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St. Joseph: Artisan of Peace.

Every year, the Catholic Church celebrates the World Day of Peace on January 1. In his message for the celebration of 2021, the 54th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis invites Christians “to cultivate a culture of care as a path to peace.” The Holy Father proposes the culture of care as the antidote to the “culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time.” The year 2020 has taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society.

Anyone familiar with the teaching of Pope Francis will recognize this theme of the war against the culture of indifference as central to his ministry. He frequently talks about “the globalization of indifference.” Francis proposes an alternative with his famous “culture of encounter” and to which he seems to be adding the “culture of care.” When we encounter people, we should care for and about them. The Pope seems to draw a link between indifference and conflict. Indifference breeds, feeds, and leads to conflict.

The prophet Isaiah refers to the messiah as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). This is confirmed at his birth which news the shepherds received with great joy and proclaimed the eternal truth: Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill.” The Church also honors Mary as the Queen of Peace. Given the relationship between Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, one wonders whether Joseph could be referred in any loose sense as the King of Peace? It would seem within the context of the Kingship of Christ, this might be a stretch. And so, to continue with Pope Francis’ postulation of a father’s heart, St. Joseph could be more appropriately described as a father of peace or more appropriately, a peaceful father.

Against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ call for a culture of care, St. Joseph provides a great example. He was not an absentee husband and father. The home is supposed to be the most peaceful place one can imagine. The home is supposed to be a sanctuary. Our homes are temples not because of their gorgeous designs and exquisite beauty but because of the quality of the people with whom we share that space. Home is sacred space shared with intimate persons. Unfortunately, many homes have been transformed to boxing rings and increasingly broken homes and broken families are becoming the norm. This is partly because of indifference.

The affinity between home and hearth(fireplace) is not just accidental but also intrinsic. Home is where we find light, warmth and love. When we turn it to a heathen it is partly because it has lost its warmth. Cold and indifference impede the heat from the hearth.

Indifference is born of a culture that does not care and that is not thoughtful. It is a culture that escapes and avoids the calculus of how one’s actions or inactions affect/impact the other. It is important to note that in relationships it is not enough to be right. The bible presents us with examples of indifference. Abel’s question: Am I my brother’s keeper? Readily comes to mind.

One of Pope Francis’ passage that brings home the issue of indifference is that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In his seminal work on relationships, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes:

Jesus tells the story of a man assaulted by thieves and lying injured on the wayside. Several persons passed him by, but failed to stop. These were people holding important social positions, yet lacking in real concern for the common good. They would not waste a couple of minutes caring for the injured man, or even in calling for help. Only one person stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally, even spending his own money to provide for his needs. He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time. Certainly, he had his own plans for that day, his own needs, commitments and desires. Yet he was able to put all that aside when confronted with someone in need. Without even knowing the injured man, he saw him as deserving of his time and attention. Which of these persons do you identify with?

Life presents daily opportunities for us to encounter people and provide care. It is about paying attention to the presence of the others around us and attending to their needs. And for this we can look to the example of St. Joseph.

In Matthew’s gospel we find how St Joseph enunciates the culture of care when he found out that Mary was pregnant. The evangelist tells us that St. Joseph did not want to bring her to shame and decided to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19). Joseph cared more about Mary’s good name and did not want to bring her any shame. He was not indifferent to Mary’s feelings and reputation.

As a father, St Joseph was not indifferent to his son and we find an instance of this with the story of the Journey to Jerusalem where Christ went missing and Joseph and Mary only found out after traveling back to Galilee. (Luke 2:39-45) We are told not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. Christ brought glory to Joseph but also upset the life and agenda of Joseph. Soon after the birth of Christ, St. Joseph had to escape to Egypt for the safety and security of Christ.

St. Joseph invites us to be artisans of peace by being attentive to the needs of our brothers and sisters. How attentive are husbands to the needs and cries of their wives? Joseph used the reason of the heart to attend to Mary’s needs.

How about children? How attentive are parents to the needs of their children? How much time do parents spend with their children? Are parents not being indifferent to their children when they put them on autopilot and spend hours at work moving from one job to the other and end up not recognizing who these children have turned out to be?

Based on our different circumstances in life, lets examine ourselves and see how indifferent we are to those around us. With the father’s heart like St. Joseph’s let us seek to be attentive. There is a tendency to limit care to gifts. We buy gifts for others as a sign of love but we are inattentive to the little details of their lives that make the difference. There is no greater and better gift than presence.

January 2021: “With a Father’s heart!”

It is with the words “With a father’s heart” that Pope Francis opens his Apostolic letter celebrating the anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph, as Patron of the Universal Church. The pope seems to be answering a question which he does not tell us. His answer begs the question of why he chooses this description of a heart which answer we get in the concluding paragraph of the letter’s introduction. “For as Jesus says, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:14).” Yet there is a great paradox, that throughout the gospels, Joseph is silent and gradually fizzles out from the scene. He seems to embrace the spirituality of John the Baptist: Christ must increase while I decrease. (Jn.3:30-35) The silence of Joseph speaks volumes and ascertains the expression that actions speak louder than words.

Anecdotally men have been said to love with their heads and women to love with their hearts. And in popular marriage parlance, the man is said to be the head and the woman is the heart of the family. Hence, when Pope Francis refers to Joseph as having a father’s heart, there is a certain paradox worth pausing to consider.  

