Today, our son, brother, friend and priest, Rev. Fr. Valentine Nzekah celebrates his first thanksgiving Mass in our parish after his priestly ordination on Saturday, August 15, 2020. The first reading hinges on authority, hence the choice of the theme, Priestly authority in the Church.

The priestly authority centres on teaching, sanctifying and governing the people of God with prudence, love, prayerful care and wisdom. All you need is to be constantly searching the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God in order to be well armed in carrying out your priestly authority. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asked his disciples two questions: “Who do men say that the son of man is?” And “But who do you say that I am?” The answer given by Apostle Peter brought about the pronouncement of his authority in the Church by the Lord. Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, you must create time once in a while to ask people questions about yourself and be humble to accept the feedbacks from them. With that, you will surely know more about yourself and your priestly life.

A few weeks to my priestly ordination in 2006, I sent a question to few of my friends to seek their opinion on their expectation of me as a priest. Their responses thrilled me. Every eve of the anniversary of my priestly ordination, I reflect on those responses. I want you to reflect on the key points of their responses: sincerity and straightforwardness in all your dealings; take your prayer life seriously; keep friends that are conscious of who and what you are to God and the faithful; be spiritual even when no one is watching you; be as much available and accessible as possible to the people of God; be of high moral conduct conscious of weak minds; do and live a just life witnessing to the truth no matter the cost; be human but at the same time tame your human urges, that is, be a Saint as well as a sinner who is willing to repent; be humble, simple, inspiring and approachable; respect the Holy Eucharist anywhere; put on the garment of sincerity, humility, kindness, patience and ready to admit your fault in any situation; note that human beings are difficult to control; your cross is to serve God with sincerity and all humanity; no discrimination with regards tribalism or politics (Abuja Archdiocese is a sensitive archdiocese); beware of worthily and material things, e.g. being money conscious, using the most expensive clothes, shoes, for all these influence people to go astray; focus on the work of God; lead people to God with love as Christ did; flow with the Holy Spirit; Listen to the Holy Spirit!;. He has called you to do his work; do not underrate the poor ones because that is one of the things some priests do today- if you don’t have money, they don’t respect you or come closer to you; preach the Gospel of Christ without fear; render selfless service to God and humanity, uphold your vow of priesthood and above all, be a role model to people.

According to the Johari window, there are four rooms in each person: Room one is the part of yourself that you and others see. Room two contains aspects that others see but you are unaware of them. Room three is the private space you know but hide from others. Room four is the unconscious part of you that neither yourself nor others see. You need humility to understand and accept room two when the Christian faithful tell you about them; you need God to understand room four as you are constantly connected to him. On your part, you must trust some Christian faithful, especially your brother priests, in order to share room three, that is, the private space you know about yourself but hide from others. The presbyterate is a privileged place in which the priest should be able to find the means of sanctification and evangelization and of being helped to overcome the limits and the weaknesses which are proper to human nature and which are particularly felt today (Directory for Ministry and Life of Priests, no. 27).

Dear brother priest, the first five years of your priestly life are years of deciding what your entire priestly life will be. You are responsible for your ongoing formation. With or without the archdiocesan programme for priests below five years of ordination, you must plan for the kind of priest Jesus Christ wants you to be in the first five years of your priestly life. After five years of your priestly life, the Church begins to consider your suitability for higher ecclesiastical offices. Therefore, when a newly ordained priest takes hold of his own ongoing formation, good things happen. His special gifts to the Church emerge.

Your ongoing pastoral formation ought to include the following areas: Canon law updates, personnel management, conflict resolution, financial management, effective leadership in meetings and facilitation of parish communication. Whereas your ongoing spiritual formation include the following: Spirituality in a specifically Catholic Christian context, spiritual resources and practices from the tradition, specifically for priests, spiritual classics as a resource for ministry and life, the spiritual life cycle of priests and others, the act of learning about spirituality from various traditions, priests as intercessors and teachers of prayer, priestly spirituality as ministerial and integrative, the meaning of ongoing conversion of life, and the spirituality of celibate life.

As a basic minimum for formation, the following elements would need to be in place: Fifty-two contact hours of education per year (in other words, one hour per week, use it to read and study the new or old document of the Church), one week of retreat annually, daily prayer (especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours), monthly priestly recollection, frequent celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, perhaps in conjunction with spiritual direction, monthly contact with a priest group.

When the appointed time comes, you will be appointed parish priest so, during your ongoing formation, prepare for your first pastorate. The time of service as a parochial vicar, should be seen as a period of being a "parish priest in training." The office of parish priest brings the priest into a new set of responsibilities and a new focus for his priestly identity and service. Appointment to the pastorate rekindles the question of integrating identity and function for the sake of mission—who I am and what I do for the sake of the mission entrusted to the Church. Appointment to the pastorate summons a priest to new growth and development in his humanity, his discipleship, and his priesthood. Please dear brother, prepare for it.

Rev. Fr. Valentine Nzekah, you are now a father to all Christ’s faithful including your own parents, in the Church, not minding your age. Every Christ’s faithful including your parents is now your son or daughter in the Church. The question is: What does it mean to be a father to Christ’s faithful in the Church with regards to the priestly authority? It is not an honour of arrogance or looking down on the Christian faithful especially those who are can father and mother you. The title “Father” should humble you. Whenever you are called “Reverend Father” or “Father” Valentine, let it remind you that you are entrusted with a grave responsibility by our Lord Jesus Christ to his faithful people. Just as a father must nourish, instruct, challenge, correct, forgive, listen and sustain, you as priest, must meet the spiritual needs of those entrusted to your care, providing them with the nourishment of our Lord Jesus Christ through the sacraments. You must preach the Gospel with passion and conversion which leads to holiness. You must correct those who have erred but with mercy and compassion. At the confessional, remember that you are a judge and a physician to administer divine justice and mercy, cf. Can. 978 §1.

Fr. Valentine, let your prayer always be: to live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures; to be a member of each family, yet belonging to none; to share all sufferings; to spend and be completely spent for God’s kingdom; to penetrate all secrets; to heal all wounds; to go from men and women to God and offer Him their prayers; to return from God to men and women to bring pardon and hope; to have a heart of fire for charity; and a heart of bronze for chastity; to teach and pardon; to sow God’s peace and joy, console and bless always,

On our part as Christ’s faithful, we should support our brother, friend and priest with prayer, good counselling, correction and encouragement. As Christ’s faithful, let us also discern his personal needs and support him in any way we can. As St. Augustine would say, “For you I am a priest, with you I am a Christian”. For us, Fr. Valentine is a priest; with us, he is a Christian. Pray for him and other priests always.

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