HOMILY AT FIRST MASS 10.12.2017
The theme of our reflection today is: John the Baptist: a model for the priest of today.
My dear Brothers and Sisters,
During the period of Advent, the Church, following the dictates of the Sacred Scripture invites us to prepare for the second coming of Christ. John the Baptist is a central figure in today´s liturgy. In both first reading and the Gospel, we see John preparing the people for that coming. He is Christ´s Ambassador; he prepared the way for Him and pointed out the Christ when he came. In the political climate of the OT which lasted up until the time of John, the roads must be cleared when a king was to pass through it. The situation is not different in our own time. If the president is to come for a burial here in Awhum do we not think that the governor will make this road a priority? John used this metaphor of making the road straight for the King to illustrate how the Christian should prepare for the coming of the Messiah.
The second symbol which John used was the symbol of Baptism. In the Jewish tradition; it was the gentile who needed baptism in order to become a Jew. That was the end of the process of Proselytization. To become a new convert, one needed to purify oneself. One must offer sacrifice for atonement for one´s sins and to confess the sins. So the usual Jews did not need Baptism. John preached a new Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It was a Baptism of conversion of soul for the Jews. He purifies the heart of the people in order that they may meet the Lord. He did this through Baptism.
That is the mission of Christianity: to purify every culture and implant the message of salvation. An author whose name was Seneca, called Rome, “a cesspool of iniquity”. Christianity came to Rome to cleanse it. That is equally the mission of Christianity in Awhum. The question we may ask ourselves is this: Is it possible that someone fails to make heaven here in Awhum? One of the greatest monasteries in the world is situated in Awhum. Awhum produced one of the most valuable priests of Enugu Diocese, the late Msgr. Anthony Aso. Awhum has numerous priests and religious. Awhum has a parish and a parish priest who is tested and trusted. Christianity should, therefore, purify Awhum and implant the message of salvation here. Today, another firebrand is raised to the order of the Priesthood in this town of multiple blessings.
John the Baptist´s mission was to inaugurate the coming of the Messiah. By his death, he paved way for the work of the Christ who came to save His people by offering his life on the cross.
The ministry of John the Baptist was successful because:
- He lived his message not his words. (Ekwueme)
He led a desert life. He lived in the village, not in the town. He was not dressed in purple; He wore a leather belt around his waist. Do you know why the priest puts on the cincture. It is a sign of mortification and a fight against concupiscence. John ate like a pauper. Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical: Evangeli Nuntiandi said that the modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.
- He told the people what they should hear, not what they want to hear.
The priest should not be a cheap and false prophet. A cheap prophet tells the people what they want to hear. He is only interested in their money not their salvation. In the days of John the Baptist, the voice of authentic prophecy had been silent since three hundred years until John came. The situation is even more critical today when many priests and pastors are only after money in order to belong to the list of the rich in the society. The story of the so called Catholic Priest who was conducting deliverance and his followers slipped in two little lizards presumably being vomited from his throat is a true sign of the decay in the ministry of Prophesy.
Rev Fr Alex, whether to belong to the false prophets of the OT or to the authentic prophet like John the Baptist is your decision to make. In every sphere of life the expert is recognizable. You do not need to look so far to recognize the true prophet. Do not be deceived, the people are not stupid. They may not attack you but they have their reservation in their heart.
- John´s message had a great power because he was humble.
He did not usurp the office of the Christ. He said that he was not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. It was the function of the slave to untie their master´s sandals. John gave himself a position lower than that of a slave. In this regard, St. Norbert would say to the Priest: ‘O Priest! You are not yourself because you are God. You are not of yourself because you are the servant and minister of Christ. You are not you own because you are the spouse of the Church. You are not yourself because you are the mediator between God and man. You are not from yourself because you are nothing. What then are you? Nothing and everything. O Priest! Take care lest what was said to Christ on the cross be said to you: “He saved others, himself he cannot save!” In the words of St Paul in 2Cor. 4:7, the Priest is “a treasure in a clay pot”, so the immensity of the power of the priest is God´s not his own.
John witnessed to Christ before he came and pointed him out when he came: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold he who takes away the sins of the world.” John told the people that his own Baptism was from water but that Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Priests are just like the receptionist who connects the speaker with his client. The priest who wants to be a true prophet in the manner of John the Baptist must be humble. He must avoid ostentatious life. In the civil and political Nigerian society, something is gone wrong. The young people no longer desire to follow the natural rhythm of life whereby one must first be an apprentice before he is made an OGA. He desires to become OGA from ab initio.
WHO IS A PRIEST?
The Catholic Priesthood is a mystery. 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, the Priest is a member of the Christian faithful who has been permanently configured by Christ through Holy Orders, to serve the Church. He is a prudent cooperator of the Bishop and an agent of Christ, the Head of the Church. Lumen Gentium number 10, therefore identifies two degrees of Priesthood: The common and ministerial Priesthood. The common or royal Priesthood is the Priesthood of all the faithful. All the baptized are called into it. 2 Pt 2:9 defined this form of the Priesthood when it states: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”. The ministerial Priesthood is captured in the words of the Letter to the Hebrew 5:1 which we have just cited.
A sense of Common Priesthood existed even in the Old Testament. We read in Ex 19. 3-6, “You shall be to me a priestly kingdom, a holy nation. But this Common Priesthood was distinguished from the ministerial Priesthood. Aaron and his sons were of the ministerial order of the Levitical Priesthood. We can recall what happened to Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers ch. 16 when they rebelled against Moses and Aaron saying to them: “You take too much on yourselves. The whole community and all members are consecrated, and Yahweh lives among them. Why set yourselves higher than Yahweh´s community? The earth opened and swallowed them and their families. So there is a difference between the Common Priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial Priesthood. The one is personal, the other is sacramental and at the service of the Common Priesthood. That was why St Augustine said: “For you, I am a Bishop, with you, I am a Christian. The Ministerial Priesthood is hierarchical. Both belong to the same genus but specifically, the two differ, each having its proper and distinct function.
What the saints are saying about the Priesthood
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said that the Priest is not his own.
St. Cyril of Alexandria: ‘I see all the saints frightened at the sacred ministry, as at an immense charge.’
Alphonsus Maria de Liguori: The end for which God has instituted the priesthood has been to appoint on earth public persons to watch over the honor of his divine majesty, and to procure the salvation of souls.
St. John Chrysostom: ‘Do you wish to know if the people of any place are righteous? Look what sort of a pastor they have. If you find him pious, just, sound, believe the people will be the same, for they are seasoned with the salt of his wisdom.’
St. Bernardine of Siena: ‘The power of the priest is the power of the divine person; for the transubstantiation of the bread requires as much power as the creation of the world.’
Canon 1008 says that Priests are marked with an indelible Character through sacred ordination and Canon 273 hold that Priests are clerics who possess the Power of Order to govern the people of God. Story of the lay theologian who is doctor of theology.
SUPPORT YOUR PRIEST
The greatest support which the priest enjoys comes from the Christians but the greatest temptation he has comes from the Christians as well. Story of the priest visionary who was newly posted to a parish who saw a vision of one hundred daemons at the market square and ten thousand at the parish house. Support your priests, don’t hinder him. He is not a money maker. He is a poor Church rat. He needs your prayers to stand firm.