The Gift and Ministry of the Priesthood

Chrism Mass, Archdiocese of Abuja, Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, 27th March 2024. Homily by Archbishop I.A. Kaigama.

Readings: Is. 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9: Ps. 89:21-22, 25, 27; Rev. 1:5-8; Lk. 4:16-21

The Gift and Ministry of the Priesthood

After a successful 2024 Cathedraticum, with the active and generous participation of the laity, the religious, and the priests, animated by the eight deans, we give thanks to Almighty God for His goodness and providence.

Today, we gather to celebrate our unity as priests working in fellowship, collaboration, and communion with the chief pastor of the Archdiocese and the Auxiliary Bishop. We shall renew our commitment to serve God and to serve His people without counting the cost; we shall ask for a renewal of both spiritual and physical energy to keep the spiritual/pastoral flags flying high; we shall beg God for the grace to be true witnesses to the gospel values, and to bring hope to all facing multidimensional challenges. Please pray with me as I bless the oils of the sick and catechumens and consecrate the oil of chrism. These oils, as ordinary as they are, once blessed become extraordinary – the oil of the sacraments and of the Church, to bring to birth a priestly, prophetic, and kingly people.

Dear brothers and sisters, help to seek divine outpouring of more graces upon us priests so that we will become more effective instruments in the Lord’s vineyard. We are aware that even for automobiles or machines, there comes a time when they run low on diesel or petrol and need to be refilled. Our annual Chrism Mass is meant to refill us so that we do not run dry as we try to model our lives after Jesus Christ the Great High Priest.

The Chrism Mass celebrates the gift and ministry of the ministerial priesthood. As we heard in the gospel reading, the priest is called and sent to proclaim the good news of salvation; to proclaim liberty to the captives, give sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord (cf. Lk. 4:18-19). In giving ourselves to mission, there is some kind of exhaustion/fatigue that comes with faithfully living out our priestly vocation.

Among our priests, some are sent to work in difficult mission fields, and rural areas, ministering to the Internally Displaced Persons, prisoners, those kidnapped and released, and other needy categories of people, living among the people, and experiencing along with them the poor living conditions and other social and security challenges. However, they keep striving, offering pastoral services and giving the people reasons to keep hope alive in the face of the social, economic, and political uncertainties. The priest also needs to get some strength to face these tasks and to serve, not only through prayer, the sacraments or keeping good social relationships, but also by a renewal of his priestly commitment.

A woman asked me that as things appear so bad why do I keep preaching hope to the people? I told her that once there is life there is hope (Dum spiro spero). That is our mission. Our mission description is the same as Jesus mentioned in today’s gospel, quoting Isaiah 61. The Lord has entrusted us with the responsibility of looking after the poor, and prisoners, spreading the good news, bringing hope to the hopeless, comforting those who suffer, and being available to serve people selflessly, without putting ourselves first or counting the cost.

As the Holy Father told the Nigerian priests, religious and lay people in Rome a few days ago, we should build our people into a “great and inclusive family”, in which “all can use their different gifts and talents, which are fruits of the Holy Spirit” to “support and strengthen one another in moments of joy, and sorrow, success, and difficulty.” The Lord is inviting us priests to draw closer to receive the needed grace and strength to serve the people of God. Not to become attention-seekers, or of worldly rewards but to lead those entrusted to our care to Christ.

The second reading, from Revelation, gives us an idea of what the Lord’s reward is, more than Dollars, Naira, or Pounds. The Lord offers us His love and redemption through the price He paid on the cross. There is no peace greater than His forgiveness, and there is no price greater than His blood shed for our sake.

The first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, makes a declaration of hope that relates to the ministerial priesthood, “You will be named ‘priests of the Lord’, they will call you ‘ministers of our God’… I reward them faithfully and make an everlasting covenant with them” (Is. 61:6-8). Being priests for God and His people is both a privilege and an opportunity of grace that cannot be measured by any human means as it is not a career. God Himself pays the priest’s salary when He says, “I will reward them faithfully” (v8)

May I conclude by thanking all our priests for all that they do in the service of God and His Church. We ask the lay people to continue to pray for and support their priests. May Almighty God grant that when we priests are betrayed by our own weaknesses, we may draw the breath of new life from the passion and death of God’s Only Begotten Son, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

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