Conscience, Family and Faith: the Task of the Christian Community
Conscience, Family and Faith: the Task of the Christian Community
A Paper Presented by +Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, Bishop of Umuahia, on 7th November, 2013 at the Third Enugu Diocesan Synod Holding at St. Bernard Seminary Hostel Emene Nchatancha.
I feel highly honoured to address you at your Third Diocesan Synod. For this reason, I wish to thank Most Rev. Callistus Onaga, Bishop of Enugu, and the Preparatory Committee of this momentous event chaired by Msgr. Obiora ike for graciously inviting me to be part of this Synod and to reflect with you on the topic: Conscience, Family and Faith: the Task of the Christian Community.
In this reflection the task of the Christian Community will be understood as evangelisation. Evangelisation is the task entrusted to the Church at the point of Christ’s departure from this world to return to his Father. His instruction to the Apostles was: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you...” (Matt 28: 19 -
Evangelisation has two distinct and inseparable components. The first is the announcement of the Gospel of salvation and invitation of people into a relationship with Christ through a life of witness. In the light of, and as a consequence of that announcement, is the second component: infusing the temporal order with the value of the Gospel. This entails the development and improvement of human society on earth.
As background to discussing evangelisation in our time, this paper shall first of all cast a cursory glance at some of the opportunities we have in spreading the faith today as well as our challenges and concerns. Secondly, in reflecting over evangelisation as announcing and witnessing to the gospel, it will attend to the formation of conscience and the pastoral care of the Family. Thirdly, in dealing with evangelisation as infusing the temporal order with gospel values, our reflection with centre on the new evangelisation.
2. Opportunities and Challenges to the Work of Evangelisation in Our Time
In every age, the Church faces unique opportunities and challenges as it proclaims the Good News. Today is no exception. A highlight of some of the opportunities and challenges we see in our age might be helpful. For this is the context in which faith formation takes place.
2.1.1 Widespread Spiritual Hunger
We live in a vast world that offers us a rich experience of how the faith is lived, expressed, and celebrated in our own time. We see in this society a widespread spiritual hunger. Today in many communities, people are attracted by fellowships. They are ready to gather in groups to study the Scriptures and talk about the importance of Christ in their lives. They seek out these opportunities wherever they can find them, whether in their own parishes, in pious associations, in small basic communities or with people of other Christian traditions.
2.1.2 Wide and Speedy Outreach Through the Means of Social Communication
The world is being reshaped by technology. Not only are the means of social communication transforming the way we live and work, they enable many adults to pursue lifelong learning to keep pace with the rapidly changing world. Communication technology has also made the world smaller through e-
2.1.3 Existence of Vibrant Lay Organisations
Vatican II Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam actuositatem) and Blessed John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation on the Laity (Christifideles Laici) ushered in a period of new vitality for the Church in which the laity are ever made conscious of their vital role in the evangelisation and transformation of the temporal world. This envisions vibrant lay men and women that are living witnesses to Christ: well-
2.1.4 Ample Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life
Dioceses in our country are flourishing with increasing number of priests and religious. Our formation houses are bursting at the seams with many candidates for the priesthood and religious life. Every year we have many ordinations to the priesthood as well as professions into the religious life. We have an array of well educated priests and religious, who have been properly equipped for the work of evangelisation. Many others are studying in institutions of higher learning in the country and abroad. We are now able to share our blessings in vocations with other Churches by sending missionaries to different parts of Africa, Europe, America and Oceania.
2.1.5 Available Rich Resource Materials
Finally, the gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church are indispensable resources in our time for helping the faithful become stronger in their relationship with God and grow in their knowledge of the faith and their responsibility in the society. They lend themselves for regular use by the clergy in their preaching and teaching; by Consecrated persons, catechists and religious instructors in faith formation, especially of adults; and by adults themselves in personal and family study and prayer.
2.2 Challenges and Concerns
Alongside the opportunities we have today for evangelisation, the Church also faces many concerns and challenges. These include: secularism, materialism, consumerism, ethical relativism, religious indifference, religious fundamentalism and bigotry as well as the resurgence of neo-
2.2.2 The Culture of Death and the Assault on Human Dignity and Rights
The dignity and rights of the human person as well as the sanctity of human life are threatened through the acceptance of artificial contraception, sterilization, abortion, violence of all kinds (armed robbery, kidnapping, child and women trafficking, child factory, etc), ethnocentrism, discrimination against women, threats to the environment and the separation of personal integrity from public life. There is widespread ignorance or indifference to the Church's moral and social teaching.