One cannot lose sight of the fact that the Pope issued this letter on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when the Church celebrates the fact that Mary was born without original sin. This brings to bold relief the fact that Joseph is no stranger to our human experience. But even more so, is the fact that Joseph is not unaffected by his union with Mary. She who is the handmaid of the Lord graces Joseph’s life too. Wherever we find Mary, Joseph is also present. To love Mary, is to love not just her Son but also and of course her husband. Therefore, when we invoke the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should also and always analogously albeit, consider the heart of Joseph.

When the evangelist Luke recounts that Mary treasured these things and stored them in her heart (Lk. 2:19), the same could also be said of Joseph. This narrative is within the nativity scene which begins with Joseph bringing his wife Mary to be counted for the census that had been decreed. Joseph’s heart is rich and full of similar experiences. That heart is full and is overflowing.

No doubt Pope Francis describes Joseph’s heart from different vantage points. It is the fatherhood of Joseph that provides the launchpad from where he soars to the heavens. The word “father” is used at least 34 times throughout the text and indicates quite frankly where Pope Francis wants to lay emphasis namely fatherhood.

“Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers,” writes Pope Francis highlighting what has become known as the crisis of fatherhood. “Fathers are not born but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world.”

It is as though the Pope is saying it is not enough to be called father but beyond this what kind of father are you. What kind of a heart do you have? To Pope Francis, St Joseph is the father par excellence as evident in the seven-fold adjectival descriptions he makes of St Joseph namely, “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father and a father in the shadows.” These are qualities that flow from the heart of Joseph whom the Pope proposes for imitation. Within the context of the Year of St. Joseph, we have randomly selected each of these for a month-long meditation around which we will design weekly reflections.

This project is in alignment with the Pope’s goal for us to “increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.”

Like Christ, St Joseph even in his silence is inviting us to learn from him for his gentle and lowly in heart. And Matthew presents the challenge in a much more forthcoming way when he notes that: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and they defile for the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. (Mtt.15:18-19). To cultivate a father’s heart, we are exhorted to turn to St Joseph’s heart.

During this month of January, let us seek out the heart of Joseph, a great treasury of love overflowing with blessings and grace. Just as Christ is an adopted son of Joseph, so too are we followers of Christ, adopted children of Joseph. Are you a father? What kind of heart do you have? Are you missing a father? Have you been abused by a father? Turn to the father of all fathers! Are you an absentee father? Seek the heart of Joseph to intercede for you.  

Celebrating 2021 with St Joseph: Patron of the Universal Church. Lambert Mbom

Last December 8th, Pope Francis declared the year in honor of St Joseph in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s dedication of the universal Church to the patronage of St Joseph. Pope Francis draws our attention to the person of St Joseph often a forgotten figure. He invites us to the school of St Joseph and lays out the syllabus for developing the spirituality of St Joseph.

“Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble,” wrote Pope Francis in the apostolic letter, Patris Corde. “St Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

As a member of the Catholic Men’s Association (CMA), I found it incumbent to drill further into the Pope’s invitation and to propose a guide for the year. Pope Francis suggests seven themes along which to celebrate the life of St Joseph and I have added five more to make twelve – one for each month. For fifty weeks of the year, I have come up with a weekly meditation to provide “a lamp to our feet and a guide to our path” (Psalm 119:105) (You can preorder your copy)

While these meditations are weekly and could be used on any day of the week, they are especially relevant on Wednesdays of every week for as Pope Francis himself writes: “Special prayers are offered to him each Wednesday and especially during the month of March, which is traditionally dedicated to him.”

One of the recommended activities for the Year of St Joseph is for Catholics to consecrate themselves to St Joseph. Fr Donald Calloway, MIC, an American priest has published one of the best and authoritative books on all things St Joseph. It is entitled “Consecration to St Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.”

“Now is the time to consecrate yourself to St. Joseph!” This consecration follows the popular 33 days preparation for consecration to Mary and is patterned to coincide with major events in St Joseph’s life. Fr Calloway’s proposed schedule is as follows:

Consecration Chart

START OF THEFEAST DAYCONSECRATION
33 DAYS DAY
   
December 22Feast of the Holy SpousesJanuary 23
 
January 1Presentation of the LordFebruary 2
   
February 15*Solemnity of St. JosephMarch 19
   
March 30St. Joseph the WorkerMay 1
   
April 11Our Lady of FatimaMay 13
   
July 16Our Lady of KnockAugust 17
   
September 30All SaintsNovember 1
   
November 8Our Lady of LoretoDecember 10
   
November**Holy FamilyDecember

Rev Fr. Celestine Diang: My Forgotten Mentor – Happy Silver Jubilee! By Lambert Mbom

The month of April and the liturgical season of Easter which often coincide mark important moments in the lives of most priests of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda(archdiocese of Bamenda, dioceses of Buea, Kumbo, Mamfe and Kumba). Priestly ordinations often take place during the Easter Octave. Many priests thus celebrate the anniversaries of their ordination in April.

