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Omonokhua: Ash Wednesday: Call for true change


“TO live is to change and to have changed often is to be perfect.” This is the belief of some people. Another common slogan today is: “Be the change you want to see in others.” The clamour for change is not new. People are generally bored with permanence and duration. Before Socrates, “change” was one of the themes of debate for ancient philosophers. Heraclitus was the first known philosopher to have directly raised the issue of change. According to him, “one cannot step into the same river twice”. “The road up and the road down are one and the same”. On the contrary, the Eleatic school of thought founded by Parmenides affirmed that change was impossible and that reality was one. The followers of Parmenides especially, Melissus and Zeno provided more arguments to prove the impossibility of motion that involves an infinite number of steps. Aristotle introduced the notion of potency and act to distinguish being-in-act from being-in-potency. He discovered the concept of potency by observing accidental changes. 

    The above arguments present the fact that for everything that exists, there is an author. That whatever exists is in motion and, therefore, subject to temporary permanence. In this context, every change is bound to have content. In the motion of change, the question is “what is the status of the present reality?” “From what to what is the reality changing?” Another question could be; “which is easier, to change oneself or to change another person.” The reality in life is that many people do not think that they need change, they often think that it is the other person that is going the wrong way.” The truth is that the greatest warrior in the world is a person who can conquer himself or herself by taking charge and control over his or her temperaments. This is where the concept of change is central in human existence. 

   Creation was put in place to set in motion the principle of dynamism and progress. God exists of himself; hence only God is constant and does not need change. Whoever thinks that he can change the world without changing himself is claiming equality with God. It is only God who exists by nature. Every other creature derives existence from God who chose to create the world and all that exists. The world exists because of God’s free choice that the world should be (Genesis 1, 1-25). In Adam, the human race is chosen and sent on a mission to change in the context of service to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Humanity was chosen to be master of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living creatures on the earth” (Genesis 1, 28- 29). Jesus Christ would tell us later that, “Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7, 19). But in Adam, humanity failed in the call to be fruitful. The eating of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3) is akin to producing sour fruits (Isaiah 5, 1-4).

    Today we live in a world where some people present themselves simply as the best and agents of change. Some people have developed a complex of not seeing anything good in the present, they only think, “the bird in the bush is better than the bird at hand.” Because the human person is selfish, the world has been turned to a rolling stone that gathers no mud. To encourage self-transformation, the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday to recall humanity to authentic existence. The wearing of ashes is a response to the call to repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1, 15). Those who wear ashes are reminded that from dust, they were created and to dust they would return (Genesis 3, 19). 

    Palm Sunday reminds human beings of the inconsistency of human nature. The same people who shouted hosanna at the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem not for too long shouted: “Away with him! Crucify him!” In life, your praise singers today could prefer a thief to you tomorrow.  In comfort, a person lacks the vision and wisdom to know true friends and real foes because in his riches a person lacks wisdom (Psalm 49, 1-13).  Ash Wednesday is thus a day of intra-personal dialogue and self introspection for a person to rediscover the real self and the true neighbour. 

   In the Old Testament, ashes were used to express mourning and sorrow for sins and faults. Job says to God: “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I humble myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42, 5-6). The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance saying: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes” (Jeremiah 6, 26). The prophet Daniel “turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9, 3). The Maccabees prepared for battle by fasting. They fasted and wore sackcloth; they sprinkled ashes on their heads and tore their clothes (1 Maccabees 3, 47; 4, 39). Other books of the Old Testament like Numbers, Ezekiel and Jonah indicate fasting and penance by wearing of ashes and sackcloth. 

   The Ash Wednesday and Lenten season of this year coincides with the elections. Lent is the period of fasting for Christians. The 40 days of fasting by Jesus (Matthew 4, 1-11; Mark 1, 12-13; Luke 4, 1-13) should call every Christian to the desert of interior life to think again of the need for transformation of self, the family, the Church and the nation. If the heart is divided, that can affect the family and the nation. This is the time for Christians to work for the internal unity of the Christian body above any material gains. If the Church is divided, going further to seek unity and peaceful coexistence with people of other religions would only end in outward ceremonies. Moses spent 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness. This empowered him to repent and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the people for worshiping the Golden calf that was made by the Israelites. 

   The Jews today follow a 40- day period of repentance during the feasts of Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur. In Nigeria, many people have created the golden calf of money and power. Human beings are killed and sacrificed for these idols on a daily basis. This calls for change of individual attitude. If every Nigerian resolves to be a normal human being that is created by God and want to meet the creator on the last day, then the Nation will change from her present tension and fear of annihilation to a brighter hope of abundant life. Let us each transform our interior existence! I believe this will go a long way to bringing about the change we desire not only by singing the music of change. Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return. Repent (change) and believe in God by upholding human dignity.

• Fr. Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City 

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