water. We are challenged today not to take the easy path but to create the better path.
The word of God therefore does not burden us with duties without at the same time giving the assurance that he will do with us what he commands us to do. As the prophet Baruch puts it 5:7 and I conclude in the words of a scholar – God makes low, God fills up, God builds the road; our task is to assent to his action, remembering that as St. Augustine says, ‘he who made us without our help, will not save us without our help.