Homily at the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the VERY REV. FR. DR. PAUL CHUKWULOLU EKOWA and Silver Jubilee Celebration of the 1992 Priestly Ordination set:  VERY REV. FRS

  1. AGU PASCHALIS
  2. ONOH ANSELM
  3. ONUIGBO DONATUS
  4. CHIME MICHAEL (NWATALARI CHRISTIAN & THEODORE MORGAN)

ON MONDAY, 27.11.17 AT ST. MARY PARISH, TRANS-EKULU

His Excellency, Most Rev. Dr. C.V.C.Onaga, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu,

His Excellency, Most Rev. Dr. A.O Gbuji, Emeritus Bishop of the Catholic Enugu Diocese,

Very Reverend Jubilarians of today, Reverend Fathers, Reverend Sisters and Brothers,

Dear Family members and immediate relatives of the Jubilarians,

My Revered and Fellow Christians, Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ both now and forever. Amen.

The Theme of our reflection today is:

 CALLED TO THIS MINISTRY TO BE SERVANTS

“Whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be the first among you, let him be your slave.

Dear Brothers and sister, these words taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew 20:26 and which form a part of today´s Gospel are carefully selected because they speak directly to our celebration. It is, therefore, my wish that we divide our reflections into four parts:

  1. Gratitude to God for the gift of the Catholic Priesthood and of our jubilarians.
  2. Gratitude to the immediate families of our Jubilarians
  3. A Reflection on their ministry which I regard as, a call to service.
  4. Advice to the Jubilarians
  5. Gratitude to God for the gift of the Catholic Priesthood and of our jubilarians.

Dear Friends in Christ, ours is a young Church, but as the saying goes: “the young shall grow”. With more and more of the Priests of our beloved Diocese celebrating their silver and golden Jubilees, our Local Church is gradually coming of age. The Catholic Diocese of Enugu established this beautiful tradition of coming together once every year, on Monday after the feast of Christ the King, to celebrate her Priests who have been faithful to their vocation for 25 years. Today, we have among us one who has persevered for 50 years, the Very Rev. Fr. Dr. Paul Chukwulolu Ekowa. It is a feast of GRATITUDE. First of all, we are grateful to God for the gift of the Catholic Priesthood and of our Jubilarians.

The Catholic Priesthood is a mystery. The Lord appointed ordinary men to take up the extra-ordinary responsibility of saving souls. One of the German words used in describing a Priest is “Seelsorger” – Soul saver. These men, according to the Decree on the Ministry and life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, are called to save souls. They are “to hold in the community of the faithful the sacred power of Order; that of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, and were to exercise the priestly office publicly on behalf of men and in the name of Christ” (PO no 2). The Catholic Priesthood is both a vocation as well as a gift. It has strong foundations based on the Sacred Scripture. In the gospel of Mark 3, 13-15 the Lord Jesus went up the mountain and called to himself those he wanted. They were to become his close collaborators; his ministers, his servants, priests. In John 15: 16 we read: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last”. The letter to the Hebrews says: No one takes this honour upon himself. Everyone is called by God, just as Aaron was (Heb 5.4). The Priesthood is not just a function; it is a vocation. Hebrew 5.1 gives us a beautiful scriptural definition of the Priesthood. It says: “Every High Priest is taken from among human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationship with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins”. Therefore as an author said, the Priest is a member of the Christian faithful who has been permanently configured by Christ through Holy Orders, to serve the Church.

Our own brother and priest, Joseph Ezechi gave two reasons why God chooses ordinary men for this extraordinary office of the Catholic Priesthood: because they are humans who are susceptible to human weaknesses, they are called to heal the wounds of their fellow men. They are, therefore, wounded healers. Secondly, God chose them because by His Grace, they are models of faith. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “Remember your leaders who preached the Word of God to you, and as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, take their faith as your model”.

We are celebrating the perseverance of our Jubilarians, through the grace of God. The grace of God has caused them to become our mentors.

