|Friday, March 6, 2020|
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
n the first place, let me begin by thanking our emerging icon in modern Igbo traditional flute solo music, Ichie Odenjimji, for his latest debut. In it, Odenjimji was admonishing Catholic priests and nuns. The talented traditional flutist, Odinjimji, gave some reasons for his admonitions to our priests and nuns. Among which is, what he alleged as the near total 'silence' of most of the priests and nuns over the continued deteriorating state of insecurity, killings, kidnappings and banditry; in fact, the ongoing religious violence and persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
The flutist went further to point out what he perceived as the unevangelical lifestyle of some priests and nuns, especially, in the area of being 'your brother's keeper' and inordinate pursuit of wealth, luxury, power and influence. He sees all these to be the reasons why priests and nuns are often the targets and victims of the Fulani herdsmen militas' killings, attacks and kidnappings going on in Eastern Nigeria, and other parts of the country today.
Thereafter, Odenjimji dwelt at length on the main message of this particular debut of his. He alleged that today, most priests and nuns are not utilizing to the maximum, the power they have, and which according to him, God entrusted them with, for their ministry as priests and nuns in the society and among the people in which they work. This, according to him, is the power to serve and help the people and community in which they work, at a time like ours in Nigeria today.
In his estimation, Denjimji opines that priests and nuns should use the power they have in the 'Blessed Sacrament' in combatting the present insecurity and other maladies in Nigerian society. Thus, he charged priests and nuns to reflect on the social implications of their vocations and mission, especially, the place of the "Blessed Sacrament" in their pastoral outreach to the people and community, and in combatting the insecurity, religious violence and persecution of Christians in Nigeria today!
In the first place, Ichie Odenjimji, the flutist should be commended for his courageous admonitions to our priests and nuns at this particular time in Nigeria's checked history and regime of tyranny and dictatorship. His admonitions to priests and nuns about the danger of 'silence of complicity' at a time this, is indeed gen. This admonition, I think is not only for the Church hierarchy. It is meant also to all those in positions of doing something to help save our land and lives of our people from the bloodsucking savages that have taken over the entire country. The fact that no part of Nigeria is secured today, should arouse the soul, heart and body of any individual with human conscience and respect to human life inside him/her.
In Nigeria today, it should be no longer business as usual! There is no time to waste! Neither is there time again for 'blame-game.' Let each individual and 'social class' or 'profession', begin doing something to save the land, our persecuted people and Christian religion from the hands of Jihadists and their terror groups who have taken over the control of both Nigerian government and land, destroying our African and Christian socio-cultural value system and religious heritage. Our struggle towards salvaging the country and our defenceless people from the hands of this Jihadist regime and Muslim terrorism in the land should be such that our efforts should complement one another for the sake of common good.
Furthermore, the flutist admonitions in the area of evangelical witness and exemplary lifestyle of priests and nuns should be commended. Our personal life witness speaks louder than anything we do or say. Priests and nuns, as teachers and custodians of morality in the society are expected to be models in their lifestyle. It is a daily struggle, which each person, is expected to pursue with life of grace and prayer, knowing that, it is not out of our own power, but God's, that we do the good we do in the society and church.
Be it as it may, it is an overstatement to say that priests and nuns are victims of Islamic terrorism, or the failed political leadership and security in Nigeria today, simply, because of the unevangelical lifestyle of some of them? There is no connection here! In fact, one big problem with this type of reasoning is that most people tend to confuse the personal lifestyle of our priests and nuns with the failed Nigerian state and political system! What has the lifestyle of our poor priests or nuns, who are struggling daily in our remotest villages to lift the poor villagers out of object poverty, gotten to do with the failure of our elected politicians at Abuja and various states' capitals to provide good governance and security to the people?
This type of reasoning, accusing priests and nuns as responsible for Nigeria's woes, I think, is part of the reason why our people in general, have allowed things to deteriorate the way they are today in the country. It is misplacement of priority! Instead of dissecting our problem critically, doing self-examination as a people, to know the source of our problem and tackle it from the root, we often look for soft targets to blame and attack. The poor Church and its clergy and nuns become the easiest victim, object of attacks and blame in this regard.
This is very unfortunate. Again, what has the way priests live or do their pastoral ministry, gotten to do with the state of insecurity in Nigeria? Are the priests and nuns those who are in-charge of the Nigerian state and security, whose primary responsibility is to provide the welfare and security of the citizens?
