On November 30th 2019, we celebrated Cardinal Lavigerie’s Day together with the welcoming of our first-year candidates through the cross ceremony.
Invited were all our friends in and around Ejisu. We were honoured by about 100 visitors who took part in a colourful Eucharistic celebration and a lively reception that followed.
Below is the homily that Fr. Christopher Chileshe delivered during the Mass.
Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle
Closing of the 150th Anniversary of the foundation of the M.Afr and MSOLA
Birthday of our candidate Andrew Adeka Nitni
Deaconate ordination of Br. Anthony Benjamin Buaful of Kubease Monastery, Techiman in Trinidad and Tobago
Readings: Romans 10:8-18 and Matthew 4:18-22
St. Andrew the Apostle and Charles Cardinal Lavigerie speak to us today of our basic Christian vocation to be apostles in the 21st century and beyond.
Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter and also a disciple of John the Baptist. It was at the River Jordan that he was directed to Jesus of Nazareth and from then things changed for him. Bringing along his brother and others to Jesus, Andrew would see his life take him around until Greece where he met his death on an X-cross – all because of Jesus Christ the Word of God.
The Gospel today narrates how at another time Andrew was identified by Jesus Christ on the lakeside. Jesus chose Andrew and the other three disciples as individuals and for specific reasons that include;
o To listen to him
o To collaborate in the new mission
o To attach themselves totally to Christ
o To leave (their work – fishing, family, customs, etc.) and Follow Jesus as Apostles.
o As an apostle; To fish out people, by sharing their personal spiritual gains with others.
St. Paul in Romans 10 gives us enlightening reflections on who an apostle is. The Apostle is basically someone who is SENT. Initially the apostle is filled with the Word of God, the life of God – “The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” (v.8) As any Christian the apostle also gets their faith from the month of others and pass it on by mouth (communication) to others. It is this action for St. Paul, which leads to salvation in Christ. Salvation is to proclaim what we believe. In other words, the Word of God leads to Faith, which leads us to a Radical Change (actions) and gives us Newness in Christ, which we in turn preach to others.
Charles Cardinal Lavigerie lived between October 31, 1825 and November 26, 1892. He was a Frenchman from a family that was not particularly fervent from a religious point of view. He found his way into priesthood and at a tender age was made Bishop of Nancy in France. Lavigerie worked hard and could have taken the prestigious position of Archbishop of Lyon, but he turned it down for the offer to a less important Bishopric, the See of Algiers in North Africa. He was inspired to this missionary decision by St. Martin of Tours whose shrine he visited as a pilgrim.
Upon taking the post of Bishop of Algiers Lavigerie envisioned the conversion of the entire continent of Africa. He soon encountered the problem of personnel for this vision. This is what led him to start the two families of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa (brothers and priests) and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa. Together with these missionaries Lavigerie embarked on the mission of encounter with the Muslims and Islam, and encounter with the African cultures on the continent through primary evangelisation. He lived and promoted his passion for charity and justice in Algeria and everywhere his influence reached. He was strong in the campaign against human slavery on the continent and beyond, challenging the then powerful political leaders of Europe. Lavigerie was determined to create the African local Church and to train local leaders and clergy on the continent. Above all else, Lavigerie was focused on the Word of God and prayer; he insisted that prayer be the guide for his missionaries.
One of the most famous saying of Lavigerie to his missionaries was that, as men and women of God, they were to be ‘Apostles and Nothing but Apostles’. These are words Lavigerie took from St. Paul’s ‘All things to all’ (1Cor 9:19).
In the conversation with the first three novices who had volunteered to join the Society, we find the depth to which Lavigerie saw this image of ‘nothing but Apostle’.
“I cannot tell you how happy you have made me,” Lavigerie said, “but now I am going to do everything I can to dissuade you from your decision.”
The three were puzzled. One said, Dissuade us? Your Grace, we thought you wanted volunteers.”
“I do,” Lavigerie said, “but when a man agrees to die for you, I think you should give him every opportunity to change his mind.”
Lavigerie then questioned them about themselves, their lives and their knowledge of Arabs and Africa. He kept on repeating that there were hardships ahead of them. “I have no money to give you,” he warned. “You will be poorer than desert spiders.”
“We are ready for that,” one of them answered.
“I will put you through a novitiate that will break you!”
“We do not break that easily,” replied another.
“I want men who are tough, tough enough to live like Arabs without giving in to the Arab way of life, and I mean to test every muscle you have, in your body, your mind, your heart and soul, before I will call you my sons.” “We are ready for that too. We are ready to start now,” they answered.
And so, they begun. (Atemaj, Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, Paulines, Nairobi. p.26)
Similarly, to a young priest (Fr. Charbonnier) who had just joined the Society and wanted to first go and say Holy Mass in his home diocese Lavigerie replied with the words, ‘Visa for martyrdom’, ‘Are you ready for that?’ – to which the priest said, “It is what I have come for”. (Atemaj, p.30)
The Missionaries of Africa have continued to live this vocation that Lavigerie passionately envisioned. The Society today is rooted on the initial call for Apostles that came from Christ himself. The Society’s charism continues to be that of Apostleship, Witnessing in Communities to the diversity of the African world. The Society’s positive affirmation in the Chapter 2016 confirms this:
Filled with the joy of the Gospel and guided by the Spirit, we are an intercultural missionary Society with a family spirit. Sent out to the African world and wherever our charism is needed, for a prophetic mission of encounter and of witness to the love of God. (Capitular Acts 2016, p.17)
As we receive new members in our formation program today, we give them each one of them a cross to remind ourselves of the reality that the missionary vocation in the Missionaries of Africa implies: Visa for Martyrdom. And so, we ask them, ‘Are you ready for that?!’
To be ‘an Apostle and nothing but an Apostle’ in our 21st century and beyond means first and foremost, to be a Man (woman) of prayer.
o To Listen to Christ daily and be attached to him continually.
o To leave our conform zone and Follow him
o To Collaborate in his mission today in our modern world
To be an apostle in this century implies embracing the very same cross and Jesus of Nazareth carried;
o The cross that Andrew took,
o The blood that Lavigerie talked about to his novices and early missionaries.
To be an apostle in our century implies;
o embracing the Word of God,
o accepting that radical change in our actions and the newness in Christ which we treasure by sharing with others.
o To be fishers of people by courageously sharing spiritual gains which emanate from personal prayer and faith.
May Christ continue to shine in our lives and in our mission of bringing Christ to the African world.
Let Your Light Shine!
Author; Christopher Chileshe