Happy Birth/Feast day to all My Brother Priests !
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details contact him on:firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or +23408063767512
As I was about to begin this brief reflection on priesthood on this eve of Holy Thursday, the birth/feast day of all priests of the holy mother church and the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, one voice appeared to have echoed into my ear saying: “but you are still too young in this institution to talk, say or write anything about it, why not wait until you are perhaps five to ten years old in it!” At first, I almost accepted and caved in to this seemingly good advice from an unknown destination and being. However, as it is characteristic of me, I decided to reflect over the whole issue before taking a final decision on the issue. So while my reflection lasted, another but more convincing and prophetic voice came crashing into my ear, reminding me thus: My dear you are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek of old, there is no small priest and finally, remember you are the oracle of the most high God. So, you are not bared by time and age in this ministry.” Immediately, I woke up as though I were David Hume who was woken up from his dogmatic slumber by Immanuel Kant.
Humbly, I admit that, I will not be able to write much here, because honestly speaking, I lack enough experience. Yet, it will not stop me from expressing myself at least, based on the little moment I have been into it. This is also not a thesis on priesthood, but rather, a way of appreciating who God called me and my brother priests to be. So, I will only speak briefly on two aspects of this institution that intrigues me.
The Priesthood is God’s gift. Gifts are usually free offers made to one who is also at will to accept or reject them. However, this offer is not extended to all classes of people as in the case of say for example, when a company decides to give out writing materials to primary school pupils. Automatically, all university graduates are not qualified to appear at the venue of the distribution. Yet not all, primary school students for whom the offer is made will appear for the free offer on the day of distribution for various reasons best known to them. Thus, in describing priesthood as a gift, it is simply to say that God is the one who freely calls and decides to whom he gives it. It is not merited by virtue of any action one has performed or because one worked for it. Of course, that is not neglecting the fact that the one to whom this gift is offered must strive strongly in order to take care of it. This is simply what both initial and ongoing formation is all about.
Another dimension to the priesthood which I have realized is that, it is a mystery. This mystical nature of priesthood derives first, from the fact that the life of the one in whose order the priest shares today (Melchizedek) still remains a mystery going by the account giving in the scriptures about this man (Gen 14, 1ff). Melchizedek was one of those puzzling people in the Bible who appeared only briefly but was mentioned again as an example of holiness and right living (Hebrews 5:8-10). The Bible does not shed any light on Melchizedek’s religious rituals either, except to mention that he presented bread and wine to Abram. This act and Melchizedek’s holiness makes him a type of Christ. He is one of those bible personalities who show the same qualities as Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World. With no record of father or mother, and no genealogical background in Scripture, this description is fitting. Some scholars go a step further, theorizing that Melchizedek may have been a theophany of Christ or a manifestation of deity in temporary form. He and his order is a bundle of mystery and it is into this order that the Catholic Priest is ordained. Second, this mystical nature comes to its full manifestation in what happened at the Last/Lord’s Supper. The action of Christ, i.e. the consecration of bread and wine which transforms into his body and blood that the priest performs also as an Alta Christus is a great mystery. The institution of the Holy Eucharist by Christ on Holy Thursday equally marks the institution of the priesthood. Personally, I have tried to understand this mystery, but I am yet to fathom it. May be, experience will help me unravel this mystery soon. However, if it is a matter of experience in unraveling the mystery behind this sacred institution, I am sure assure that most of my elder brother priests would have helped me. May be someone has done that somewhere, but I am yet to get a gist about it.
In my short period as a priest, so far it has been so good and there is nothing to regret not even the fact that I do not know what the future holds. Whatever it holds, I strongly believe that it is in the hands of God. He is the one who instituted this ministry and provides the spiritual energy and moral fibre with which it has been sustained for ages. God made it a noble call ab initio and it still remains so. However, I must admit here that it is not a bed of roses. It is not at all an escape route for any one fleeing from marriage responsibilities, neither is it a platform for enjoying the goodies of life. It has its own ups and downs as some events of the past years have shown and proved. There are lots of thorns in it, but these can be turned into luxury beds by the power of the Holy Spirit the “general overseer” of this sacred institution of Priesthood. It has lots of thorns that must be endured patiently and courageously. It is in fact a celebration of courage.
On this note therefore, I congratulate and salute all the authentic priests of the Holy Mother Church on this wonderful occasion of their birth / feast day. I equally, encourage all to be faithful and steadfast in preserving this gift, call and mystery of God as St. Peter the Vicar of Christ admonishes us: “So then, my friends try even harder to make God’s call and his choice of you a permanent experience; if you do so, you will never abandon your faith” (2 Peter 1, 10).
Once again, congratulations to all brother priests! Congratulations to all the Faithful of God who love Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and who still love and hold their priests in high esteem!! Congratulations the Holy Catholic Church!!!
Peace be with you all.