Retreat Talk to a Bishop
Some time ago, I was planning to write to you what I thought would be my last letter to you as “Father Godfrey” after which it would all be “My Lord Bishop”, and nothing more. But the way things turned out discouraged me very much, so that I gave up the idea. But God in His goodness has providentially arranged our meeting, and meeting in a way much better than writing.
I was asked whether I would be willing to give you this retreat, and I said, “yes”. Yet, in all frankness, and there is no cloak of false humility about it, I am not in a position to give retreat to a Bishop. It is not for want of time for preparation, but for want of aptitude to do so. Give me a month, two months notice; it is not good. You must possess in order to give. And still I do not regret having to give this retreat to Bishop Okoye — Godfrey of Dunukofia. Nay, I am thankful to God that we are meeting. It is not the time for you to learn from me. It is my time to learn from you. When it was my time to teach you, I do not think I played my part with negligence. I did not grudge you anything. Now it is your turn to teach me, and I am very confident you will be fair to me.
I am glad to talk with you these few days, or rather I shall have the opportunity of listening to you these few days, an opportunity which I never had since your priestly ordination. By the way, here in this monastery, retreats are not usually preached to bishops unless they ask or choose to have it preached. Generally, what we do is to leave the bishop to himself, or discuss points he may bring up. I shall be pleased with whatever you decide, preaching such as is preached to priests and laymen, or discussing matters which you will bring up. We are here to please you, my Lord.
I preaching, then I shall remind you, as you have reminded so many people before — the religious women to whom you have so often preached to, the priests and the Christians — that the object of a retreat is bring ourselves closer to God. No matter how close we are to God, there is always room for closer union.
Hence a retreat is always a serious business and a personal affair. The consecration of yourself to God was a personal affair and a personal decision. The style of life you set before yourself on that memorable day of ordination was a personal resolution. your retreat is to see how far you have been faithful to your ideal.
Two persons involved: God and yourself. What here and now is the relationship between the two? Is that relationship all it should be, the relation of a creature to his creator, of a slave to his master, a servant to his Lord, a son to his father, an ambassador to the one that sent him or the one he represents? Is it the same today as on the day the contract or dedication of the self was made?
These are personal matters; they are a few of the points for examination. But as a personal relationship tends to grow or diminish, the purpose of a retreat is to find out which way the wind blows, and to set the sail aright. Retreat is an account — taking and a balancing up — a clock that is made to be wound every twenty-four hours must be wound each day, otherwise it stops moving. Retreat must have a place in our life, we should never miss our annual retreat. Some do it once in a year, others form the habit of making monthly recollections. The Church’s obligation for annual retreat must never be taken lightly. It is a lesson from the Gospel — our Lord taking his disciples apart for a rest and recollection.
In the rush and fatigue of life, every truth is apt to get obscured, and every motive weakened. I see arguments to this side and to that, and I am tugged this way and that, and amongst it all, my mind is easily confused, and my will slackened. It is very necessary now and then to take time off, in which I can refresh my mind, and see things clearly, in good proportion and perspective, give new life to my will, and acquire more energy. This done in a retreat. Retreats, even short ones, are incredibly useful to practically everyone.
Therefore, a retreat is always a serious affair. It is more so for a diocesan bishop, his responsibilities are many and great. He has very little time to himself and little time for retreat during the course of a year.
Still, my Lord, busy or not, you must make time for retreats during each year, even if it is for a very short period. It is necessary uwa adi ato ute, obu ife ka ana rapu we me ife (Time is never sufficient for everything, one leaves less important things for more serious ones). You leave one thing to do another — make room for necessary things. Here in this diocese the clergy have their monthly recollection. A batch of them come here for it. The bishop comes occasionally. With determination and planning, a bishop can get at least an hour’s recollection a month. People say that we live and learn. This monthly recollection for the clergy as a body does not look a bad idea — the Holy Ghost Fathers (in the Archdiocese of Onitsha) have it on the first Sundays of the month when they are not on trek.
Yes, my Lord, you must admit, because it is true you have an office which not native to our people. I mean, it is a position in which you and a few others (Nigerians) are the pioneers, and in a sense you have much to learn from others, I wonder, have you a favourite Bishop-Saint? You certainly know of St. Francis de Sales; what of Charles Borromeo? These have already run the course you are pursuing — have run it very successfully, and God through His church has set the example of their lives for our imitation. My Lord, you must have a patron Saint, a bishop like yourself, whose life you must set before you for imitation. He is only the second patron. The Great Patron is He who sent you on your mission, the Lord and King.
