His daily life was his most eloquent sermon
Nevertheless, it is possible to compile some of his actual teachings. At Mount St. Bernard the odd sermon and the text of a retreat survive. A few of his letters are still extant, though, sadly, most were lost in the civil war and many of his sayings are remembered verbatim by those many Nigerians who are best described as his disciples. They have been remembered partly because of their aphoristic form (often more evident in the original Igbo than in translation) but there is more to it than that. While collecting this type of material, I occasionally asked myself what could remember of the many sermons I heard at Oxford in the 1960s. I heard holy preachers, learned preachers, famous preachers — and cannot now remember anything that any of them said. I was puzzled at the discrepancy between my own experience and that of these Nigerian Christians.
The answer was provided by, of all things, an American television programme a partly nut not wholly spurious Oriental Sage was telling a child the treasures of wisdom which guided his own existence. (I have forgotten what these were!) The child asked how he could preserve them in his memory. He was told, not by remembering them, but by living them…
On the Beauty of God’s creation
He taught us that if you take any flower with joy and praise the beautyness you are praising God. (Monica Egwim of Ogbunike)
On Abandonment to God’s Will
(This seems to have been the central attrait of his life)
Yourself and your wife should keep always before your eyes that fact that you are creatures, God’s own creation. As a man’s handiwork belongs to him, so do we all belong to God, and should accordingly have no other will but His. He is a Father, a very kind Father indeed. All his plans are for the good of His children. We may not often see how they are. That does not matter. Leave yourselves in His hands, not for a year, nor for two years, but as long as you have to live on earth. If you confide in Him fully and sincerely He will take special care of you. (Tansi’s letter to his houseboy, Augustine Chendo, dated Trinity Sunday 1959)
This surrender is the essential condition of the fullness of life to which we, as religious, are called. Resistance to this appeal gives rise to anxiety, uneasiness, discomfort and pain. When the resistance ceases and when the surrender is made, peace invades the soul…(Retreat notes)
Anyone who asks if he complained, never knew Father Tansi. If you complained, he would be quite against it, and advise accordingly. I can give you an example. Someone was sent on transfer to another town. I won’t name the town, but before he went there he went to a football match there, and when he had seen it, he said: "How can anybody live there?" He complained in the hearing of Father Tansi. Father Tansi said: "My friend a hundred years is not eternity. Even if you stay a hundred years, a hundred years is not eternity. If you, a teacher, refuse to go there, who is going to go there? Will they send a pig or a cow instead, or will it be another human being, just like you?" (Gabriel Okafor)
He taught us to say: "O my God, I am a piece of cloth bought for your clothes. You are the tailor and the weaver. Make the clothes therefore in the style and fashion to suit you." He often quoted St. Dominic Savio: "Da mihi animas, cetera tolle…" He told us that the greatest murder on earth is to kill time… (Augustine Chendo)
On the Difficulty of Perseverance
Onye afuro na enuigwe, si aguyi na
(Count no one saved, until he is found in heaven). (Archbishop Stephen Ezeanya)
On the Transitory Nature of this World’s Satisfactions
Do not be imitating the whites in everything, strive hard to gain the Kingdom of God. The whites are already in heaven in this world, but you are suffering every want. Are you going to suffer also in the next world? Life on earth could be compared to the journey of a young student who received a slip for a registered parcel, and he had to go to Lagos to claim this parcel. On the way he passed through many beautiful towns, towns with very attractive things in the shops. He started going from one shop to another, stretching his hands to the beautiful things he saw. He stopped so often in these big towns that he almost forgot what he was travelling for. It was after a long time that he ultimately reached Lagos, and when he went to claim the parcel he was told that the parcel had lain in the past so long without him arriving to claim it that they had finally decided to send it back to the sender. (Sr. Eucharia Anyaegbunam recalling a sermon preached by Tansi during a visit to Kaduna in 1946)
Chakulu chakulu cha-anu felu akpele, ogaa
(A few bites — when the meat leaves the throat, it vanishes.) (Mons. Peter Meze)
He told me that I must realise that if a man is earning a salary of £30, he will ask for an increment, to £50. If he is on £50, he will ask for £100. If a man wants to build a house, he will try to get a plan from somewhere else; the plan of the best house he has seen so far. But as soon as the house is finished, he sees another one, better than his own and wants on like that. He told me that experience has taught him that the only thing that can really satisfy a man is to see God and that this was the only thing he himself would pursue. (Stephen Eme of Ufuma).
On God’s Rewards to His Servants
You have embarked upon a paying concern. We cannot be more generous than God. (To Mrs Gabriel Ilming, Austrian organiser of "Zwei hundert fur zwei", 1963)
God will give you double what you give him. (Stephen Eme of Ufuma)
Dear children in Christ, Hope opens a Kingdom. We begin to desire it; to seek it; to take the first steps towards it. First steps are most tragic things."
