A HOMILY DELIVERED ON OUR CONVOCATION EVE AT MOTHER BIGARD ENUGU.
May the name of the Lord be praised both now and forever! Amen.
When I was a deacon, it seemed as if I was restricted to this pulpit during homily with a sheet of paper in which some points have been put down whether used or not. But now that I’m a priest, I wish to crave the indulgence of my most revered formators in order to engage in a heart to heart talk with my beloved brothers.
Second remark, Preaching to learned men of God is a singular task of the holy Spirit, for no amount of intelligent demonstration can satisfy ebulient philosophers and erudite theologians. I therefore invite the spirit of God to come and do his function. Mine is just to sweep the path, maybe from the cycamore to the main gate.
I would like us to dwell on the first reading and then conclude with the gospel. This first reading (Deut 4:1,5-9) which contained 6 verses is one of the most lively and excellent discourse that is so entire in the old testament. This is predicated on the fact that it contains some particulars that are often repeated with a great deal of divine rhetoric for exhortation and direction. Such particulars include…,shema meaning to listen, hear or hearken, shamabe meaning observance, hokmah meaning wisdom, binah meaning understanding, ha esel Yahweh meaning the nearness of God, zakar meaning remembrance and musar meaning teaching. Let us digest it accordingly.
The very first statement on that passage is hear (shema). Every liturgical address especially in the book of Deuteronomy is opened with shema (e.g Deut 5:1, 6:1, 3, 4, 9:7 & so on). Three things could be observed by this style of writing; 1. Deuteronomic style is strongly exhortatory, 2.a diligent attention is required for haddabar Yahweh ie the word of God and the third is what I derive from Eccl 3:14 that the Dabar Yahweh is perfect, nothing is being taken from it or put to it without making it the worse. These observations therefore inform us about the Jewish indebtedness to God for the purity and integrity of the Hebrew code just like the Hamurabi code. This indebtedness is apparently manifested among the Pharisees. Take for instance, among the ancient Jews, there was nothing like soutane, alb or chasuble, they were all borrowed from the Roman tradition. But God gave them instruction on how to keep His Word in their hands and on their foreheads (Ex. 13:9, 16). A literal approach to that instruction brought about the use of phylacteries, tephilin, tassels, kraspeda and zizzith. For ordinary Jews, they put them on during their prayers whereas the Pharisees extend theirs to the market place to claim how much they observe the commandments.
Besides, another keyword there is observance of the commandment. This means being charge over, tending, keeping watch like a sentinel. There is something interestingly significant among the Jews. Observance of the commandments is a phrase that equals wisdom and understanding. This is because the people of Israel who observe the commandments are considered a wise and understanding people. I give you two instances, Pharoah described Joseph as such in Gen. 4:39. God himself described Solomon as such in 1kgs 3:12. This reveals the kind of identification of wisdom with law which took place in Israel in the 7th century BC and it was then that the scribes and the wise men began to take active part in the composition of legal literature. (Jer 8:8).
Now in the last verses of the passage, there are the theology of God who is near, the role of memory and tradition and the act of teaching.
As for the theology of God who is near, which is in verse 7, we could observe Moses making a comparative analysis between the unprecedented nearness of the God of Israel and the unfortunate helpless distance of the God of other nations. This very theology is connected with the ark of the convenant as the place of the Lord’s active presence to his people (Deut 31:9, 25,10:8, Jos 3:8). Today it is our treasure over and above every other religion including the so called mushroom Churches instituted by our separated brethren, and any of us whose faith in this holy treasure is still prevaricating or fledgling has to work upon himself.
Verse 9 stressed on the role of memory and tradition with reference to Exodus-Horeb event. The biblical concept of memory has inspired some scholars to develop the so called narrative theology and it is very fundamental since it concerns the permanent remembrance of God’s kindness towards Israel especially the liberation from slavery in Egypt. This tradition continued in the new testament in which we constantly remember the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. A Paschal mystery that redeemed us from the slavery of sin. An event that was anticipated at the Lord’s supper and re-enacted today in the eucharistic celebration. Hence, we could observe how the role of memory links us to the theology of God who is near. Do this in memory of me? such that what we celebrate on the altar in his memory, we keep in the tabernacle for his active presence.