The Catholic Priest is a prudent cooperator of the Bishop and an agent of Christ, the Head of the Church. The Decree on the Ministry and life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis sees a priest as a minister of God´s word, of the Sacraments and a ruler of the people. We are, therefore, grateful to God for the gift of the Catholic Priesthood. We are grateful to our brothers who answered this call to serve as Catholic Priests and have persevered, these 25, 50 years.

  1. Gratitude to the immediate families of our Jubilarians

Both the Lumen Gentium and the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, called the family the Domestic Church where parents, by word and example, are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. Gravissimum Educationis regards the family as the first school of social virtues which is necessary for every society. A flash back into the lives of these great men, the Jubilarians sitting before us will show that almost all of them came from a strong Catholic background. We thank especially those among them who have not hindered but encouraged their priestly ministry these 25, 50 years. We equally appreciate the role played by our local Church, the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, who, like a good mother accepted them into the Seminary, nurtured their vocation, employed them into their ministry and provided enabling atmosphere for them to make use of their individual talents.

  1. A Reflection on their ministry.

Our dear elder Brothers in the Priesthood, yours have been what I may call the “Ministry of service”. In the Gospel which we have just heard, the Lord said: “Whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be the first among you, let him be your slave (Mtt. 20:26). This advice was made against the background of the two brothers James and John whose mother came to Jesus to demand that he grants that his sons may sit, one at his left and the other at his right hand in the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches the disciples about true greatness. A servant is not to be like the Gentiles. They try to exert and rule over many people.  They judge the greatness of their kingdom by the number of people they rule.  This is often the case in the political circle where rulers want to exhibit dominion, total control or lordship over others. The church and its disciples are not to pattern themselves after the Gentiles. Dear Brothers, your track records have shown traces of humble service. Yours have been a ministry of service. Your records in the various parishes and institutions in our Diocese and beyond have given credence to Christ´s injunction that “Greatness lies in service. From serving as a relief worker during the Nigerian-Biafran civil war to working in the remotest parts of this Diocese without complaining, you have shown what ministry of service means; ambitious only over the things of the Lord.

In the Gospel of today, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to allow her two sons to sit on his right and left side in the Kingdom. This signifies the desire for position.  Those that sit on the side of a king are considered important people.  We do not know where the mother of James and John got the idea to ask this question but James and John did not seem to be embarrassed or shocked. The indignation of the other disciples towards James and John was great. Jesus uses the picture of the “cup” and “baptism” to teach them a good lesson. To drink from another’s cup means that you are close to one another. The Priests concelebrating a Mass drink from a cup as a sign of their unique fraternity. You know a person very well before you will drink after them from the same cup. This means you are sharing at the deepest levels. The picture of baptism is of immersion. James and John were to be immersed in the ministry of Christ. They were part of what we call the “inner circle”.  They were a part of all that Christ did.  In His own way, He is saying: they already have enough. They do not desire another form of greatness. Our Jubilarians regularly drink the Chalice of the Lord through the ups and downs of their priestly ministry.

Jesus denies the request of the mother of James and John on two counts: First, their ignorance.  Neither the mother nor the sons really understand what they are asking! They are asking Jesus to commit God to something which He may not wish to do. This is a case of bribery and corruption against God. In our political community it is rampart. Jesus equally showed them that seating arrangements in the Kingdom will be assigned by the Father. God has already had plans for each of his children and faith and personal effort will bring each one of them to that seat in the Kingdom.

Whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be the first among you, let him be your slave. The biblical and ecclesial sense of greatness lies in service. The English word minister comes from the Greek Uttorgos meaning servant, someone who attends to the need of others. The true minister is, therefore, the one who serves others, not under compulsion but with the right attitude.

  1. Advice to the Jubilarians

Dear brother Priests, yours have been a service oriented ministry. Like the master that called you to this ministry, you need to persevere to the end because Scripture says that only the one who stand firm till the end will be saved (Mtt. 24.13). Your family and friends, your fellow priests are surrounding you with their love and care. We are praying for you. The reward of hard labour is to do more, so we day: “More grease to your elbows. May the Lord who called you to this sacred ministry grant you the grace to always do his will in all the events of your lives. Amen.