The shocking death on April 11th,2022 of Mrs Osinachi Nwachukwu,a celebrated gospel artiste who has become legendary by her sonorous voice and especially with her hit track, ‘Ekwueme’, went viral on social media platforms and internet. She was alleged to have died as a result of life threatening injuries she sustained through her husband’s serial beatings and abuse on over the years. Various opinions have been raised on the painful demise of this young woman. The presbyterium of Catholic Diocese of Ekwulobia (CADEK) are not left out of this ongoing debate. Their intellectual, theological, philosophical, emotional, social and pragmatic intervention came in the wake of the advice of Fr Chinenye John Oluoma, a priest of Missionary Society Of St. Paul (MSP) and working at the Archdiocese of Abuja that those experiencing abuse in marriage should leave such marriage at once.
Fr Michael Muonwe: We should all help to stop abuses by stopping the abusers. Tell them their errors to their face and do not encourage the abusive situation through bearing injury at all cost (na edi ya). Jesus Christ died for us to stop all these abuses. That’s the Theology of the Cross that such a situation needs. When a Christian boldly brings an abuser to book, though he/she may be misunderstood, but he/she has to carry the cross of misunderstanding.
Fr Chika Okpalike: Yet what you said/alluded to is not an invalidation of the Theology of the Cross. No one will preach patient endurance (na edi ya) in the manner you suggested. This is because bearing the Cross for love cannot be outmoded.
Fr Celestine Ezemmadubom: If the Cross is not a sort of an abuse (physical, psychological et cetera.), it’s fine. No one should be encouraged to entertain or endorse abuse by sticking with the abuser under any guise.
Fr Melchizedek Obi: I’m worried like many others with this beastly act. The inhuman behavior of the man should be a critical factor under study here.
Fr Festus Okoye: Physical abuse cannot be equated to anything here under study. It’s regrettable that two strange bed fellows will cohabit and therein set up the flame that will consume them. Physical abuse is punishable under the law.
Fr Joseph Ilorah: Talking about the Theology of the Cross; has it any contractual connotation? I’m yet to see anyone who contracted or covenanted to be physically abused in the name of marriage. I therefore find it difficult to believe that bearing physical abuse in marriage is to be likened to bearing a Cross. The best thing to do in the circumstance is to cure the lunatic that is the wife beater/or as the case may be. For an act to be likened to the Cross of Christ,it must be in itself salvific (saving), one way or the other.
Fr Michael Muonwe: It’s part of the Theology of the Cross to have the needed courage to bring serial marital abusers to book. They should be legally handled. Some abused persons like Osinachi need not die in silence.
Fr Melchizedek Obi: I am convinced that many lack courage to report cases of marital abuse they are going through. When courage is lacking, fake piety is enthroned.
Fr Joseph Ilorah: I think it’s the other way round. It’s fake piety that has gotten courage, buried and sullied, such that victims of marital abuse die in silence. This fake piety is most often propagated in the pulpit.
Fr Melchizedek Obi: Yes. We should encourage christians to courageously carry the Cross of opening up to the Significant Others in their lives in order to be properly directed. Fake piety is enthroned by those who are afraid of facing the truth. A preacher who is interested in sugar-coated sermons will gently and subtly propagate fake piety.
Fr Emmanuel Maduelosi: In all, whatever is tolerated will continue. Tolerance most times makes the abuser feels he is succeeding,that he’s in control,that the woman and nobody can do nothing. It makes the abuser to become more comfortable with abusing the partner. What is needed to stop the abuse is to de-reinforce the abusive attitude and never ever to re-inforce it. With this success will be achieved.
Fr Joseph Ilorah: The Church solved this problem long ago.On separation,the Church legislates in Canon Law 1153 paragraph 1, ‘ if either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult,that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by Decree of the local Ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there’s danger in delay’. When we priests and teachers of faith gain or regain the courage to tell people the truth as already upheld by the Church, such fake piety will disappear and lives will be saved.
Fr Melchizedek Obi: Excellent. But what happens when the spouses are afraid to carry the cross of opening up? The virtue of courage is lacking in many. We need to lay emphasis on the importance of fortitude and courage. They are heavily lacking among many believers.
Fr Nich Abazie: We should also desist from emphasizing the perilous exaltation of marriage union as ‘1+1=1’. Many of our people take this teaching too seriously and die in bondage. Yet,we know ontologically, logically and morally the individual and his individuality are inalienable. Couples will still go to heaven or hell as individuals. Moreover,in the words of Christ,in heaven there will be no marrying or giving in marriage.
