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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Nigerian Roman Catholic Priest Reflects on "What is a Priest?" -- During His First Anniversary of Ordination.

 “Who am I, Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18.) 

(The pictures in this piece come from a visit Fr. Jude Eze made to the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria early in the first year of his priesthood.)

In his first year as a priest,
Fr. Jude Eze visited the Byzantine
Chapel of the International 
Theological Institute in Trumau, 
Austria 

by Fr. Jude Chinedu Eze, IShc.

It’s already a year since my ordination to the Catholic Priesthood. 

I was ordained in the midst of a raging wave of scandal perpetuated by some derailed priests, while incessant persecutions, kidnappings and killings of Christians and priests took place in my country of Nigeria. 

In an age, when the priesthood is maltreated, scorned, crucified and vilified in my many quarters, I still chose out of my own freewill to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, for the Schoenstatt Fathers on May 25, 2019 by Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah of Nsukka Diocese. This day is as important as the day I was born. It is the happiest day of my life.  It is a day that Christ laid hold of me and made me his Priest, (Philippians 3:12). On a day like this it is important to reflect on my nascent journey into the priesthood. 

In the first place, I must say that my religious commitment to the Schoenstatt Fathers and my ordination to the Catholic Priesthood have changed my life tremendously. It has brought countless blessings, challenges and opportunities for which I am eternally grateful. My experiences thus far, have affirmed the promise of joy and peace that God gives us as long as we are obedient and authentic in following his divine will for our lives. Indeed, I can say, I do not regret my decision to commit all of my life to God, the Church and my religious family—the Schoenstatt Fathers. 

The Priesthood

The priesthood is a gift from God. “No one takes the honour upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” (Heb. 5:4). I am not a Priest because I am qualified to be one. As a matter of fact, I am only a sinner elevated by grace. Like St. John Chrysostom said, “The infirmity of my spirit renders me useless for this ministry,” yet, God choose me. Surely, he has chosen me because he has trust in me and has a mission for me. My ministry as a Priest will not finish the work of God here on earth but it will surely add value to the Body of Christ and the work of evangelization.  

My motivation in the Priesthood

My priesthood is fundamentally ignited by a deep yearning for God and unreserved desire to serve others. I think this is the major mandate of every minster of the Gospel. We are called to serve and not to be served. Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated this vividly shortly before his passion, when He washed the feet of his apostles, giving us an example to follow: Christ said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14.) A life of service demands self-emptying, denial or immolations as the case maybe for the good and satisfaction of others. This is the life of a Priest; a life lived totally for others. 

Fr. Jude was able to meet with Dr. Dagny Kjaergaard, ITI professor
and an editor of the Catholic Catechism 

I draw a lot of inspiration as a priest from the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe. In the hell on earth known as Auschwitz,   Father Maximilian Kolbe offered his life in place of a married prisoner who had been selected for death by starvation. He was asked who he was, with the implication, why are you doing this? He responded simply. "I am a Catholic Priest."  His identity was his mission, and like his divine Master, he went to his death as a priest and victim. 

A life of a Priest is a life of sacrifice. A life devoid of charity and sacrifice is fruitless and insignificant. Life is more meaningful when is lived for others in harmony.  

My Experience

Dependence on the grace and wisdom of God is the bedrock of any successful pastoral enterprise. Thus far, I have found out that there’s a difference between studying the theories of theology and the actual application of the knowledge gained to the realities of life found on the pastoral field. What is encountered in study is often comprehensible but the realities of the pastoral life are very hard to understand at times. No doubt, our theological knowledge offers a lot of insight; help and guide for our pastoral work. However, pastoral realities are sometimes theologically challenging and mind boggling.

  

Fr. Juraj Terek assists Fr. Jude during 
the Byzantine Rite. Fr. Jude is a Roman Rite priest
unfamiliar with the Byzantine Rite. 

My experience in the last one year have being interesting and challenging. According to St. Gregory of Nazianzen, the primary task of a Priest is cura animarum (care of the soul). In other words, A priest is primarily a doctor of the soul. And the task of caring for the soul is obviously a daunting assignment because the soul is delicate, and precious to God. Since, after my ordination, it’s been a great privilege to encounter, to help, to support and to be with the people of God in joyful moments as well as in challenging and frightening times of sorrow and distress. 

As a priest working in a local Parish in the suburb of Lagos, people come to me with all their existential and metaphysical concerns, worries, questions, problems and the significant suffering they are going through in life. This ranges from sickness of all kinds like cancer, stroke etc., family members dying, family crisis, marriages falling apart; Father, I have no job or I just lost my job, Father, I am hungry—no money to feed my family, no money to pay house rent, no money to pay medical bills etc. There are also cases of enslavement and demonic manipulations and oppression that are brought forth.  They don’t understand why these things are happening to them despite their love for God and efforts they have put into their work, business and life. Of course!  I don’t have a magic answer or solutions to these myriads of challenges and questions.  But it’s even more onerous helping these people to understand, find hope and meaning from their sufferings in life. It takes grace, love and a fatherly disposition to listen and entertain the life issues of the people of God. This for me has been an interesting aspect of my life as priest in the last one year. 