(Mount S. Bernard, Retreat notes)
The first steps of a small child are full of hope. They are often a rush towards Mother’s arms. The little one has a sense of awful loneliness and suddenly thinks it will move, hoping that Mother’s arms will catch it; then a dance, a dart, a tumble, what a study in Hope…
(Mount S. Bernard, Retreat notes)
Prayer is the best weapon for obtaining favours from God. Pray, pray often, pray with all your heart, pray to God, pray to our Blessed Mother. Mass is the most powerful of all prayers. (Letter to Augustine Chendo, 1959)
One thing he said has always remained perpetually with me — that the reason why we don’t get things from God lies in the way we ask. If you give God conditions, He will never give it to you. For example, you want a child, and you have it in mind you want it within a year. If it does not come, you lose hope, and say there is no God. You must ask God to give you something if he sees it is not detrimental to your interests, and you must continue asking without getting tired. You cannot impose time limits on God. If you have a time in mind, God will let the time elapse, and say: "Now do your worst". (Francis Nwafor)
On wholeheartedness in God’s service
If you want to eat vultures, you may as well eat seven of them, so that when people call you "vulture eater" you really deserve the name. If you want to become a Catholic, live as a faithful Catholic, so that when people see you, they know that you are a Catholic. If you are going to be a Christian at all, you might as well live entirely for God. (Simon Oraegbuna)
On Looking for the Kingdom
One thing he said I remember very clearly — that on the day of your baptism and confirmation, whatever you ask, God gives you. He advised us to ask for the Kingdom of Heaven… (Francis Nwafor)
On Attitudes to One’s Own Achievements
In every success we are right, I think, to take a modest share of joy and satisfaction while leaving the glory to God who is the Principal Author of our good work, we being just the instruments. Like the apostles we learn to rejoice not because the devils fall down at our preaching nor because of marvellous achievements, obtained, but because our names are written in heaven, in the book of life, because God is to be glorified by our efforts. (Letter to Hyacinth Okoli of Ufuma, 21 October, 1952).
We simply cannot live the spiritual life without faith. Our lives as Christians and much more as religious simply will be impossible if we have no faith… Faith is the foundation of the whole spiritual life. The strength of the edifice will be proportioned to the strength of the foundation…. To a lively faith the Saviour refuses nothing. (Retreat Notes).
One of the sure signs of fervour and progress in the religious life is joy and contentment. When we are satisfied with God and with His way of dealing with us, it reflects on the countenance. The face is aglow with joy. (Retreat Notes)
On Taking Decisions, and on How to Work
We do very little good when we embark on our own. We do much good when we allow God to direct us and direct our enterprises…. We must learn to avoid worrying ourselves about anything; to leave ourselves, our concerns in the hands of God; learn to do away with the anxieties of all sorts. And what then are we to do? There are things to do done? Some men of the world say "Much haste less work". Anyway it is certainly true that much haste less good. We should learn to consult God in all things; to pray about things we are going to do; to go to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, place our plans before him, ask his advice, see whether He would like us to do one thing or another, if any doubt consult our Spiritual Director; never to undertake anything unless we are sure that God wants it done and done in the way we are planning…. And whilst doing whatever we have to do, we should do it at a pace and a speed that will allow us time continually to turn to God for guidance…our conversation with God should be continual. This is not a height to be attained in a day….(Retreat Notes).
A Programme for the Average Layman
We should not be ashamed of our religion, nor be afraid of confessing ourselves Catholics, alone or in public…. We should hold on to the various practices of the Catholic religion; Mass on Sundays as of obligation, Mass on week days when one is free as an act of devotion. We should say the rosary every day especially in family circles as the best way of honouring the Queen of Heaven. We should learn to make the Stations of the Cross as a wonderful way of keeping alive in us a memory of the suffering and death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Let us help the various works of God as far as we are able. Let us alms-deeds be a solace and support to the poor and needy. (Sermon on Mat. 5,20).
On the Attitude of Husbands and Wives to Each Other
On one occasion I visited him in company of Mr. Fred Okafor. As Fred was talking about his wife he referred to her as Onye bem ("Somebody in my house", Igbo expression for wife). Oh, Father Tansi lost patience and cut in: "She is not ‘Onye bem’ but your wife, your better half, part of your own body. ‘Onye’ means a stranger which your wife is not. You must recognise the worth and position of your wife and treat her as your partner and your equal. Unless you do that, she is not a wife to you but a servant, and that is not what God wants a wife to be to the husband". Fred humbly apologised and promised never to use the expression Onye bem again. (Sr. Eucharia Anyaegbunam).
To Priests and Religious
It is not for want of words of language that the Church uses the words ‘Father’, ‘Mother,’ ‘Sister,’ ‘Brother’ for people who have dedicated their lives to the service of God in his creatures. The Church means that a Rev. Father should be a real father, even more, to every creature in his parish…. Your sympathy, charity, patience, should be without bounds. (Sr. Eucharia Anyaegbunam)