April 15, 2024
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Homily for Chrism Mass at Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos

Homily for Chrism Mass at Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos
Thursday 28 March 2024
By Rev. Fr. Michael Nsikak Umoh

1. Greetings
Your Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, Your Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, Rt. and Very Rev. Monsignori, especially our revered Vicar General Msgr. John Aniagwu who just turned 80 two weeks ago, Very and dear Rev Fathers, deacons, consecrated men and women, and you the beloved people of God: I greet you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Glory to Jesus โ€“ honour to Mary and Joseph!

2. Gratitude
I would like to begin this homily by thanking His Grace for yielding to me his right as the Chief Shepherd to preach at this Chrism Mass. I am deeply honoured by this gesture, and I see it as a reaffirmation of my connection to the archdiocese and a firm assurance that my service in Abuja as the National Director of Social Communications for the Catholic Church in Nigeria enjoys a paternal support and encouragement of my home base. For this I say: Thank you, Your Grace.

3. Chrism Mass
Chrism Mass is a significant sacred assembly in the Catholic Church, which dates back to around 200 AD. It is a day when the clergy, religious, and lay faithful unite with their bishop in his Cathedral to celebrate the Holy Mass thanking God for the unity in Christ made possible through the gift of the priesthood, and to bless the oils to be used in conferring the sacraments for the next one year. This unique and annual celebration highlights our essential unity as disciples of Christ called to manifest his presence wherever we live as Church. It reminds us of our belonging to Christ – all of us – baptised and confirmed having something fundamental in common with those ordained as priests, for at different moments, and in different ways, we โ€“ clergy and faithfulโ€“ have all been anointed with the sacred Oil of Chrism. This is the Oil we will consecrate today, as well as blessing the Oils of Catechumens and of the Sick. Chrism is pure olive oil, fragranced with the perfume of balsam. It signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit, the โ€˜aroma of Christ,โ€™ which fills our soul. (cf. CCC 1289; 2 Cor 2:15). The name Chrism comes from the Greek Chrรฎsma (ฯ‡ฯแฟ–ฯƒฮผฮฑ) meaning โ€˜anointing.โ€™ As Chrฤซstรณs (ฯ‡ฯแฟ‘ฯƒฯ„ฯŒฯ‚), the title Christ means โ€˜the anointed one,โ€™ so every Christian is anointed by the Holy Spirit; anointed to belong and to believe, anointed for mission and for service.

4. Ecclesiology
Besides gathering to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and blessing the oils, Chrism Mass affords the Church an opportunity to introspect and self-examine, refreshing the understanding of its nature, actions, and challenges. This self-reflection is vital for addressing the pastoral needs of our time. The call for a New Evangelization in Evangelii Nuntiandi remains as pertinent as ever, urging all to deepen their faith, embrace the Gospel, and zealously share the Good News. This echoes the words of Saint Pope John Paul II: โ€œNo believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples,โ€ and this proclamation must be contextual for it to be thorough, grounded and effective as opined by Cardinal Tagle. This prelate highlighted the essential nuances of the great pastoral document โ€œEvangelii Nuntiandiโ€ that โ€˜evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of manโ€™s concrete life, both personal and social.โ€™ (#181)

5. The Context in Lagos State
According to St. Augustineโ€™s classic imagery in The City of God, Christians are citizens of two cities: of the earthly and of the heavenly. Thus, the Church does not exist in a vacuum. In our case, the Archdiocese subsists in Lagos State, which is a state that remains truly cosmopolitan, the melting pot of Nigeria, where all tribes and cultures converge to service the economic heartbeat of the nation. Much as pockets of laudable infrastructural development are becoming visible on the terrain of this beautiful city, the handicap created by increase in poverty and inflation rate continually cripple and hamper the wellbeing of the teeming majority of Lagos inhabitants, just as the story is same across the spectrum of the country. This point has been severally addressed by our Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), that most of our people currently live in excruciating pain due to the embarrassing poverty and hunger in a country flowing with milk and honey. Life in Nigeria is generally becoming solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short; to borrow the Hobbesian maxim.
The concomitant effect of this sad situation is felt today in our parish communities, where there are significant increase in the number of people who turn up daily for help, thereby stretching the resources and efforts of our JDPCs beyond their limits. Yet, we cannot but fulfil the mission of Jesus the High Priest of the New Covenant whose ministry we are called to as enshrined in the words of the Prophet Isaiah read in our first reading and referenced in the Gospel, today. โ€˜The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me,โ€™ Jesus proclaimed, โ€˜for he has anointed me and sent me out.โ€™ (Is. 61:1ff & Lk. 4:18ff). This anointing is primarily for service to the poor and downtrodden; to all who are held bound by the oppression of Satan and of our worldโ€™s neo-dictatorship of inequality and segregation.
How do we get around carrying out this essential role to which we have been called in our local church of Lagos? How ready are we for the mission? How have we progressed over the years and how do we launch forward into the deep to cast the net of the fisherman Christ into the harbour of Lagos to bring to all the acceptable year of the Lord?