You will have to study the life of your patron saint. See what was his idea of the bishopric — how he lived, and how he worked, what difficulties he met, and how he tackled them; what it was that made him a successful bishop and a saint, beloved of God and men. Then you shall cut your coat according to the pattern.
I have talked much and said nothing. Because in this first conference my main idea is to have you think of how much you have been loved, and to remind you that it will not do to return so much love in any half-measure. I would like to ask you to pray for light and for generosity, and to ask God and our heavenly Mother to show you what you are, and what they want you to do. I am confident that you will spare neither pain nor means to prove your love for the love that has been so lavishly poured out upon you. What can God do for you that He has not done?
GOD’S CHOSEN INSTRUMENTS
“You have not chosen me; I have chose you and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit: and your fruit should remain”. (John 15,16).
A quotation I put here with pleasure; it fits in. Examine it, you will see how it applies to you. You certainly can admit that you have not chosen God, but that he has chosen you, chosen you out of a multitude. Think of the number of young men of your age and ability in Nnewi Parish or at Dunukofia, Ifite Ukpo your native place, the number that entered junior and senior seminary, where are they now? The number of priests who were ordained before you in Nigeria, how many of them are enjoying the privileges of an office which you have now, a pontiff and a prince of the church. Is there any difficulty in seeing how the good and loving Father has selected you out of a crowd, stamped you with the mark of his predilection and guided your feet. Your going in and going out from early times up till this very moment. My Lord, ad agbagha eziokwu agbagha (The truth is always the same). But do not forget that to whom much is given, much will be required. Love can only be repaid with Love. It will do you good, much good, to recall now and then God’s mercies and benefits bestowed on you, and to realise, as our Lady (your Mother) did, He that is mighty has done great things for and to you, and holy is His Name. Yes, recall His blessings with gratitude, sincere gratitude is all He asks, and the only thing we can give Him for all His benefits.
And He has appointed you to go and bear fruits. Where are you to go? Not long ago you were in Nigeria now in England; soon somewhere else. But, wherever you go, you are sent for what? To bear fruit; to be God’s messenger, a messenger of peace, a messenger of love, a Priest of God, another Christ, showing to all whom you meet that God is love, is worthy of our love, worthy of all we have and all we are. There is none like Him. “I have chosen you to bear much fruit.”
And he has appointed you to bear fruit. This is then the end, the object of your appointment, of your elevation in the church. A fruit-bearing tree, not to carry the crosier about, not to glitter in mitre and pectoral cross, not to enter the church on solemn occasions walking with majestic steps, and blessing the people right and left, with train bearers conveying the long, flowing cope. These things are signs, signs of a bishop’s power and dignity. They have their places. The Church wants them to be used. They must be used. The bishop cannot dispense himself from their use. God Himself clothed Aaron with a mitre. But the bishop is a bishop without them. But I wonder how much of bishop will be left in a man without fruit? A fruit bearing tree without fruit — it encumbers the ground, and is fit to be cut down. Anyway, a bishop is sent to bear fruit, to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world — a light to be lit and set on the summit of a mountain, not under a bushel. Humble and low he must be on house-top, set upon mountain-high. “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works”, the fruit of your good life, and bless your Father in heaven. Wherever you are, my Lord, you are to be a light-bearer, a dispenser of love, a peacemaker, an apostle, a vicar of Christ. Wherever you are, you that cling to it. One thing alone lasts, there is none like God — Onyedika Chukwu (who is like God?). and in order to shine, in order to love adequately, faithfully and constantly, we need a companion, a Friend, a Patron, a Counsellor, we must look for Him the one in the Blessed Sacrament, see Him in the Scripture living, and in other pious books. See Him in working; see the saints imitating Him, and do likewise. St. Paul’s reacting: He loved me and delivered Himself for me. We should react. We must love Him and deliver ourselves for him. Return love for love — not in any half measure. You are loved deeply.
A MESSENGER OF LOVE
Though I speak with the tongues of men and angles… though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity is patient, is kind… (1 Corinthians xiii)
To be good and to remain good, one must never neglect spiritual exercises, especially the Mass, meditation and spiritual reading.