Two and half decades ago, I witnessed the ordination of Rev Fr. Celestine Diang and Rev. Fr. Joseph Awoh both of the diocese of Buea who recently celebrated their silver jubilee with their classmate of the diocese of Kumbo, Bishop Agapitus Fon now Bishop of newly erected diocese of Kumba. Each of them played an important part in my life: Fr Celestine guided me on the labyrinthine journey to the Catholic priesthood which ended prematurely albeit; Fr. Awoh provided a much needed “pillow” when I crashed out of the race and began teaching in CCAS Kumba while Bishop Agapitus remained close to my family and afforded them the necessary support. To each of them I want to use this medium to express my gratitude for all they provided me.

I particularly dedicate these lines to Fr. Celestine Diang who provided me a much needed lens into the exigencies of parish life. St. Joseph’s parish, Muyuka became my pastoral lab even before I went to the major seminary.

First, I watched Fr Celestine enjoy his priestly life as he burnt with zeal for his father’s house. He took me to the many outstations of Muyuka and thus prepared especially for the experience I would later on live out in St Gabriel’s parish Bafmeng while on pastoral experience. I remember vividly the pastoral visit to Bavenga and the very warm welcome all the Christians afforded you. The many times “going to the bush” became a priority rather than sitting in the comfort of the office of the main parish would become instrumental when I had to spend time in the resettlement camp of Lake Nyos victims in Buabua.

In the words of Pope Francis, the pastor must smell of his sheep and I find an apt instantiation of these words in your ministry. Particularly striking to me is the fact that Fr. Celestine introduced me to the Daiga’s in Muyuka not one of those rich families of the parish but simple, dedicated Catholics who attended mass daily and struggled to eke out a living but graciously welcomed me as their oldest son. It could have been easy to let me enjoy the cozy comforts of the parish but Fr. Celestine afforded me the opportunity to learn that the family as domestic Church is a strong foundation for building one’s vocation. He not only expanded my world view but also extended my family.

Fr Celestine has an unrivaled passion for liturgical music. He infected me with this and while many people wrote some us off as being “tone deaf,” I invariably developed a passion for liturgical music. I remember exploiting Fr. Celestine’s impressive library of tapes of music from the seminary choir which I “ravished” daily. In addition, I admired Fr. Making the time to teach the choir and prepare for the liturgy and taught me the value of good music for worship.

Fr. Celestine also impressed upon me the value of enjoying a good meal. I learnt basic table manners and the value of a meal as an act of worship. I relish the flashbacks of those trips to BOTA with the occasional lunch at the Procure, the stop overs at different parish houses sharing in priestly camaraderie and above all the finesse with which Fr. Celestine consumed corn fufu and roasted chicken, staple meal of the Kom people. I am reminded of my dad’s friend of blessed memory, Pa David Teh who had a healthy appetite for corn fufu and vegetables. In this Fr exemplified one of the best ways of staying true to his Kom identity out of Kom without the parochial entrapments wont of such cultural affiliations.

It warmed my heart when your Bishop decided to send you to Rome to study Spirituality and I found this definitely apropos. The two books you offered me to read while under your tutelage were Teresa Avila’s book on mental prayer and the biography of Cure D’Ars. These left an indelible imprint on my mind.

For these and more others mention of which would be superfluous, I would like to say Thank you! My formative years might not have yielded the desired intention namely ascending to the altar as a priest but they impacted my life in a real way and that is why the experience has remained evergreen in my mind. They remain invaluable lessons and you continue to inspire me even to be a good person and a saintly one too.

Celebrating Lent in the Year of Mercy. By Lambert Mbom

Lent 2016 is here. It is 15 days old. It came in quite early. Did we not just celebrate Christmas? Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. But everything points to Easter, the culmination of our Christian faith. This year’s celebration of Lent has an added value and significance given it is the Year of Mercy. Pope Francis inaugurated this year while on pilgrimage to war torn Central African Republic on the last lap of his apostolic visit to Africa last December 2015. While he spent the first Sunday of Advent in Africa, Pope Francis spent the First Sunday of Lent in Mexico. The Christian life is in essence a pilgrimage. This Lent seems to be an appropriate time to follow the example of Pope Francis and go on a pilgrimage but more than just a physical journey, it is an opportune moment to fatten our spiritual leanness and trim our spiritual excesses.

As I reflected on what this Lent holds for me, I found the answer in Pope Francis’s homily at Ecatepec, Mexico. It was not just the fact that in visiting this poor and crime ridden city, Pope Francis struck a favorite chord in his ministry namely going out “to the periphery” but also the message he delivered on that first Sunday of Lent.

Vatican Radio’s description of Ecatepec seems to bear resemblance to the messiness of the spiritual life for some of us: “It’s now an ugly sprawl of a shanty town littered with rubbish in one of Mexico’s ‘barrio bravo’.  An expression meaning a lawless neighborhood where organized crime, pollution and poverty reign and where most people fear to tread.”

In his homily for first Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis exhorted us all to ward off temptations by following the example of Christ. In this familiar passage of the Temptation of Christ, we find Christ using Scriptures to respond to the devil’s temptations. The Gospel passage referring to Scriptures notes that “It is written…” and “It also says…” Even the devil takes up the example of Christ and in Luke’s account the devil builds the third temptation from scriptures and quotes the Psalm. Pope Francis however exhorts us not to dialogue with the devil.

