In life, each and every one believes in change if not all. Given the situation in which the world is now, everyone hopes for a positive change. Before the beginning of the Lenten season this year, we were already in the midst of this pandemic and no one knew it was going to claim millions of lives. We have celebrated the main pillar of our faith, the Resurrection which is the miracle of miracles living in uncertainty about when a solution to this problem will found for people to be relieved. It prompts some of us to ask: God Why? Why celebrate Easter in the midst of all this?
There are many reasons not just to celebrate but to rely on Him, for we can no longer rely only on science or personal effort. He will obviously bring a solution to this problem at his own appointed time, not ours.
The dictionary defines change as, “to make a material difference so that the thing in question is distinctly different from what it was” (www.dictionary.com). The foremost philosopher, Heraclitus of Ephesus had a different view of what change is that which,” Everything is constantly shifting, changing, and becoming something other than what it was before.” Heraclitus brings to light our familiarity with the biological principle of generation and corruption. He reflected on this principle about two thousand five hundred years ago before the birth of biological sciences and from there brought out the ultimate lesson of human condition. In this paper, I wish to bring out meanings in each letter of the word change and how we as Christians can bring about positive change in our society or the various communities in which we live and work.
The first letter “C” stands for Community.
Even Jesus knew what community life was. His definition of what a community is might be different from ours. For ‘where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them’ (Mt: 18:20). From this, it is clear that we all live in different communities united in Christ. In the formation set-up, which is mine, we find a larger community where we are to support one another in one way or the other. The question is, how do I bring change in any community where I find myself?
Change begins with oneself and unless we change ourselves no positive change can come. It must not necessarily be a big change. In the formation houses of Bamenda and Nairobi, there is a scripture passage inscribed on the wall from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I have been asking myself how often do we bring our burdens to Him? It is possible that when we are in church or chapel we think of different things and bother less of bringing our own burdens to Him. For how can we carry the burdens of others if we are not ready to release the ones we carry? It is possible to carry them along because of the addiction of routine. Maybe we go to church every day and because we know the main celebrant and what he is going to preach the impact is minimal. There will be no change to ourselves if we stick to this addiction of routine. Consequently, no change will take place unless we humble ourselves before Jesus by bringing our burdens to Him before those of others. Only then will we be able to make a change in the community where we reside. Making a single soul smile is worth the effort, change does not necessarily involve big things. Our Patron Saint St. Joseph and our founder Herbert Vaughan with other Saints brought about a lot of change through humility, so let’s adopt their examples to make a change in our community(s).
The second letter stands for Humility.
“The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance” (www.dictionary.com).
I came across two fellows who were arguing to know who is humble or living a life of simplicity: someone who dresses in smart clothes and flashy shoes or one who dresses in simple hand-me-downs. Clearly both of them missed the point. These are outward appearances but humility or simplicity comes from the heart, being the real you. For what good does it do a man to dress in flashy shoes but the account is growing daily? Or what does it profit someone to dress in smart suits daily yet the poor are dying of hunger? I think this is what these two fellows had in mind. Humility is more than this.
Saint Joseph accepted to be the foster father of Jesus without constraints, he did not ague – something which can be rare in our contemporary world. Herbert Vaughan admired his example and emulated and brought change to which we are all witnesses. Do I put on flashy shoes because I am humble or just to portray a different image of who I am? We live in communities where this is very common. In order to bring change, we must accept our real selves, move out of our comfort zones, false selves and put into practice what we preach. If we bring ourselves lower to the level of those we minister to, only then shall we bring positive change to society. Just like one of the intercessory prayers in the breviary says: “Acceptance brings hope” Christ is our complete hope on whom we rely for change.
Thirdly, the letter A, stands for Acceptance.
It is the ability to receive or recognise something. It can be recognising who we are through others or by our own self-reflection. At times it can be very difficult for some of us to accept our weaknesses especially when this is pointed out by another person. You will agree with me that it is difficult for some of our members/students to accept their weaknesses when pointed out by a fellow member let alone by a parishioner. Most of it centres around power management or power struggle. How can one bring positive change if one cannot accept failure in power management or weakness in a particular thing? This can be termed resistance or what some of my brothers call a “defence mechanism” which is eating some of us even in the formation set-up. Refusing to accept our weaknesses is like refusing to accept or bring about positive change. We might be facing these problems today because of such people who always think they are right. In the end these people devalue humans and our mother nature.
The fourth letter N stands for Nature.
Heraclitus concluded that “nature is change”. Like a river, nature flows ever onwards. Even the nature of the flow changes.
Pope Francis, out of concern to preserve nature wrote the Encyclical Letter LAUDATO SI. We all have a task to protect nature. The Pope has done his part, what now is my contribution towards the preservation and care of nature? Yes, we are still living in a society where consumerism, global warming, environmental degradation, irresponsible development – as pointed out by Pope Francis in the Encyclical – is still a constant threat to us. It is a challenging mission to tackle this issue. I was just thinking how one can go to the slum of Kibera here in Nairobi to preach or educate to those living there about care for the environment. It is difficult but possible. Providing a pit or digging toilets means more to them, identifying with them in their living conditions. Most of our missionaries have done a lot of tree planting. This is one of the things I learned from my supervisor and am hoping to put in practise. Our contemporary world today does not believe on mere words any longer, they prefer examples. Let us preach by example, with examples, change can easily be realised.
The fifth letter is G, stands for Generosity.
In most situations, it deals with kindness in giving the little we have with love which can be termed as virtue. Some of us if not all have worked in areas where some Christians or people of goodwill are unable to have two meals a day. What happens when we visit such people? They are willing to give the little they have in order to show their sign of generosity to us. For us, we are very sure of our daily meals which is as a result of people’s generosity to us. We turn to abuse it at times with our complaints meanwhile there are others doing without. At times we abuse it by thinking it is our full right to have what has been given to us out of generosity instead of learning how to be generous to others. I’m reminded of the saying: to give without counting the cost. This means accepting a lot of sacrifice to give without counting how much you have given. It was out of generosity that the Israelites in Exodus 35 were able to build the tabernacle of the Lord. The same is expected of you and me today. Saint Paul reminds us in the second letter to the Corinthians 9:6-8 that when we sow sparingly so shall reap sparingly and if we sow generously, so shall we reap generously. How do I sow? By example?
Lastly, the letter E stands for Example.
Being of a good character or being practical is an example. Our generation today does not believe in homilies anymore, they prefer seeing the preacher practising what he preaches. Our younger generation today are no longer patient to listen to the advice given to them by teachers and even parents. You may well ask, what kind of generation is this? Saint Peter, the rock upon which the Church of Christ was built must have known that such will prevail. In the first letter of Peter 5:1-5, he exhorts leaders to be examples to the flock and the young to accept the authority of the elders by clothing themselves in humility in their dealings to one another. This is the example we are to emulate in our society today. We are to imitate the faith of our leaders who spoke the word of God to us by example as stated in Hebrew 13:7. The patron saint of our society St. Joseph and Herbert Vaughan are our fathers in faith whose example we are following.
Finally, as mentioned above following the different meanings found in the word change, we see how necessary it is especially in this time of uncertainty. It is applicable not only during this period of pandemic but also in the different areas of apostolate and not leaving out our own personal lives. What then is my contribution towards positive change? Do I end up criticising without making any step to change the situation for the benefit of others and why not the world? Why should I keep gossiping about others which is a weapon of destruction instead of constructing? Let’s put our individuality, selfish interest away and work together towards positive change. Together as one, a big positive change can be made.
Ndifor Collins, Mill Hill Student, Nairobi Formation Centre.