These, among others, are the assumptions in Odenjimji's latest debut that inspired our present article. Although, probably, well-intentioned in his flute solo debut under discussion, however, I feel there is need to offer some clarifications and clean distinctions, as a way of explanations of those unfortunate mixed-up assumptions of the flutist in that debut. This will help to correct some obvious erroneous assumptions of Ichie Odenjimji in that beautiful flute solo.
Our attention, however, is on two main aspects of the debut. That is, those areas, I sensed as the flutist's misconception of what the Church and the Blessed Sacrament stand for in the "Economy of Salvation, and in the life of Christians and the Church.
The flutist's misconception of the Blessed Sacrament, in particular, which is very central to the life and being of the Church, I think, if not addressed now, may have far-reaching implications for the veritable long tradition and teaching of the Church. The Church's long tradition and teaching from the Apostolic-Era to the present time, and which the Church itself cannot change, must be preserved in its entirety and integrity as received from the Apostles and Church's 'Fidei depositum' (Deposit of the Faith).
The last point may serve as a warning to all those who are spreading one false message or the other, concerning the so-called "End-time." Such persons would better refresh their mind with the teaching of Christ Himself on that matter. (Cf. Matthew 24:23-28; 2Thessalonians 1:1-3). This is so, because, there are still many peoples of the world who have not yet heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These too, must be evangelized, and saved. The Church therefore, is obliged to reach out to those vast majority of Peoples not yet evangelized, and bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ, their Saviour and our Saviour, to them.
This is why we should not trivialize or joke with the Church's authentic teaching on the Blessed Sacrament, or any of the Apostolic teachings of the Catholic Church. It is unfortunate the harm, influence of Neo-Pentecostalism and 'Healing Ministry/Adoration Centres' of charlatan pastors and the 'powerful priest-healers, is causing to the fragile faith of most of our Catholics and other Christians today in Nigeria and other parts of Africa and the world! Nowadays, almost 'everything is interpreted from the Pentecostal point of view.' What unfortunate situation?
Again, I have decided to call our attention to these points, abuses in the adoration of the 'Blessed Sacrament' in the healing centres of most of the priest-healers, self-acclaimed prophets, and some lay faithful nowadays, knowing fully well how widely circulated debuts (flute solo music) of this kind, usually go. But more importantly, because most of our people have still very elementary knowledge of the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church on the 'Blessed Sacrament', and even on the Church itself, especially, the social role of the Church, priests and nuns in a beleaguered nation-state like Nigeria!
Furthermore, these observations of ours are necessary because of some 'magical' conceptions and practice of 'adoration' most of the priest-healers and charlatan pastor-prophets have developed in recent times about the "Blessed Sacrament", the role of the Church, priests and nuns in the society and in politics.
Most of the so-called priest-healers, and pastors/founders of different 'healing centres' in our land, and their poor, often distressed worshippers, who attend those healing centres, have a kind of 'magical' conception of 'adoration' of the Blessed Sacrament and what the Church teaches on that. One who listens to the flutist's debut very careful, and reads in-between the lines, must not fail to observe the same tendency of misconception of the real meaning of the 'Blessed Sacrament' and 'adoration. This is in a 'flute solo' (of a supposedly Catholic faithful), packaged as admonitions to priests and nuns in the Catholic Church in Nigeria. This is the onus of our dialogue in the present write-up with the flutist in question.
Misconceptions of the Significance of the 'Blessed Sacrament'
In the first place, it is important to point out that it is wrong to see the 'Blessed Sacrament' as a kind of 'magical weapon' for combating 'warfare' against a perceived enemy or any force for that matter. Neither is it correct to continue to view the "Blessed Sacrament" as the Church's 'magical weapon' for fighting or correcting social vices in the society, such as insecurity; or for confronting bad regime, tyrannical, dictatorship in Nigeria today! No! That is not what the Blessed Sacrament stands for or signify, at least, for us Catholics.
To put it in a layman's language, the Blessed Sacrament' is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Communion which we receive at Mass during the Eucharistic celebration itself. It is a celebration of the triumph of Jesus Christ over the cross. It is therefore, a Sacrament of Love of God to the Church through Christ. The Blessed Sacrament signifies the ever-abiding, real presence of God's love in the Church and the world, made manifest in Christ's Sacrificial Love on the Cross and Resurrection; a 'Sacrament of Love' of God for his people, and not of vendetta. (Cf. Luke 22:14-20; Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; John 6:51-58; 1Corithians 23-25).