Msgr Jerome Madueke: The Theology of the Cross I know remains a mystery,but at the same time, an offer and invitation. Paul described it as a stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to Gentiles,but wisdom, grace and power for believers who willingly embrace it (cf.1 Cor.1:23,24).He stated that he bore the marks of suffering and carried the death of Christ always in his body in order that through that, the life of Christ might be revealed (cf.Gal.6:7;2 Cor. 4:10). With him was St Monica who proclaimed the charity of Christ over wickedness and mercy under tribulations. The Theology of the Cross cannot be reduced to South American ‘theology of liberation’, nor to Luther’s theology of glory,nor to theology of Consolation. Christ’s death did not abolish physical violence or death (consider he even let his dead body be pierced by a soldier and allow his Church to be persecuted); rather,he transformed their meaning, elevating them to be means of salvation. Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life which challenge human and social values and attitudes and at the same time offering new freedom, and eschatological gifts of salvation. Good Friday event affirms that the very Wood of the Cross, where suffering and death arose, was in Christ turned into life-spring for believers,so that the evil One who overcame on a tree might be shamed and conquered in that tree when the redeemed willingly and joyfully accept and carry their crosses for Christ’s sake. Let this mind be in you which was in our Lord Jesus…(Phil 2:5). The beatitudes proclaim rewards to those who patiently and generously endure and persevere. The Theology of the Cross,in short,is that Salvation that comes in, with, through and by the Cross. Sadly, the cross, implying self denial,long-suffering, obedience, meekness and humility,are today suspects. A Christian, nonetheless,is daily called upon to rejoice in suffering as faithful witness in order to complete what is lacking in contemporary Christianity (cf.Col.1:24).
Fr Michael Muonwe: Your theology of the Cross is well thought out and articulated. However,it needs deeper elaboration to serve as spiritual dose for our Christians. Christ came and upturned the Jewish oppressive laws. As an ‘iconoclastic’ prophet,he lifted the suffering off the shoulder of the woman who was bent double and made her well (Lk.13:10-17). He never told her na-edi ya (to bear it) without first finding a way of ending it. To the woman suffering from haemorrhage with all the restrictive and prohibitive laws that forbade her from coming near the people, Jesus never minded her coming close, touched and healed her(Lk.8:43-48). Jesus’ death on the Cross has brought injustices and oppression on their knees revealing the evil in them. As Christians,we must first speak of ending injustices wherever we find them, oppressions wherever they are found. We must side with the victim against oppressors. Jesus sided with the victims of devil’s oppression (we are victims),by defeating the enemy for us and setting us free.
The Theology of the Cross we are discussing should not be dislocated from the context from which it arose, which was our discussion on domestic violence. And this seems what you have done. Do you want to dim the lustre of the foregoing by equating it with liberation theology? This is far from the point we are making. What we are saying is that we need to stop the abuse, the abuser, and not concentrate on ‘na edi ya'(bearing abuse/domestic violence) which is consolation theology. Our theology of the Cross must have a balance. First, siding with the victim and fighting the unjust source of the suffering and then helping the victim to understand the positive aspect of his or her condition and finding a way of ending it, possibly by quitting the context that fuels such injustices. For example, the Igbos are suffering in Nigeria. Should we be preaching the Theology of the Cross devoid of liberation potentials it offers. That is totally unacceptable. We must find a way of ending the injustices and suffering our people undergo, possibly by ending the unholy marriage with Nigeria. Any theology of the Cross that has no deeper reflection on the liberation potentials of the Cross from human injustices and man’s inhumanity is grossly deficient.
Fr Cyriacus Okpalike: The Cross is a reality. Let theology not reduce it to a theory. As we theologise about the cross, may we examine more closely and in all sincerity, the reality of the Cross especially the terminus both ‘ ad quo cum ad quem’, so that we will be talking of a crucifix and not just an empty cross. Crucifixion was a common treat for all criminals (accursed be he who hangs on a gibbet) until our Lord Jesus Christ was put through it. Now,we celebrate the triumph of the Cross. I ask three questions for your reflection: 1. Does the Cross come to us or do we go to it? Who chooses which? 2. Is it accident or an integral part of what we’re and do whereby we can have control over it or it can determine for us in future? 3. Must we carry it on the head (to crush us) or on the shoulders (that we can drop them off)?
