Homily on Fr. Ajiki's Birthday

PENTECOST HOMILY ON REV. FR. PIUS T.T. AJIKI'S 60TH BIRTHDAY, 32ND PRIESTLY ANNIVERSARY AND PUBLIC PRESENTATION OF HIS TWO BOOKS

 

Today, the Universal Church celebrates Pentecost, the last day of the period of Easter (Eastertide). Today marks the inauguration or birthday of the Church. We thank God for keeping us alive to experience this day. Thus, say to someone sitting beside you, Happy Birthday. Also today, you, the good people of the Good Shepherd Chaplaincy and your friends and Fr. Ajiki's friends celebrate your Chaplain and our friend and priest, Rev. Fr. Pius T. T. Ajiki with this Thanksgiving Mass for his 60th birthday, 32nd Priestly Anniversary and Public Presentation of his two Books: "Marriage and Family Apostolate in Africa" and "Beginning of Human Life and Homosexuality". Fr. Ajiki has already told me what we all know about him: that 'the proceeds from this book launch will be for the completion of Rev. Father's house (rectory) which has reached decking levels. Before we talk about Fr. Ajiki's triple celebrations, let us talk about Pentecost, the solemnity of the day. What is Pentecost for the Jews? What is Pentecost for us, Christians? How can we manifest this feast in our society today especially in our country, Nigeria?

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost

          The English word “Pentecost” is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” It comes from the ancient Christian expression pentekoste hemera, which means “fiftieth day.” It is found only in the New Testament ( Acts 2:1 ; 20:16 ; 1 Corinthians 16:8 ). It was borrowed from Greek-speaking Jews who used the phrase to refer to a Jewish holiday. This holiday was known as the Festival of Weeks, or, more simply, Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew). From the sixteenth of the month of Nisan (the second day of the Passover), seven complete weeks, i.e., forty-nine days, were to be reckoned, and this feast was held on the fiftieth day.

The Christian Pentecost

          The day of Pentecost is noted in the Christian Church as the day on which the Spirit descended upon the apostles, and on which, under Peter's preaching, so many thousands were converted in Jerusalem ( Acts 2 ). Thus, we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church. This day became especially significant for Christians because, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of Shavuot/Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church. Many who heard these messages in their own languages were amazed, though others thought the Christians were just drunk (2:12).

          The readings today speak to us of the Holy Spirit in three ways: the portraits of the Spirit, the proclamation of the Spirit, and the propagation by the Spirit. Let us look at all three.

I. The Portraits of the Spirit – The First Reading today (Acts 2:1-11) speaks of the Holy Spirit using two images: the rush of a mighty wind and tongues of fire. These two images recall Psalm 50, which says, Our God comes, he does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, round about him a mighty tempest (Psalm 50:3).

The rush of a mighty wind – Notice how the text from Acts opens: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

This text brings us to the very root meaning of the word “Spirit.” For “spirit” refers to “breath,” and we have preserved this meaning in our word “respiration,” which means breathing. So the Spirit of God is the breath of God, (the Spirit, the breath of God).

Thus we see in this passage from Acts an amazing and wonderful revival of the human person, as these first Christians (120 in all) experience the rushing wind of God’s Spirit breathing spiritual life back into them. God brings humanity, dead in sin, back to life! The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us once again as in a temple (cf 1 Cor 3:16). It has been said that Christmas is the feast of God with us, Good Friday is the Feast of God for us, but Pentecost is the Feast of God in us.

Tongues of Fire – The text from Acts says, And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.

Scriptures call God a Holy fire, a consuming fire (cf Heb 12:29), and a refining fire (cf Is. 48:10, Jer 9:7, Zec 13:9, Mal 3:3).

And so it is that our God, who is a Holy Fire, comes to dwell in us through His Holy Spirit. And as a Holy Fire, He refines us by burning away our sins and purifying us. Note that the fire of the Holy Spirit is for purification and burning away our sins and not to kill our enemies as some of us pray or say (Holy Ghost - Fire). As Job once said, But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

And He is also preparing us for judgment, for if God is a Holy Fire, then who may endure the day of His coming or of our going to Him? What can endure the presence of Fire Himself? Only that which is already fire. Thus we must be set afire by God’s love.

So in the coming of the Holy Spirit, God sets us on fire to make us a kind of fire. In so doing, He purifies us and prepares us to meet Him, who is a Holy Fire.

II. The Proclamation of the Spirit. – You will notice that the Spirit came upon them like “tongues” of fire.

Notice the transformation! Moments ago these were frightened men who gathered only in secrecy, behind locked doors. They were huddled together in fear. But now they go forth to the crowds and proclaim Christ boldly. They have gone from fear to faith, from cowardice to courage, from terror to testimony!

And how about us? Too many Christians are silent, dominated by fear. Perhaps they fear being called names or not being popular. Perhaps they are anxious about being laughed at, or resisted, or of being asked questions they don’t feel capable of answering. Some Christians are able to gather in the “upper room” of the parish and be active, even be leaders. But once outside the “upper room” they slip into “undercover mode.” They become “secret agent” Christians.

Well the Holy Spirit wants to change that, and to the degree that we have really met Jesus Christ and experienced his Holy Spirit, we are less “able” to keep silent. The Holy Spirit, if authentically received, wants to give us zeal and joy, and burn away our fear so that testifying and witnessing are natural to us.

III. The Propagation by the Spirit – In the Great Commission, the Lord said, Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matt 28:19ff). He also said, as we have noted, I have come to cast a fire on the earth and How I wish it were blazing already (Luke 12:49).

But how is the Lord going to do this?

