“I AM SEVEN (7) YEARS A CATHOLIC PRIEST TODAY” And so what?
“I AM SEVEN (7) YEARS A CATHOLIC PRIEST TODAY” And so what?
A Reflection on my priestly life at Seven!
Rev. Fr. JohnBosco Chimaobi Ezeonwumelu
For you I am a priest. With you, I am a Christian. I rejoice at what I am with you. But what I am for you terrifies me. St. Augustine
Few days ago, a younger colleague of mine, Fr. Dennis came into my room for a chat while he waited for his classmate. We talked about many things, not excluding the fact that I am now a very senior priest. He was of course joking. And I equally responded that at seven, we are just beginning. Nonetheless, it dawned on me that we are not just beginning; we have actually begun and should be running by now. It was then that I decided that I am going to make this reflection on my priestly life at seven. In this reflection, I wish to look back at how far I have grown from August 24, 2013 to August 24, 2020. To guide me, I will first of all make a reflection of the priesthood in the context of the symbolic number 7 especially from its biblically and canonical import. At the end, I expect that this reflection would help me understand better what is expected of me henceforth as I begin another epoch in my life as a priest.
The Biblical Number 7
For the Hebrews, 7 is considered a holy symbol for a number of reasons, some of which we shall be seeing below. In summary, it stands for a lot of positive things, depending on which part of the scripture it is considered from. It can stand for completeness, perfection, time of rest, fulfilment, healing, freedom, etc.
In the account of creation, God finished his creative work in six days and rested on the seventh day. According to Genesis 2:2, On the seventh day, God had completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing. So in that portion, we can extract the idea of completeness and rest. Subsequently, we shall begin to see this a principal reason why the Jews observe the Sabbath rest as God had instructed (cf. Exod 20:8-11). In that light as well, scripture scholars have come to an understanding that when the book of the Revelation makes reference to seven letters addressed to the seven churches, it refers to the completeness of the message sent to all the people of God in all the local churches. Moreso, in Joshua 6:1-20, we see the role of the number 7 leading to the fulfilment of Gods promise to give the land of Canaan to his people, beginning with the fall of the walls of Jericho.
In Psalm 12:6, the scripture seems to allude to the fact that 7 is a number for perfection. Listen to this, The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure, silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. That might also be the reason Peter asked Jesus whether it would just be enough to forgive seven times (cf. Matt 18:21). To these are often added the 7 last statements of Jesus from the cross (Luke 23:34, Luke 23:43, John 19:26-27, Matt 27:46, John 19:28, John 19:30, Luke 23:46) and the 7 branches of the Lords prayer (Matt 6:9-13).
The idea of freedom could be seen in Deut 15:1-2, 12. There, God instructs the people to grant release to their debtors and slaves on the seventh year. Again, our mind goes back to the example of Peter which we have already pointed out above. This freedom could also be freedom from bondage or sickness. Naaman was asked to bath seven times in order to be healed (2 Kings 5:10). So seven can also be seen as a number for healing.
The above is not yet exhaustive. However, it has successful given us some words for our reflection. They include completeness, perfection, time of rest, fulfilment, healing and freedom. That means that as I celebrate my seven years as a priest, and forth-going, I must pay attention to the meaning of those words to my priestly life.
The Canonical import of 7
With regard to this consideration of the number 7 in the Canon Law in connection to the priesthood, it is important that I mention from the onset that most of what I shall be doing is an imposition. I will try to use the canonical sense to my advantage of getting the connection to my celebration of seven years. So it important that you follow me simply by picking the logic and the sense.
In the eyes of the law, a child or a minor is defined as anyone under the age of 18, that is 0-17 years. That means, at seven, I am still a child in the priesthood (laughs). O yes! Presently, I am living in the same Rectory with an elderly priest, who would be celebrating 47 years as a priest this year. That means, at my ordination, he had already spent 40 years as priest! Wonderful! Indeed, I am but a child in the priesthood. Yet, canonically, my status as child is one with a difference.
According to Canon 11 of the Code of Canon Law, Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who were baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, and who have a sufficient use of reason and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, who have completed their seventh year of age. So, even though, Canon 97 §1 would consider me a minor in the priesthood by virtue of the fact that I am under 18 years as a priest, Canon 97 §2 would see me as a different kind of minor. This is a minor that has attained the age of reason.
Remember that the above is not strictly the position of the Canon Law but my imposition of a logic that justifies my celebration. Having successfully done that after making a brief tour of the scripture for the biblical significance of the number 7, I will now try to find out what those mean for me as a priest at 7.
My Celebration at Seven!
From the journey I have made through the scripture and the Canon Law, I can now say with certainty that having completed the age of reason and having attained the biblical year of seven, I can now be taken more seriously in the Church. For the past seven years, I have been undergoing post-natal feeding with feeding bottle. Now, I will be expected to join in feeding others. To whom much is given, much is expected. I am challenged to understand that it is time to rest;
Rest from procrastination,
Rest from laziness,
Rest from bad temper,
Rest from too much anger,
Rest from complaints,
Rest from every defective mindset.
In fact, it is a time to rest from anything that will present me as a different kind of priest than Christs.
Those considerations reminded me of the wordings of Hebrews 5:1-3, Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this, he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. I have just been asking myself, how patient I have been with the failings of others, and how often I have been able to say with St. Athanasius, There goes Athanasius but for the grace of God. Hence, it is part of my anniversary prayer that I may begin to see myself more as a wounded healer, who is called to join Christ To preach good news to the poorproclaim release to the captives and receiving of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19). In doing that, I am reminded that I should not be like a signpost showing others the way to heaven while I remain standstill without making any attempt to move on that direction to heaven.
I got reminded that I am a sacramental figure for the people and should be able to help them achieve an ultimate fulfilment in God. I am aware that I cannot successful do that unless I become more available to them, looking out for them and taking care of their needs as Jesus instructed Peter (cf. John 21:15-17). Following the challenge of Pope Francis to priests to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep, I must become all things all things to all people so that I may, by every possible means save some (cf. 1 Cor 9:22), that is if it is not possible to save all.
Coming to the end of this reflection, it has become more obvious to me that instead of having the feeling of I have arrived, I am rather just beginning. In fact, the task ahead seems more enormous than that which has been accomplished. Looking back at the last seven years, I can see the beautiful hand of God writing in the crooked lines of my life. That is why I can consider those years as beautiful, with wonderful achievements. But I know that there is a wide room for improvement. I am more eager to move on with vigour to embrace that improvement with all sense of humility. I cannot do it alone because I have no power of my own. Can you then do me the honour of discussing me with God today? Tell him to make me and all priests complete instruments in his hands for the accomplishment of his mission on earth, and that we may always find fulfilment daily in our priestly ministry.