RE-DEDICATING OURSELVES AS PRIESTS FOR SERVICE
Readings: 1st: Ish 61: 1-9; Ps 88: 21-25; 2nd: Rev 1:5-8; Gos: Luke 4: 16-21)
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 of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), 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 and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Holy Thursday is both the day of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and our birthday as both sacramental and ministerial Priests. So, I will like to begin this brief reflection on a very positive note by wishing my entire brother Priests and the Faithful all over the world: A Very Happy Birthday! Feliicitation!! It is a day of reminding ourselves of our root, who we are and ought to be – Alter Christus. It is a day of enkindling of the Priestly Spirit of Jesus that was imbued into us through the anointing we received (Ish 61:1; Luke 4:16). It is a day of re-presenting, rededicating and re-consecrating ourselves in humility as ever before to God for service and mission in his vineyard. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1589) tells us that before the grandeur of the priestly grace and office, the holy doctors felt an urgent call to conversion in order to conform their whole lives to him whose sacrament had made them ministers. Thus St. Gregory of Nazianzus, as a very young priest, exclaimed: “We must begin by purifying ourselves before purifying others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct, become light to illuminate, draw close to God to bring him close to others, be sanctified to sanctify, lead by the hand and counsel prudently. I know whose ministers we are, where we find ourselves and to where we strive. I know God’s greatness and man’s weakness, but also his potential. Who then is the priest? He is the defender of the truth, who stands with the angels, gives glory with archangels, causes sacrifices to rise to altar on high, shares Christ’s priesthood, refashions creation, restores it in God’s image, recreates it for the world on high and even greater, is divinized and divinizes.” What then must we do to enkindle and re-invigorate our priestly spirit?
We Must Get Intimate With Our Lord
There is need for us as priests to continuously prepare ourselves through intimacy with Jesus Christ. This entails making daily efforts to live holy lives, prepare ourselves for salvation, nourish ourselves spiritually and then get ready to help and wash the feet of our brothers and sisters as Christ humbly did to his disciples. Therefore, our ability to help our brothers and sisters hinges greatly on our own intimacy with our Lord. This is because, unless we ourselves are in an intimate relationship with God, we cannot lead the people of God. It is from this intimacy with Jesus that we continuously draw the strength we need to work. This is especially, in an era like ours when life and mission have taken different dimensions and are getting tougher and tougher by day. We are not just Alter Christus in virtue of our sacramental configuration, but equally amator Christus by professing our love for Christ and the church in order to receive Christ’s mandate as shepherds. In view of this, therefore our intimacy with Christ must be both ontological and existential. That is, involving our very essence as human beings, as it is derived from both our sacramental and ministerial configuration to Christ and his divine priesthood. To give us life, we must therefore put this essential intimacy into action. Hence, we must daily fan the flames of that intimacy to our Lord through effective prayer, study and action of love. Therefore, we must pray for ourselves, and study hard if we must still be relevant in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Basil Cole, OP helps us to know the kind of mentality, attitudes and virtues that are needed to live the implication of this extraordinary intimacy when he says: “…We must develop the spousal character of Christ the bridegroom since we are all called to live Christ’s love for the church, his bride.” This, my dear brothers demands that we be capable of loving the faithful and the church with a genuine self detachment, with full, constant, faithful dedication and at the same time with a kind of “divine jealousy” (2Cor 11, 2), and even with a kind of “maternal madness.”
Developing The Spirit Of Leadership
As Priests, we must develop the virtues of leadership. This is because, as Christ is the head of his body the Church, so too we must possess all that is necessary to exercise spiritual leadership, faithfulness, integrity, constancy, wisdom, a welcoming decisive firmness in essentials, freedom from over subjective view points, personal disinterestedness, patience, an enthusiasm for daily tasks, a confidence in the virtue of the hidden working of grace maintained in the simple and the poor (Tit 1, 1-8, Pastoral Dabo Vobis 27). So, we must develop the heart of Christ the shepherd, going after the lost sheep by humbling ourselves as he did today to the extent of washing their filthy feet. The effectiveness of this aspect of our ministry will flow from personal spirituality and depends greatly on how much we are able to imitate the humility of our Lord. One way of being a very good shepherd is through developing a prayerful sensitivity to the scripture, tradition and Magisterum. How many of us still find time to study the scriptures, and in fact base our Sunday homilies on the well arranged and articulated Sunday readings. They are now obsolete or inadequate I suppose! The truth is that our flocks need the word that will inspire faith in them and equally lead them to Christ our Lord. They yearn for the food of the spirit that will enhance their faith in God from their shepherds. They need priests who are holy, priests who are available for them, priests who are intimately bound to the word of God and the Catechism of the Church, and priests who take their time to prepare their homilies.