With a serious reflection on the person of God and what he has done for us, there will be little or no difficulty in loving Him. He is like a magnet drawing all men of good will to Himself. But it is not quite so with the love of our neighbour, especially those with whom we come in contact every day. Man is frail and prone to evil, and consequently not an adequate object of our daily love. Virtue is loveable but not so with vice. Few are virtues. But the commandment of love is for all men. We can only fulfil that commandment when we have love for God and for men, and not without exception a It is not easy to say whether we love God or not but we can always tell when we do not love our fellow men. The story of the Good Samaritan is very far-reaching. (Lk .10:2-27). It was told for our admiration and imitation, and there are still today many occasions for any Good Samaritan in the world. St. John reminds us that if we do not love our neighbour whom we can see, there is very little meaning in believing that we love God. St. Theresa of Avila on this subject believed that, the most certain sign whereby we can know whether we are faithfully practising charity is to have a sincere and true love of our neighbour. For we cannot know for certain, how far our love of God goes, although there may be great indications by which we judge: but we can judge much more clearly the love of our neighbour. It behaves us very much to consider well what is the disposition of our soul and what is our exterior conduct with regard to our neighbour. If all is perfect in both the interior and exterior disposition, then we may be fully secured. Nevertheless considering the depravity of our nature, we could never perfectly love our neighbour if there were not in us a great love of God. In the last judgement, the criterion for judgement, according to the Gospel, is our conduct to our neighbour. I was hungry and you gave me to eat, thirsty and you gave me to drink, naked and you clothed me. Come into my rest. (Mat. 25:31-46) Not all that say, “Lord, Lord” (Mat. 25:11) shall enter. “Lord, we ate with you. Lord, we worked miracles in your name”, “I know you not”. (cf Lk. 13:26-27) consider again St. Paul’s “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angles …. deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth nothing”.. (cf I Cor. 13:) What use is all our effort?Therefore, there must be charity, patience with our neighbour and kindness to every child of Adam. A study of the encyclical letter “Pacem in Tenis” of the late Holy Father, Pope John xxiii, is most fitting for the study of charity; every part of it, especially part V, which deals with Pastoral Exhortation.
I know you are trying, making a very good effort to prove your love for God and for your neighbour, but retreat is the time to reconsider the past and in order to build the future. So you should reflect on your conduct towards God and towards all men, not just your favourites. It is easy to resolve to lay down your life for others, but not equally easy to give them a simple smile, a kind word always especially when they most need it. But that is just what they want.
ZEAL FOR GOD
“…With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts” Elias replying to God at Mount Herob. (III kings 10: 10.)
Zeal is called the ardour of charity, the flame of love. Every Christian must be zealous for the honour and glory of God. If every Christian is to be zealous much more will be expected from priests and religious. For bishops, they must regard what is done to God as personal to themselves. The reason for this is obvious. Indifference or want of zeal is a sign of want of love. Love of friendship which is the real and desirable love seeks the friend’s good. When it is intense, it moves a man or causes him to react against anything opposed to the friend’s good. In this way, a man is said to be zealous on God’s behalf, when be endeavours with all his means, to repel whatever is contrary to the honour or will of God. At the same time seeks to procure for God every glory, honour and the pleasure that he could possibly achieve The law of charity is binding on every Christian-that law demands that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength that means to go any distance to please Him. Priests by their vocation and consecration are bound even under great inconvenience to do the same; but bishops in office following the example of Our Lord, there is no limit to what they are expected to do. Our Lord’s coming into the world was just to do the will of Him who sent him. – and not just to offer sacrifices and oblation. His continued cry had always been “my food is to do the will of Him that sent me. I do always the things that please Him.” ( Jn 6: 38-36) If we are the ambassadors of Christ, and you the vicar of Christ, we must all have the mind of Christ.
In our imitation of the apostles and saints, we have to go any distance to prove our love. St Peter was very clear on: “We ought to obey God rather than man.” Look at the martyrs shedding their blood – are they not repeating the same cry of St. Peter, preferring to die rather than to go against God’s will? St. Paul, trying to be all things to all men in order to gain all, labouring by day and by night, travelling over land and sea to gain souls. Take the Western missionaries in our land, what have they not done to bring us out of darkness into light to gain souls for God? Can you think of any place they have not gone to seek souls? One act of these missionaries which can never be repaid by us is the fact that they gave their lives to bring us out of darkness and put us into the benefit of light. Think of the significance of Holy Saturday Vigil and you will realise what they have done. Nothing can pay for the light they brought to us. We were on the wrong way and they, at the risk of their lives, came and put us right. Recall what happened at Congo two or three years ago when 20 Holy Ghost Fathers were shot dead one after another for seeking to save souls for God. I have no words to say what I could and should, and I leave you to yourself to think out what you can do in imitation of Our Lord and His saints in their love for souls.