In his off the cuff remarks, Pope Francis calls us to imitate Christ and use Scriptures to fight off the devil’s temptation. This is a continuation of his Lenten message of 2016 where he says: “For all of us, then the season of Lent in this jubilee year is a favorable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practicing the works of mercy.” In the Pope’s message for Lent 2016, Pope Francis calls for an “attentive listening to the Word of God” stressing the “prayerful listening to God’s word, especially His prophetic words.”

But just what does “attentive listening to the word of God” entail? There is a serious charge against us Catholics by our other Christians that we do not know the bible. We shall take up that charge on a different day. Let each of us examine their conscience and find out where we are on this. How familiar are we with the word of God. I have heard it repeated to me very often that you must know someone to love the person. One of the best ways to know God is in and through the bible. Not just memorizing some stock verses and parroting them but actually praying with the Bible.

One method of attentive listening is the Church’s ancient practice of lectio divina. This is a way of encountering God through Scriptures normally by reading a specific passage from the Bible and using that as the basis for prayer. Lectio Divina is not the traditional bible sharing or reading the bible for edification but letting oneself be soaked in and steeping oneself in Scriptures.

Lectio Divina is characterized by four steps namely: Reading, Thinking, Praying and Acting. The renowned professor of scripture, Fr James Martin (SJ) describes the process thus: Reading: You pick a scriptural text and then you read it.  At the most basic level, you ask: What is going on in this passage? What does the text say? Meditation: What is God saying to me through this text? At this point, you ask whether there is something that God might want to reveal to you? It is recommended that one chooses a word or phrase from the passage and meditate on it. Prayer: What do I want to tell God about this text? Then Action: We are always called upon to do something: Quite simply Go forth and be a witness. This year, we are called to practice the works of mercy.

We live in a very noisy world and we are bombarded by many distractions and attractions. We hear too many discordant voices and hence end up hallucinating. Our pilgrimage this Lent should help us center our lives on God by listening attentively to Him. Let us walk with God this Lent through Sacred Scriptures. Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

Pope Francis in the last paragraph of his 2016 Lenten message exhorts us: “Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable(sic) a time for conversion!” Recalling God’s words of mercy written all over the Bible we too should become missionaries of mercy in this year of mercy.

Visiting the sick in the Year of Mercy by Lambert Mbom

field-hospital-open.jpg

The Basilica of the National Shrine – last Tuesday launched its 2016 Speaker and Event Series with a splendid lecture on “Compassion – The Thirst of God: Visiting the sick as a work of mercy” by Msgr. Brian Bransfield, recently elected General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Francis has given us an incredible year, said Bransfield. In fact, he has given us two gifts namely the notion of the Church as a field hospital where we meet Jesus Christ. And secondly, Pope Francis has introduced us to the Year of Mercy.

In an interview to the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, published in the Catholic magazine, America in September 2013, Pope Francis in answer to the question on the kind of Church he dreams of, responded: “I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle…” This possibly explains why of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy this first lecture of the year focused on visiting the sick.

The Year of Mercy officially launched last December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and runs through to November 2016, Solemnity of Christ the King.

The Holy Father invites us to deepen our notion of mercy through an understanding of the compassion of God, a compassion manifested in Christ, Bransfield told the over 40 persons that had stayed after evening mass to listen to him.

It is no mere coincidence that this jubilee Year of Mercy kicked off on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception which happens to be the patronal feast of the Basilica of the National Shrine. The Basilica is intimately connected to this Year of Mercy then.

In his recommendations for the celebration of this year, Pope Francis calls on Catholics to reflect on and live out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, one of which is visiting the sick. Bransfield submits that compassion is at the heart of visiting the sick.

Drawing from a rich pastoral experience while ministering to the sick in a large parish in his diocese of origin, Philadelphia, he recounted a life changing experience with a dying woman in a hospice room. As he blessed her, she repeated the blessing after him but ended up saying: May the blessing of the Lord come upon you and keep your faith alive. Visiting the sick is an act of faith and benefits both the guest and the visitor.

“We may think we do the sick a favor when we visit them. In some sense we do,” said Bransfield. Christ invites us to the ministry of the sick. He himself touched the leper and entered into the margins of life. The speaker urged all to enter into the uncomfortable space of visiting the sick. They are Jesus Christ to us.

These words echo a favorite theme of Pope Francis namely reaching out to the peripheries.

“We must get out of ourselves and go toward the periphery. We must avoid the spiritual disease of the Church that can become self-absorbed: when this happens, the Church itself becomes sick. […] Between a Church that goes into the street and gets into an accident and a Church that is sick with self-referentiality, I have no doubts in preferring the first. (Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the pre-conclave General Congregation of the Cardinals, March 2013)

Msgr. Bransfield then explained the Christo-centric character of visiting the sick noting that, “When we visit the sick, we imitate Christ the physician; when we visit the sic, we visit Christ the victim. But it is also an act of compassion.” But just what does it mean to be compassionate?

Availing of the parables of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal son, Msgr.Bransfield elucidated the meaning of compassion beyond just feeling sorry for someone. He demonstrated how the anonymous man who fell in the hands of robbers and laid wounded is doubly hurt by the rejection especially of the priest and Levite who passed by. Many of the sick in our community feel this sense of abandonment and rejection in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes, he intimated.

The Samaritan’s action teaches us compassion. The parable recounts that the Samaritan was traveling and was moved with compassion for the victim. The essence of compassion here is conveyed from the Greek meaning of compassion, “splekchne” – inner most places are trembling with the presence of God. The Father in the parable of the prodigal son is also moved with compassion – he is trembling.