It is a 'Sacrament', which reminds us of the continued, real presence of the Risen Christ in His Church, and invites us to the love of God and our neighbour. The Sacrament of the continued 'Real Presence' of the Crucified and Risen Christ among us in His Church!
This is the Sacrament of Eucharist which makes the the Church. It is also the centre and summit of Church's life and liturgy. Every other Sacrament (seven Sacraments) of the Church, from Baptism to the Anointing of the Sick, all point towards, and prepare us to our participation in the Eucharistic Banquet of the Crucified and Risen Christ, and of 'Adoration' of the Eucharistic Christ, which is the 'Blessed Sacrament' itself. It is the 'Eucharist', we adore in the 'Blessed Sacrament', the Eucharistic Christ in His Church and among His people and the world.
In practical terms, it is a Sacrament of Love and Forgiveness, which is at the core of what Christianity stands for. It is therefore, not a 'Sacrament' for waging warfare against anybody, whether friend or foe. It is not a Sacrament for confronting or fighting government or insecurity in the land. It is also not a 'Sacrament' for self-celebration or show of wonders of a priest-miracle worker, self-acclaimed spiritual power of most of those who parade and publicize themselves as miracle workers and prophets in most of our cities and towns nowadays!
Rather, God, in the Blessed Sacrament, invites us into the inner-life of God Himself, an encounter with the Trinitarian Love and Life of the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a call to allow yourself experience God as He (God) is in Himself, in the Blessed Sacrament. That is, to be one in soul, spirit and heart with God revealed in Jesus Christ. It is when one has entered into such intimacy with God, as God is in Himself, that he/she could speak to, and with God, "heart-to-heart", like son/daughter speaking with the father.
Thus, the Church, in its wisdom and long tradition, has the liturgical custom of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (Holy Eucharist) for Adoration by the faithful, and preservation of the same in Tabernacles in our Parish Churches and Chaplaincies, as may be approved by the local Bishop of the place. This creates an atmosphere for prayer, a prayerful environment and opportunities for regular adoration and spiritual growth of the faithful who frequent such parish churches or Chaplaincies.
It is under such religious and spiritual atmosphere, 'sacramental environment' for prayer and communing with God in our interior hearts, that one can faithfully, and with devotion and total submission to divine will and power of love, present his/her other personal needs to God. This access to God in the Blessed Sacrament is not the preserve of only the priests and nuns, but all the believers in the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Priests (not nuns), are only 'ordinary ministers' of the Eucharist because they received the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which is linked ontologically, to the Eucharist. This makes the priest, the ordinary minister and custodian of the Holy Eucharist in the Church for the spiritual growth and nourishment of the believing Christian community and the universal Church in general.
Sacraments Are Not Miracles
Yes, God answers our prayers made in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, but it is absolutely, wrong to see such answer to our prayers on the part of God, as miracle. Just as it is absolutely wrong to attribute God's answer to our prayers to any of the 'founders' of the so-called 'Adoration centres' or 'healing centres' that abound in our cities and towns today. To do so is to attribute to a mortal what actually is the gratuitous gift of God to man through our faith in Him, and prayers offered in faith in communion with the entire Church of Christ. The Holy Eucharist is the gift of the Risen Christ to the Church and not for individual manipulation for whatever purpose outside which the Church has approved for it in that parish church or chaplaincy.
In other words, the 'Blessed Sacrament' is a mystery, a Sacrament, which should not be confused with miracles. Again, the purpose of the Church's practice of 'Adoration' to the Blessed Sacrament is not for miracles. Rather, to remind us of the ever-abiding presence of Christ in the Church and in our lives as Christians.
Although, God can, and indeed, he does answer our prayers offered to Him, present in the Blessed Sacrament, and especially, during the adoration (or Eucharistic celebration), but that is not the essence of the Blessed Sacrament Adoration (or celebration), or the Blessed Sacrament itself.
As we said before, the Blessed Sacrament is a mystery of the continued abiding presence of God's love through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church and lives of individual Christian who believes in the efficacy and real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. This, however, should not lead us into downplaying the place of miracles in salvation history, especially, the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. In fact, miracles have meaning only in the context of salvation achieved for us in Jesus Christ.