BEWARE OF FALSE ZEAL
We have spoken enough of zeal. Yet we shall not close without reminding ourselves that there is a wrong kind of zeal as well as a good zeal. We can nearly hold that every heresy or schism in the Church is the result of a bad or bitter zeal; every “ism” against truth or virtue is the outcome of bitter zeal. We must be on our guard against this kind of zeal.
Good zeal is generally supported by humility, the foundation of all virtues, and her first daughter, obedience. Since the work in which we are engaged is God’s work it is but right that we should leave it in the hands of God. His will should be respected. The work is to be done in the way he wants. Self should not come into it. Every good zeal is free from self-seeking. It is enlightened, patient, meek and disinterested. When self comes into it God withdraws Himself. When it is done to obtain people’s praise God withdraws Himself and leaves the person to himself. One good test for knowing whether your zeal is from God and for the honour and glory of God will be your reaction at a command from your superior asking you to give up your activity. Sometimes it demands a real heroic virtue to comply with such an instruction.
But we know that it is common in the lives of the saints that they never hesitated to obey any order even painful indeed, but they always saw it with the eyes with which Our Lord behold His bitter chalice in the Garden, and always drank their bitter chalice in imitation of our Lord. That is a point you have to watch. Your will should never be the norm of your action. God’s will, coming as it often does from your superiors, must be your norm.
Another way of seeing whether your zeal is disinterested or not is to watch your reaction when the work you are bent on doing is given to another. If you resent another doing it, there must be a reason for that resentment, and that usually is self. We should never interfere nor mix ourselves up with other’s affairs, with a business not allotted to us, even though we could do it better than the man to whom it is assigned. God must be allowed to do His work in His own way and through His own instruments. Nobody is necessary to Him.
Again, good zeal is patient, not finding fault with everybody that comes his way, not domineering. Above all, our zeal must be supported by prayer, asking God before undertaking any work to bless our efforts, to lead us along His own line, not ours. When things go well with us, everybody is by our side. When things go amiss, we find ourselves as a rule all alone. To avoid any serious mistake in life, we should guard against taking a precipitated step. This we can do by going before God., to plan our Work with Him – execute our work with Him. Then success or failure will not disturb us. Remember, neither what we do nor what we say matters; it is what we are that counts.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
“I am the Good Shepherd — the Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep.” (John 10:14).
The bishop is the chief shepherd of the souls in his diocese. This office is marked out by the staff he carries — the Crosier is the staff of a shepherd. Our Lord called Himself the Shepherd of Christian souls; but a good one, which implies that there are bad ones. He gave one sign as the mark of a good shepherd – a good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. Therefore, whatever a bishop gives to his sheep short of his life will not satisfy his position. Money, food, clothes, house, – all these are valuable and yet not sufficient. The test of the good shepherd’s love for his sheep is his readiness to die for them. My Lord, this should be kept always in your mind. You are a shepherd, not a hireling. The sheep are yours. Port Harcourt diocese is yours. The men and women, boys and girls in Port Harcourt are yours. You are wedded to Port Harcourt. And the first duty of a man to his wife is love. Port Harcourt is the flesh of your flesh, the bone of your bones. No one, St. Paul says, hates his own flesh. See the link between you and Port Harcourt. It comes first before Dunukofia, comes first before Ifite Ukpo. Port Harcourt must be in your dreams, must be day and night in your thoughts and your imagination. Under God, Port Harcourt is to be everything for you. You are to live for the interest of Port Harcourt. A good shepherd knows his sheep, calls them by name, and they follow him. You have to get a map of your diocese, study every street and know your people by name. Study their difficulties; be up and doing to help them. I am convinced that if the occasion should arise you would not hesitate to stand by your people, to give your life to save their own. But such occasions of martyrdom comes but rarely. There is an occasion that comes every day, the occasion always at your door. It is the occasion of giving a smile, a good smile, a smile from the heart to the troubled soul that needs some consolation – to give a kind word to the needy – to listen with undivided attention to the poor and wretch before you. You should never without a real sufficient cause neglect the reading of your scripture day by day. In this exercise, you should aim at watching our Lord’s dealing with men; see His compassion for souls. His condescension to the poor. See with what familiarity He dealt with people – the Apostles were friends, not servants – He had no secrets for them. Children must be suffered to come to Him, for of such is the kingdom of God. Women were treated with the utmost regard and consideration, without offence to good breeding and morality. Men were at their ease with Him, so were women and children. They touched Him, caught His garments, and He never said “Don’t do that”, and never “Get away”.
