Ordination Ceremony 2024

Text of Homily of Most Revd. William A. Avenya, Bishop Catholic Diocese of Gboko for the diocesan Priestly Ordination ceremony 2024, on the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, at St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Gboko.


“This day was made by the Lord; we rejoice and are glad”.

We return all the praise to God almighty for bringing us together again as a family. We thank him for his goodness and kindness to us as a local church of Gboko. Each year since the creation of this young diocese, it has pleased the good Lord to bless us with many vocations. To him be honor and praise forever, Amen.

Scope of this liturgy

Two very important events are taking place at this Eucharistic assembly. First, we shall be celebrating in union with the universal church the solemnity of some eminent apostles of Christ, our pillars in faith, St Peter and St Paul. Second, six of our sons shall by the power of the second person of the blessed Trinity, be configured definitely as Roman Catholic Priests of the Latin rite. May God lead them gently.

Saints Peter and Paul

Most of the apostles and lots of saints have specific days designated for their remembrance and celebration. It seems for the two most famous saints of the early church; the situation is different. There is 22 February in which the church recalls the “the chair of St Peter”, a sign that St Peter was the first among the apostles, and the one to lead them after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. But there is no feast of St. Peter. St Paul, although not one of the Twelve, was an apostle commissioned by Jesus. 25th January is slated for the celebration of the “the conversion of St Paul”, but there is no feast of St. Paul.

The two apostles are celebrated together in the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This celebration is a liturgical feast in honor of the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles, Saints Peter and Paul and is observed on June 29th, which is today.

Breaking the word of God

The first reading presents for our reflection the huddles of St Peter at the hands of Herod. Herod had laid siege upon the members of the nascent Church and persecuted them terribly. Being a Christian was equivalent to signing a death warrant. He killed James, the brother of John, and proceeded to arrest Peter. But the Lord showed himself strong and came to his rescue. In the second reading, St Paul presents the scorecard of his extraordinary missionary endeavor. “I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Timothy 4:6-8). Again, like St Peter, St Paul was “rescued from the lion’s mouth.

The gospel passage highlights the authority of St Peter as the pioneer vicar of Christ on earth. The rock upon which the Church of Christ is built not to be prevailed by the gates of Hades (Cf. Mt 16:18).

The Priest is Not his Own

Characteristic to the lives of saints Peter and Paul is the unwavering nature of the pouring out of their lives for the sake of the gospel. These were men who in their frailties and human limitations understood the nature and demand of their calling. They gave their all. They held nothing back. All they wanted was to witness to the risen Christ. Of course, without merit and undue benefits. Each with his professional training, not burdening the Christ’s faithful, sort only to love Jesus and to show him to the world.

Dear sons about to enter into the dignity of the priesthood and indeed all of you priests, deacons and religious here present, our ministry is one of sacrifice. Of pouring out ourselves daily for the people of God and for God. In the daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist, you will pronounce the following words of Christ at the last supper. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples”.

Like the Eucharistic bread, you must be broken for the people of God. You are to lay down your lives for others. You are not for yourselves, but for the church. You are products of the Church. A while ago, the vocations director brought a message from the church on your behalf, the only reason why this ordination will continue. He said eminently, “Most Revd. Fr., Holy mother church asks you to ordain these men to the responsibility of the priesthood”. It is the mother church that requested that I ordain you for her. You must apply your energies and love for the church. How often do we see ordained priests and religious forgetting this fundamental reality? How frequent do we, rather than pouring our lives for the Church and God’s people, wait for others to serve us. Isn’t it scandalous when a priest or religious carries himself like a local chief and demigod to be worshipped and revered? Of course, clericalism is a scandal to God’s church and contradicts in its very nature, the gospel message passed down to us by Saints Peter and Paul.

Your ordination today, therefore, is not in any way crowning you as local chiefs or an initiation rite into the cult of demigods, but to a more boldly and courageous sacrificial way of life, of washing the feet of humanity. This is what St Francis of Assisi meant when he prayed “grant that I may not so much seek to be served as to serve.”