In other words, the New Testament teaching on healing and miracles, shows that the power to heal which Jesus exercised and which He also bestowed on His apostles and first preachers of the Gospel (and therefore to the Church), is given within a missionary context, not for their own exaltation, but to confirm their mission. (Cf. Matthew 10:1-10; Luke 9:1ff; Acts 2:43; 5:12; etc.).
In addition, there is abundant witness throughout the Church's history to healings connected with places of prayer (sanctuaries, in the presence of relics of martyrs and other saints, etc.); liturgical celebrations (such as exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with Benediction); and non-liturgical expressions of popular piety encouraged by the Church (such as the solemn recitation of the Rosary). However, such healings do not imply a "charism of healing", because they are not connected with a person who has such a charism. But they need to be taken into account when we speak of the present practice and abuse of the "Blessed Sacrament Adoration" in the so-called "Adoration Ministry Centres" run by the self-acclaimed priest-healers and 'prophets' as well as by some other uninformed Christians in our cities and towns nowadays.
In other words, it appropriate to distinguish between meetings connected to a "charism of healing", whether real or apparent, and those without such a connection. If there is no connection with any "charism of healing" (for example, the directors of the group that promote the meetings being viewed as determinative for the efficacy of the prayer), then the celebrations provided in the liturgical books, if they are done with respect to liturgical norms, obviously they assume their highest significance.
Moreover, these celebrations are recommended as long as their authentic sense is not altered. For the Catholic Church, one could not place on the primary level the desire to obtain the miraculous healing of the sick, in a way which might cause Adoration of the Blessed to lose its specific finality, which is to "bring the faithful to recognize in the Eucharist the wonderful presence of Christ and to invite them to a spiritual union with Him, a union which finds its culmination in sacramental Communion."
Every charism in the Church (including the charism of healing), is linked to the work of evangelization and conversion to the crucified and Risen Christ, in collaboration with the whole Church. In other words, the authenticity of each charism has to be proven and has to respect the apostolic tradition and teaching of the Church (Magisterium), and be under the pastoral supervisory authority of the Bishop. So, the attitude of the organizers of prayer meetings for healing must be one of obedience to those works of Spirit, who, in the Church calls us to engage together, under our Bishops (successors of the Apostles), in the marvellous works of mission. The organizers must obey the teaching of the Church and their Bishops for their ministry to be for the good of the common faith in Christ and for the believers' edification in the Mystery of the Risen Lord. Anything outside this, leads to self-glorification of the director of such healing centre, and therefore loses its basic and primary objective and significance of healing and miracles in the Church. (Cf. Romans 15:16).
In other words, a miracle (or miraculous healing), is not to be defined a priori as a breach in the laws of nature or as the product of a primitive mentality or as a literary genre common to all religions. Resistance or an allergic reaction to miracles and healings nowadays, is often due to a caricature of what they really are, by these charlatan pastor-prophets and priest-healers or self-acclaimed prophets. This implies, once again, that miracles can only be properly understood in the context of salvation in Jesus Christ. Every attempt to remove them from this context distorts their nature.
Thus, if a definition of miracle is to be valid it must incorporate the essential data supplied by Scripture, Christian Tradition, and the Church's teaching (Magisterium). These data, however, consistently highlight the messianic significance of the miracles of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, and how they reveal and point us to the person of Jesus Himself, the self-revelation of God in Him, and the meaning of the Kingdom of God He preached and inaugurated in His Person, as the Final and Self-revelation of God to the world. All these aspects of the miracles are written in the very language of the Bible. They can be summarized as follows:
All these aspects of the meaning and significance of miracles, show that miracles are not the same with that of the Sacraments. Unlike miracles (though a religious phenomenon, divine wonders that happens in cosmic order and perceptible to senses), the Sacraments on the other hands, are defined as a mystery, which is understood only in relation to the Paschal Mystery of Christ on the Cross. In other words, Sacraments are objects of faith, and not of religious wonder (viewpoint of the spectator), or a wonder work of a powerful priest/healer, pastor or whoever.
Sacraments are Sacraments not as result of a religious wonder, work of power, or a sign given by God. But rather as a result of an event that happened in the past, on the Cross, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, which impinges on the present - on the life of the Church and of every believer, in view of the Eschaton, the Second Coming of Christ in glory! In simple terms, the Sacrament is the continued presence of the Crucified, Death, and Risen Christ in the Church, His Body, and people in the world, for the Eschaton.