See the late Pope John XXIII, how he has won the hearts of men all over the world. I may be wrong, but I do not think I have heard of anybody who has made such a loving impression on people at large as Pope John “the Good”, as he is now being called, Catholics, Protestants, Pagans, Atheists – everybody speaks in praise of Him What is the secret of his success? At the beginning of his pontificate, he decided he was going to show the bishops and the whole world how to be a good shepherd. He meant what he said, and took every means in his power to show that men should be treated as men -God’s most loving creatures men whom Our I Lord did not disdain to redeem with His own blood. He went about doing good, visiting the sick, bringing help to the needy. He destroyed the traditions of men to gain souls. He was a true Father to all, a Good Shepherd of souls. You can speak better than anyone else about him. You have had the experience of his warm heart, you can with truth call him “the good Pope John”.
My Lord, you must prove yourself a good shepherd of souls; You must spare neither time nor effort nor material goods to effect this. Above all, however, your prayers is what your people need most. Pray for your people. You will be heard.
Pope John saw the disorder in our age. Because he had all men in his large heart, he determined to bring peace, and worked for peace. He died a peace maker. There is one disorder in Nigeria, a disorder that affects young girls, and young men, but girls more particularly. Many of them ( girls) want to get married but cannot because people say, these girls are “slaves” and “outcasts”. Now souls redeemed by Christ, souls bought at such a price as the blood of Christ, cannot be looked upon as “outcasts”. Being slaves, we are all slaves of Christ, but free men by baptism. Something can be done to remedy the situation. If you die at the effort to do good, you die a good death.
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
You are the light of the World (Mt. 5:14) and the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13). These are the words of Our Lord, the words of truth. He was addressing the Apostles who were before Him. These words are meant literally for you, were addressed to you. You are an apostle, you are the Catholic Church in Port Harcourt, the Pope in Port Harcourt. What most people in
Port Harcourt will know of the Church will be what they know of you. What they know of the Pope is what they know of you. On a serious thought:- are you a worthy vicar of Christ? a worthy representative of the Church? Are you yourself lit, and sufficiently lit to light others?. Can you say to your people, as St. Paul said to His, “Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ”. (Eph. 5:1) Imitators of faith, imitators of morals. Can you say to the youths and masses of Nigeria, “Come after me. I know where we are going – you are safe. My Lord, you have been constituted a leader – a shepherd of God’s flock. Are you a good shepherd or a hireling; only a good shepherd will be a vicar of the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His flock. My Lord, you are wedded, and, to leave no doubt about it, the Church puts a ring on your finger. I do not know the words that the consecrating bishop uses when he gives the ring to the bishop he consecrates, but I am sure that the meaning of those words is nothing less than that the bishop is married to his diocese. I remember coming across an incident in the life of St. Francis de Sales confirming what I have in mind. When he was to be promoted to a higher or richer diocese, because the one in which he was, was poor, he refused, and gave a reason that being married to one wife he could not be married to another. My Lord, you are the father of a very large family with innumerable children. These children are literally your children, and just as fathers of families in our place have to struggle to provide for their children’s education and welfare so you are bound to struggle for the welfare of the souls in your diocese. You know all that I want to say about the cares of a father.