6. The Context of Lagos Archdiocese
Going by latest statistics as published in our 2024 Archdiocesan Directory, the archdiocese is in her 74th year, and will be 75 next year on the 8th of April 2025, having been erected in 1950. Number of Catholics stand at about 4,150,000, which is about 27.9% of the 14.9million population of Lagos State. There are 214 parishes/quasi parishes belonging to 20 deaneries, and these are served by the archbishop and only 536 priests. Let us assume that all the 536 priests working in Lagos belong by ordination to the archdiocese, we can talk of a ratio of one priest to 7,742 Catholics! But the fact is that only 178 of the priests belong properly to Lagos; 86 others are from 26 dioceses cut across Nigeria and one diocese in Ghana. 247 priests are members of male religious congregations and the Opus Dei Prelature, and 25 are priest chaplains in the military and police chaplaincy services. In addition to our priests, we are blessed with 326 female religious from 27 congregations, not including those in the monastery, all of whom contribute immensely to the spiritual, pastoral and social fabric of the archdiocese.

7. Implications of the 2024 Directory Data
a. Catholic Population Analysis
A breakdown of the statistics shows that Catholic population in Lagos State is one Catholic out of every four inhabitants of the state. That sounds good enough considering what other faith divisions there may be, but it may be better. There is the need for us to devise means of deepening our faith even as we extend the hands of Christ in salvific fellowship to the 62.1% of persons in the state who are outside of the fold
b. Priest-to-Parishioner Ratio
With the total number of 536 priests, the ratio stands at one priest for every 7,742 parishioners, underscoring the need for continued support and collaboration by the Archdiocese with other ecclesial institutions within the archdiocese. At this point, let me, on behalf of our Archbishop and the entire archdiocese, thank priests from other dioceses and religious orders who are here with us for the great work of support they are rendering to our teeming Catholic population, for without them in our midst, the 178 Lagos priests would have been carrying the burden of 1 priest to 23,314 parishioners!
c. The Churchโ€™s Social Contribution
The commitment of our archdiocese to education and healthcare is evident in our ownership and management of 6 tertiary institutions, 15 secondary schools, 35 nursery and primary schools, and 54 hospitals and clinics. These institutions not only nurture responsible citizens but also significantly contribute to the social welfare and common good in Lagos state. This makes the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos a foremost contributor to the social needs of the state; a role that should be recognized and appreciated by the State government.

8. The Burden of a Shepherdโ€™s Office and the Call for Love
Going forward, shall we all, clergy, religious and laity, be full of prayers for our Chief Shepherd, our dearly beloved Archbishop Martins upon whose shoulders Jesus our High Priest has placed the entire archdiocese with all its gifts and talents, blessings and joys, successes and achievements, and even its pains, trials, and woes. Our ministry of prayers and fraternal charity must begin from the point where we daily remember to commit His Grace to the power and strength of the Holy Spirit, to enable him to continue to lead and serve us in love as clearly expressed in his episcopal motto: called to serve in love. We all are his collaborators in growing the faith that we have received from the apostles, and we must, by duty, help to carry the immense responsibilities shouldered by our Chief Shepherd. Managing a vast diocese with hundreds of priests, dozens of congregations, numerous educational and vocational institutions, while also fulfilling various roles at the provincial, regional and national levels is by all standards a Herculean task. The traditional Catholic Yoruba hymn resonates deeply in this context, reminding us of the weighty spiritual and administrative mantle our Archbishop bears. We normally sing:
Ipo ti a gbe O si o, o lewu, Eru ti a gbe fun o ru, o wuwo, Sugbon ajaga Olodumare ni, o fuye, Bi e ba ti le mo’Lorun loba, o ti buse (2ce), E maa wole, e maa rora, Ojise Olodumare ti a ya si mimo (2ce)
Ti won ba nkorin fun bishobu ki won maa wole, ki won maa rora, kii se pe won o riran. Sugbon nitori eru igbagbo awon opolopo awon omo ijo ti Olorun gbe le won lori ni. A ngbaa ladura pe ki won maa ba sise, ki won maa ba kose. Ki esu ati awon eni ibi maa ba ta epo si aso iyi, aso eye, ati aso ala won ni. May God bless and protect our Archbishop, our priests, and His Church, granting them wisdom and unwavering faith, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