We visit the sick because Christ leads us there and he ministers to us and to the sick.

“On the Cross, Christ gives new meaning to all suffering. He cries out: I thirst, he empties everything. In this cry of I thirst, Christ calls us to works of mercy. He invites us to visit the sick: I was sick and you visited me. He draws us to the mercy of God. We enter into God’s mercy as we step closer to those who are sick,” concluded Bransfield.

At the end of the talk, the speaker had the opportunity to autograph some of his books which were on sale in memorial hall out of the Crypt Church where the lecture had taken place. The Next lecture will be on February 17th after the 5:15pm mass.

 

Walk With Francis: Pope Francis in the US by Lambert Mbom

In 30 days’ time, Pope Francis will be in the US on an official and pastoral visit that will bring him to Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia. Ahead of this visit, the archdiocese of Washington D.C. launched a “Walk with Francis” project that invites Christians to honor the pope’s visit by prayer, service and action. Four weeks ahead of this visit, 2278 persons and 54 parishes/organizations have taken the pledge to walk with Francis and 2697 messages shared on social media according to archdiocese’s website, www.walkwithfrancis.org

In preparation for this visit, I have decided to walk with Pope Francis.  I have committed to read five books by and about Pope Francis over the next four weeks. Of course, what better way to begin this journey other than reading his latest encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” Even though touted as an encyclical on the environment, commentaries reveal it is groundbreaking in many respects and Franciscan. It sure will make Stephen Beale’s “7 Papal encyclicals that changed the world.”http://catholicexchange.com/7-papal-encyclicals-that-changed-the-world

Were the Pope to call me on my personal cellphone or were I to receive a personal letter in the mail from the Pope, it would be historic. Yet, surprisingly, I left this personal letter unread since May 24th, 2015. Well, since the Pope will be in town, it seems incumbent that one reads this letter so as not to be embarrassed by the question: Have you read the letter I sent to you three months ago?

Child psychologists have us believe that the first two years in the development a child are very important. The veil of obscurity of Rev. Jorge Bergoglio who became Pope Francis tapers off in the first two years of his pontificate. He is the surprised choice to shepherd the Church and in deed he is a Pope of Surprises. Two books that capture the defining infancy of his papacy are, The Church of Mercy: A Vision of the Church and Antonio Tornelli’s, Fioretti-The Little Flowers of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’ ecclesiology is worth examining to be able to understand his statements and declarations. For an avowed conservative or one with conservative trappings like me, it is imperative to discern where Francis is taking the Church to. In the light of the forthcoming Synod on the Family (October 4-25, 2015), and in preparation for the Year of Mercy (December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016), the Vatican’s authorized Church of Mercy is a must read.

The Vatican Insider, Tornelli’s “The Little Flowers…” also celebrates the first year of the Francis Pontificate offering “inspiring stories, incidents, encounters, and excerpts from the writings and talks of Pope Francis”

It would be interesting to see the points of convergence and divergence between the two books celebrating the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate.

To understand where Pope Francis is leading the Church to, it is just fitting to know who he is and where he is coming from.  Austen Ivereigh’s, The Great Reformer: Francis and the making of a Radical Pope is tempting enough and I look forward to devouring it nine months after getting an autographed copy of this work last December at its launch at Georgetown University.

Given that Pope Francis is coming to the United States, it seems appropriate to savor some American flavor and who else but John Allen merits consideration. His most recent publication, “The Francis miracle: Inside the transformation of the Pope and the Church,” is quite enticing.

Join me on this pilgrimage!

Celebrating May as Catholics – Five things to Consider by Lambert Mbom.

We are still in the highs of Easter as we enter the third week of Easter. It is the Resurrection: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! One of the best messages I heard on Easter is Pope Francis’ beautiful Easter vigil homily in which he invited us Catholics to: “Return to Galilee.” On the Resurrection morning, the first witnesses heard this from the angel and then from the risen Christ. Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began! To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called. The Holy Father explains the meaning of the invitational challenge to return to Galilee. First it means a re-reading of the central events of the life of Jesus in the light of this new beginning, the supreme act of love.

It is also an invitation for each of us to remember and celebrate our baptism. As Pope Francis says: “For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus. ‘To go to Galilee’ means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience.”

During this Easter, let us seek to rediscover the meaning of our Baptism. We must ask ourselves the question: “Where is our Galilee?” For those of us who were baptized as infants, Easter presents us with the unique opportunity to “claim” our baptism. We are encouraged to find out when we were baptized and to “re-live” that moment every Easter. The blessing with holy water and the paschal candle that burns throughout Easter are eloquent reminders of our Baptism. Embark on the spiritual journey to the place where we first encountered Christ.

Perhaps, throughout this month let us take the time to meditate on what Easter means to us as a community and as individuals. What does the Resurrection mean to me? What does it mean to say we are an Easter people? It is important to avoid the danger of complacency – whereby Easter becomes a mere cyclical return of the seasons over which we have no control. As an Easter people we are invited to show the power of life over death, exude joy and above all, live in and bring hope. Easter reminds us of those very famous words, the sadness of Good Friday makes way to the joy of Easter. Such is the rhythm of Christian life. The cross is not the last word.