But remember that if Port Harcourt is to be a good diocese, a good community, you have to make it a good diocese, but if through any fault of yours it is not, you will be a failure in life. What is wanted? You must spread the Catholic faith all over Port Harcourt. You must set a high moral tone among the people. You will do this by the example of your own good living, by your preaching, by your solicitude for the zeal, and administration of the place, but especially by your prayers. Woe to the shepherd that knows how to feed on the sheep but not how to feed the sheep. Besides the Mass for the people on Sundays, you must, day in, day out, beseech God to pour down His blessings on you and your people. You must provide for the education of your youth, boys and girls; for the training of the clergy. You must know your people. A good shepherd knows his sheep, and their names. The time is past when bishops remained upstairs and talked to people downstairs. This is a new era. You need nna azi (modern father) to look after nwa azi (modern child). You need nwoke azi (modern man) to marry nwanyi azi (modern girl) you need Father azi (modern Priest) to look after Parish azi (modern Parish). You need Bishop azi (modern Bishop) to look after Diocese azi (modern Diocese) we are in azi age (modern age). There is no need crying over spilt milk, so they say, no need wishing that the present generation were like the past. We are living in a dynamic world. It is ours to move with the time and with the generation, and to satisfy the needs of our time. Even plants – tomatoes – are being looked after now in the azi fashion (modern Fashion). In our greenhouse where we have tomatoes, we plant, weed, support, actually feed with liquid manure our tomatoes if we are to expect any rich crop. So, my lord, we have to do something far above what hitherto has been done in order to get things working properly. If you ask for my suggestions, I shall suggest one or two things that you will have to do to meet the demands of your own people. Even if my suggestions are only iko ji mbe (wishes which are not deeds) I do not mind; my satisfaction is that I am talking to a person like you.
First and foremost, you need a junior seminary, perhaps you have already started one. It is necessary – nke onye n’akwua afo (ones possession is ones satisfaction). You need a religious institute like “the Christian Brothers” – or rather you could introduce the Christian Brothers for the education of youths. This has a great advantage because only religious bodies with a common purse will be able to run schools efficiently. This will be done before Government withholds grant.
You need a teaching order or congregation of religious for our mothers and girls, and an institution like the Sisters of Charity for the townships. You need a convent of contemplatives at Port Harcourt the Carmelites, or Poor Clares; or our Cistercians. While the active members are on their search for souls, these will bring down God’s grace for their success.
These are a few items of work to be contemplated to be engraved on the tablet of your memory. And time is passing. You are nearly 50. I doubt whether you will live to celebrate your diamond jubilee as a Bishop. Very few people live to be a hundred years old. You must begin now, or never. Your fear may be money. Make your plan before the Blessed Sacrament. Show your plan to a holy conscientious priest or fellow bishop and if approved, show it to your counsellors and carry out the project. Do nothing without counsel. Money will come; take your favourite text, – Deus providebit. Anwu anwu, efu efu, aga akpo ndu oku. Aga agba ndu n’okuku (never die, never lost; will life be burnt or preserved in a gourd). You have to do something before you die, something for God and your fellow men. It must be love for love – the candle must be lit, and lit to burn. “You are the light of the world”
“WITH OUT ME, YOU CAN DO NOTHING”
Here is a statement to be taken as it is, without any qualification, without taking anything away or adding anything. Without God, and God’s light and direction, we can do absolutely nothing – nothing in the natural order, and much less in the supernatural. You cannot plan, you cannot collect money, you cannot do anything at all. With God’s providence, science has done much, attained great heights. Yet there is a domain in which it has achieved nothing and will never achieve anything. God has restricted its power there, I mean in the domain of life production Science has never succeeded and will never succeed in producing a grain of corn in the laboratory. We can only dispose things for the production of life, such as vegetable food, animals and so forth, but can never produce life itself by our own efforts. Farmers must always pray to God as today for fine weather, with either too much rain or too little rain, the crops are ruined. If we can not do so much as these, how could we think of helping souls, converting souls spreading the faith by our own efforts. Impossible, what then is to be done? “Without Me, you can do nothing”. On the other hand, nobody has trusted in God and has been confounded. God must be the Principal Author of every good work. We must rest satisfied with our position as instruments. All our plans, activities, will certainly be in vain unless we have God to support us. “Unless the Lord builds the city, they labour in vain that built it.” And so, here we are! My Lord, it is a duty, a necessity to call upon God if we really mean business. God will do all things. He will see us through any difficulty or trouble. But He will not do so unless we ask. He wants to be asked. “Ask, and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened.” By asking, we show or admit our utter dependence on Him, Our incapability to effect any good without Him. This is very