Gratitude Magazine March 2015 Edition

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A Jesuit Priest and his Cross in a 21st Century Parish Setting

"Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me” – Phil. 3:12.

At ordination the bishop exhorts the newly ordained priest thus: “understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, andFr. Enyeribe Oguh, SJ in roman collar. conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” This pious exhortation sets out a challenge, a goal, and an ideal to be attained by every priest. A more familiar setting for striving towards the attainment of this ideal is the parish ministry. Despite his honest efforts, the pastoral minister is unable to fully understand what he does or well imitate what he celebrates in persona Christi because they are mysteries shrouded in ‘obscure clarity’ due to their supra temporal orientation. But the pastoral minister can often give excellent intelligible explanations of these mysteries. The most challenging ideal for the minister, however, is how to conform one’s life to the mystery of the Cross. In the complex world of the 21st century supercharged with divergent radical beliefs, counter-cultural values, and breezy lifestyles, the Cross appears much like a stubborn toothache at a Christmas banquet.

As a Jesuit priest working at St Joseph’s parish in Benin City, I feel a sense of duty to make the rugged ancient Cross of the man from Galilee relevant to the men and women from Nigeria in a 21st century Church. Doing this often requires a bit of creativity to ‘remix’ the gospel, as it were, into our time and context as well as authenticity to hold firm to the orthodox doctrine of the faith. It also demands integrity to the virtues of the Master: a readiness to be humbled, spent, emptied, or poured out in the service of love and the Cross (Phil. 2:7-11). In the words of Pope Francis in his inaugural homily as the Bishop of Rome, serving as a priest or bishop today entails a willingness to open one’s “arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important… the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.” This essay is a small reflection on some of the small ways in which my colleagues and I as pastoral ministers attempt to live out these ideals. A lot of it is based on anecdotal experiences.

Read more: A Jesuit Priest and his Cross in a 21st Century Parish Setting

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