Faithfulness in Serving God
Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama at the Opening Mass of the Maiden General Assembly, Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Abuja. 4th September, 2020.
The readings today were selected to reflect the purpose for our gathering in our maiden General Assembly of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja.
The first reading from Joshua 24 tells us how Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel, represented by their leaders in Shechem to remind them of their covenant relationship with the Lord God.
Joshua began his speech by tracing the origin of the promise God made to Abraham: “To you and your offspring I will give this land” (Gen 12:7) and warned the people of the negative consequences of not obeying God. Joshua asked the Israelites to make a clear choice about which god they wanted to serve; the gods Abraham worshipped before being called, the gods of Egypt or the gods of the Amorites. Joshua was however uncompromising in his stand: “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord” (Jos 24:15). The people responded, “far be it for us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods”. “We will serve the Lord” (Jos 24:21).
Joshua warned them that serving the Lord would not be easy. They would need to serve the Lord in obedience and humility. Lip service was not going to make God happy. It had to be total and committed service. Serving the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength and doing all in our power for the good of our Archdiocese, without counting the cost, is part of why we are gathered here; that together we can all build the kingdom of God, without any indifference or sitting on the fence.
In the second reading St. Paul talks about the different kinds of gifts and services, all aimed at building the Church. The gifts are given by God not just for the benefit of the gifted persons but for the common good. We are gifted in our Archdiocese with many good teachers, doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, nurses, business men and women, mechanics, security experts etc. St. Paul stresses the divine origin of all these gifts and how Christians must not succumb to jealousy but each to use his or hers for the common good. In 1 Corinthians 12:22-26 we read that God has arranged the body such that there is no disagreement inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.
In the Gospel, Jesus commissions his followers to go into the world to do his bidding, namely, to go and to make, i.e. to go to the nations and to make disciples. This mandate is still valid today. There is need for deepening the word of God in the hearts of those who have already heard the word and the need to reach out to those who are still far from it especially during this COVID-19 era.
We still have a lot to do in what I call the “two Abujas”: the Abuja in the centre and the Abuja in the periphery. On Monday 31st August, during my first pastoral visit to St. Stephen the Martyr, Gaube, I saw a land, beautiful in scenery and a beautiful people hungry for pastoral services. Fr. Clement Ujah was the first priest to start the place from the scratch, with practically nothing, followed by Fr. Kennedy Ohazuruike and now Fr. Victor Ullam. What struck me during the ground breaking ceremony of the Parish Church was the palpable joy and contentment I saw in these priests, proud to be associated with the progress of this rural community.
Dear brother priests, we have a mandate from Jesus to go into the nooks and crannies of the FCT to make people friends of Jesus; and you lay people, to be actively involved in evangelization by praying or going physically for mission or by giving generously, which many of you do even in these tough and challenging times.
Our spiritual or pastoral work, or work in education, healthcare or social services must touch people beyond the borders of tribe or religion. Our constituency is the human race. We must remember that we only pass this world once, and whatever good we can do, we should do it without procrastination, for procrastination is the thief of time. The decision to serve Jesus as priests, religious or laity entails keeping aside personal comfort. There is no room for neutrality. You are either for Jesus or you are not; it is either you are working for Jesus or you are not. The Gospel of Luke 16:13 gives us a powerful reminder that we cannot serve two masters at the same time.
In conclusion, let us listen to St. Paul’s advice in Colossians 3:23-24:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord, and not for men. You know well that the Lord will reward you; you will receive what he has kept for his people. For Christ is the real Master you serve”.
May the Lord grant all of us, including children and teenagers the grace to be faithful missionaries and witnesses, and to work with genuine zeal, accompanied by fervent prayer, so that on the last day we will hear the words of the Master: “Well done good and faithful servant, come and enter into the Kingdom prepared for you” (Mt. 25:34)