pleasing to Him, because it is an acknowledgement of truth. And we must ask through prayer. This brings out the fact, my Lord, that to be a successful bishop, a glory to God, an honour to the church, a credit to Nigeria, to Port Harcourt to Dunukofia, to relatives and friends, you must be a man of prayer. We know of certain Pope or bishop that has failed. This mediocre state is not for you. Our prayer is that Bishop Okoye reaches the height that great men, great saints have reached and kept. You have all your people behind you. You cannot imagine how proud and happy Dunukofia people are because of your position. They will do anything to see you succeed. But you cannot succeed unless you are a man of prayer. “What prayers?” you may ask. “Am I to enter the cloister and become a contemplative?” No. you have your prayer. The official public prayer of the church; your office, your Mass; your own private devotion; morning prayer and meditation: particular examen and general; visits to the Blessed Sacrament; personal loving friendship with the King. These exercises were yours in the seminary; they were not meant for seminary days only; they are exercises for life; if you mean to be a successful priest. What prayer did your master say? was he not a man of prayer? Did not the scripture say He spent whole nights in prayers rose early in the morn to pray? Were not St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis de Sales, men of prayer? What prayers did they say? If you are really to work and do your duty, first have a rule of life. Life and business are not to be haphazard anything by chance. There must be a fixed time for morning meditation which should never be missed and if by chance not done at its time it should by supplied “quam primum”. Mass celebrated with devotion.. Thanksgiving after Mass not to be omitted or hurried. The Divine office must have its time and not said when opportunity offers itself. Should be made preferably in your oratory and not on the common square. Every spare moment should see you before the Lord and asking for graces for yourself; graces for your innumerable children; graces for the diocese, for the work to be done. You are a public figure. The eyes of the Lord are upon you. Men are looking upon you, some to find things to imitate, others to find things to ensure. Yes, there is no going to heaven alone, nor going to hell alone. Work while you have the time; the Harvest is great.
THE MOTHER OF GOD OUR MOTHER
Books on Our Lady are now innumerable. This is her age. By her apparition in several places, this wretched valley of tears has come to recognise her. Not that she was not known before our present era. Everything that could be said in her praise has been said by St. Bernard.. St. Ephraim was not less profuse in singing her praises. Almost every saint has a word or two to her honour and glory. But her role and importance in the church and in the world can no longer be hidden. One of the signs of predestination, spiritual writers say is devotion to the Great Mother of God and our Mother. Certainly I am not trying to sing the Glories of Our Lady in these few short lines. Retreat is the time to examine one’s self, one’s work already accomplished, and to plan the future. It is for us an occasion like this to see our relation to our heavenly Mother. While plodding on our way through life, in joy and distress, we should remember always that a boy’s best friend is the Mother and a priest’s best comforter is the Mother of priests. A bishop’s greatest hope is the Queen of the Apostles. Our Lady is the Mother of Christ, and Christ is the great High Priest, the priest of the apostles. We are priests by participation.
What people do for her, how people show their devotion to her, is measured by their faith and understanding. In the Cistercian Order, for instance, every House is consecrated to her in the first place, and then to any other saint or mystery of our faith in the second place. This house is known as “Our Lady of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey”. Every choir monk on the day of profession receives her name in the first place and then another in the second place. That explains why Fr. Ulogu is Mary Mark; Fr. Onugue Mary Malachy. Up to two or three years ago, before the present simplification of the office, we were saying every day the canonical office, and the little office of our Lady, at all hours. Now, to conform to the mind of the Holy See, we have dropped saying the little office in its entirety, but we still open each canonical office with an antiphon and a hymn concluding with a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mother. At Vigil we begin with “Ave Maria Gratia Plena” said by the Abbot. We respond “Dominus tecum”. Then a hymn, a prayer, the Abbot concludes with ‘Duleo nomen Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et Beatissimae Matris Ejus benedictum in saecular. Amen.
We terminate the work and devotion of each day by singing the Salve Regina. Mass of Our Lady on Saturdays when free. To us, devotion to Our Lady is not a mere lip-service. It is something real and from the heart. At least, the Order wants it to be real and sincere -individual may differ in their attitudes and expressions. But St. Bernard, our great Patron, and the greatest known saint of our Order, was warm lover of our heavenly Mother, and did as no-one before or after has done to spread her name and devotion to her. “First Saturday devotion” has the church’s approval, and many practise it. I can only add that from my own experience if devotion to the saints is to be encouraged, hers is one that should come first because she is the Queen of all the angels and saints, most close to God and secondly because she is a Mother, with every mother’s tenderness, and her sympathy and love are easily gained.