Easter is already warming up to be very exciting with the wonderful gift of two new saints. They are not just the ordinary regulars but two great contemporary giants of our faith: St John XXIII, who convened the famous Second Vatican Council that revolutionized the Church and St John Paul II. For young adults like some of us, the memories of St. John Paul II are still very fresh in our minds and hearts. These are our contemporaries who walked this “vale of tears” and appreciate better our daily struggles. For over two and half decades, the universal Church prayed daily at every mass for our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II and during prayers of the faithful. We prayed for the Pope and today we are invited to pray with and through the Pope now a saint.

 May we be inspired by these words of the Preface the priest uses during mass for saints – holy men and women: “You renew the Church in every age by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses of your unchanging love. They inspire us by their heroic lives and help us by their constant prayers to be the living sign of your saving power.” There could be no better way of living the joy of this Easter other than enjoying it with these two new saints. In order to be inspired by their heroic lives we must seek to get to know them better. How about buying a biography on each of the recently canonized Popes and reading it. One of the greatest tragedies of Catholicism is the abundance of literature we posses and yet many remain ignorant of the faith. During this month, let us resolve to learn something from their lives. Above all, let us seek their intercession for our daily needs. Saints Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, pray for us.

A critical ingredient in St. Pope John Paul II’s pontificate undoubtedly is his dedication to the Blessed Virgin Mary. May is celebrated throughout the Catholic world as a Marian month. This is in honor of the Blessed Mother’s apparition at Fatima, May 13, 1917. During this month, we shall also celebrate Mother’s day on May 11th. We are invited to treasure not just the genius of the woman but also the amazing gift of motherhood. Hence, we must reflect on what it means to be not just a woman but above all what it means to be a mother? In fact, the challenge is to come to terms with not only what it means to be a Catholic woman and one who belongs to an apostolate but also a Catholic mother? How Catholic are we?

In a very special way, this month must be dedicated to the Catholic women apostolate of our Cameroon Catholic community in DC metro area who are in crises. The bickering, the rancor, bitterness and division fueled by a vaulted ambition to be in control no matter the cost by a coterie of know-it-all, high-class and well connected women expressed in pidgin as “over-sabis” are clearly not Marian virtues. It may sound outrageous but truth be told, it is not enough to pray the rosary! If these are the fruits of their bimonthly meetings praying the rosary, then we must reexamine our prayers.

Do we just recite the rosary or do we pray the rosary? May we grow in our devotion to Mary especially throughout the course of this month of May. During this month, let us seek to mirror the virtues of Mary, with and through whom we pray. Like St Pope John Paul II taught us in that beautiful encyclical on the rosary:With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. This month let us return to Mary’s school and sit at her feet to contemplate with her the face of the Risen Christ.

During this month when we get to celebrate mother’s day, it is also incumbent upon each of us to celebrate the motherhood of the Church. It is time for us to reexamine what does it mean to belong to the Catholic Church? Is the Church just a structure where we go to worship? Is it the dominant all male hierarchy which hardly understands women and above all contemporary issues? If Baptism makes us members of the Church – God’s family and the Church is mother, let us draw out the meaning of this for our spiritual edification. What is my relation to holy mother, the Church?

By some strange twist and divine providence, the Church launched the month of the rosary by inviting us to celebrate May 1st as feast of St Joseph, the worker. The Church celebrates the value of human labor. Work is good, it is noble and it is divine. In one of his homilies on one of these celebrations of May 1st, St Pope John Paul II drew out this significance of work when he said:

If the Son of God was willing to learn a human work from a man, this indicates that there is in work a specific moral value with a precise meaning for man and for his self-fulfillment. In the Encyclical Laborem Exercens, I mentioned precisely that “through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes more a human being” (n. 9) How can we not recognize then the great dignity of work, whatever kind it may be in its concrete expression? How can we not see the fundamental role that it fulfills in the life of the individual, of the family, of society?

This month many people are graduating from school and will be in the job market. May they ask the powerful intercession of St Joseph, the worker to afford them good jobs. May all those searching for jobs implore the intercession of St Joseph. And for all those who work, there is an invitation to rediscover the true meaning of work. There is the temptation to view work only in its economic value and forget its intrinsic spiritual value. To work is to pray and we are saved because we work or better still we are saved in and through our work.

In sum, the five things Catholics can do during May include the following:

–       Celebrate Easter by recalling and reliving our Baptism

–       Pray the Rosary

–       Avail of the intercession of Sts. Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II

–       Celebrate our mothers and the motherhood of the Church

–       Celebrate St Joseph the worker and express the value of work.

 

Blessed is he – Bishop-elect Andrew Nkea – who comes in the name of the Lord. Part II by Lambert Mbom.

Msgr Andrew Nkea

Msgr Andrew Nkea

It is one week to the date since the Church in the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda erupted in song and dance at the news of the appointment of one her priests to the office of Bishop for the Benjamin of the province – diocese of Mamfe. One could write an encyclopedia about the Bishop-elect but would prefer to mention three gifts the new Bishop brings to his ministry in Mamfe namely eloquent preaching, elegant administration and erudite playwright.