In the end, the Great Commission (Matt 28) is “standing order No. 1.” We as individual Christians are a disgrace, and not worthy of the name, if we fail to win souls for Jesus Christ. The Spirit of the Lord is going to fill the orb of the earth, but only through us. The spread of the Gospel has been placed in your hands—scary, isn’t it?

Spread the news: it works if you work it, so work it because God is worth it. Go make disciples. Ignore what the pollsters tell you about a declining Church and let the Lord cast a fire on the earth through you! Fires have a way of spreading! Why not start today? The Spirit of God will not disappoint.

Manifestation of Pentecost in our World today

          According to Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI,  Pentecost is the feast of human unity, understanding and sharing. Do we really have a genuine Pentecost in our Church and society today: that is, human unity, human understanding and human sharing? What kind of fruits are we bearing in our Church and society today? It seems that some of us are more in the flesh. Some of us are closed in on themselves living as if they received the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Pope Francis said that the world needs men and women who are not closed in on themselves, but filled with the Holy Spirit. Closing oneself off from the Holy Spirit means not only a lack of freedom; it is a sin. There are many ways one can close oneself off to the Holy Spirit: by selfishness for one’s own gain; by rigid legalism – seen in the attitude of the doctors of the law to whom Jesus referred as “hypocrites”; by neglect of what Jesus taught; by living the Christian life not as service to others but in the pursuit of personal interests; and in so many other ways. However, the world needs the courage, hope, faith and perseverance of Christ’s followers. The world needs the fruits, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Paul lists them: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). The gift of the Holy Spirit has been bestowed upon the Church and upon each one of us, so that we may live lives of genuine faith and active charity, that we may sow the seeds of mercy, reconciliation and peace. Strengthened by the Spirit –who guides us into the truth, who renews us and the whole earth, and who gives us his fruits – strengthened in the Spirit and by these many gifts, may we be able to battle uncompromisingly against sin, to battle uncompromisingly against corruption, which continues to spread in the society day after day, by devoting ourselves with patient perseverance to the works of justice and peace.

Rev. Fr. Pius Ajiki is one of such men who is not closed in on himself. He allows the Holy Spirit to possess him. He lives the Christian life of service to others without pursuing his personal interest. We need more selfless people as Rev. Fr Pius T.T. Ajiki who think of what they can give to the Church and not so much of what they can get from the Church. Rev. Fr. Ajiki has consistently be spreading the gospel message of love, selfless service and dedication. Today we are gathered here to celebrate this great icon.

Fr. Ajiki, turning 60 is a major milestone in your life. It is not the same as turning 21, when you were excited about becoming an adult and bubbling as a Seminarian on training for the priesthood. It is not even the same as turning 40, as you mellow with age and ripen with the wisdom after putting up some years in your priestly life. Turning 60 is special. It is the onset of a golden era. In Chinese culture, the 60th birthday holds special meaning and is widely celebrated with food, gifts and festivities. Prior to the 60th birthday, only the first and 10th birthdays are considered significant.

The Chinese people believe that when a person reaches the age of 60, he or she has completed a full cycle of life, which calls for a grand celebration. Following the 60th birthday in the Chinese culture, the person begins a new life. The 60th birthday celebration is marked by special food items, such as noodles and peaches, both representing a long life. Fr. Ajiki, we are gathered here to celebrate the beginning of your new life. May God grant you more years of good health of mind and body. By God's grace, you will celebrate your retirement in the priesthood and beyond with good health of mind and body.

Fr. Pius T. T. Ajiki is 32 years as a priest. It is marvelous in our eyes. For these 32 years, Fr. Ajiki had worked in the diocese of Maiduguri, Abuja Archdiocese, Archdiocese of Washington and Makurdi diocese. For those who have admired Fr. Ajiki from far and near and followed his footsteps can testify that he has been consistence in his principle of selfless service, generosity, accommodation, zealousness for God's work. No wonder his motto: "Work anywhere for God". As a Pastor at St. Mary's Karu and Ss. Peter and Paul Parish Nyanya respectively, he demonstrated his kindness, love and care for the sick by opening a parish folder at two hospitals for sick parishioners under the sponsorship of the parish. His workers' house rent, bonus during festivities and prompt payment of reasonable salary to anybody around him were some things to remember on this day. Fr. Ajiki thinks of others first, others second, others third and if you want to hear more, others last even before himself, if at all he would remember himself. Surprisingly, God has been providing for him; he never lacked. During one of his celebrations here which I attended, someone remarked (not exactly as I put it) "Because of Fr. Ajiki's generosity, the VC has stopped students from going to Fr. Ajiki's house." I laughed that day because it is already in his bone marrow and blood to be generous. I want to make it clear to everyone here present: "Take away generosity and selfless service from Fr. Ajiki, then he ceases to be Fr. Ajiki." What causes illness for Fr. Ajiki is not bad water, not bad food, not lack of food for himself, not even mosquito but lack of money for his continuous act of generosity and selfless service in God's vineyard. Who wants Fr. Ajiki to fall ill here? I guess, nobody. If nobody, then I urge you to have a good handshake with him today by appreciating him for working tirelessly anywhere for God as his motto reads: "Work anywhere for God".

Today also, Fr. Ajiki  wants to present his two new books: Marriage and Family Apostolate in Africa and Beginning of Human Life (500 pages) and Homosexuality (400 pages). According to Fr. Ajiki, the proceeds from this book launch will be for the completion of Rev. Father's house (rectory) which has reached decking levels. The completion of this Father's house will surely work if all of us work it, so I urge everyone here present to work it because God is worth it. Make yourselves available to the Holy Spirit to use you today in order to actualize this project.

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