HOMILY ON THE PRIESTLY ORDINATION OF SIX AUGUSTINIAN DEACONS AT ST. MONICA\'S CATHOLIC CHURCH, RANTYA, 25TH JUNE, 2015
By Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama (Archbishop of Jos)
Imagine coming to this Church today to see this big congregation and the priests are on strike! Thank God, priests cannot and should never go on strike. They took vows to be ready in all circumstances to serve the people of God, to preach in season and out of season, to use their gifts to work for the salvation of souls. The highest liturgical task for the priest is the celebration of the Eucharist, a rare privilege given only to validly ordained priests. Dt. 33:10 describes the priests\' duty as: \"to send incense rising to your (God\'s) nostrils, place the holocaust on your (God\'s) altar\". In the OT the tribe of Levi performed the function of worship, attending to the spiritual welfare of the people of Israel. They had no material inheritance and were not preoccupied with daily secular affairs. Theirs was to serve the Lord and to lead the people to Him.
What makes the office of the New Testament priest very extra ordinary is that his consecration enables him to preach the Gospel of Christ, to lead the people to holiness by putting into practice what he teaches; he celebrates the Liturgy and the sacraments and he is specially empowered to call down the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) on the bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ (transubstantiation). Unlike the OT priests, the priests today offer sacrifices not of goats, bulls or burnt offerings.
We thank God for the six deacons who today will be commissioned to serve Christ as priests, whose duty is to make his Church grow into a holy people. Rev. Julius Onuoha, Rev. Paulinus Ukabiala, Rev. Peter Imaji, Rev. Jude Oyudo, Rev. Jonah Shekari and Rev. Peter Ojiako have received a very good preparation under the inspiration, tradition and discipline of the Order of St. Augustine. Their families, teachers and the OSA leadership have contributed to their meticulous training in spiritual, academic and social matters in order to serve the people of God with Christ-like selflessness.
The priest is a bridge, a signboard, a judge, reconciler, teacher, a prophet, etc., but not the type of prophet who predicts election results or sees visions for people - that would make him a soothsayer. A prophet is concerned with the truth of God. He prays and leads the people to genuinely seek God and to do His will. The temptation today is to equate worship with merely the preachers\' dramatic church services that promise material prosperity or success in life. Like John the Baptist, a prophet or a man of God tells the truth and is ready to suffer the consequences. How many of our so-called prophets or pastors are ready to suffer for the faith or for the nation? A priest is not one who tells people what they want to hear, about prosperity, miracles or one who thinks he can compel God to do people\'s will. What marks Catholic spirituality out is that a Catholic prays and patiently allows God\'s will to be done. Many of those who move from one Church to another Church are not really doing so to worship God but are in search of motivational speakers who will assure them that there is a cheaper Christianity that does not tolerate suffering but only celebrates success and miracles. For good Catholics, religion is about adoration and worship of God. While doing this, God can at His own time quietly provide our needs even exceeding our expectations (cf. Eph. 3:20). The pastors who woo people to their Church by telling them for example that there would be miracles in their Church at 4.30 pm are no different from politicians who desperately want to win over the electorate by promising them the impossible such as making streams flow and beautiful flowers bloom in the Sahara desert!
Out of curiosity I googled the internet to see what people say of good pastors. What I read had much to do with fake pastors who engage in mouth watering businesses, some duping people and committing crimes of all kinds. I however know that there are good pastors who fear God and serve him without selfish interests. Jesus calls them the good shepherds who look after his sheep. The materialistic shepherd is a mercenary. He wants to exploit the sheep but abandons them when they cannot satisfy his quest for prosperity. The Lord says in Jer 3:15 that \"I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding\" and Jer 23:3 speaks of \"shepherds who will care for the flock\". In declaring the Year of Mercy and celebrating this year as the Year of Consecrated Life, Pope Francis is urging priests and religious to be merciful and holy, to be close to the people they serve and to live a simple life.
A priest should be guided by the acronym THIS: Truth, Honour, Industry and Service. Lucy Ene Owoicho, a young lady speaking to priests and Bishops in Otukpo in September 2013 pleaded that they want their priests to be \"priests enough\" for them. This applies to all: Be Christian enough. Be husband enough. Be wife enough. Be children enough. A woman told me that she regarded herself a widow even when her husband was still alive. In the Church one day when widows were called to assemble, she joined them and when reminded that her husband was still alive she said she felt like a widow. The husband was certainly \"not husband enough\".
In his latest encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis stresses the need to care for the earth and to protect the environment. Love is not only about persons but also about and for nature. While science and technology have made life easier and comfortable, this goes along with the destruction of the earth, pollution of the seas, air, etc. In our case, we suffer annual bush burning for rats and bush meat, late or early hour noise pollution by preachers, cholera and other diseases caused by dirty environment, etc. Throwing banana pills, groundnut shells, plastics and dumping refuse anyhow makes the environment unsafe and makes us prone to diseases. Thank God, the heaps of refuse in many parts of Jos are receiving the attention of government. I hear too that part of the many months of salaries being owed civil servants are gradually being paid.
Could this behaviour I am about to describe be explained as poverty or greed? A fuel tanker on Thursday 18th June fell around Polo field. Many rushed to scoop fuel flowing from it, disregarding the very high danger that a fire could start and consume them. Many Nigerians often neglect their personal responsibility and blame government for everything. Those who went to fetch the fuel should have known that they did not need the government to remind them that it was dangerous. We should learn to protect ourselves, report cases of crime, stay away from danger, be honest etc. These, the government cannot do for us. The first reading from Numbers 11 tells us how effective collaboration is fruitful. In the few weeks President Buhari took over the leadership of this country, many have been expecting an instantaneous or magical transformation of Nigeria without being willing to make personal sacrifices or to collaborate with the government to bring this about. I believe the word \"change\" in the Nigerian vocabulary today refers not only to physical or economic change but also a change of heart (metanoia), a new way of thinking and doing things, putting our talents to positive use as the second reading from Romans 12:4-8 prescribes, respecting the common good such as not vandalizing NEPA wires or oil pipes lines, respecting the lives and property of fellow Nigerians, disciplined behaviour by all citizens, the prudent and patriotic use of economic resources by our leaders, etc. For the government or the Church to succeed, leaders need to be helped and supported just as we read in the first reading (Numbers 11) that 70 elders helped Moses to succeed. Senators and Members of the House of Representatives are like the 70 elders of Moses\' time and so must help Mr. President to bring about the much desired change for the better in the life of every Nigerian. In our Church in the Archdiocese of Jos, whether it is about evangelization or building our new Cathedral all must collaborate and be passionately involved.
To our new priests and indeed to all of us Christians, St. Ignatius of Antioch\'s advice to the Romans apply: \"do not have Jesus on your lips and the world in your heart. Our prayer is that these priests shall be clothed with holiness and the Lord will not reject their sacrifice because they are his anointed (cf. Ps 132:10).
With the words of 2Pt. 1:10-11, I admonish you our new priests: \"You have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it by good deeds. If you do all these things there is no danger that you will ever fall away. In this way you will be granted admittance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ\".
Lord, give our new priests and indeed all of us perfect peace, so that we may delight in serving you all the days of our life, and at last, with our Lady\'s help, come safely to your presence. Amen.
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