THEME: “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME”CELEBRATING JESUS’ GIFT OF THE PRIESTHOOD
“He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” Lk. 4:21.
Today, we have come to celebrate the Institution of the Catholic Priesthood by Jesus Christ and the renewal of priestly commitment and mission to Jesus Christ and the Church.
We have come to be part of the ceremony where the materials for the ministry will be blessed and consecrated and entrusted to our priests for the next one year. You the faithful have come to be a part of this great moment to celebrate your common priesthood of all the baptized as well as receive with your priests these oils to take home to you for your services to be used to attend to you
at Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, consecration of Churches as the need arises and Anointing of the Sick.
We are grateful to God for the gift of the priesthood and the very many good priests the Lord has chosen for our diocese.
We congratulate and welcome in a special way the parishioners for the sacrifices made to come and be with your priests, it is not just a celebration of the bishop and the priests but the celebration of the diocese and we have been fully represented. In the last ten days or more we went round the different deaneries celebrating with you, appreciating your love expressed in the Cathedraticum, the energy, the materials and everything you brought forward and today we come to the climax of all the celebrations, we come to pray over what we shall use to help replenish our spiritual energy which we so gladly dissipated in worshipping God during our Cathedraticum. We specially congratulate the newly established Mass Centers of Ewosa, Okaigben, and Ibore. The opening of these places signifies fresh landmark moments for the Diocese, signs of blessings of God and hard work of our priests and faithful. We also commend the active participation of these new Mass Centres at the Cathedraticum, signaling that they have hit the ground running, they did not come out even as if they have just received birth, they came out to show that they are also ready for evangelization. The same appreciation goes to all the parishes and remarkable selflessness displayed during the Cathedraticum in the various deaneries, may God refill our pockets of cash, food items and energy of participation in as many folds that we can manage.
THE PRIESTHOOD – GOD’S GIFT TO US
The Holy Thursday Chrism Mass offers us a fresh opportunity to meditate on the Catholic Priesthood with gratitude, celebrating the goodness of God who has graciously granted us the unique privilege to act in His Name and be His bridge of mercy with creation. We celebrate the institution of the priesthood by Jesus Christ who specifically gave the command to us to “do this in His memory”. This command above all is central to the establishing of the ministerial priesthood by the Lord Jesus Christ which in effect distinguishes the Catholic Priesthood that links itself to Christ as its source from the many varied forms that are bombarding the societies today. The command of the Lord Jesus Christ is no mere exhortation but words that intrinsically raises an ordinary mortal above his capability to act in the Person of the Giver of the same command. It is a transformation that we hope to fully comprehend as much as our understanding would permit at the end of time.
CURRENT TRENDS IN OUR SOCIETY AND THE CHURCH
In these rather turbulent days of various sorts of preaching, economic recession, dangerous and questionable prophecies and ridiculous actions in the ‘Name of God’, it is in this milieu that we are once more challenged regarding our response as priests. There is the irrational fear that we are losing members as a church and so we ought to give the people what they want, by even wishing to invent trends that are alien and even inimical to Catholic liturgy. There is often what seems like an attack of the Church claiming that it is dead and some are tempted to respond to this cacophony. The question is, if the church is dead why spend your energy fighting with what has no life. The man who goes to the mortuary to fight with a corpse leaves the world questioning about his mental state of health. On the contrary it is because the Church is alive the number of attackers continues to
surge. If the church continuities to receive a barrage of attacks it is simply because it is doing what Jesus Christ asked and continues to ask of her, to preach the truth at all times.
There is also a worrisome matter of the kind of music that we use for our worship these days. The liturgy is not entertainment by the Choir and as I have had the opportunity to say time and again we must help the people to pray with hymns that all can take part in rather than invent or pick songs from everywhere most of which are shallow and lacking in theology.