9. Make Church Structures Mission-Oriented
One very good way of praying and working with our spiritual father, the archbishop, is to take seriously the administrative guidelines and policies put in place to foster purposeful leadership, from the grassroots to the top, starting with our small Christian communities, to parish, then deanery, and to the diocese. The staggering ratio of 7,742 parishioners to one priest will not bring about the effectiveness of the Gospel unless we take to the imperative of Pope Francis to restructure our church and make it mission-oriented where every baptized Catholic is called to be a โ€˜missionary disciple,โ€™ and sees him/herself in same light. Baptism has provided this enablement giving us all a share in Christโ€™s priesthood; yes, โ€˜the whole community of believers isโ€ฆ priestlyโ€™ (CCC 1546) and are called to participate, each according to their own vocation, in Christโ€™s mission as priest, prophet, and king (cf. CCC 1546). Every disciple is a priestly evangelist. Every disciple is a priestly missionary. Every disciple is a priestly servant. All are essential for the conversion of the world. And we must not just talk about this; we must put these words into action to give the best to the people of our age and time.

10. Special attention to the Formation of the Laity & Catechesis
The laity form 99% of the Church, therefore, if our work as priests, if the mission of the Church is to be successful or effective, the role of the laity is indispensable. If disciples are to be sent out on a mission for making Jesus Christ known, they need to be adequately formed. We priests know that it is our primary responsibility to teach Godโ€™s people, guide and form them in the faith (cf. AAS 57 [1965] 762). The Yorubas say: omo ti a o ba ko a gbe ile ti a ko ta. Lack of knowledge is the bane of evangelisation. Our Lord has shown us an example by first calling his disciples and teaching them by word and example before commissioning them to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. To be able to give Christ to people, it is important to first get to know Christ, since no one can give out what they do not possess. Parents must form their children in the faith at home such that they have a sense of the sacred even before they grow to know the Church. Next is proper catechetical preparation for the reception of the sacraments in our parishes which today yearns for the presence of our priests periodically. This also implies that we must give our full support to the Directors of our Lay Apostolate Center and the Catechetical office. The Lay Apostolate Center is to the well-formed laity, what the seminary is to the priest. Empowering our lay faithful with a deeper understanding of their faith and their role in the Churchโ€™s mission, will cause our community to grow not only in numbers but also in spiritual depth and commitment.
At this point one it is worth noting that the Archdiocese of Lagos is blessed with a great number of well-educated lay faithful who are vibrant, zealous, professionals in different fields, committed, generous, thirsty for the word of God, desirous of a faithful celebration of the sacraments as prescribed by the Church, and always longing for spiritual/pastoral guidance. May Godโ€™s name be praised forever for this great gift to our archdiocese.

11. Continuous Formation of Priests
It is likely not possible for us, priests, to form the laity unless we ourselves are updated in knowledge, not just about the sacred disciples, but also on matters in the society. Therefore, in the fast-changing world we currently live in, we cannot afford to be comfortable with only the knowledge we acquired while in the seminary. For the good of the Church, it is proper that we make the best of the opportunity provided by our Archbishop, who has shown great commitment towards the continuous formation of his priests, by providing opportunities for periodic seminars and further studies. A priest who is updated is self-assured and more likely able to effectively manage and harness the zeal and talents of the caliber of laity in Lagos Archdiocese, for the good of the community and the entire Church. Francis Cardinal Arinze eloquently stated โ€œA good lay leader is no threat to an able parish priest or bishop,โ€ indicating that the apostolate of the laity is not in competition with the ministry of the priests, but compliments it.
The priest is a pastor, leader and guide of the parish community. Thus, while we seek knowledge, Pope Francisโ€™ counsels us that further studies are meant to enhance our priestly efficacy, and not to be seen as alternatives to the priesthood or to the priestly service. Our academic pursuits as priests, should always aim to improve our service to Godโ€™s people, the common good and make us more loyal priests to the Church and our bishop. Consequently, the degrees we acquire should make us humbler and better disposed for service, not pedestals for vanity or pride. May God help us and make us truly humble. Amen.