In serving God and his people, you will be required to sacrificially and dedicatedly apply yourselves in all for your personal sanctification and that of God’s people. What is at stake is the propagation of the kingdom of God and not your personal comfort. What is necessary is being agents of Jesus the Christ and not egoistic inclinations.

Priests as men of faith

The question might well be posed thus: what was the motivating factor for St. Peter and St. Paul and the many holy men and women over the course of the centuries? What made them that courageous even in the face of persecution and even threat of execution? Why were they that electrifying in their preaching, and relentless in missionary activity? The simple intelligible answer is, they were men and women of faith. They were apostles of faith. They were believers in the creed taught by their master, Jesus the Christ. In believing in Christ, they believed in his church.

Dear sons, how tragic it would be if you take faith in the person of Christ for granted. One of the reasons why some priests stumble and fall, or why they end up into careless, crabby, comfortable, lazy and flamboyant bachelors, has little to do with vocation but everything to do with faith. As Bishop Fulton Sheen highlighted, “The crisis of the priesthood is not one of identity but one of faith”. Indeed, no one is more miserable and pitiable than a priest or religious without faith.

St Paul writing to Timothy puts it thus: “But as a man dedicated to God… you must aim to be…filled with faith (2Timothy 1:13-14). Our people look up to us as men of faith. How scandalous when we priests weaken our people’s faith by how we live, what we say, what we do or fail to do. Beloved sons, are you men of faith? Do you really believe in the Holy Trinity? Do you believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist? Do you believe? This may seem simplistic, but it is at the foundation of every fallen priest. It is the basis for priestly ineptitude, sacerdotal arrogance and pride, ministerial hooliganism and pastoral rascality, culminating into the lack of peace and joy among a good number of us.

The strong conviction and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ becomes our source of satisfaction and peace, and therein lies our priestly joy. Show me a sad priest or religious, and I will show you the level of their faith. As Cardinal Dolan submits, “our joy as priests should have nothing to do with where we’re assigned, what we’re doing, or any external reward or recognition we get. It depends on who we are, not what we do or have”. For we know and believe in the enduring love of he who called us to the priesthood.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find among priests and religious one sad evidence of the lack of faith, namely complaining. Some can really be like children when it comes to griping. The Nigerian electricity commission recently announced to Nigerians a sudden grouping of electricity users into what it called Bands A, B, C, and D, a decision that is still undergoing litigation. I am afraid, that categorization in a sense could be said of us priests and religious. Band “A” priests and religious and band “B” as the case may be. Those on band A are those who work hard, try their best, are not afraid of risk or failure, they are willing horses. Those on band “B”, are those who sit back and complain, pointing out how it should have been done and being culpably unsatisfied with every decision and action of those on band “A”. In order words, you have got some people playing hard, sacrificially dedicating their time and lives for the gospel, and then, those criticizing on the sidelines. I pray earnestly that you belong to the first group, Amen!

If you belong to the first band, be prepared for petty complaints and gossips and verbal assaults from band B. As you may have heard, clerical envy at times becomes an epidemic among the presbyterate and some religious communities, with the more insecure, less zealous, less joyful priests and religious threatened by the more confident, hardworking, happy guys.[1] Like Joshua of old, choose you now, who to serve. Christ or ego.

Priesthood and Ascetic Life[2]

Spiritual theology is commonly studied in two forms, mystical and ascetical theology. Mystical theology studies the gifts of grace that God gives to the soul on the spiritual journey, from the most widespread and common gifts to the rare gifts reserved by God for some chosen souls that we usually call mystics. Ascetical theology for its part, reflects on what the soul does to cooperate with grace within a complete Christian spiritual life, in which God’s grace and man’s freedom meet. Priestly asceticism consists in learning true priestly freedom, the freedom of the children of God construed in the particular role of the priest.

