Dr. (Mrs.) Celine Njoku is a Counseling Psychologist and a Fellow of Counseling Association of Nigeria (FCASSON). In this interview with KELECHI OKOYE, Njoku, who is also a member, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Nigeria (WWME), spoke on the significance of Lent, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day
What is Lent all about?
Lent is a period of almsgiving and reconciliation, first with God, and then with fellow man; that’s neighbours. The word neighbour is not one who lives near you, but your enemies. For you to observe Lent, you must have the mark, which represents humility. For you to stoop so low to allow the Rev. Father place ash on your forehead, is a significance of your humility; it means that you are empty and need filling and the filling is the fasting you do for 40 days. The 40 days is for almsgiving and the re-examination of one’s life; it’s the time to look at the nothingness of man. Catholicism believes in four mysteries; the Joyful Mysteries, followed by Sorrowful Mysteries, because after joy, comes sorrow. People do not like to hear about sorrow, but the truth remains that without sorrow, there won’t be glory. Christ suffered and spent three days in the grave after, which he resurrected, which gives birth to glorious tides from resurrection. After that, we get to the luminous light.
What’s Ash Wednesday all about and how does it relate to Lent?
Ashes as a sign of penitence, were accepted by Christians and are used now primarily as a sacramental on Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent. Derived from burning palms from the previous year, the ashes are blessed and imposed on the faithful on the forehead. This outward popular symbol of private or public sorrow, sadness, or penance, is a proof of humility; the result of human frailty, a remembrance of our mortality that we are made of dust and will return to dust. On Ash Wednesday, the opening day of lent, in keeping with it’s penitential spirit, Catholics observe a day of fasting and abstinence. Ashes are used in two ways in the consecration of a church; they are sprinkled on the floor in the form of a cross and mixed with the Gregorian water sprinkled on the altar in the church during the ceremony.
How did Lent come about and what’s the significance?
As the 40-day period of fasting and prayer that Christians observe in preparation for the celebration of Easter, the Lenten fast may have originated in the fast mandated for the candidates preparing for baptism at Easter and the number 40 may have its origin in the 40-day fast observed by Moses, Elijah and Christ. In the seventh century, the period from Ash Wednesday to the first Sunday of Lent was added to they original six weeks, achieving a total of 40 days. The emphasis of Lent observation is centered on spiritual preparation for the paschal mystery of Easter and broadened the focus to include other forms of penance and increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving – are not ends in themselves but means to prepare the Christian to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. Lent helps to remind Christians of their sinfulness, hence, the need to return to their baptismal innocence. Lent is a penitential season of prayer, starting with Ash Wednesday and continuing until Holy Saturday. All predisposed us to receive more of the grace Christ has earned via his passion and death. Lenten period calls us to deepen the sense of our condition as baptized people. We are guided in this by our baptismal grace that illuminates us by faith and renews us by newness of life. We must be one with the mystical body of Christ. Ultimately, lent is a time of doing.
How is Lent observed?
Lent is observed by abstaining from meat and also by fasting; meat signifies carnality. You can observe it by staying away from those things that you cannot do without; it is a time to torture your flesh through fasting. We are nothing but dust; from dust we came and to dust we shall return. It is a time to do away with things that give you pleasure. Lent is a way of controlling one’s flesh.
Could you also tell us about Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day is a day when couples should express their love and affection for one another by exchanging gifts. It is a day when people should give alms, gift, and reach out to others in the society. Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day is seen as carnal, where adolescents and youths misbehave and do all sorts that shouldn’t be done. St Valentine was a priest and martyr, who fought for the church and particularly for women, by canvassing for one man, one wife, which Apostle Paul championed. He suffered during the reign of Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century. Claudius’s daughter was in love with Valentine and she always sneaked out to go and see him as well as give him food. St Valentine was executed on the 14th of February, which used to be the day a Roman god was celebrated. But the Catholic Church, in a bid to counter that festival and subsequently delete its memory completely, chose it to be St Valentine’s Day, which is a day to celebrate love which he (St Valentine) stood for.
This year, both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will be marked the same day, is there a relationship between the two?
Valentine signifies love and so does Lent. The relationship between the two is that they are about love and giving. You cannot talk about Valentine without mentioning love; also, you cannot talk about Lent without mentioning love. That is it. Love is the reason for both seasons. Love is an affective tendency towards some good that leads to active communication with it. Put in another way, love is the affinity of being with being. Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves. Hence, love is the most universal, the most tremendous, and the most mysterious of the cosmic energies. Ultimately, it is the attraction exercised on earth unit of consciousness by God in the creative process. The aspects of love are love in action, love for God, love for self, and love for neighbours. Religion begins with love. ‘Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as you love yourself.’ Everything will expire but love never gets out of date. Love, therefore, covers all things and all persons in God. So long as there are poor, I’m poor. So long as there are prisons, I’m a prisoner. So long as there are sick, I’m weak. So long as there is hunger, I am famished – Fulton J. Sheen.
How come Ash Wednesady coincided with Valentine’s Day?
Well, people may not like it, but I’ll say it, this year’s lent wasn’t calculated in 2018 or last year; it has been calculated and kept for a very long time. You can know the day that Lent will be for the 2050; they have all been calculated and kept. However, they are calculated by Church Fathers, who don’t come out at all. They stay in an enclosed place with no other job than to calculate all these things; theyare all contained in the church calendar. They do all these things to ensure that the Word of God is not changed.
What’s your advice to the youth at a time like this?
Man is a chooser, who chooses what he wants and refuses what he does not want. Even refusing to choose is still a choice. If children obey their parents because of what they will get from them, then they should talk to themselves and decide on what is the best thing to do. Let’s remember that God is the subject in this case. It is about doing the right thing.