The thick fog of war and disintegration of Nigeria came apart today from verbal missiles fired on its conscious and unconscious promoters by outspoken John Cardinal Onaiyekan, outgoing Catholic Archbishop of Abuja. In a sermon considered as one of his most detailed and electrifying while on a pastoral visit to the Catholic owned Veritas University, Abuja Friday, July 5th, 2019, the Archbishop denied all such actors of God’s blessing by saying that “the agents of division, conflict and war will continue to do what they know best but the agents of peace must stand up to be counted for unity and solidarity, assured that God is on their side”
Onaiyekan who led over a dozen priests to the Mass for the 2019 Confirmation and Pastoral Visit, however, assured students of the University of Success in life, saying that whatever took place in the university is guided by the Holy Spirit, a position even the Heavens agreed with as the Holy Mass coincided with rainfall, with Onaiyekan referring to that as the spirit of the Lord switching on the air conditioner and the atmosphere becoming very cool and quiet.
Before the sermon graduated to an elevated intervention on the State of the Nation, it centered initially and essentially on the significance of the Sacrament of Confirmation, described by the Archbishop to be the confirmation of a Christian’s adulthood status in the faith, directly linking him or her with the Holy Spirit.
Illustrating the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, he referred to two instances of the spectacular coming of the Holy Spirit – the one that happened on the very day of the resurrection when Jesus appeared to the disciples who were still gripped in fear of what next and on the fifth day after the celebration of the Feast of the Passover, otherwise the Pentecost. Central to each occasion is the wonderful revival of strength of people who were wondering what to do with themselves in the aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus, of women and men of courage
Dubbing the Sacrament of Baptism the greatest of them all, he illustrated this with the reference to the Papal interview in which Pope St John 11 answered the question of the greatest day of his life by naming the day he was baptized rather than the day he became a Bishop or ascended the Papal stool. Rather, St John told the journalist his greatest day was the day he was baptized and transformed into a child of God and a member of the Church.
This, he said, is why Christianity is above binary differentiation other than those of good and evil, justice and injustice. “Through no particular merit of ours, the Lord has called us to membership of the Church, to become members of the Church of God, the congregation of believers”.
Arguing that no one chose which religion to be in, Onaiyekan added: “I can never forget that my being a Christian is a grace of God”. Linking this to a terribly polarised society, a country like Nigeria where people are incessantly categorised on the basis of religion and at a time of confusion – spiritual confusion – in which it is not clear anymore what it means to be a Christian, the Archbishop, however, says that any Catholic should know what to do and to stand out in the midst of confusion.
“It is not a name, a title we are normally proud of but a life of faith, a witness in action, being faithful to the vow taken at baptism”, adding again how each Catholic’s membership of the Church is “God’s own design to give us support through the Sacraments and then wisdom, courage and fear of the Lord”
Christians are very proud of their Christianity but they are grateful, not boastful, he maintained, saying there were no reasons to be boastful and to look down on anybody. For him, Christians are called to fidelity which comes at a cost in terms of carrying the cross of Jesus. This cross, he said, is not a bed of roses.
It is for that reason he says a question such as “Have you received Jesus as your personal savior?” is problematic and “ought not to be asked of a Catholic”. His analysis is that Jesus Christ is more than a personal savior but savior to the entire humanity. Connecting this to the Responsorial Psalm, “Send forth your spirit and renew the face of the Earth”, Onaiyekan explains that Jesus Christ or Christianity is about working for justice and peace. Christians don’t do this alone but by building on common grounds with others, covering all that have been created in the image of God in a way that gives human beings “the dignity that distinguishes us from among His creatures”
Frontally speaking to the students, he said a place like the university is a good ground to put this in practice “because you are living with others who may not be Catholics or even Christians but are of faith with basic common grounds”. Continuing, Onaiyekan asked, “If you cannot practice it here, where else?” He did not think the larger society is more fertile for such practice because it is a ‘we’ against ‘them’ society
But, for him, even in religious terms, that binary cannot be God’s will. The only tight difference allowed for Christians is evil and good, justice and injustice, he told his audience, pointing out how this is the era of rumours, allegations and fears that have taken over the nation, allegation that certain people are forcing people to be one thing or the other.
Are we ready to be transformed?, he asked rhetorically.
His task for the students is to pray regularly to Mother Mary, say the Rosary every day, either alone or by forming groups. Then came the clincher: You will succeed well in the life that lies ahead there”.
Professor Hyacinth Ichoku, the Vice-Chancellor of Veritas University, Abuja has described the exercise as a reminder that formation in faith and morals are the bedrock of the vision of the Founding Fathers of Veritas University. He personally insisted on congratulation to those who received the Sacrament of Confirmation.