For us, ascesis is becoming aware that, by accepting the priestly vocation, we have decided to belong totally to Christ and to be used by him as he pleases. We have chosen something else, namely, representing Christ among men. St. Paul captures it beautifully, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” Galatians 2:20).

St James reminds us that we must be able to speak and act according to this law of true freedom which does not at all consist in saying or doing whatever we want, but rather in saying and doing whatever allows Christ, whose unworthy representatives we are, to shine through our speech and our actions[3]. In the letter to the Ephesians, St Paul writes, “I tell you therefore and I adjure you in the Lord: do not behave any more like the pagans with their vain thoughts” (Ep 4:17). And a little further on he adds, “Let no evil words come out of your mouth, but rather good words that can serve for opportune edification, benefiting those who listen” (Ep 4:29).

These words of course apply to all Christ’s faithful, but they make a special appeal to priests and religious, because from those who have been given more, more also is asked. Priestly asceticism consist in living a life different from how we lived in the past. Apart from mortal sin, I am referring to such things which in themselves are lawful or neutral if done by others but are out of tune with the life of priests and religious. Examples abound, there are priests who before entering the seminary dressed in tight and perhaps ripped dirty jeans, and pencil trousers. And they want to continue to dress like that even as priests and religious. There are priests and religious who used to wear bracelets, bangles, jewelry of various kinds, unchristian and huge rings on their fingers, unnecessary beads of all sorts on their hands and necks. And they want to keep carrying such things as priests and religious. I repeat, some habits lawful or neutral in themselves nevertheless do not suit priests and religious and who or what they represent. Isn’t it scandalous how some priests and religious abandon their baptismal names only to pick up nicknames of known worldly and mundane figures whose character intrinsically contradicts the Christian message and are happy when called by such names. For instance, a priest prefers to be addressed as “Cubana high priest”, another “Enigmatic Chief priest”. And I ask, are we dealing with a case of identity crises or lack of faith? For what tittle can be more honorable and dignifying in the whole wide world than being called Reverend Father? I am yet to know of any. I pray fervently not to wake up to a priest being called Bobrisky someday.

Beloved sons, you must therefore, leave behind your past habits in order to make room for your Christological representation above all else. Jesus, the Christ invites us to travel light on this journey carrying no haversack, no extra tunic, nothing of such that will distort and distract the gospel message (Cf. Luke 4:10). When men see you, they must however indistinctly be able to see Christ. But how can they see Christ, when there is a gradual distance from the usage of the cassock or clerical shirts. How will people see Christ in us, when some of us carry haircuts like mundane celebrities? If you love Jesus, carry your cassock everywhere. Do not be ashamed of your cassock. It will save you from many troubles both physically and spiritually. It is our visible sign of the light of Christ. My dear priests and religious, do not be afraid of shining. For if the priest speaks and acts, dresses, drinks like everyone else, where then is the difference? How is it that among the three ancient traditional vocations, the priest, the medical doctor and the lawyer, only the priest rationalize his way out of the attire suitable for his person. The doctors and lawyers don’t make excuses wearing their professional garment. While it is true that the habit does not make a monk, I argue, that it surely distinguishes him in the world and sets him apart. And in a world constantly in search of meaning, the visibility of the priest in his cassock is essential and crucial.

Consider the hallowed words of monsignor Elmer “when the breviary goes unopened, when daily mass is left uncelebrated, when one is in the shops, restaurants more than in the chapel, when hours are spent on social media posting unedifying images and write ups, when a priest cancels adoration for a football match, when one ignores Jesus and his mother, when months goes by without confession, then one’s priesthood is in trouble”[4].

And you my dear people of God, you have a strong responsibility in this regard. Spare some time daily to pray for your priests. Find time even to speak to them in charity when you see them go wrong. Instead of launching unfounded media attacks on the clergy, in charity and in conscience, exhaust the ecclesiastical channels available. To be sure, as I have said elsewhere, the church is not run on social media. But particularly, the church of Gboko doesn’t have a functional chancery on the social media. Your duty is to pray for your priests. Love your priests. Celebrate your priests. Fraternally correct your priests. May the priests also be humble to take cogent, charitable and fraternal corrections when they come by.

