CHRISM MASS 2021
(Sermon By Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH, Tuesday 30th, 2021)
1: We have gathered not just to engage in another annual ritual. The fact that we are surrounded by our people, those on whose behalf we have been called should summon us to full attention. Each year we grow older, hopefully and prayerfully, we believe we have learnt new lessons and are getting better.
2: We are gathered in prayer, devotion and thanksgiving to the owner of the vineyard, the Lord and Master, the creator of Heaven and earth. The Church in its wisdom chose this date so that we will not lose sense of the essence of our Priesthood and indeed, our own faith. The Priesthood is the key blood vein that feeds the heart of the faithful which in turns, pumps enough blood to feed the rest of the body of Christ.
3: This day should be special to each and every one of us in a very special way. It is a day that should bring back memories of the day that we lay prostrate before the people of God, the day that the Church called on the saints to intercede for us, the day that the oil of Aaron was used to anoint us, the day that we said a final yes to the call of Christ. It is as much a day of joy as it is a day for sober recollection and each and every one of us will have some very special memories including all those who were present.
4: Two persons have recounted their own memories of my ordination after well over forty years. The first is a young man whom I baptised and also had the honour of finding a job for some twenty years ago. One day, we sat at the airport where he works and I recall him shaking his head and reminded me how he and his cousins responded to the news of my ordination. He said his cousin who did not attend the ordination asked him if I had changed complexion? When he said no, he said well may be the change will come over night to enable me celebrate my first Mass. He came for the mass with a lot of excitement. He came late but entered the church with a lot of expectation. To his greatest shock, he saw me on the altar but I was still black. In sadness, he turned back and headed home saying that it was impossible that I could be called a priest while still carrying a black skin!
5: The second person is a Fulani man and a Muslim from my area who, from nowhere called me early this month. He introduced himself to me on the phone but I truly had no idea who he was. Then, he confessed to me: You will not remember me but I was at your ordination. I remember it very well because it was the first time I drank Fanta in my life! Different strokes for different folks as the saying goes. But for the keepers of the flame and the promise, for us the holders of the dream and the legacy, for us to harbingers of hope and the bearers of the good news of salvation, what we do remember?
6: When we look back, what really do we remember? Yes, we have become old in the priesthood. Some of us have celebrated various anniversaries. I can understand the excitement of a young priest anxious to celebrate his first anniversary. The temptation for those of us who are old is to say, what is he excited about? How many will he celebrate? What does he know? If he starts celebrating now, how far will he travel? But we are all guilty of the same enthusiasm ourselves because we all felt the same. Often, the young men may think that we are not excited because we have had our own days. And this is where the danger lies.
7: I have called a friend or two to wish them happy ordination Priestly and even episcopal anniversaries and some have said to me; Oh my God. How did you remember? Thank you for reminding me. This attitude may be based on two things: First, we have celebrated so much that there is nothing to generate any more excitement. Or, secondly, it may just be that we are so busy with the Lord’s work that we honestly have not time for such trivialities like anniversaries and celebrations. The celebration here is not so much a party like a Pause, a pause to catch our breath, a pause to see how far we have travelled and even ask, how far, by the grace of God we may still have to travel. The central question here for us here will be, how much oil do we still have in our lamps?
8: The central challenge for us priests today is to look back not so much at our Priesthood as to where we have come from. This introspection will help us to appreciate how good the Lord has been to us. Go back mentally to the playground in the village, to the playgrounds in your old primary or Secondary School, Junior or Major Seminary and so on. Look back and try to recall the teachers, the classmates and the school maters, where everyone is now if you can remember. More often than not, you will come to appreciate what God has done for you. How many of your mates in all these environments are still alive, where are they now in life and so on. If you are like me, you will never stop marveling at what God has done. We must count our blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise us what the Lord has done!
9: Looking back, where do we take our bearing from? Is it from the throne where I sit or the pulpit where I stand today? Do I take off from the fact that I am today, I am a Bishop? Do I dwell on my current status in the Diocese as, a Vicar, Dean, a Chancellor, a Parish Priest? Do I look back at those pieces of nice paper they call Degrees and Certificates? Where do we start counting from? Either way, just being a Priest comes with a lot of respect from our people and we all cherish this. However, it will be a terrible mistake for us to see ourselves as persons who have achieved.
10: St. Paul reminds us: Brothers and sisters, think of what you were before you were called. From a human point of view, few of you were powerful or of high social standing. God purposely called what the world despises in other to shame the wise and he chose what the world considers weak in other to shame the powerful…This means that no one can boast in God’s presence(1 Cor. 1: 26-29). Paul ends by telling us that boasting is allowed, but; He who boasts must boast of what the Lord has done (1 Cor. 1:31).
11: Still on this theme, St. Paul reminds us Priests that we have been put in charge of God’s secret truths and what is required of us faithfulness (1 Cor. 4: 1). He further says that responsibility comes with this duty of being mere custodians and undue pride and arrogance is forbidden as he continues: Who made you superior to others. Didn’t God give you everything you have? Well then, how can you boast if what you have is a gift?(1 Cor. 4: 7). Our focus today my dear brothers should be in the appreciation of the gratuitous gift of God, a gift that none of us, no matter what we think of ourselves can come close to thinking we have earned because of our influence, connections or ability to pass examinations.
12: This is why, today, we pause and thank God for those Elis, Philips and Andrews who directed us and helped us discern the voice of the Lord. They are made up of our parents, uncles, aunties, brothers and sisters, townsmen and women, our teachers, friends, classmates, schoolmates, and so many whose names or faces we may never remember. Wherever they are, all we can do today is to ask for God’s blessings upon them. Without their shoulders, we would not have been able to see far away, without their sacrifices, we would not have made this journey. Indeed, without them, no matter how low their status may be, there would be no us. To that extent, they must always be at the heart of the celebrations. Indeed, there is a sense in which I am tempted to say that they are actually the celebrants and we are just the spectators because we are the sacrifice that they made. God bless them.
13: Today, my dear brothers, we shall soon renew our promises to God, those promises we made when we were ordained, those promises that some of us may have made as a formality. Now we have to remind ourselves and rededicate ourselves to them. This is why our brothers and sisters in the faith are all gathered here to support us, to make the burden much lighter for us all. These promises relate to our commitment which we freely made to serve God through His people. We serve God’s people through our administration of the Sacraments. The blessing of the Oils marks this solemn commitment. May God who has called us despite our unworthiness renew our commitment to serve Him through His people.
14: Finally, to our fellow workers, the Religious, Catechists, Deacons, Seminarians and other pastoral agents, we extend our gratitude because your collaboration and co-operation makes this work more meaningful and fulfilling to us. Together, let us go forth as witnesses to the Gospel and may God prosper the work of His hands through our sacrifices. To you, the entire Laity, it is for you that we are priests. Please continue to pray for us that we will serve you faithfully. Forgive our human failings and look beyond our weaknesses. Again, heed the words of St Paul: Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like vessels of clay in other to show that the supreme power belongs to God and not us. We are often troubled but not crushed, sometimes in doubt, but not in despair, there are many enemies but we are never without a friend (2 Cor. 4: 7-9).
15: The times are difficult. The clouds are getting darker and darker. However, it was for times like these that we are really and truly called Christians. Our redeemer liveth (Job 19:25). He does not share His glory with anyone else and gates of the underworld will never prevail against us(Mt. 16:18). The evil that surrounds us is only temporary. May God inspire His priests so that we can continue to encourage you too. Please pray for us as we pray for you. A happy Easter ahead for everyone.