Homily At Holy Cross International College
HOMILY ON THE OCCASION OF THE OPENING OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR 2013/14 AT THE HOLY CROSS
INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE, YOUNDE, 9TH NOVEMBER, 2013
FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA
Rev. Fathers, religious men and women,
Principal, members of Staff,
Dear Students of Holy Cross International College,
It is with great joy that I stand here today to preside at this Eucharistic celebration in your prestigious and renowned institution, the Holy Cross International College, Yaounde. It may be important for you to note that since my Episcopal ordination on the 23rd of August, 2013, this is the first public Mass at which I am presiding over, outside the Diocese of Mamfe. The Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Yaounde, the Most Rev. Jean Mbarga, has kindly given me canonical permission to administer to some of you, the Sacrament of Confirmation. Again, since my Episcopal Ordination, this is the very first time I am administering the Sacrament of Confirmation. This means that my visit to this institution will go down into my Episcopal history as my first official outing, and those to be confirmed will ever remain in my heart and prayers as the very first “Confirmandi” who enjoyed the freshness and warmth of the Chrism, the mystical oil with which I was anointed at ordination and which I am going to use to anoint them at Confirmation. God has been so good to me, and through me, he will continue to be good to you and will bless you always.
I wish to use this chance to thank Mr. and Mrs Buban Ngu, who invited me to celebrate this Mass in their beautiful institution. I thank them for the wonderful preparations and all the sacrifices they have made for this day to be what it is. Your college, the method of administration, its mission, vision and philosophy, gives it every characteristic of a Catholic college. By this college, you are bearing witness to the words of Christ who said “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world”(Mtt.5:13-14). You are not only educating kids, you are also contributing your own quota in the work of evangelization, as you do not only train the intellect, you also form the moral consciences of these leaders of tomorrow. God bless your work.
I thank the Committees that have been working to prepare for this day. May God bless and reward you abundantly. I thank the Staff and students who have been working day and night to prepare the liturgy, keep the compound cleans and make sure that this visit is worth its while. I thank the priest, especially Fr. Giles Ngwa, parish Priest of Simbock Parish, Yaounde and Fr. Samuel Tabeson, assisting as chaplain of this college for all their input. I thank all of you who have come here today. You are here either as parents of students, invitees, friends of the Bubans or well wishers. In whatever capacity you are here, your presence can only be a positive contribution to the growth of Holy Cross international college.
Why am I here? Some people called me and said they hear I am coming to Yaounde for my maiden visit. I answered in the negative and corrected them. I said I am not paying a maiden visit to Yaounde, but a maiden visit to the Holy Cross international college. This means that those who are expecting me for a maiden visit to Yaounde should still be waiting and when that time comes, it will be completely under the auspices of the people from the Diocese of Mamfe resident in Yaounde.
I am here to celebrate the opening Mass of the academic year 2013/ 2014 and to dedicate this year to the divine care of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, by celebrating the Eucharist, which is the greatest prayer in the Catholic Church. I am here to impart my apostolic benediction on all the staff and students of this college and solicit the protection of God over them. I am here to call on the Holy Spirit to come down upon all gathered here, especially on the candidates who are to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. Through this sacrament, the Confirmandi will receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit with all His sevenfold gifts and twelvefold fruits. I am going to do this by stretching my hands and reciting the following prayer over the candidates:
“All powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence”. After this prayer, I will go on to anoint them with Holy Chrism and then they will become true soldiers of Christ marked with the indelible seal of Christ the Head of the Church. This means that any Christian who has not received the Sacrament of Confirmation is like a juridical document that does not carry a signature and stamp or worse still, he/she is like a new car that has no number plate and thus cannot be identified.
Those who are confirmed become truly sons and daughters of God and like St. Paul says in Galatians 4:6-7 “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts that enables you to cry out ‘Abba, Father’. So through God, you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to tell us about more effects of Confirmation in the following words:
“-it unites us more firmly to Christ; -it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; -it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; -it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (CCC.1302).
Many of these our brethren to be confirmed were baptized as infants on the strength of the faith of their parents and God parents. Today, they themselves can take up their heads and say without fear or favour: “I am proud to be a Catholic”. They themselves can now as proud Catholics, profess the four articles of faith in the creed thus:
“I believe in God the Father, Creator; I believe in God the Son, Redeemer; I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete; I believe in the Church that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”. This is the summary of our faith and this is the core of the faith of the Catholic Church.