In his priestly ministry, bishop-elect Andrew Nkea distinguished himself as an eloquent preacher. One could rightly refer to him as the John Chrysostom of our age – the man with the golden tongue not to be confused with one with the sweet or glib tongue known for sugar-coating meant to impress or cajole.  Rather, simply put, Bishop-elect Nkea is a gifted preacher. Even though we may take it for granted that good preaching is a gift, it is important to note that it is a cultivated gift. A good sermon is the fruit of prayer and reading. He was just so good that when he was chancellor of the diocese, Christians started rotating mass attendance based on where he was going to be celebrating mass and preaching just to savor the richness of his sermon. And rich they were!

Yet it is important to point out that true to his name, “Nkea” which literally translates as “It is not I, it is you,” this gift did not let him turn away from the giver. Never preaching to impress but rather to win souls for God. He did not let the gift become an idol. Our Holy Father Pope Francis in his new encyclical notes idolatry is “a pretext for setting ourselves at the center of reality and worshipping the work of our own hands.” Yes, Bishop-elect eschewed this temptation.

As Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, Lumen Gentium (LG) states, “Among the principal duties of Bishops, the Preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place. For, Bishops are Preachers of the Faith, who lead new Disciples to Christ. They are authentic teachers, that is Teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice” (LG. 25).

In this year of the faith, what greater gift could the people of Mamfe ask for than to have a seasoned preacher like Bishop-elect, Andrew Nkea. Mere coincidence? One would not be wrong to surmise that the urgency to proclaim the Gospel not so much ad extra as ad intra, not so much to the heathens as to those within the Church, warranted the choice of this gifted preacher.

The announcement came five days after the release of Pope Francis’ first encyclical: Lumen Fidei – The Light of Faith. Through his word, the light of the faith would shine forth in Mamfe diocese. But as Pope Paul VI reminds us: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” And as Christ challenges all of us: Your light must shine in the sight of men so that seeing your good works they may give praise to your father in heaven.

When what has become known as the “maranatha” crises rocked Buea diocese, then Chancellor of the diocese and now Bishop-elect, Andrew Nkea rose to the challenge and showed true candor, fortitude and stamina. The one thing that stood out clearly during the crisis was the complete reversal of the cardinal principle of African tradition: Blood is thicker than water. Msgr. Andrew showed that the waters of Baptism super cede blood relations. True to type, many people read the crisis as two “bangwa people fighting.” Then Bishop elect was not afraid to lose the support of his clansmen. Truth trumped tribal affiliations and triumphed in the end. There is no denying it that it is thanks in part to the indefatigable work of then chancellor, that the diocese weathered the storm. His tenure in the chancery of the diocese of Buea could now be seen as prep time for the third duty of the Bishop, which is governance or more loosely administration. From my perspective, I have known the Bishop elect to be very diplomatic with civil authorities, pastoral with Christians and fraternal with priests. He is an administrator par excellence.

A surprising nugget in Bishop elect’s treasure chess which his profile on LinkedIn (and yes Bishop-elect is social media savvy) and all that I have read about him have failed to capture is the fact that he is a playwright. With Fr. Marcellus Bekong of blessed memory, he co-authored an unpublished play, “Chibili’s will,” which the drama club of St Thomas Aquinas’ major seminary, Bambui, thrilled the population of Bamenda and its environs with. It is a riveting tale of the Lekang society of the Nweh community and the demise of one of its leaders. What is at play here is the fact that in crafting this literary piece, Msgr. Andrew Nkea displayed knowledge of the culture of his people, which he truly appreciates that he could “codify” into a literary text. He is the cosmopolitan rooted in the traditions of the land but solidly grounded in the Christian faith. He is an African Christian par excellence.

But what has his literary genius got to do with his appointment?

Fr. Gerald Gurka, a priest and pastor in the diocese of Scanton, PA in his article, “Liturgy as theater,” so beautifully elucidates this: The Eucharist is, of course, an awesome sacred drama that goes beyond even the most superb theater production. It connects us to the creative wonder of God’s immense, mysterious love, which unconditionally allowed his son to become one of us, to suffer, die and rise for us and in us. The Mass invites us onto the eternal stage where no curtain or bad seat distances us or veils our sight.

As a playwright and actor himself, Bishop-elect Nkea truly comprehends this. The celebration of the Eucharist then is not just perfunctory and mechanical but animated by principles already incarnated in this skill. Hence, one can guarantee that the “dramatic” of the liturgy will be the experience of many in the diocese of Mamfe especially during this year of the faith.

Postscript:

This was not meant to be a panegyric in honor of Bishop-elect – Nkea; after all, good palm wine needs no advert; or even an attempt to justify the Vatican’s decision with this appointment, which would be lame for the Vatican needs no such corroboration. Rather this attempt, wanting as it is, should be read as an attempt to define in broad strokes albeit the ministry of the Bishop and how a mentor and family friend’s ministry has prepared him for the challenging ministry to which he has been called.

It would be presumptuous for me to seek to advise the new Bishop especially given my own inability even to ascend to the basic priesthood. But as a Catholic, I would dare offer some words to the new bishop.

Speculations were rife amongst ecclesiastical politicians (that many Christians are) that Bishop Awa was preparing his chancellor to replace him when he retires. This did not happen as Buea diocese got a new Bishop. With hindsight, divine providence seemed to be preparing you for this moment by testing you in the crucible of the recent crisis that Buea diocese suffered among its priests. As you must have learnt, a crucial part of your ministry will be in the relationship you have with your priests.

