A Call to Mission

Missionary Society of St. Paul Priestly Ordination.  Homily by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Abuja, at the National Missionary Seminary of St. Paul, Gwagwalada, Abuja. 12th September, 2020.

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-9; Psalm 84:3-4, 5, 11, Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13, John 12:24-26

Throughout history, God has often called persons to specific missions. Abraham in Genesis 12 was summoned to leave his homeland rather unexpectedly for an unknown destination and he left in the spirit of absolute obedience. Jeremiah, as we read in the first reading (Jer. 1:4-9), though young and inexperienced, was empowered by the Lord to be a prophet among his people.

Those called to work for God always experienced and expressed a feeling of inadequacy. Moses told God that he stammered a lot (cf. Ex. 4:10), Gideon told the angel of God, “my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Jdg 6:15), Isaiah complained about his “unclean lips” (cf. Is. 6:5), Simon Peter told the Lord to depart from him for he (Peter) was “a sinful man” (cf. Lk. 5:8).

St. Paul asks the question in Romans 10:14-15 about how people can call upon the name of the Lord and believe in Him and hear about Him if no one sends preachers. Jesus knew this very well and sent the Apostles to boldly preach the Gospel and encouraged them to endure even when confronted with suffering and hardships. St. Paul who was a keen persecutor of Christians became an ardent preacher of Christ, and going through severe hardships, distinguished himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Let us celebrate with gratitude to God the priestly ordination of seven young men in the Missionary Society of St. Paul. I thank the Superior General, Fr. Callistus Isara, MSP, for inviting me to perform my first solemn ceremony in my canonical capacity as the new Local Ordinary of the Society. Be assured of my prayers and collaboration. Allow me please to congratulate all the MSP family, the formators, parents of the candidates, benefactors and friends. Congratulations!

In the fifteenth century, Portuguese missionaries had some contacts with the Oba of Benin and following this, there were various contacts with Christianity through Spanish explorers and in the Kingdom of Bornu, through some Italian Franciscan missionaries, but these did not have any lasting impact.

The first Holy Mass celebrated on March 9, 1862, in Lagos by Fr. Francesco Borghero, SMA, an Italian missionary, could be said to be the beginning of formal Catholic missionary work in Nigeria.

Expatriate missionaries came, but mosquitoes sent many of them to their early graves. The Gospel text says today, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn. 12:24). These heroes of faith gave their lives by their labour of love and today, we are the fruits of their courageous self-giving love.

Nigeria today generously sends diocesan and religious missionaries to Europe, America, and other parts of Africa etc. This was in fact what the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria wanted by founding the Missionary Society of St. Paul, which has today over three hundred priests.

Dear Deacons, as you offer your life for missionary service remember that you are called to the priesthood at a challenging time in the life of the Church and the world. Some individuals and groups, allergic to the Gospel, negatively scrutinize and x-ray the Church, and feeling uneasy with the ideals and values of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, prefer a Church where one is free to do as he or she pleases. One would think that if they don’t appreciate the Church’s activities for the salvation of souls, they would at least consider the humanitarian services offered by the Catholic Church over the centuries in the nooks and crannies of the world. It is no secret that the Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world, as well as other works of charity, in addition to social development, and social justice etc. One wonders about the agenda to bring the Catholic Church to her knees. Yes, the Church may go on her knees, not in defeat, but praying.

The 1.3 billion Catholics know that problems are normal in any family. Storms and frightening waves will always be present but we have the assurance of the Lord Himself, “I am with you always….” (Mt 28:20), and the powers of hell cannot prevail against the Church (cf. Mt 16:18).

Our world suffering from spiritual and material poverty needs priests clothed with holiness, priests who bless the people (cf. 2 Chr. 6:41), offer sacrifices on the Lord’s altar (cf. Dt. 33:10), praying, preaching and leading the people to holiness; and being for them, bridges of love, peace and reconciliation.

My dear new priests, in fulfilling the tasks assigned to you by God, please find time for silence to contemplate Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament; make the Lord God alone your rock and refuge, “unload all your worries on to Him” (1 Pt. 5:7). When discouraged, frustrated or feeling weak, look up to Jesus in prayer and He will strengthen you. As St. Paul, your patron Saint in the second reading from Ephesians says, be always humble, gentle and patient. (cf. Eph. 4:1-3).

Please note what Redemptoris Missio 42 says that “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories.” “Smell like the sheep”, says Pope Francis. Don’t be afraid of hardships and deprivations. Be ready like St. Paul to pour your lives as a libation (cf. 2 Tim 4:6).

May you our new priests and indeed all of us priests and religious, delight in serving God and His people and at last, with our Lady’s help, come together with those we serve safely to God’s presence. Amen.

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