JESUS CHRIST IS THE MODEL FOR THE PRIEST
The second reading today from the book of the Apocalypse calls the Lord Jesus Christ “the faithful witness”. St. John Paul II, in his teaching in Redemtoris Missio, (n.41) calls Christ the model of all Christian witnesses. This title we could say is earned specially today from His declaration of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, as reflected in the gospel. An element of Jesus’ faithfulness is seen in His strong words to His disciples in John 6, when the listeners found his teaching too heavy to take. Rather than plead and ask the disciples for more time he simply asks them to make up their minds, “and you, what are you waiting for “. The truth helps us to make up our minds, it does not beg for acceptance. Peter’s response is the response of every seeker for the Truth, Lord to whom shall we go? Occasions abound where Jesus did not spare the apostles regarding their superficial and often times erroneous understanding of his ministry. He corrected their desire for positions of importance, later today, we shall hear Jesus teach the disciples about service, that to serve is to reign. He rebuked Peter when he tried to stand between him and the crucifixion etc. Jesus was consistent and insistent on the Truth and even call Himself the Truth.
In the light of current challenging realities we are reminded even more today that as priests we are called to be Leaders! We are Leaders of faith above all else and faithful witnesses to the faith of Jesus Christ. Being leaders refer to more than managers of physical structures. Our first responsibility is to be leaders of faith in Jesus Christ. We are not to invent a new Jesus Christ but prayerfully rediscover him daily as He reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures. In this discovery He shows us the way back to the Father to whom he gives witness and to Whom we are called to lead others, since we not only move and live and have our being in Him but also act in His Name.
THE PRIEST AS STEWARD OF GOD’S MYSTERIES
The priest is the leader of the celebration of the Liturgy at the centre of the worshipping community leading the people in the worship of the God revealed to us by Jesus Christ. This fact must keep us constantly in check and spiritually alert that we do not lead the people astray. We are only stewards of the mysteries of God and consequently we shall be called to render an account of our stewardship at the end of time (Matt. 12:8; Lk 12:42; 1 Cor 4:2; 1 Pet 4:10). The promises we shall renew shortly bother on our love for Christ, the Church and the people entrusted to us as well as our zeal to conform ourselves to Christ. Conforming ourselves to Christ reminds us that we are not the content of the message but Christ and so we must not reduce the message to what they want to hear and make us appealing at the expense of the salvation of the people. We are called to give witness to the faithful so that they too can become witnesses to the world. Just as Jesus is the faithful witness to the Father (Rev. 1:5) so we must become witnesses, persons who have experienced Jesus Christ and not mere speculators or we become guilty of spiritual perjury – to lie that ‘God said’.
This title of steward – leader further places on our shoulders the responsibility to form the people to make right decisions of faith before God who alone sees the heart. We are obliged to teach the people in our homily and not entertain them and seek applause, except the applause is in appreciation of the Truth they hear. According to St. John Paul II (RM, 43), Christians are called to bear witness to Christ by their prophetic stand in the face of corruption. In our maiden pastoral letter we made reference to n. 56 of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini of Pope Benedict XVI, in the teaching on the connection between the breaking of the Word and the Breaking of the Bread. The table of the Word must lead to the table of the Bread. The connection between the Altar of the Word and the Eucharistic Altar. The pricelessness of the Word and how it must awaken recollection, interiority, the regular sentiments of conversion, the desire for intimacy with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, these are indispensable. According to the Holy Father, the way we are restless when a particle of the Body of Christ drops during distribution of Holy Communion so should be our sentiments when we do not listen well to God’s Word at Mass, and needless to say the preacher’s feeling in the same regards. Because just as the Eucharist is the full Body and Blood of Jesus, so also Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Word cannot be reduced or compromised for any reason. The Word is Jesus Christ, the Son of God as we no doubt know from Chapter 1 of John’s Gospel. Our task, our vocation is to make the Word take flesh so that the Word that takes flesh will lead us to the bread turned into flesh. This is not just to the priests alone but to all the lay faithful, the way we respond to God’s Word, imagine how we get distracted and how we don’t pay attention to the Word and wait just to receive Communion. When that happens, there is a dislocation between the table of the Word and the table of the Bread. We must learn to pay attention, there is no part of the Mass that is just another show, no part of the Mass is entertainment. The Word is the living Word of God, the Bread is the living Body of Christ. We thank God for the gift of the Church, the gift of the Priesthood. We beg the Lord to bless us, bless our priests and bless our People through Christ our Lord. Amen. May Mary the Mother of Priests and the Queen of all families intercede for us.