2.2.3 Threats to the Family in Our Age
Families experience great stress and distress on account of unemployment, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, childlessness, search for a male issue, the interference of in-
Many Catholics seem "lukewarm" in faith (cf. Rev 3:14ff.) or have a limited understanding of what the Church believes, teaches, and lives. For a variety of reasons, people leave the Church. They may seek out or be recruited into non-
2.2.5. False Prophets and Seeds of Discord in Families
The situation has been compounded by the emergence of many charlatans, “miracle hawkers” and preachers of the prosperity gospel, masquerading as modern day prophets and prophetesses. Goaded by greed for sordid money, these fake and self-
2.2.6 Some Catholic Clergy Imitating Pentecostal Pastors
On account of the identity crisis surrounding the priesthood today, some priests try to imitate these self-
We also acknowledge that, together with successes, some of our faith-
3. Evangelisation as Announcing and Witnessing to the Gospel
3.1 Evangelisation Through Oral Transmission
Proclamation of the gospel takes place through oral transmission of the Good News (preaching, catechesis, bible study, etc) and through witness of life i.e. imitating the life of Christ and in this way teaching others to do so. Proclamation aims at teaching the faith in Jesus Christ and bringing people to conversion of heart so that they will be saved.
The Church can only evangelise effectively to the extent that it continually seeks to deepen and advance its own understanding and living out of the Gospel. This is to say that the first task of the Church is to evangelise herself. She needs to evangelise herself through constant conversion and renewal in order to evangelise the world with credibility. In this regard Blessed John Paul II points out:
The Church in Africa, in order to evangelise, must begin by being evangelised herself... She needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reason for hoping, to the new commandment of love.
From the earliest days of missionary activity in our land till the end of the civil war in 1970, we relied heavily on the schools for the transmission of the faith. Most conversions were made through the schools. With the take over of schools by the state government, religious education was relegated to the background. Schools gradually lost their religious character. Side by side with religious education in schools was the teaching of the faith in parishes. What went on there, as it is the case even till today, was largely the preparation for one sacrament or the other. The reception of the sacrament of confirmation marked the end of religious education. Catholics so poorly formed in religious education are ill-
Accordingly, our Catholics today need a “catechumenate” that embraces the developing child from infancy to adulthood – one that prepares him/her to know the faith and live it, and to be able to give “the reasons” for it. In particular young Catholics in school need the Church’s help to explore the faith dimension of the things they are learning about: faith and science, creation and evolution, human sexuality, the history of the world and religion’s place in it, the role of conscience and the ethics of the social order. They need too an “apologetics” that will prepare them to be able to “give a defence [or explanation] for your hope” (cf. 1 Peter 3,15), especially in today’s world, both to modern atheists, agnostics and aggressive fundamentalists. It is during this period that their experience of faith in action – faith lived in charity – as an essential part of their Christian life can develop a lasting imprint.
Now that government has returned schools it took over about forty years ago, there is need to give much attention to the religious and moral formation of young people in Catholic schools. Such a formation should be properly designed to help strengthen their faith and equip them to respond to questions that arise from their studies and those they encounter. Adequate provision should also be made for such a religious formation of Catholic students in non-
There is need for religious education to be a life-
There are lapsed Catholics who for one reason or the other are no longer fervent in their practice of the faith or who have even left the Church. There are the lost sheep (cf. Lk 15:4-
If the clergy and other pastoral personnel give a pride of place in their hearts to evangelisation and work in the vineyard with utmost commitment, diligence and singleness of purpose, the Church in our land will reap abundant harvest in her mission of saving souls and transforming the society. Our early Irish missionaries, who sacrificed the comforts of their home country to embrace a life of toil and hardship among our people in order to save souls, left shinning examples of Pastors who laid down their lives for their flock in the footsteps of Christ, the Good Shepherd. They remain at once a model and a challenge to us to embrace the ministry with more generosity of heart and less self-
3. 2 Evangelisation Through Witness of Life
3.2.1 Bearing Authentic Witness
In seeking to bring the Good News to those yet to receive it, it is important that Christians not only proclaim it by word of mouth, they are also to bear authentic witness to the Gospel. The value of witness cannot be overemphasised as it may well be the first “Gospel” that non-
Each Catholic – clergy, religious and laity – should witness to the gospel in whatever theatre of life he/she operates whether in the parish, religious house, family or public arena in one’s professional life, in business as well as in our cultural and political life. A Catholic should be a shining example in word and deed worthy of emulation. His/her actions and utterances should make people say: “no wonder, he/she is a Catholic” rather than “I wonder if he/she is a Catholic”.