By divine arrangement, we are celebrating this Mass today the 9th of November, on which the entire Catholic world is celebrating the Feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is dedicated to John the Baptist. This is the cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Rome and is the mother Church of all Christendom. It is sixteen centuries old and was for a thousand years, the seat of the Church government until the Pope moved to the Vatican in the thirteenth century. We are celebrating the feast of the dedication of this Church because it stands as the symbol of unity of all Christians. This basilica was build when the great schism of 1054 between the Eastern and Western Christendom had not taken place and it was standing tall, long before 1517 when the protestant revolution escalated. This church building remains as a sign of the unity which St. Paul describes in Ephesians 4:4-7 when he says; “There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all”.
Church buildings are symbols of something greater than themselves. Fr. Vincent Lockhart says that “The Church is not an empty building, an empty house of stone; the church is not a coloured altar made of coloured stone. The Church is a reality flowing from our love”. Therefore the Church is us, and this assembly is the spouse of Christ, or better described, it is the body and Christ is the head.
The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel talks about the temple as a life giving instrument. “Vidi Aquam”, as our old Christians used to sing; the water that flows from the temple which today is the sign of our baptism is the water that brings life and wells up towards everlasting joy. This water continues to flow every time people are baptized in the church. This water makes things wholesome, brings life to all living things, brings health, because the water comes from the sanctuary.
St. Paul says in the second reading that we are all temples of God and our bodies are sacred. United, we form the sacred temple of God called the Church and he concludes by saying, “If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple”. Jesus personifies this temple by saying in the Gospel text “destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up….. he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body.” This body of Christ was broken on the cross, he died and was buried, but on the third day he rose again and today lives as king of heaven and of earth.
On this day that we celebrate the Feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, we are united with the Holy Father, Pope Francis who is our Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Christ, Bishop of Rome and Universal Pastor. He still remains a symbol of unity in the Church and the sign of Christ’s presence to the universal Church as the good Shepherd who never leaves his flock untended. The Holy Father will celebrate Mass today in the Lateran Basilica which is his Cathedral Church, and in all Catholic Churches in the world, this same Feast will be celebrated. By our celebration of this Feast today in this campus, we make real the words of the famous hymn writer S. J. Stone who sang: “The Church’s one foundation, is Jesus Christ, her Lord; She is his new creation by water and the Word; From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy Bride, with his own Blood he bought her, and for her life he died”. How beautiful to belong to this Church; how nice to be united with all the Catholic world around the Pope; how consoling to know that the Church is our mother forever and how true to experience the words of St. Cyprian who said that “No one can have God as Father if he does not have the Church as mother”.
Unfortunately, in these modern days, we live and work in a world where some people scorn the work of the Church and treat the Church like an earthly entity alone. Others treat the Church like a political party and some see it as “the Private company limited of Jesus Christ with the Pope as the CEO”. Some intellectuals put the Church in scientific categories, and want to prove every aspect of Church doctrine in scientific laboratories. Some make the Church a social reality in their lives which they attend only during their leisure, spare time or when invited on occasions like this one. Worse still, some people who have been baptized and confirmed shamelessly announce that they have left the Church and others state that they were once upon a time, Catholics. No! the Church is a divine Institution with Christ as the Head.
On this day that we are celebrating the Feast of the Lateran Basilica and confirming some of our members into the Catholic faith, I want to make it abundantly clear that it is impossible for anyone who has been baptized in the Catholic Church to leave the Church. Once a Catholic, a Catholic forever. This is confirmed in the Apostolic Letter in the form of a Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, Omnium in Mentem, in which dispensations for mixed marriage will no longer be granted to those who have abandoned the Catholic Church and want to marry Catholics. They are Catholics and remain Catholics till death do them part. Therefore once baptized, you may become a runaway Catholic, a back-slide Catholic, a non practicing Catholic or a non Church going Catholic; You may be a Catholic who has joined another church or negated Christianity altogether; you may even become an atheist; But you remain a Catholic, always a Catholic and nothing but a Catholic till death do you part.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day which God has given us the special gift of being together and celebrating the Eucharist together, let us each examine our attitude towards the church and towards the unity of the entire Christendom. At the end of this homily, let us remember how St. Peter describes the Church in 1Pet.2:9-10 when he said: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may sing the praises of Yahweh who called you out of darkness into his own wonderful light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”. My God bless the Holy Cross International college, bless all the staff and students, bless the parents and all of us gathered here. So that through the mercy of God, we may all one day enter into the heavenly kingdom, where Jesus lives and reigns with the God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.
Coadjutor Bishop of Mamfe.