Let me add but a word regarding a beautiful development in our diocese, namely, the growing presence of male and female religious among us. Our land is like Macedonia in need of specific assistance and pastoral collaboration especially in healthcare, education, technical knowhow, skills acquisition and the likes for the integral appreciation of our diocese. Our indigenous priests are already doing excellently well in most of these aspects. However, daily, we wake up to the agonizing reality of the insufficiency of laborers into the vineyard of the lord. Indeed, the good Lord’s words remain true, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Mt 9:37). Which is why the need for the welcoming of willing, qualified and zealous religious institutes is crucial. I am thankful to the many congregations already contributing to the development of the gospel of Christ in Gboko diocese. I am delighted to know too of the support most of you are already giving them to enable them settle down and work sacrificially for the Lord. May God bless you all.

The Gboko Stamp; the Demand of Excellence

Today dear sons, you will be officially by your ordination enrolled into the episcopal stamp of Gboko. Gboko stamp is our common identity of sacrificial dedication to our priestly calling. Gboko stamp is the bond of excellence and determination for the course of right. It is a strong resolve to carry out the agenda of Christ, come what may, even to shedding our blood like Saints Peter and Paul. I like to again thank my dear sons, the priests of the diocese of Gboko, at home and in the diaspora for their sterling witnessing to the gospel of Christ. Everywhere my priests are found, what I hear is applause and commendation. From Europe to America to Africa and those on the home front. I thank you sincerely. As I say always, you are the best priests any bishop will wish to have. I thank you. As I thank you, I admonish you in the words of St Paul to the Galatians “My brothers, do not be tired of doing what is right” (Galatians 6:9).


Let me also again thank very seriously the parents and guardians of these six sons of ours who shall be ordained priests shortly. Your enormous sacrifices to the Church are adequately appreciated. May God who cannot be outdone in generosity bless you abundantly, Amen.

I thank specially the two religious bodies and their superiors who have requested that, I ordain their candidates, our sons today. The missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) and the Servants of Charity congregation. We are grateful for this opportunity. You are welcome to Gboko, the center of the universe. Remember dear sons, you too carry the stamp of Gboko. You must not be found wanting. You must shine the light of Gboko anywhere your superiors will send you.

Also, I cannot forget the immense contribution of the Rector Fr Simeon Iber, and formators at our regional seminary of St Thomas Aquinas, Makurdi and elsewhere in forming these young men. I appreciate also the non-teaching staff at the seminaries. May God bless you all. To Fr. Silas Akpa who came all the way from Rome to accompany and facilitate the final preparation of the candidates in retreat during the past days, I appreciate you.

Let me thank also the vocations director, Fr. Ignatius Him and his team and all indeed priests, religious and the entire Christ’s faithful for accompanying these sons of ours to this day. We are grateful for your sacrifices.

Finally, I thank you dear sons for responding to the call of God, and applying yourselves to the formation process, long as it lasted. Seminary formation may have ended, but ongoing formation is just beginning for you this morning. May God who has chosen you to stay with him and to preach the Goodnews of salvation, lead you gently all the days of your life. Amen.

And may the powerful intercession of Saints Peter and Paul, the apostles of Christ, our proud pillars in faith lead you all through your ministry of the priesthood, through Christ our Lord, Amen!

[1] Cf. Dolan, Timothy. Priests for the Third Millennium. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2000 p 208.

[2] Cf. Robert Card. Sarah. Spiritual Exercises on the same topic.

[3] Cf. Robert Cardinal Sarah. At the Service of the Truth; Priesthood and Ascetic Life. Fede e cultural, Italy.

[4] Cf. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Priests for the third millenium.