By Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
Today, in some parts of the world, many people go to bed with one eye closed. For instance, no one can predict in the northern part of Nigeria when the terrorists and the herdsmen would kill those who are sleeping at night. In the south, no one can predict, when he or she would be kidnapped for a ransom. So the fear of terrorists, kidnappers and armed robbers has become the beginning of wisdom. The most popular word in the vocabulary of many nations today is “security”. This is not protection against wild animals, natural disasters and accidents but protection of human beings against fellow human beings. A national daily, on Wednesday March 26, 2014, reported (front page) that “1,000 die, 250,000 displaced by insurgency in three months. 47 feared killed in Nasarawa, Benue, Borno”. Now, University graduates are dying in the process of seeking for jobs. In all these, “dialogue” has become another popular word in our vocabulary. I pray that the National dialogue will be frank and sincere in addressing our common concerns to such a level that no delegate in the National Conference would sleep in session.
The western part of Nigeria has just advanced in cultic activitywhere innocent human beings are used for rituals. Jill Reilly posted on the internet on March 24, 2014 that rotting bodies and skeletons have been found inside an abandoned building (House of Horror) in the city of Ibadan. Olabisi Ilobanafor, a Police serving in Oyo State reported that when they got to the abandoned building in the Soka community of Ibadan, they saw decomposed corpses, skeletons and skulls in the building and surrounding bushes. Some seven malnourished human beings looking like skeletons were also rescued in the bushes surrounding the building. Local media have also reported cases of human body parts being sold across the country, especially in the south western region, for ritual purposes. In Lagos, corpses are often found by the roadside with some of their vital parts missing, especially eyes and genitals.
Now that no one is safe anywhere in the world what do we do? What theology do we propose to the living that still has, at least, some minutes to prepare knowing not when, where and how soon the human agents of death would visit? Perhaps, we could first reflect on the many ways wise people have suggested that we prepare for death which is the last debt every person must pay. Most prominent in this teaching is “the Sacrament of the moment by living “one day at a time”. The musician Christy Lane captured this in her prayer/song: “Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus and tomorrow may never be mine. Lord, help me today and show me the way one day at a time”. Some Christians, Jews and Muslims use the Rosary, Mala or Tasbih to keep the memory of the divine mystery to purify the mind from getting too attached to physical and material realities. This prayer of the Rosary for the Catholic is a repetition of the “Our Father, Hail Mary, etc” while meditating on the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the Rosary, the assumption and coronation of Mary, the mother of Jesus are contemplated as the joy that is derived in heaven after a fulfilled life on earth.
Some religions teach that one of the surest ways to die well is the art of unconditional forgiveness. This does not mean that we should accept deliberate evil intentions and actions. The logic of forgiveness flows from the fact that God has enough energy and power to punish those who trespass against us by denying us the right to life and human dignity. In Sanskrit religion, ahimsa, the principle of “Do No Harm” is one way of preparing for a happy death. Ahimsa is the awareness of our common humanity and the effort to avoid any hate speech or action which is harmful to us, others, society or the planet. It means that we should be mindful of others and take responsibility for our actions. This consciousness of death should enable us to see the vanity of this world with the attendant greed and selfishness. It takes a wise person to know that at death, no one takes anything to the grave. Spending some time with the dying and the dead would reveal to us that we go back to God naked the way we came from our mother’s womb. The great sage Ramana Maharshi underwent a radical and permanent spiritual transformation, triggered by a sudden and involuntary contemplation of death. Plato maintained that all true spiritual aspirants practice dying continuously. To this day, Christian mystics and monks contemplate death as part of their formal spiritual practice. Many of them like Saint Alphonsus Maria de Linguori has written books on how to prepare for death. In the face of the uncertainty of death in the world today, we should be consoled with the admonition of Jesus: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10, 20). Let us live in such a way that if tomorrow does not come we shall rest with God in peace forever!
Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja.