THEME: PERSONAL AND NATIONAL RENEWAL THROUGH OBEDIENCE TO GOD
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, we, the Catholic Bishops of Ghana, wish to use this Lenten Pastoral Letter to call for personal and national renewal as we all work towards a more peaceful and prosperous Ghana beyond 60 years of Independence.
Personal and national renewal cannot be realized without true obedience to God. Providentially, the Gospel reading of the First Sunday of Lent (Mark 1.12-15) serves as a point of departure for a sober reflection on our obedience or disobedience to God. The latter is, invariably, preceded by temptations. In a comparatively brief account, St. Mark, narrates the temptation of Jesus. The place of the temptation and the length of time Jesus spent in the desert are corroborated by St. Matthew and St. Luke in their accounts.
The scene of the temptation according to St. Mark sheds light on the Christian struggle especially during this season of lent. Every Christian is invited to tame within his or her heart the wild beasts of disobedience and to learn through the discipline of fasting, prayer and good works to incline our hearts like the angels to perfect obedience.
In the light of the above, we wish to reiterate and reflect further on a point made in our 2017 Lenten Pastoral Letter which was issued at the beginning of the 60th anniversary of Ghana’s Independence. We mentioned that it is very significant that our national anthem begins with the word “God”. Unless Ghanaians and all other inhabitants of Ghana learn to obey God and actually remain obedient to Him, the realization of our national dream for Ghana @ 100 will be a mirage. The angelic posture of obedience to God, rather than the unruly nature of wild beasts, should characterize all aspects of our personal, familial, socio-cultural, economic, legislative, executive, judicial and religious lives if the dream of a peaceful, prosperous and highly developed Ghana is to be achieved.
In what follows, therefore, we wish to highlight a few instances of obedience and disobedience to God in various aspects of our personal and national lives. It is hoped that we would henceforth desist from acts of disobedience and progressively embrace the life of true obedience to God.
From the very beginning of creation, God designed marriage as the foundation of family life and families as the basic units of society. We obey God when our choices and actions promote and foster marriage and family life in line with the purposes of God. On the other hand, we disobey God when our choices and actions break down marriages, reconstitute marriages as unions other than what God established between a man and a woman, children disobey parents, parents shirk their responsibilities, etc.
Socio-cultural Aspect of Life
Each people or nation has its cherished customs and cultural values; and our beloved country is no exception. Some of these customs and values may be modified or changed with time. The critical questions, however, are: does the original custom or value contradict the will of God? Is the modification or change in line with the will of God or it contradicts it? If we take, for instance, the cultural value of respect for the elderly, this certainly rhymes with the will of God. Therefore, the present trend of disrespect for the elderly is a social change which amounts to a disregard of the will of God.
Economic Aspect of Life
As mentioned on, temptations may lead us to disobey God. One of the temptations which befell our Lord Jesus Christ was to turn “stones into bread”. Happily, the Lord overcame the temptation by remaining obedient to His Father’s will because His actual “food is to do the will of” His Father (John 4:34) and not physical bread.
The temptation to turn “stones into bread” is still with us today. As stones are not the natural raw materials for making bread, so any economic gain or advantage from an unnatural (illegal or illegitimate) source could be referred to as turning stones into bread. In other words, all actions of bribery and corruption amount to turning stones into bread.
Like the Lord Jesus, who overcame the temptation in His forty days of fasting and prayer, and remained forever obedient to His Father, we should use the forty days of Lent to seek the grace of mastery not over the hardness of physical stones or over our hunger for physical bread but rather over the desires of greed, discontentment and the like which lead to bribery and corruption etc.
Another temptation that Jesus experienced was a call to worship the devil (Matt. 4:8). But, once again, He set the records straight: only the Almighty God deserves worship. This temptation also implies any sort of compromise that goes against the will of God. For those who have the duty to make laws for our country, the question is: do internal (local) or external (foreign) pressures tempt them to compromise in the law-making process? How do they act when the voices of their consciences are loud and clear that such compromises contradict the will of God?