Fulfilling The Expectation Of Our Flocks
In her article titled: “What Catholics need: A Letter to our Priests and Bishops,” Emily Stipmson wrote: “Our Spiritual Fathers, please preach the Faith! On Sundays, do not tell me to be nice; tell me to be holy. Do not tell me to trust God; tell me who God is. Do not even tell me to be faithful; tell me what faithfulness means. Explain holiness. Explain sin. Be specific. Preach on what lust, gluttony, selfishness, laziness, pride, anger, and vanity are, why they are bad for me, and how to avoid them. Preach the Creed. Preach the saints. Preach the story of salvation history. And preach it in all its fullness. While you are at it, let go of this idea that homilies are a separate thing from catechesis. They cannot be separate right now. The majority of Catholics sitting in the pews on Sunday do not know the basics of the Faith, and the only place most will learn them is from a homily. Do not waste your precious ten minutes in front of a semi-captive audience repeating fluff they can get from Oprah. Use the Scriptures to illuminate Tradition, not obscure it. Outside the homily, invest in catechesis. Talk to the kids. Teach RCIA. The more you let people know how important you think catechesis is, the more important they will think it is.” This is coming from a Catholic lay woman. Although she may not be absolutely right, yet what this means is that contrary to the belief of most Catholics are abandoning their faith for all sorts of jingoisms, they are actually interested in their Catholic tradition and teaching. They yearn for it like the deer yearn for running stream (Ps 42: 1). This is the reason most of them after straying eventually return. Take The Church’s Liturgy Serious
My dear brothers, Catholics believe that “the body expresses the person.” That is true for each of us, and it is true for the Body of Christ. The physical stuff of our Faith: the smell of the incense, bells, and buildings express the soul of our Liturgy and Faith – her doctrines, dogmas, and disciplines. The Church’s liturgy and architecture should reveal a richness of beauty and belief that robs the gruel fed to our parishioners by the culture of all its appeal. It should move the faithful to love God and neighbor more. It should make them long for Heaven. It should make them sorry for their sins. The music of Celine Deon, Tupac, Enya, Bob Marley, Don Williams, Asha, Michael Jackson, Flavor, D’ Banj, Two face Idibia, Lagbaja, etcetera, or the comedies coming from “Nights of hundred laughs” cannot do that. Hastily and haphazardly performed liturgical rites cannot do that. Pedestrian speeches, liturgical puppets, binding and casting, and felt banners cannot do it either. If we want Catholics to see the beauty of our Faith and liturgy, as Priests, we have to show it to ourselves. We have to make it manifest in Church on Sunday. We have to give them something extraordinary to help them realize they are called to do something extraordinary. In praying the liturgy of the hours, we discover the deep unity between ministry and intimacy with God. Also, in addition to the above, we need what theology refers to as “Counsels of Ease” or the “Evangelical Counsel”: Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty. Even when these are not professed as vows, as virtues they will help us live up to our personal dignity, mission and intimacy, and as one profoundly joined to Jesus Christ.
Chase Out Spirit of Judas And Magnus Simon
As we celebrate our birthday today, it is important to make mention one of the most dangerous vice that is eroding the priestly fabrics. This evil is Avarice. Fulton J. Sheen says of it: “Avarice indeed can be one of the greatest sins of the priest, and perhaps the most insidious. It is a kind of “clean sin,” because it parades under the guise of prudence, of “caring for old age.” To this I quickly add that it could also take the guise of “I am acquiring” to help the poor, the orphans, the sick, my family, etcetera, when actually we are rushing down the fast lane of spiritual decadence. It is worthy of note that it was this same Avarice that destroyed Judas Iscariot, and Simon Magnus who very quickly got the Idea that the laying on of hands was a very good way to make money and rushed into it (Acts 8:19). Unfortunately, the fever of “Ministry,” “Ministration,” and “Adoration Prayer Groups” for different motives has crept into our church and gripped those who are supposed to show the way. A great number of us are now like Simon Magnus, who must lay hands in order to impress people. Instead of directing people to Christ the Saviour, we now direct them to ourselves, just to impress for the “bowl of porridge” that we expect in return. The same avarice has turned many of us to pure and shear “businessmen in the sense of the world.” Hence, most of us now market one article or the other like: anointing oils with different names and for different purposes, stickers, posters, Tee-shirts, haphazardly written or pirated books, Sacramentals, herbal medicines, black stones, nutritional supplements. While some of us now go as far being importers and exporters of cars, estate managers and other assorted stuffs. All these are in the name of what has been tagged “Personal Efforts (PE)” aimed at taking care of the future. All of these are marks of priestly avarice or priest-craft. Trust in Divine Providence has been thrown overboard, after all, “God helps those who help themselves” and, “he who fails to plan for his future is planning to fail!” Again, Fulton Sheen reminds us today as ever before that: “The good priest lives for his vocation; the avaricious priest live on his vocation.”
My dear brother Priests, as we celebrate our birthday today, let us arise and chase out avarice, the spirit of Judas Iscariot replicated in Simon Magnus from our priesthood. It is doing us more harm than Alexander the copper smith did to Paul (2 Tim 4:14-15). Let us define and purify our motives and remain focused in our noble vocation. The Lord who has called us is able to provide for us because, he is a great provider. As a birthday gift to the Lord let us offer ourselves whole heartedly again to Jesus in complete self abandonment. Let us not re-write the Lord’s Prayer from: “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” to “Give Us These Days Our Daily Breads.”
Happy Birthday and Felicitation!
Peace be with you all!!