Priestly Ordination: Called to Witness

Homily by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Abuja. At the Priestly Ordination of Reverends John Anaebo, Donald Jooji, Lucky Francis, Mark Ogueli, Anthony Adeh, Samson Emhokidi, and Valentine Nzekah, 15th August 2020, at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Abuja

Readings: Genesis 14:17-24; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 10-14; Luke 10:1-9, 17-20

We are in a very high Marian mood today as we celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven. The Assumption has two pointers: one is vertical, indicating that where our Blessed Mother has gone, there we hope to be. The horizontal pointer is that while we are still on our journey in this world we should always do whatever her Son Jesus tells us.

We rejoice also today because seven dynamic and energetic labourers who are ready to launch into the deep are being conferred with priestly dignity. May the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for them to be committed to their priestly vocation for the salvation of souls, without counting the cost.

Genesis 14:18 describes Melchizedek as a priest of God the Most High who blessed Abram for his heroism upon Abram’s return in triumph from battle, and offered him according to the convention of the time, bread and wine. The author of Hebrews uses Melchizedek as a symbol of what Christ is like as a priest, and adds that the priestly dignity is an honour bestowed by God. One does not take it upon himself unless he has been called by God (cf. Heb 5:1-4).

The new priests we ordain today other than preaching the word and celebrating the sacraments are called, according to Isaiah 61:1-3, to heal the broken-hearted, to serve the poor, to bring relief to those who mourn, captives, widows, orphans, the sick and prisoners who are often neglected by society. John 20:21-23 invites them to be instruments of peace and forgiveness, while 1 Peter 5:2 urges them to shepherd the flock of God that is entrusted to them, not looking for a reward but with a generous heart and to always be an example to the flock. “Smell like the sheep”, says Pope Francis.

By accepting ordination, they have opted to be very close friends of Jesus and to make more friends for Jesus. Prayer will be the secret of their success as it is the oxygen for priestly ministry. When a priest stops praying or prays without proper interior stillness, he suffers “spiritual asphyxiation”.

In the second reading taken from 1 Corinthians 4, Paul describes himself and others as stewards of the sacred things of God, ready to suffer all kinds of deprivations and they consider themselves as fools for the sake of Christ.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus appointed and sent seventy two disciples to heal the sick, preach peace and the Kingdom of God. They were to carry no money, no bag, no sack, no sandals etc., depending upon God’s providence through their hosting communities. The seventy two returned rejoicing, and said; even the demons were subject to them because of the name of Jesus. Jesus however told them to “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20).

Recently, the Consultors, Deans and priests and I have been discussing the possibility of creating new pastoral areas, that is, areas that could be developed to grow into parishes in the future. This initiative is in line with the recent instruction from Rome on “The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church”.

The early Christian missionaries, who brought the faith to us, left the comfort of their homes, completely detached from their friends and families and material comfort. We therefore need more priests today with such keen missionary sensitivity, who will groom these areas until they become quasi parishes and then full-fledged parishes, by God’s grace. Some priests may be sent to places without a parish house or church building, but through the kindness of our beloved lay people, the priests will live with them, eating and drinking whatever they are given (cf. Lk 10:7). I call on you, dear people of God, to support this pastoral initiative and to take up sponsorship in part or in full, of Church buildings or parish houses or purchase of land in these new pastoral areas.

Today, people are in search of witnessing priests not necessarily eloquent priests with all sorts of degrees. Pope Francis in his address to the Third World-wide Priests’ Retreat at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome, Italy, June 12, 2015, said God’s people know how “to recognize immediately when a priest is in love with Jesus”.

Support these new priests to be in love with Jesus and to be witnesses rather than mere teachers or preachers. Talk to our Mother Mary about us your priests. Always ask God to strengthen the faith of your priests. Report us to Jesus when we err and invoke the Holy Spirit to show us the right path. Together, we shall succeed in the name of Jesus.

We thank all those who have been responsible for the training of these candidates for the priesthood especially, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, seminary formators, members of the vocations team and our generous faithful. We also thank their parents for giving them for selfless service in the Church.

As we pray at this Mass, let us remember the families and individuals who have lost their loved ones in the recent guerrilla attacks in Southern Kaduna and other parts of the nation. We have had enough of these killings. Dialogue can resolve problems better than guns, bombs and arrows. We call on the Government at all levels to provide immediate and lasting security solutions.

We implore the maternal intercession of our Lady assumed body and soul into heaven, that through her intercession, we may overcome the pandemic of COVID-19; have security and lasting peace in our country. May we, the priests and religious, receive the graces to be genuine witnesses of Jesus, so that together with our Laity we will be a shining light in our world so much in need of God’s mercy.

May God who has begun this good work in us, bring it to fulfilment. Amen

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