Misconceptions of the Social Role of Priests and Nuns
This brings us to the final assumption of Odenjimji in his debut under discussion. That is, his misconception of the role of Catholic clergy and religious women (and the Church hierarchy in general), in the socio-political ordering of the society.
In this regard, it is important to emphasize once again, that the function of providing good governance, security of lives and property, welfare of the masses, and maintenance of rule of law and order in the society, belongs to the State (government), and not to the Church, clergy or nuns, as the case may be. It is the function of the government, the state, to provide security of lives and property of all its citizens.
This is not the function of the Church! Providing welfare of the people and their security is the reason for the existence of nation-states. It is the very basic reason why nation-states are created in the first place. And Constitution to that effect promulgated. Any state or government that is incapable of rendering these basic functions of the State to its citizens, is not worthy its name! It is a failed state and therefore ceases to exist as a nation state from the moment these basic services of the state are no longer available or rendered to the people! Again, welfare and security of the people is the function of the state and politics!
The Church, however, on its own part, functions as the custodian of society's moral and religious institutions and norms. The Church does this function through its constant teaching and moral admonitions, which it does through its 'Divine Worship', pastoral outreach to the people and those in position of authority in the society. In other words, the Church functions as the 'moral and religious authority' of the people in any given society. The Church's pastoral mission in the society, is primarily in the areas of faith (religious) and moral. The question of good governance in politics - that is, political ordering of the nation, belongs to the State (politics), and not to Church (or to church leaders (bishops (priest) or nuns). In other words, the Church should not arrogate to itself that which is the function of the state.
Therefore, if in Nigeria today, priests and nuns are killed, kidnapped, and our churches burnt by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen Islamists terrorists, it is a sign that the Nigerian State and government in power are not doing their job. In that regard, the government is failing in its primary function of providing welfare and security to the people, as well as in protecting religious freedom of Christians in Nigeria.
It means above all, that the government in power in Nigeria today, is violating the fundamental human rights of its citizens, which is religious freedom, respect to human life and dignity of every individual human person. That the government in power today in Nigeria is incapable of ensuring that the freedom of the citizens are protected, respect to the rule of law and order, equity and fair-play, honesty, justice and peace are enthroned as the bedrock of the society, shows how deep Nigeria has deteriorated and the country has failed as a nation state. Any government or state that is not capable of creating an enabling environment of good governance, respect to human rights, security of lives and property in its domain, is not worth the salt. Because, these are its basic function and reason to exist as a state (and government), in the first place!
It is what most of our priests do during sermons on Sundays and weekdays, when they give moral teaching or homily, and when they organize seminars and conferences to create awareness concerning the current deteriorating situation and bad political regime of tyranny and dictatorship in Nigeria! Some priests and nuns, through their writings, publications make similar moral teaching and rebuke to those in positions of civil authority and ordinary citizens alike. Some use their expertise in modern means of mass communication and social media to make their own contribution, and so forth.
Some priests and nuns have Charitable Organizations (NGOs) and Centres for 'Peace, Justice and Social Development.' Some of them have established 'Think-tank' and 'Research Institutes for the same purpose. In this way, they challenge the faithful, especially, politicians, the ruling class, traditional rulers, the elites, etc. - all those in position of authority to live up to expectations in rendering selfless service to the people and state.
All these means that, as we admonish our clergy and religious, to be morally awake to their pastoral outreach to the society in social spheres, we should not fail, as well, to direct our concerns to ourselves for critical self-examination, task those in politics and government of the day. In other words, our concerns must be directed to the appropriate quarters, to persons in positions of political governance of the country, and to general public, to defeat apathy and lethargy and be part of the struggle to salvage their people and ancestral land from the ongoing onslaught of Islamic terrorism and Jihadists' regime in the land!
In the light of what is happening in Nigeria today, the failed political leadership at the centre, it needs be emphasized once more, and without mincing words, that to politics, belongs the question of addressing the current bad political leadership, religious violence, persecution of Christians and insecurity in the country. The earlier our people begin to understand this, and to differentiate the role of politics and politicians in the good ordering of society from the moral and teaching role of the Church in the society, the better for us all.
In this way, each social class (or profession) in the Nigerian society will be in a better position to appreciate their own role to the wider society. Each of them will also be in a position, to ably, assess itself, know whether it is performing above or below standard!