Three symbolisms during priestly ordination

Chrism Mass at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Abuja, 12th April, 2022. Homily by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Archbishop of Abuja.

Readings: Is. 61: 1-3, 6, 8-9; Ps. 88(89): 21-22, 25, 27; Rev. 1: 5-8; Lk. 4: 16-21

This week marks the peak of our Lenten observance, a period during which the Church calls us to more intense prayers, sacrificial giving and personal discipline, and invites us to make more deliberate efforts to be nearer to our God in purity of mind and heart. This last week of Lent can be compared to what is for the mechanic, a time for overhauling the engine of a car for a pending journey, for the student, a time of intense revision for exams, for the trader, a time of reconciling accounts before the next purchases, for the footballer, an extra time during a match, for the priest/religious, the fervent preparations for ordination or profession, and for every Christian, a time to urgently call on Jesus as Bartimaeus the blind beggar (cf. Mk. 10:46-52) frantically did when Jesus was passing by. I urge us to use this golden opportunity of the Holy Week to renew our respective commitments to Jesus and to listen to what the Holy Spirit says to us as a family.

I appreciate your sacrifice of time to be personally present for this Chrism Mass, during which we pray for unity among us priests; asking God’s blessing on priests so that they may exercise their ministerial duties in close collaboration with the Bishop and be a flame of hope that the Prophet Isaiah kindled among the exiled Jews in our first reading. This happens by preaching the good news, to bind broken hearts, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to console prisoners, to comfort those who mourn – the hungry, the poor, the unemployed youths and to assure them of God’s unfailing love (cf. Is. 6: 1-3).

The Chrism Mass just like the Cathedraticum Mass has become for us a joyful event, a time to celebrate that we are brothers and sisters irrespective of the accident of history and geography. To sustain this spirit, I urge the priests to encourage more people to attend Archdiocesan liturgical celebrations as a way of fostering our family spirit. I wish to see more participation of our senior Catholics in government, politics and in business, whose personal attendance will certainly encourage many other Catholics. Priests should kindly convey the message of Archdiocesan events clearly and promptly and well in advance so that the big and the small can attend. The Holy Father’s call to “synodality” is a call to all of us to participation, communion and mission. Each year as we bless the oils of sacred Chrism, the Catechumen and the sick for the use of all of us in the year, all segments of the Archdiocesan family should be present to celebrate and pray together.

On this day too, we priests renew our priestly commitments, I wish to dwell on three symbolisms during priestly ordination:

a) The priest lying down or prostrating during the litany of the Saints symbolizes a dying to self, humility, self emptying (kenosis) and self-giving.

b) When the new priest kneels and puts his two hands into the palms of the Bishop, he promises obedience, meaning that when asked by Superiors or Bishops to go and teach, work in prison, hospital, customs, immigration, military, or even where people are so poor, the priest is ready to go with joy and gratitude in his heart. This type of disposition is the source of happiness for a priest.

c) Receiving the gift of a chalice with bread from the Bishop means readiness to celebrate the Holy Mass everyday for personal sanctification and for the people of God, whether in rural or urban areas, for the rich or poor; illiterate or literate, to nourish their soul with this sacrament of immortality.

A priest suffers and is heading to priestly discontentment when he begins to make personal choices or to question, compare, and argue; failing to remember that the Church is his Mother and Teacher and makes decisions for him, as the priest is no longer his own.

A priest should be able to close his eyes and genuinely say to himself, “where am I needed the most, in a school or in a hospital, in a rural parish or in an urban parish?” Some close their eyes and see that they are teaching in a school but they would like to serve in a hospital, some working in a rural area and they would like to relocate to a bigger area! Some want to acquire degrees even when such degrees may not be necessary. Dear lay people, friends and families of priests, kindly support priests even when sent to very difficult missions, rather than giving them the impression that they are suffering.

We priests should really mean it when we join the congregation to say the post-communion prayer: “Jesus, I love you; all I have is yours, yours I am and yours I want to be, do with me whatever you will”.

At an interview to start training in the seminary, one is asked why you want to become a priest. The usual answer is, “because I want to serve God and His people”. That is a fine answer, but the answer should also include, “I want to serve God and His people anywhere, anytime, anyhow and in any circumstance; to go where I am needed, and not where I think I should be.”

The formation of priests in selflessness and pastoral availability, rooted in the Eucharist should be the collective responsibility of the family, the seminary, and the parish. The priesthood is not a career but a call to selfless service; hence, a priest can be asked to work with the hill people, river people, people in prison, farmers, civil servants, politicians, or the very poor, to lead them in the path of salvation (cf. Lk. 4:18-19). The priest is expected to preserve the dignity of the priesthood that we received from God, and be content with just being priests; to become clothed with Christ (cf. Gal. 3:27). He is to nourish the people with the Word, and to strengthen them with the Sacraments, to be with the people, and to encourage them by bringing them hope and consolation.

I was very impressed to know that the Legion of Mary initiated the move to create the IDP camp outstation at Dagba, named “Our Lady Help of Christians”. Even though with no church land and worshipping in a make-shift tent, I was glad to visit them. The Church in Gyadna Pastoral Area was demolished because the land was not theirs. The dislodged parishioners with their priest are working to erect a place of worship on a small piece of land. Those in a position to support such laudable and humble pastoral endeavours should kindly do so. We thank those who have either done so or are doing so.

May Mary intercede for us priests to renew our priestly zeal and commitment; that we remain aligned with God’s purpose and in the likeness of Christ (Presbyterorum Ordinis no. 12).

St. Ignatius of Antioch urges all of us believers that we should not merely be called Christian but also to be Christian i.e. to be imitators of Christ.

I wish all of us a most rewarding and spiritually fulfilling Holy Week.

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