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THE ARCHBISHOP'S EXHORTATION FOR THE MONTH OF JULY

JOY OF BEING A CATHOLIC!

"You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church" (Matthew 16:18)

There is an inner, deep-seated feeling of joy experienced by Catholics. Do you experience this feeling? It transcends mere human happiness because it comes from God and is rooted in God. This soul-lifting joy stems from the knowledge of the very nature of the Catholic Church - one true Church founded by Christ - and the belief that since Christ is the Head of the Church, their membership of the Church makes them part of Christ's body (Cf. 1 Cor 12:12-31; Col 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23). This is in fact true. Jesus Christ founded the Church to bring all men to salvation. And, for this purpose he has given the Church the means whereby those who are in it can be sanctified and saved.

In the knowledge that the Catholic Church was established by Christ comes the identity of the Church as the continuing presence of Jesus on earth, for he says, "Behold, I am with you until the end of time" (Matt. 28:20). What great joy and assurance these words bring to those who are members of his Church and form part of his body! And, all those who belong to his fold he sustains with the power of the Father's gift of the Holy Spirit who comforts, teaches, leads and infallibly guides the Church at all times to the knowledge of truth. It is by the power of this same Spirit that the hearts of Catholic faithful are filled with joy. The fruit of joy is the awareness that God is one's strength and protector.

Ultimately, the joy of being a Catholic lies in one's personal encounter with Christ our Saviour. This is what the Church is ordained to do. It is enabled to lead men to salvation through Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, who gives it life. Although the work of salvation is the result of the operation of all three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, it is especially the result of the Redemption by Christ, and because this work is one of divine love it is attributed to the Holy Ghost, who is the soul of the Church, of which Christ is the Head. The will of the founder of the Church is expressed in the commission he gave to his apostles to teach all nations, to baptize them, and to have them observe all the things he had commanded. Drawing from this, being a Catholic means sharing in the great commission Christ gave to his Church. This spells great joy to the soul.

The grace needed to carry out this commission is given to the Church in the Sacraments in which Christ instituted in the Church. Sacraments are visible rituals seen as signs of God's presence and effective channels of God's grace to all who receive them with the proper disposition. These Sacraments are central to the Church's mission which is to bring all souls to salvation in Christ Jesus.

In the Sacrament of Baptism, Catholics are fortunate to be born into the heart and mystery of the Church, into the family and life of the Trinity. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, they receive the special breath of the Holy Spirit and are confirmed as adults in the faith. This faith is daily nourished in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Should they falter through human frailty, they are immediately made clean in the Sacrament of reconciliation with a firm purpose of amendment. In the case of physical or bodily weakness, they are revived in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. They come to the knowledge of divine love and are taught to express this in their humanness in the Sacrament of Matrimony. And because they need Alter Christus who are to administer these Sacraments, priests are constantly ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. All these leave us to one conclusion: We are a blessed assembly!

The sacrifice of the Holy Mass is the most powerful prayer that can ever be made because it is the prayer and sacrifice of God Himself. This prayer is unique only to the Catholic Church. At Mass, Christ prays for us, he goes to Calvary anew on her behalf and embraces the wood of the Cross. At that singular sacrifice, he performs the great miracle of transubstantiation and makes of bread and wine his eternal body and blood. He takes us to the table of the Last Supper and his sacred voice reverberates: Take this all of you and eat it. drink of it."Thus he gives the totality of himself-body, soul and divinity- to us. We can only conclude here that we are twice blessed!

In the Catholic Church, we experience the diverse expressions of the powers of the Holy Spirit being made manifest in the different spiritualities that we possess. This spiritual dynamism is encountered in the Pentecost drive of the Charismatics, the Mariam gentleness of the Legionaries, the saintly call of the various societies modeled after the spiritualities of individual saints and the Eucharistic model of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, amongst others. In a word, ours is a Church made up of all the Churches and spiritualities that abound; hence our title: Catholic (universal).

The joy of being Catholic sprouts from the wealth of the ceremony that marks our birth into the faith in the waters of rebirth and is ripe in the elaborate rite of passage unto eternal life that only our Church can boast of. It is heavenly to be born into the Catholic faith in the Sacrament of baptism and it is glorious to die a Catholic in the burial Masses that are celebrated for Catholics. These burial Masses are garnished with holy and fitting intercessory hymns and chants that rise perfectly into the heavens with the smoke from the incense. God smells the sweet scent of this holy incense and in turn accepts the soul of his faithful like an evening offering.

My dear brothers and sisters, we are, indeed, a blessed assembly and our hearts should be filled with joy that we belong to this special family of God. We are twice blessed in the Trinity, the Sacraments, our patrimony and aged long faith in Christ who is the Head of our Church. May our daily expression of faith in God lead us all to eternal life. Amen.

+ Alfred Adewale Martins

Archbishop of Lagos