3.2.2 Forestalling Counter-
Just as witness of life promotes the cause of the gospel, counter-
i. Lack of faith, expressed in idol worship, going to pagan shrines to settle disputes; superstitious beliefs and syncretistic practices, flirting from one Church to another in search for material wellbeing;
ii. Living contrary to the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and birth regulation through embracing extra marital relationship, artificial contraceptives -
iii. Involvement in fraudulent and corrupt practices such as obtaining by tricks popularly known as OBT/419, examination malpractice, electoral malpractice, aiding and abetting rigging of elections; over-
Many Catholics perform such acts of counter-
The formation of conscience is a lifelong task and becomes increasingly challenging as the world grows more and more complex each day. Each adult has the duty to ensure that he/she has a well-
It is the responsibility of parents, individuals, pastors and religious instructors to form upright conscience based on God’s law. The Council Fathers of Vatican II had in mind the understanding of conscience as an awareness of the law of God written in the human heart (Rom. 2:14-
Moreover, pastors, religious instructors and parents, knowing that the will of God on moral matters is expressed by the Church, will try to learn, accept, and live the teachings of the Church’s Magisterium. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught: "[I]n forming their conscience the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth". Accordingly, those who help to form the consciences of others will need to insure that their own knowledge of what the Church teaches on moral issues is both adequate and accurate.
Following the moral teachings of the Church, having recourse to prayer, regular examination of conscience and frequent resort to the Sacrament of Reconciliation are helpful guides for an individual on the path of the formation of conscience and in the discernment of the will of God in the face of many possible choices in a fast changing world.
3.2.3 Evangelisation Through the Family
The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. It is where we form our first ideas about life, love, God and His Church. For this reason the family home is rightly called the “domestic Church, a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity. The Christian home is where children will either experience the sacred presence of God as either personal and intimate or experience God as impersonal and indifferent. Parents are the primary educators of their children in the Catholic faith. By watching and imitating their parents, children learn how to love and be loved, to listen and respond, to belong, to forgive, to pray, to reach out and to serve. When these are lacking in the home, they will be lacking in our children, Church and society.
Given the great and ever new challenges facing the family in our time, the ongoing pastoral intervention of the Church in support of the family is an urgent task and an issue to be given pastoral priority. Canon law demands that pastors see to it that their church communities support and assist married couples with instruction about the meaning of marriage and parenthood, with personal preparation for entering into marriage and with ongoing help (namely, pastoral care after marriage) as they live their married life.
In this grave matter Episcopal Conferences or Dioceses are required to take appropriate steps to issue a Directory for Pastoral Care of the Family. As Blessed John Paul II points out: “In this they should lay down, in the first place, the minimum content, duration and method of the “Preparation Courses”, balancing the different aspects – doctrinal, pedagogical, legal and medical – concerning marriage, and structuring them in such a way that those preparing for marriage will not only receive an intellectual training but will feel a desire to enter actively into the ecclesial community”.
It would also be useful to form associations of families in parishes for a closer pastoral care and to enable families attend to the problems that face them with a unity of purpose and action, and in the spirit of solidarity. Such associations would be privileged places for evolving relevant and useful Christian family codes (See a sample of a Catholic Family Code in the Appendix).
In addition, the family apostolate should give special attention to particular groups that are in need of assistance such as families of members of the armed forces, families of those in prison, of refugees who have no homes, unwedded couples, divorced and remarried couples, single parent families, families with children that are handicapped or addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Those who engage in the family apostolate should have relevant training and competence, and should devote personal interest, care, and time to it.
We need to stress that the future of the Church and society lies with the future of the family. Therefore, in the family apostolate we have to show special care and love for the family. In the words of Blessed John Paul II: “Loving the family means being able to appreciate its values and capabilities, fostering them always. Loving the family means identifying the dangers and the evils that menace it, in order to overcome them. Loving the family means endeavouring to create for it an environment favourable for its development”.
4. Evangelisation of the Temporal World
Blessed John Paul II said we need an evangelisation that is “new in its ardour, new in its methods and new in its expression. New Evangelisation is therefore about every Christian deepening his or her own faith, hope and love and becoming more fired up with new ardour, a real love for Christ and his Church. Filled with such enthusiasm and personal-
4.1 Evangelisation and Culture
An important dimension of evangelisation today is the conviction that not only individuals but also cultures should be brought under the influence of the Gospel. While individuals create cultures, culture shapes the individual. Persons acquire their values largely by absorbing them from the various cultures in which they live. To transform the values of a community, evangelisation must address the cultures that so powerfully form us. In fact the Gospel, and likewise the Church can only be said to be at home in a community when it has taken root in the culture of the said community. A faith that does not penetrate the fabric of a given culture is one that has not been fully received and lived out.
In the light of the Gospel, the Church must purify culture, appropriate its positive values and reject its negative elements. Ndi Igbo are applauded for their deep sense of religiosity, a sense of the sacred and the existence of God who plays a role in their lives. Among Ndi Igbo, the family is considered as fundamental. With their sense of family and respect for life, Ndi Igbo love children and welcome them as gifts from God. For them life is respected from conception till natural death; abortion is considered an abomination. Elderly parents are cherished in the family. Ndi Igbo have a deep sense of solidarity in the extended family system.
On the other hand, our people can be faulted for their excessive materialism, endless chase of money, love of titles, nepotism, Osu/Ume caste system and disregard for the dignity and right of women. Seeing both the ideals and faults, we need to recognise how much our faith can benefit from our culture and how much still our culture needs purification from the light of the Gospel.
4.2 Evangelisation and the Economy
Another sector that calls for the Church’s evangelising activity is the economy. It is obvious that poverty is becoming more widespread in our country. We live at a time when the nation’s population is clustering at the extremes of the economic spectrum: the gap between those who have and those who have not is widening. According to the World Bank 2010 Report, 80% of the revenues accruing from the nation’s oil wealth benefit only 1% of the population as a result of corruption. Poverty in all its dimension insults human dignity and is contrary to the will of God. When the Church works for the alleviation of poverty by combating the inequalities and unjust structure, it is to actualise the love of God for every human being who in His divine providence intends that his creatures have an equitable share in the goods of the earth.
4.3 Evangelisation and the Media
We are living at a time when we marvel at the rapid advancement of science and technology, especially in the media world. We are aware that the media have become a powerful means in the modern world for good and evil. They can change our customs and basic beliefs, including our moral and religious beliefs. They have often been used to present religion as a platform for seeking material prosperity and immediate gratification. The media constitute a culture and civilisation with its own language and its own values and counter values. Like any culture the mass media need to be evangelised. Christians as messengers of the Gospel must enter this new world, understand it and learn to use it well to propagate what is good, true and beautiful.
4.4 Evangelisation and the Sector of Civil and Political Life
At the dawn of Independence in 1960, many of our compatriots thought that self-
Thanks to God that the country has been returned to civil rule. One would think that this offers Nigerians the opportunity to relish the blessings of the rich natural resources God has endowed on them. Unfortunately, the nation remains ill at ease with itself. The growing culture of selfishness, greed and graft among its citizens has not lifted us up as the elites see their involvement in politics as an opportunity for manipulating oil wealth; amassing of ill-
In this sector, the Gospel has to be transmitted in the following endeavours: fostering peace through human development, justice and reconciliation; promotion of good governance; upholding and defending the rights of the people, especially the poor, marginalised and voiceless as well as the vulnerable namely women, children and minorities etc.
Let me end by underscoring that evangelisation in our time must convincingly sustain her efforts at uniting all Christians in a common witness to the world of the prophetic and transforming power of the Gospel message. Justice, peace-
Catholic Family Code
i. Pray together, especially the rosary, at least once a day.
ii. Eat together in one place at least once a day. Dipping from the same pot encourages a communion of love.
iii. Go to Church together every Sunday and receive the sacraments regularly with your family members.
iv. Have a family get together at least once a month. Discussions should include religious topics. Bible study and learning of Catechism along with topics of current affairs.
v. Let every member of the family be involved in the family chores according to age and other involvements. If you have house helps you must still get your children to carry out their expected tasks in the house.
vi. Sponsor worthwhile concepts like dignity of labour, fair judgment, justice, respect for age and life, personal responsibility and collective responsibility.
vii. Sponsor all aspects of life that promotes the basic virtues of prudence, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, piety, religion, honesty, etc.
viii. Model the family on the Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph founded on humility, poverty, work and detachment from worldly pleasures and treasures.
ix. Mete out appropriate punishment or praise when is deserved without fear or favour.
x. Provide a library in your home for Catholic literature, Bible, magazines, video cassettes, newspapers etc.
xi. Display in prominent places holy pictures, images, crucifix so as to remind members of your family of the lives of Christ and the Saints.
xii. Encourage the use of Igbo proverbs, idioms and folklores as a means of giving moral instructions to your children.
xiii. Give the children sexuality education at the appropriate age on the purpose of sex, chastity as a virtue, virginity, venereal diseases, AIDS, divorce etc.
xiv. Imbibe in the family members the defence of the family name, dignity and honour by good behaviour and achievement.
xv. Guide and encourage your children to join the appropriate societies at the appropriate age.
xvi. Imbibe in your children a broad physical, mental and religious education that is founded on strong moral upbringing and if necessary in Catholic institution.
xvii. Watch the company that the children keep and the effect of these societies or persons on the good behaviour of the children. Ensure that they do not join secret or dubious societies.
xviii. Encourage the children to adopt vocations to the religious life through exposure and helping them to live pious lives.
xix. Make friends of your children so that they will grow up to confide in the parents all through their lives.
xx. Ensure that your children watch good video cassettes and films in place of morally objectionable ones.