When our legislators thus compromise, it is the dreams of the pressure-givers that are likely to be realized and not our collective glorious dream of Ghana @ 100. Our legislators must, therefore, not allow such persons or organizations to set and drive the agenda for the future destiny of our country.
Like the members of the legislature, members of the executive arm of government in Ghana are not immune from internal and external pressures for compromise. On the other hand, the next temptation connotes sensationalism or the lure of the spectacular or achieving vain popularity or fame may be experienced also by the executive. Jesus was tempted by the devil to put His Father to the test by throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple of Jerusalem and expect angels to hold Him up (Matt. 4:5-6). Once again, Jesus overcame the temptation by putting the will of His Father first, instead of putting God to the test.
Just imagine Jesus descending from the pinnacle of the temple and being surrounded by the majestic wings of angels in full view of the thousands in Jerusalem; if this had happened surely the saving mission of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection would have been thwarted.
Similarly, sensationalism or the lure of being spectacular or achieving vain popularity or fame by the managers of the affairs of the nation only leads to short-sighted decision-making often to satisfy apparent short-term needs which actually do not feed into achieving the long-term dream of Ghana @ 100. Members of the executive and legislature of our nation should therefore learn from Jesus and act only in accordance with the will of God.
Members of the judiciary, like the legislators and executive, are also not immune from the temptations of turning “stones into bread”, of compromising and of vain glory. In recent times, unfortunately, instead of choosing the path which portrays obedience to God, some have succumbed to one or more of the above-mentioned temptations. Our nation can make good progress only if, while the other two arms of government are complying with the will of God, members of the judiciary also do same. We, therefore, urge them as well as the members of the legislature and executive to emulate the excellent example of Jesus Christ in the face of temptations. In a word, the guiding principle of all should be always God, and by implication, His will for Ghana must be first.
Are religious leaders exempt from the three temptations mentioned above? Not at all! Unfortunately, many religious leaders have fallen prey to the temptations of turning “stones into bread”, sensationalism or vain glory and compromising in matters of faith and morals.
For instance, on the Christian scene in Ghana, Christian leaders are turning “stones into bread” by demanding “consultation fees” and selling so-called “anointing oil and water”, etc. Is this in line with the will of God? We certainly doubt that it is.
With regard to sensationalism, some pastors or evangelists or prophets “stage manage” miracles. We urge all those involved in such acts to seek true spiritual renewal. For, by their present actions, they are leading too many people astray.
This is clearly in contradiction to Christ’s mission of gathering together the scattered children of God and not losing anyone whom the Father had entrusted to Him.
As regards compromises by Christian leaders, may it suffice to mention the following: some married Christian leaders have divorced, some have allegedly obtained “miraculous” powers through unchristian means and others sometimes interpret the Bible in ways that contradict fundamental Christian beliefs. We urge, our fellow Christian leaders as well as ourselves to strictly follow the example of Christ who never compromised.
Indeed, it is very sad to note that because of the failure of many Christian leaders to overcome the trio of temptations, the “brand” of Christianity being paraded today in Ghana promotes all kinds of vices. Certainly, this trend, if it does not change soon, will make the dream of Ghana @ 100 a mere mirage even if the three arms of government play their part very well.
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord your God.” (cf. Joel 2:12-13a). Dear beloved, as the Prophet Joel states, we appeal to all and sundry to use these forty days of Lent for personal and national renewal. We have underlined the fact that fundamental to this renewal is obedience to God.
We, therefore, pray that most (if not all) Ghanaians will embrace the call to obedience to God, so that our nation will steadily develop in the course of years and decades, and that those who live to see Ghana @ 100 will become great “exporters” of the unique Ghanaian product of “obedience to God is key to national excellence”.
Have a spirit-filled Lenten season.
Most. Rev. Philip Naameh
Metropolitan Archbishop of Tamale &
President, Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference.