My dear People of God,
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Holy One, the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us! We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (see John 1:14)! Jesus Christ has invited us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (see Matthew 5:48). That means that we should be holy.
Our God is holy. Our relationship with God requires that we also be holy: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: 'Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy'" (Leviticus 19:1-2). St. Peter said the same thing to Christians: "But just as he who called you is holy so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy'" (1 Peter 1:15). Similarly, St. Paul wants all Christians to be holy: "It is God's will that you should be sanctified" (1 Thessalonians 4:3; that is, it is God's will that we should be holy). That is why I join in calling on all of us, the People of God, to be holy.
Holiness of life should be the primary objective of all Christians, followers of Jesus Christ. It is life that corresponds to the life of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life (see John 14:6). It is the life that will surely bring the person to eternal life. We are aware that God who created us wanted and still wants us to be like him. We were created in the image and likeness of God: "Then God said, 'And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us...' So God created human beings, making them to be like himself " (Genesis 1:26, 27). The Church rightly teaches that God created us to know him, to love him and to worship him in this life so that we can be with him in eternal life in the world to come. In the story in the Book of Genesis, God placed man in the Garden of Eden, a very beautiful, comfortable and precious garden that was connected with Paradise which is the name for heaven (see Genesis 2:8-15; Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:3).
It is sad that human beings, tempted by the Serpent representing Satan, fell from the mind of God for them. They disobeyed God in seeking to get what the Serpent promised them: "to be like God and know what is good and what is bad" (Genesis 3:5). The woman was deceived by the attractiveness of the fruit of the tree which God told them not to eat lest they would die and she ate it and gave it to her husband to eat. Having disobeyed God, they found that they were naked (see Genesis 3:1-7). This original Fall of human beings created the situation of sinfulness and evil as against the holiness required of human beings. The results were terrible for humanity: human beings lost the pleasure and peace provided for them by God; they were sent out of the Garden of Eden and evil began to reign in the world (see Genesis 3:14-24). The reign of evil led to Cain killing his brother Abel (see Genesis 4). God was very displeased with the change of human beings from being holy like him to being disobedient and evil: "When the Lord saw how wicked everyone on earth was and how evil their thoughts were all the time, he was sorry that he had ever made them and put them on the earth" (Genesis 6:5-6). This was the sad situation of humanity. Human beings lost the peace, joy and goodness provided for them by God as they were deceived into seeking what was seen as good and evil! Evil took over the world. That is why St. John wrote: "Do not love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you do not love the Father. Everything that belongs to the world - what the sinful self desires, what people see and want, and everything in this world that people are so proud of - none of this comes from the Father; it all comes from the world" (1 John 2:15-16). Worldliness is the source of sinfulness and the enemy of holiness.
As Christians, we are human beings who have been reborn to follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God and true God and true man. He became a human being in order to transform human beings into children of God and thereby restore human beings to their original status as human beings in the image and likeness of God. That is why Jesus Christ told Nichodemus: "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again ... no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit" (John 3:3, 5-6). Ordinary human beings born by their human parents come into the world with original sin, the stigma of the sin of Adam and Eve. Such persons are prone to sinfulness and evil. People who are born again by Baptism are new creatures expected to live a new life of holiness: "By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life" (Romans 6:4). The new life is certainly expected to be life of holiness. St. Paul brings this out in what he wrote to the Corinthians: "Surely you know that the wicked will not possess the Kingdom of God. Do not fool yourselves; people who are immoral or who worship idols or are adulterers or homosexual perverts or who steal or are greedy or are drunkards or who slander others or are thieves - none of these will possess God's Kingdom. Some of you were like that. But you have been purified from sin; you have been dedicated to God; you have been put right with God by the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The sacrament of baptism cleanses us of sins and sinfulness and disposes us to live and act as our holy God.
That means that as baptised people we are no longer to be subjects and followers of Satan but we are rather incorporated into Christ and therefore imitators and followers of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1-2). Christians are to avoid following Satan as people were revealed to be doing in the Book of Revelation: people following and worshipping the beasts. The beast "forced the earth and all who live on it to worship the first beast whose wound had healed. The second beast performed great miracles; it made fire come down out of heaven to earth in the sight of everyone. And it deceived all the people living on earth by means of the miracles which it was allowed to do in the presence of the first beast" (Revelation 13:13-14). The beasts are devils that deceive and influence human beings leading them to sin and evil. Unfortunately some baptised people still follow Satan even though at Baptism they renounced Satan, its work and its pomps. People who are supposed to be Christians still mess themselves up with their worship of idols and false gods. Such Christians use such false gods to look for their material desires. Some go to idols and false gods to seek for wealth, health, life, property. Some swear and force others to swear and take oaths before idols and false gods. True Christians should never have anything to do with the devil and its agents.
In the same way, true Christans should avoid all the evils that come from the evil one. People who live according to human nature are prone to evil behaviour which St. Paul pointed out: "It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups; they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these" (Galatians 5:19-21). Christians who behave that way are Christians in name but not in fact. That is why one wonders at the evils and corruption associated with some "Christians." If you are a sincere Christian avoid the evils that come from the devil and are prevailing in the world. That is why St. Paul urged Christians not to conform themselves to the standards of this world, "but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God - what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect" (Romans 12:2).
God has sanctified us by our baptism. We are therefore expected to be led by the Holy Spirit for us to be holy. The Holy Spirit gives us gifts that sanctify us but some people are only attracted to gifts of the Spirit that give them external popularity and entertainment - prophecy, miracles, speaking in tongues and other powerful actions. While these gifts called charisms are useful for those who are genuinely with the charisms and who use the charisms for the common good, for the building up of the Church and in an orderly manner, some claim to have these gifts but they do not have them from the Holy Spirit. Rather some get their power from evil spirits, from gods and goddesses, from magicians and sorcerers. Christians must be prudent and careful to ensure that they do not allow themselves to be deceived by false prophets and false Christs (see Matthew 24:24-25). Genuine Christians should focus their minds on the power of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies people.
The fruits of the Spirit which manifest holiness of life are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). My sisters and brothers, listen to St. Paul: "You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions and greed ... You are the people of God, he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (Colossians 3:5, 12). This is the way to be holy. Let me follow St. Paul in praying for you, asking "God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your life will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:9-10). May God give you the grace of holiness!
Most Rev. Hilary Paul Odili Okeke
Bishop of Nnewi