Priesthood is life, ordination is rite (1)
AS we know, even in daily life, all of us respond to calls in ordinary life differently. Often, our attitude depends on the caller, the circumstances and the incentives or threat that might arise from a certain call. If you are told that your grandmother is looking for you, you might almost conclude that there must be something especially if it is in the evening.
If you are told that your father or mother is calling you, you know it is likely that you are to run an errand or wash some plates or clothes. Their calls will attract a lazier response than that of a grandmother who is almost likely to have something, some food that is left over or something nice. If on the other hand, you have come late to school and you are told the Head master is looking for you, the headmaster’s office will seem like a few kilometres away. If on the other hand, you came first in class and are told your headmaster is looking for you, his office will seem like just a step away. So, in all circumstances, our enthusiasm is often coloured.
Jeremiah’s famous call sounds very much like that of Moses who also gave excuses when God called him. He suggested to God that his brother was a much better speaker than himself and that he had a rather bad stammer. Yet, as we see in all these situations, as God said when he called David, God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). In the end, as God said to Jeremiah, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth (Jer. 1:9).
The ceremonies of ordination to the sacred priesthood are part of the three degrees of ordinations in the Catholic Church, the other two being, the ordination of Bishops and Deacons. Without these three categories of ordinations, we would have no Catholic Church to speak about. By this act, men are initiated into the sacred ministry of the proclamation of the gospel which Jesus entrusted to us when He enjoined the apostles to take the gospel to all the ends of the earth (Matt 28:18).
Through this ministry, the priest, in collaboration with the Bishop, fulfills this duty and constitutes what is called, the sacred sacerdotal college, or the presbyterate. It is this unbroken chain of faithfulness and obedience that holds the Catholic Church together. When we are told that the Bishop is the fullness of the priesthood, it is not in terms of the level of his sanctity, desirable as this might be. It is not in the sense of the exalted office. It is actually based on the fact that he too derives his own priesthood and authority from the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The unbroken chain is held together by the priest’s obedience to his Bishop whose authority derives from his own faithfulness and obedience to Christ, the Shepherd, the Priest, the Prophet and the King from whom we derive all our powers and authority. Thus, when the priest pledges obedience to his Bishop, this obedience goes deeper and it is not so much about command and order.
It is based on the fact that without it, we break the chain that holds our collective priesthood together. This is why, as we see in the ceremony, the Bishop gives the new priest a kiss of peace as a sign of welcome, admission into the field entrusted to him by the Lord of the harvest. The Bishop, as a co-worker in the vineyard, welcomes the new priest and together in obedience to Christ, they carry out the task of proclaiming the salvific message of Jesus Christ.
His fellow brother priests also participate in the ceremony of bringing a new brother into their fold as a new labourer in the vineyard. They do this by following the Bishop in the laying on of hands, helping to vest him in his new sacerdotal regalia of service, and then they also offer him a kiss of peace. In this way, Bishop and his co-workers, the priests become a family for the service of God’s people.
This is why, in his pastoral letter, Pastores Dabo Vobis, (I will give you Shepherds), St John Paul II stated that: The call of the priest exists through the church and for the church, and finds its fulfillment in her. Every priest receives his vocation from our Lord through the church as a gift. It is thus the task of the bishop or his equivalent to examine and confirm such vocation. Candidates to priesthood do not receive their vocation by imposing their own personal conditions but by accepting the norms and conditions laid down by the church herself in fulfillment of her responsibility (no 35).
The Laity are not left out of the ceremony. The new priest is their son, their brother, friend or uncle. It is for them that he has been ordained. Without the people, there will be no need for priests because we cannot be priests unto ourselves. St. Paul tells us that: Every high priest is taken from among men and appointed on behalf of men to the service of God (Heb. 5:1).
The importance of the Laity cannot be over-stated. It is the Laity that has given us permission to ordain the priest.
For us as Catholics, our life centres around the Seven Sacraments. Jesus is the Sacrament. However, today, increasingly, we are witnessing a lack of enthusiasm, love, and commitment to the Sacraments. The lives of many Catholics revolve around such Sacraments as Baptism or Matrimony. Increasingly, more and more of our people are shying away from the Sacraments of Penance, Confession, as we know it. With rise of anointed, powerful, miracle-working, demon-casting, curse-directing or averting men of God, our people are resorting increasingly to what seems to be the worship of other humans who are said to possess enormous powers.
•To be continued tomorrow.
•Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, delivered this sermon on the occasion of the sacred ordination of two deacons, Rev. Musa Maiyaki and Gabriel Dyek at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Old Airport, Sokoto on September 24, 2015.
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