Celebrating the gift of Consecrated Life
On Tuesday, 2nd February 2021 Most Rev. Donatus Ogun, Bishop of Uromi Diocese was at St Gregory the Great Catholic Church Ekpoma for the celebration of the feast of Presentation of the Lord and world day of Consecrated Life. The following is the text of the homily he gave at the holy Mass.
Today is a day of joy for us in this Parish of St Gregory the Great, a day of joy for the universal Church because today, we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple. It is exactly forty days since we celebrated the Nativity of the Lord and the climax of the Christmas season as it marks the conclusion of the infancy narrative and the various manifestations, that is, the Epiphanies of the Lord. Even if we had not gathered for the celebration of the Consecrated persons, we still would have come to church this morning to receive the blessed candle. The blessed candles given to us on the 2nd of February on this feast of the Presentation is a reminder of Jesus who is the Light, that enlightens the world (Gentiles). At the end of Mass we return to our homes with the candles, which we must use for prayers. Every time we light the candles, we are reminded: this light is symbolizing the presence of Jesus Christ, the light who enlightens the Gentiles. The Light who has come into the world, and the Light that darkness could not overcome (Jn. 1:5). This reality of Light is uniquely contained in today’s celebration, as we join the universal Church to celebrate the World Day for Consecrated Life. This celebration was declared in 1997 by St John Paul II and was made obligatory for the Church. It is a day to celebrate the various charisms lived out as consecrated life and approved by the Church. I specially thank the Priests and hosting parish and parishioners, for coming out en masse to receive the Religious, aka, consecrated men and women in our Diocese.
The Place of Consecrated Life in the Church
The celebration of the world day of consecrated life is very important to the Church and most especially to every Bishop in the Church, because the consecrated life reflects the life and holiness of the Church. When we say the Church is holy, this holiness is mostly expressed by the physical evangelical witnessing, furtherance to celebration of the Mass. The totality of the external charitable activities of the Christian reflect the Church alive among the people of God. These activities that we call apostolate is an expression of the Mass in action. At the end of the Mass, the Priest says ‘Go, the Mass is ended!’ It does not merely suggest, go now till the next assembly or Mass; or, go and do or live as you like. Rather, it is a command and exhortation to go out and put into action, the fruits of the Mass and the graces you have acquired in this act of prayer that we call the Mass.
And so in going to the world, we live out the fruit of the Mass amongst God’s people, Christians and non – Christians alike.
Present as Leaven in the World (Lk 13:20-21)
Christians, and in a unique manner, consecrated persons, to a great extent even without realizing it, by the reason of their presence in the world spread the light of goodness everywhere. The book of Malachi continues to be fulfilled when he says ‘and the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his temple’ (3:1). It is more than a stealth entrance for us now, and still more than entrance into a physical temple. As consecrated persons go around the world witnessing to their vocation, even the physical appearance, they create in the hearts of the people, an invitation to holiness of life. We need to grow to understand the scriptures even more, because we have reduced it to superficial interpretation.
The reality of the unannounced entry into the Temple by the Lord is picturesquely captured in the gospel of today’s feast. The old holy Simeon was there. He had prayed all his life, and had received assurance from God, ‘you will not die until you see the Lord’! However, he was not told how the Lord would enter. He had only been told when the Lord appears, you will recognize him. And the day the Lord was presented, Simeon on his own was already anxious: something is going to happen today! He followed that movement and went to the Temple, and the Lord he had sought all his life, entered without any special announcement. He entered like every other child, but he was different and the person who was ready to encounter this manifestation, immediately recognized the difference. ‘The Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple’. Simeon was excited “now I can die…” he exclaims. Dearly beloved, this sudden entrance, this uncelebrated and unorchestrated entrance, is what consecrated persons do every day, by word but more especially by their presence in the world.
This is such that when you pass on the streets, you, without saying a word become a judge: a judge of a holy living; a judge of repentance. In the words of Psalm 19:3, “no speech, no word, no voice is heard”, yet you call people to repentance, and to simplicity of life, because they look at you and all they see is, a person who has abandoned all the pleasures of the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God and making the business of the Kingdom of God their singular interest. Thus people begin to think in their hearts, how much sacrifice am I making for the promotion and spread of the Kingdom of God? This is a special gift that consecrated persons add to the Church, which is why we say repeatedly that any local church (that is, Diocese) that does not have the clerical, religious and laity (three states of life) present therein is incomplete. What the priest says, preaches from the pulpit, consecrated person become and make incarnate among the people and this is not such an easy thing to do.