One of the many new functions you will have exclusive right to is ordination of priests. At every priestly ordination, the Bishop addresses the candidate as: “My son…” This is no mere formality. Neither does it draw meaning exclusively from the sociological “father-son” relationship but fundamentally from Trinitarian perspective.

My Lord, Bishop-elect Andrew Nkea think of and work for the welfare of your priests. Be a true father to them. Avoid creating soccer-like leagues in the diocese with some playing in division one and others playing in division two at best or at worst mere spectators. Help your priests to enjoy the priesthood.

May the good Lord in his mercy and goodness who has begun the good work in you bring it to fruition.

 

 

 

 

 

Habemus Papam – Pope Francis – Deo Gratias by Lambert Mbom

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The suspense is over! Now we have a Pope – Habemus Papam – Franciscum erstwhile Jorge Mario Bergoglio – Blessed is he, a Jesuit, from Argentina, South America who comes in the name of the Lord – Let us rejoice and be glad! But what are we to make of this choice?

First of all for the average Catholic, there is an overflow of joy with this choice of the Pope. In deed we rejoice and are glad. A saintly man who defied all odds and bets, hiding in plain sight who though with one lung and with the burden of age will inject a badly needed spiritual steam. What is even more surprising is the fact he featured prominently in the last conclave coming second to now Pope emeritus. Benedict.

A Jesuit as Pope – The Jesuits are a religious order of priests and brothers formed by St Ignatius of Loyola “to serve Christ and the Pope.” The Jesuits have excelled in education with their superb schools and universities especially in the US and in Rome. They are the “brain boxes” of the Church. They are also known for their social justice ministries.

But they are embroiled in controversies! Ask Cardinal Arinze and his commencement address in May 17, 2003 when he was booed in Georgetown University for his defense of prolife and 70 professors signed a petition to the dean against the prince of the church for defending Church doctrine in a Catholic university run by Jesuits. Last year, Georgetown University again made news with her controversial invitation to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius to deliver the commencement lecture amidst the contraception mandate controversy. Yes, the Jesuits have given us a Pope – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – To the Greater Glory of God.

This notwithstanding he is an authentic man from the South, born and raised Argentinian even though of Italian heritage.  In Pope Francis, the Church comes alive to poverty. He is not a man who just knows about poverty or who has read about it but one who knows poverty. He has lived through the throes of poverty and knows its color, taste, size and shape. One would not be wrong to surmise that in John Paul II we had a philosopher, in Benedict XVI we had a theologian and now in Francis we have a pastor. He comes to us as it were from the trenches. Like Pope Paul VI mentioned: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

Pope Benedict’s message for Lent 2013 echoed these sentiments and the Holy Spirit seemed to have been nudging the Church through him to this selection. He wrote:

The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love. In Sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4).

From all that initial reports indicate, Pope Francis fits this bill. The poor, the hoi polloi, the anawims Yahweh in Argentina will tell us the stories beyond the bus riding Cardinal who gave up the trappings and comforts of Office to live the vagaries of daily life in Argentina.

Even though, National Catholic Reporter, Joshua J McElwee in his article, “No Direction Signaled for New Pope at Cardinals’ mass” seemed to indicate that Cardinal Sodano failed to give marching orders to the Cardinals as to who to elect Pope, history has vindicated Cardinal Sodano with this choice of Pope Francis.

The dean of the College of Cardinals, Sodano in his homily on Tuesday for the mass for the election of a Pope placed emphasis on the Church’s social teachings, which have historically been in the developing world.

 “The last popes have been builders of so many good initiatives for people and for the international community, tirelessly promoting justice and peace,” Sodano ended his homily. “Let us pray that the future pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level.”

 The cardinals took these words to heart and at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave the Church one who will now continue this work. Beyond the witness of his personal life, we find confirmation in the name the new Bishop of Rome has chosen: Francis.

Speculations are rife as to why the Pope chose this name. Some think it is after St Francis of Assisi the great champion of poverty, or Francis Xavier the great Jesuit missionary to Asia. Pope Benedict in his message to the Jesuits in 2008 seems to give us a glimpse to why Francis Xavier may be the reason for the Pope’s name. 

 “At a time when new geographical horizons were being opened, Ignatius’ first companions placed themselves at the Pope’s disposal “so that he might use them where he judged it would be for God’s greater glory and the good of souls” (Autobiography, n. 85). They were thus sent to announce the Lord to peoples and cultures that did not know him as yet. They did so with a courage and zeal that still remain as an example and inspiration: the name of St. Francis Xavier is the most famous of all, but how many others could be mentioned!

Clearly, the name Francis if after Francis Xavier signals the new Pope will continue the unfinished business of the Year of the Faith and New Evangelization, which Pope emeritus Benedict XVI left.

Nowadays the new peoples who do not know the Lord or know him badly, so that they do not recognize him as the Saviour, are far away not so much from the geographical point of view as from the cultural one. The obstacles challenging the evangelisers are not so much the seas or the long distances as the frontiers that, due to a mistaken or superficial vision of God and of man, are raised between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice.”

Or it could simply be Francis of Solano, the patron of Argentina. In any case, what is clear is the fact that in Francis we find the champion of the poor and the new evangelization. Long live Pope Francis!

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