Finally, in that passage we see a family context of teaching children. This emphasizes the need to pass the instruction to subsequent generation. Now let me make this point clearer before I start addressing us. The grand theology of remembering the convenant with the Lord is closely connected to teaching children because it is in teaching that God’s word is kept alife and kicking for generations. Therefore, not to remember and not to teach suppress the great saga of the people. This is a lesson reprised in the wisdom literature (Sir 28:6-7). Against this backdrop therefore, who we teach at the pulpit, is celebrated at the altar in memory of his Pascal mystery, to dwell with us as ha esel Yahweh; God who is near. So we lend credence to Jn. 1:14 to proclaim “and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us”.
Now let us address ourselves,
As seminarians and priests, we have a great responsibility here which is that of musar. The responsibility of teaching. This is an indispensable responsibility that is preceded and empowered by the theological nuances that we have been clarifying, that is to say, our teaching ability is preceded by remembrance. For instance, I’m able to preach before you not just because I prepared but also I still remember the wisdom impacted on me by these formators of Mother Bigard. Remembrance (zakar) therefore is preceded by wisdom (hokmah) and understanding (binah) which are empowered by God who is near since fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and what is the fear of God if not observance of the commandments of the Lord.
Viewing the connection of hokmah and shamabe with a philosophical sense, one of the great ancestors of Greek philosophy, who the Athenians till today regret his murder, Socrates thought of ethical intellectualism and concluded that to Know is to do. In other words, you cannot claim knowledge that you cannot put into practice. And Chinese proverb summed it up when they lament, what you do, speak so loud that I cannot hear what you say.
Above all, the observance of the commandments is preceded by the very first and most important of all the theological nuances in that passage and that is the great shema-to listen, hear, or hearken.
My beloved brothers, the success of every man on earth is dependent on listening. Zeno Oscitum would say that God is not mistaken when he gave us two ears and one mouth. Gentlemen of bigard, this is your great opportunity of active listening. Whatever we are contributing today in the ministry was cultivated here in this great citadel of learning through listening. The holy Spirit formed us in the womb of mother Bigard under the auspices of these selfless, excellent and committed Catholic priests of God. All you need is shema, an active listening such that when you handle the mic, God’s people are satisfied, when you pray they are sanctified and when you celebrate the liturgy they are edified. My brothers, such awesome testimonies are built here.
Now take this to heart. Active listening involves obedience. They are inseparable. You cannot claim to be a listener without the spirit of humble obedience. Obedience is the success behind everything we do on earth. It was disobedience that brought our downfall while obedience redeemed us. Take for instance, if you do not obey the simple manual of a product, you loose it in the nearest future, if you disobey traffic rules, you can easily get accident, if you do not hearken to the call of nature, the body suffers, even God-man relationship was severed by disobedience. We are therefore called to embrace this virtue for a proper assimilation of the formative principles.
Permit me to conclude with the gospel of today which contains only three verses (5:17,18,19).
Vs 17 talks about the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
Vs 18 affirms it’s perfect completeness and warned that not even the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet iota not it’s correspondent smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet should be removed.
While vs 19 summed it up by proclaiming the reward and punishment that await those who will or will not observe and teach these laws and the prophets. Those who keep and teach will be the greatest while those who don’t will be least in God’s kingdom.
The nature of this rewards and punishment remind me of what happened in 2010, when we prayed to come to mother Bigard for philosophy. Due to the problem of allocation, the prayer intention was to be found in bigard even if the only alternative will be to be sleeping under the stairs or at the cycamore. Same spirit of mediocrity could make us accept breaking some laws and being least in God’s kingdom. However, the untold failures and regrets of mediocres in this world of time can give us a picture of it’s effects in eternity. We pray God for the grace of aiming highest, Amen. By. FADATEC