Jesus the Light of the World, our Model
The second reading of today from the letter to the Hebrews, presents to us the person of Jesus. Here we receive a catechesis on the transformation that took place in the human Jesus. For Jesus to be model for every baptized, and in particular consecrated persons, since the Church presents consecrated persons to us today as models of imitation of Jesus Christ, He had to undergo human formation by way of suffering and experiencing the human condition. Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son of God is able to represent us, because he experienced and completely understood the human condition, but refused to sin even while existing within our sinful condition. The Lord Jesus Christ would not allow the failings of the human ego affect His divine given mission. One particular text that comes to mind, is when Jesus was rejected as he was preaching and the human elements in the apostles sprang to the surface and they said to Jesus ‘let us call down thunder to consume this people, let us show them we have power, but Jesus rebuked the angry apostles and said ‘No’ (cf. Lk. 9:54). For most of us humans, the first thing is to want to demonstrate our capacity and control: to show your power! But for Jesus, anybody who tries to show power actually debases the self contrary to the original plan of God. This is because the demonstration of power to subjugate others or create fear is not a sign of healing but a sign of interior personal fear and a cry for recognition. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (cf. Mt 5:4). Often times we want to show we have power by making people to suffer, and when we do that we become slaves of power. Jesus who could walk on the water (Mk 6:45-52), and calm the storm (Lk 8:22-25), could have done anything but he chose a different way to demonstrate His participation in the Omnipotence of the God-head. Thus he is presented to us today as model and we, in carrying this forward, say consecrated persons qualify to be models because in the course of their formation, in the course of their experiences, in the course of their prayer, they have grown to make penance, abstinence and sacrifice an attitude of life. Even in the Habit they wear which is also a sign of their consecration (cf. canon 669, par 1) they become for everybody, a sign of reconciliation. When we say this today, we are reminded again of the seriousness of the vocation that the Church has received in consecrated persons. Jesus Christ became a merciful and faithful high priest and so he qualifies to intercede for us, in the same way we have to go through the process of destroying within us what does not agree with the gospel.
Christianity which begins at baptism, is actually the continuous process of transforming the self from inside, with the teaching of the gospel. The continuous internal transformation of the self, occurs through the encounter with the Word and openness to the invitation to a new way of living in imitation of Jesus Christ. And unless we maintain this process of continuous encounter, we will even become a problem to ourselves. The person who encounters Christ is meek, is obedient, is respectful, while the person who at every given opportunity wants to fight, needs real conversion. The joy of Simeon is offered to all of us again today, that we should open up always, to let the Lord we are seeking suddenly enter his Temple and the Lord suddenly enters his temple every time the Word hits us, and strikes us like a hammer, saying: ‘Don’t do this’. We can decide to use the word, or refuse to use the word.
On this day, as we celebrate the feast of the presentation and specifically celebrate the world day of consecrated life in the Church, in the name of all the Clerics and faithful, we thank all our consecrated men and women. Firstly, for accepting the call. Secondly, for allowing yourselves to be formed, according to your respective charisms, and for going forward to profess these vows and for the witnessing you give in different places. Even the rejections you get, we thank you for accepting all of them. But if the world rejects you, it rejected the Master first (Jn 15:18). If it rejects you, let it reject you because you are like Christ, not because you are unlike Christ. We thank you for the witnessing you give and the many young vocations your life has inspired and brought to the Church and will continue to bring. Some are in difficult terrain, in a world today where people want popularity, desire to be known and celebrated, you have embraced a world where you are mostly seen, and most times not heard except by your witnessing. We urge you today as always, make conscious efforts to be seen as imitators of Jesus Christ the author and finisher of our faith, so that by seeing you, people may carry what they see home and they beat their breast saying: we have seen wonderful things today! (Lk 5:26). When we live well what was said of Jesus will be said about us. May we not be scandal to people, let us be scandal to Satan by rejecting to do what he wants. We thank you for all the prayers you say for the people, the Bishop, the Holy Father and the Universal Church. Today we unite with consecrated persons all over the world, including those who do not have the opportunity to show their consecration, we unite with them, and we thank those who first embraced the life, with the intention of closely imitating Jesus, for what they have handed on to us, which has now become the variegated beautiful flowers of the different forms of consecrated life in the Church. Let us live well, so that we can be a shining light to the people on earth. God does not expect anything extraordinary from you except, just be a consecrated person.
Finally, money is needed for the work but must not become the Centre of our quest. When you left the world you were pursuing holiness of life don’t ever lose that vision. By the time you begin to pursue money, you may end up catching neither money nor holiness because money does not belong to you, but holiness which belongs to you, you may have allowed to go in a different direction. May the sacrifice you make be always an offering pleasing before God! May the sacrifice of your life, continue to be incense burning before the throne of mercy, so that at the end of time you will be fondly remembered and celebrated, because you brought countless souls back to God.
Thank you for who you are and happy feast day!!