12. Keeping Close to Our Parishioners, especially the Youth
The essence of the mission as highlighted in Isaiah 61:1ff and Luke 4:18ff necessitates closeness to our flock, which is a daunting task for one pastor administering to over 7,700 parishioners. The solution lies in empowering the laity as missionary disciples and leveraging digital media for pastoral care. Priests working in Lagos are often accused of not picking or returning calls. There is the case of a family whose members are not happy with their priest, because he did not pick their call at night when their mum was on the death bed in the hospital and needed anointing and Holy Communion. The priestโ€™s regretful side of the story is that he did not know it was their phone number; since he was too tired, he felt it was one of those unnecessary disturbing calls that could wait. Dear brother priests, the unfortunate reality of missed calls and the resulting pastoral gaps highlight the need for better communication strategies in our parish community to bridge the gap between shepherd and flock. It is recommended that in place of personal phone lines, parishes and church institutions should acquire dedicated phone lines mechanised to ensure accessibility and responsiveness, fostering a deeper connection a sense of community within our parish families. This approach not only aids in our pastoral duties and parish administration, but also ensures our security, accountability, and continuity. In essence, let us leverage technology, empower our Lay Leaders, organise small Christian Communities, pay attention to the development of our youth, plan scheduled visits to parish societies and put in place a reliable feedback mechanism in our parish structure.

 

13. Reverence for the Eucharist
Just before we end this reflection, dear Fathers, as we celebrate the gift of the priesthood today, we renew our gratitude to God for choosing us in spite of our unworthiness. We are conscious that the priesthood is irrelevant without the Eucharist because the Eucharist is not just central to our faith; it is the heart of our Catholic identity. Pope Paul VI in Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei, taught that Christ is present in the Church in an eminent way in the Eucharist, the source and summit of ecclesial life. He is really present in the celebration of the holy Sacrifice, and when the consecrated bread is kept in the tabernacle “as the spiritual heart of the religious and parish community” (Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Mysterium Fidei, AAS 57 [1965], 772). All we have shared in this reflection thus far, must therefore directly or indirectly intensify and improve devotion to the Holy Eucharistic. The growing practice of perpetual adoration in many parishes is a testament to the solace and strength the faithful find in the Eucharistic devotion. Let us therefore continue to promote this devotion while safeguarding that it remains a reverent and sincere expression of faith, not a spectacle or a commercial endeavour. Moreover, it is crucial to educate the faithful, especially the young, on the reverence due to the Holy Communion, emphasizing the traditional reception on the tongue as an important gesture to respect the sanctity of every fragment of the consecrated host. Let us be vigilant in our role as custodians of the Eucharist, while practicing by our example and always teaching and upholding the reverence it commands.

14. Conclusion
In closing, dear people of God, reflecting on the words of Christ, the harvest is indeed plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37-38). This is to be understood not only as a call for more workers into the Lordโ€™s vineyard, but also a challenge for a deeper commitment, creativity, and sincerity by all of us already serving, whether as bishop, priests, religious or laity. By emulating the zeal of St. Paul and harnessing the potential of new media technologies for evangelization, we can amplify our efforts, in spite of the limited personnel, in making the kingdom of Christ to reign in the geographical jurisdiction of our Archdiocese. By consciously investing more in formation, media, catechesis, and youth apostolate, we trust that the Lord of the harvest will further prosper our mission in the Archdiocese of Lagos today and in the future.
Finally, on behalf of our dear Archbishop, our Cardinal and all the priests, we extend heartfelt gratitude to all men and women of consecrated life and to all our wonderful laity for their unwavering support and love for their priests. To you dear brother priests, I say, Happy Anniversary to you. May God continue to bless all our efforts through the maternal intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary. Amen.
Glory to Jesus โ€“ honor to Mary and Joseph!

Rev. Fr. Michael Nsikak Umoh is a priest of Lagos Archdiocese and currently the National Director of Social Communications at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, (0906006198. Text only please). Pls follow on nigeriacatholicnetwork.com

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