Again, I found great spiritual joy and fulfilment whenever I am opportune to listen to confessions. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. At the confessional, my spiritual fatherliness becomes more evident as I stand as Alter Christus listening, counselling and reminding the people of God’s love, justice, mercy and forgiveness. These sublime encounters often remind me of my own weakness and the need to also seek the merciful face of God. 

Lastly, the current pandemic has offered me a wonderful opportunity for a long retreat to nurture and grow my relationship with Jesus Christ.  Covid-19 is an epoch making pandemic which has affected everything in the globe including my life as a young priest. I am newly posted to work in a parish and just after few months here, the Church is closed to public worship. In the past, times like this were only seen in the pages of history and no one ever imagined that it would happen again in our time. Like a joke we are restricted to staying at home, restricted from having social contact, and restricted from gathering at our places of worship and saying Mass together. Pondering on all of these realities, I came to a conclusion that God indeed had a reason for slowing us down. Humanity prior to the Covid-19 era was driving in a fast lane. We had so much noise and distraction, no time for the family, no time for God due to the transient hustling and bustling of life which often prevent us from paying attention to the things that really matter. 

With the lockdown, the serenity and peace of the earth was obviously seen around the cities. This time reminds me of the fact that we have a common humanity and a common responsibility for one another and to earth that is hosting us. I was so much fascinated to see from across the globe that love couldn’t be locked down as many offered help and support for the poor and disadvantaged around the world. Around my local parish many made sacrifices to see that everyone had something to eat and drink while staying at home. My parishioners have also ensured that we don’t go hungry at the Rectory. For me, the pandemic has a lot to teach us as the world advances into a new era. The love and friendship shown during this time globally should be treasured and sustained for the good of our humanity and world.  

Challenges

The priesthood confers a superhuman dignity on every ordained, and we pay a heavy price for it. For by the grace of ordination a Priest is transformed into another Christ. A Priest is consecrated and set apart to offer sacrifice and supplication to God and service to his people.  However, the grace of ordination does not obfuscate the humanness of a Priest.  Certainly, the sacred nature of the life of a Priest sets him up against Satan and the world; all eyes are on him, for the ideal is expected of him in every respect and at all times. And often, many forget that But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7.) Hebrews 5: 2 says that a priest is subject to weakness. This is not an excuse for one to live a reckless life of debauchery but a reminder that priests are also humans.  

From the times leading to my ordination I knew and understood fully well that I am not being ordained into an easy life, the modern priesthood is laden with crosses; but isn’t that the glory of it? The glory of our salvation was born out of the cross, which Jesus bore with obedience, love and perseverance. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In the last one year, I have accepted and carried my cross, in obedience, love and perseverance to follow Jesus.  I have had moments of discouragement and loneliness, weakness and failures, sorrows and pains. However, my strength and help through this times has being the assurance of God’s love, the sufficiency of God’s grace and faith in his promise that he will  be with me always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:20).  

Conclusion

In sum, I think it’s been a good start and I am very happy with my life as a priest. I look forward to the future with the same enthusiasm I had from my ordination.  I am only an instrument of grace; on my own, I can do nothing absolutely. The scripture says in 1 Sam. 2:9 “…for by strength shall no man prevail.” God remains the chief anchor of my life and my priesthood. My greatest wish is for my priesthood to be more like that of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for his friends even while we were still sinners. What does the future holds for me? Jesus is the way and knows the way, so into his hands I place my future. Wherever, he leads I follow.


Fr. Jude delighted in saying the Divine
Liturgy with Fr. Juraj Terek in ITI's
Byzantine Chapel. This is the part
where the priests offer the people's 
prayers and sacrifices to God by 
raising and lowering the altar cloth.
Our prayers are going up! 


Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, many in Africa are facing unprecedented challenges, and the Priests are not left out. Please support Fr Jude' s Life, Work and Mission  in Nigeria with a token; He will be grateful for this kindness and shall be ready to offer Mass for all your personal intentions. 

You can contact Father Jude Eze on 
Twitter:  @FrJude_Eze
Phone: +234806066906 

1 comment:

  1. Fr. Jude, I had painstakingly read your chronological account of your priestly synopsis that gave me a great insight & inspiration. You’re only a year ordained to the presbyterate & you were able to document all that is required from a priest. No wonder the Igbo proverbs says that no vulture no matter how small in size can be under rated. Priesthood from every periscope has a three dimensional thesis & antithesis, the natural, spiritual & supernatural levels.
    Your priesthood from my estimation has a strong foundation built on the rock of Our Father Founder, Jesus Christ, the High Priest. You’ll make a good priest from every indication as long as you continue to anchor your whole life cum ministry into the hands of one who called you to his vineyard.
    Be assured of my thoughts & prayers @ the Lord’s Eucharistic breaking of the bread.
    Shalom.
    Rev. Dr. Bart Okere.

    ReplyDelete