Fr Chika Okpalike: Thanks Msgr Jerome for putting this into articulated words. A lot have changed in the world. These virtues are fast becoming eroded and replaced by a welfarist/pacifist/painless Christianity. We represent moral, mystical and intellectual ideals; attainable but attained by a few. That ideal is the rudder in any teaching. Actual and factual experiences which may fall short of these ideals do not necessarily invalidate them or cancel them out. Christ taught the ideal of bearing through the Cross as our lot: ‘ Then he said to them all, if anyone desires to come after Me,let him deny himself, and take up his Cross daily, and follow me.’ Lk.9:23. It’s true for married life as it is for celibate life. However, various other provisions for enhancing communal and interpersonal relationships in terms of law and order belong to another space. Existing in their right, they do not cancel out eternal virtues like patience, tolerance, endurance and heroic love. We should separate preaching the Gospel from counseling,even pentecostals do that. The times are trying, social pressure heightens by the day. We should not let it override the core essence of salvation. Again, someone might help clarify the difference if any, between domestic violence and abuse. The word ‘ abuse’ had so much gained popularity that relationships are fast becoming union of mutual suspicion.
Fr Michael Muonwe: Domestic violence could come from a weaker party or stronger party. Violence is violence,but it becomes an abuse when the violence, emotional or physical, is inflicted on the party who lacks the will or ability to protect himself or herself.
Msgr Jerome: Who said that wickedness and oppression should not be denounced and justice proclaimed? Who said that the mission of Jesus was not to liberate humanity and creation? Jesus came primarily to liberate us from sin (lurking in the human hearts- root of wickedness and oppression), and from the evil one that continues to work against his reign as the crucified and risen Lord. His liberation indeed calls human beings back to that primordial obedience and grace of original holiness. Christ accomplished his liberation in the following six ways: 1. His incarnation and Pasch unmasked the harmful deceit of the evil One,e.g, that poverty and suffering are evil ,can never enter into God’s redemptive plan of love. Out of love, the Father sent His Son to die for us sinners. He was born in a manger and had nowhere to lay His head, to publicly profess the evangelical nature of poverty. He was the ‘Suffering Servant’ who died a criminal. 2. His preaching contrasted between worldly and evangelical perspectives of life establishing criteria of behaviour action for his followers,as well as eschatological goal of his mission that are antithetical to popular commerce. Denouncing morbid anxiety and fear,or violence as procedure for justice,he proposed unconditional love and meekness, forgiveness, dialogue and carefrontation. He invited to his rest those who labour and are overburdened,but not without learning from his humility and meekness and taking up his yoke. 3. His miracles affirmed him as Lord of universe and history to trust and entrust our predicaments. Yet,he warns against earthly preoccupations and tendency to establish human calculations and success as sole standards of measure. Hence, he insists on conversion and self renunciation as condition for gaining the ‘ heart of a child’, that will enable a disciple to savour the ‘ secret’ of his kingdom. 4. He left, above all,a model of life to follow by being torn apart and sacrificed for peace. We shall become ambassadors of his peace and reconciliation, only through a free and personal choice that is radical and total, fervently submitting to God in prayer and loud tears (Heb.5:7). Although his way remains a scandal to many,he never tendered apology,nor would he ever let his demands or cost of discipleship be compromised. In Is.50: 10 ,we saw how he gave his back to smitters and his cheek to those who pulled out his beards. And to hasten the reign of God,he became a lamb that was led to the slaughter which opened not it’s mouth (Is.53: 7). 5. Yes, Jesus brought the battle to the doorpost of the Evil One, ‘so that as a second Adam to the fight,he might teach his brethren and inspire to suffer and to die.’ He calls for faithful companions who shall be courageous and willing to renounce themselves,their categories and expectations, to freely unite with him in love. By glorifying God in everything and at all times, they make all things work to their good (cf.Rom.8. 28). 6. While preaching against sin and evil and working for a just world, Christians must be vigilant against the devil’s deceit and illusion to totally banish suffering and starvation. They should in faith and fervent prayer share in Christ’s Paschal project which shall be fully understood at his eschatological feast where he, the Lamb of God shall be light and joy to wipe away every sorrow. This is the age-long apostolic faith, which some today sadly reject as antiquated!
Fr Chika Okpalike: Daalụ,master! I like CAREFRONTATION. I also like ‘ Yet,he warns against earthly preoccupations and tendency to establish human calculations and success as sole standards of measure’. Many thanks Msgr for making out time for this discussion.
Fr Michael Muonwe: Daalụ Msgr for this wonderful reflection!
Conclusion: The death of Mrs Osinachi Nwachukwu has indeed brought to the front burner the ugly issues of so many social vices eroding sane living in our contemporary world and especially as it affects the Nigerian populace. So long as we effectively and conscientiously find lasting models of living and put same into practice,we may be groping in the dark for a long time to come. Christ’s Paschal example remains the Way, the Truth and the Life to be be followed by all men and women, young or old alike.