By Chris Agbedo
The year’s annual retreat, which held from Thursday 2 – Saturday 4 June 2022 at St. Mulumba Hall, University of Nigeria Nsukka, was moderated by Rev. Fr. Vitalis Ukwuaba of St. James Parish Okpo Enugu-Ezike Igbo-Eze North Local Council of Enugu State. The Retreat moderator, who anchored his message on the theme – ‘Positive growth in the journey of faith’ – drew Bible verses from Luke 13:6-9 and Isaiah 40:28 to underscore the lessons established by the parable of the fig tree and the everlasting nature of God respectively. Just as God never grows tired or weary or the fig tree that gets manured routinely to continue bearing fruits, a Christian’s positive growth in the journey of faith is an unwavering quest for new knowledge that requires constant recalibration and re-jigging. It is a renewed kind of unlearning to re-learn the ropes of Christian faith. This positive growth, according to the Catholic cleric, can be considered from personal and family levels.
Personal level of positive growth is not optional but obligatory and therefore accords well with the natural default mode of physical maturational development. To achieve success at this level implies searching for and immersing with the most favourite Biblical expression that aligns with one’s faith. The retreat preacher found his own in Isaiah 40:31 – “those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed” – and challenged the Knights and Ladies to find theirs as a sure path to this personal growth in the journey of faith. He listed the dimensions of personal growth to include spirituality, gratia, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. To grow spiritually, one has to deepen and widen their knowledge of the seven sacraments and how they add up as building blocks of their spirituality. In terms of Gratia (God’s grace – ‘the unmerited love and favour of God towards man’), one has to understand the centrality of God’s grace to their spiritual growth and its sources, which include the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), prayers, and good works. The greatest of God’s gifts of grace is His son, Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus is the centre of everything for us: He is our hope of salvation and source of grace. The following acronym – G.R.A.C.E – is often cited as a biblical definition of grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Also, knowledge of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit – gifts of revelation, inspiration, power – which St. Paul summarized in 1 Corinthians (12:1-11), is key to spiritual growth. To grow spiritually, Father Ukwuaba stressed that Christians have to reinvent their idea about God by reading the right books that teach faith, engage in write-ups, which ennobles their humanity; open up to God, ask Him to teach them something new. That way, one keeps growing from one stage to the next.
Family dimension of positive growth in the journey of faith requires the appropriation of Jesus’ prayer-points to God on behalf of His disciplines as recorded in John 17, which included Glory, Intercession, Protection, Sanctification’, Unity, Presence, and Love. In the context of this prayer, Christians should imagine themselves in the shoes of Jesus and determine the extent to which they have presented the general well-being of members of their family before God. As they replicate Jesus’ prayer points in faith, they should keep their eyes on the ball without foreclosing the inevitability of the Judas metaphor. After all, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’. No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong. This underpins the metaphoricity of Judas, which can apply to all families. Do your best, hoping that your best is good enough, and leave the rest to God. The Retreat moderator connected the Judas metaphor to the Parable of the Sower in Matthew (13: 1-9) wherein the wicked one stalks the sower to sow the bad seed in the midst of the good ones. This would require the grace of God, which comes with spiritual growth to recognise the bad seed and uproot it timeously before it chokes the rest of the good ones.
Father Ukwuaba recalled the nominalist theologians’ distinction drawn between God’s absolute power (potencia Dei absoluta) and God’s ordained power (potencia Dei ordinata) by positing that whereas the former characterises God as being utterly transcendent and could do anything, the latter implies that God has also entered willingly into a covenant with his people and freely binds Himself to this covenant. Bringing it further down to a layman’s language, potencia Dei absoluta, according to Fr. Ukwuaba, means that God is omnipotent; potencia Dei ordinata means that God orders the scheme of things. Therefore, whatever pattern of action God chooses is the best, incomparable, inviolable. Let not your action (no matter how good) block the plan of God. Moses is a perfect example of blocking the plan of God and he got it rough from God. He enjoined Christians to pray that their actions or inactions do not block the plan of God but rather that they would align with God’s order. Also, the cleric noted that potencia Dei absoluta as one of attributes of God helps us to explain God’s miracles. God chooses to perform whatever miracles at His own time, in His own way. Knowledge of this unique nature of God is all part of the positive growth in the journey of faith.
The Retreat preacher drew the attention of Knights and Ladies to the significance of the biblical account of the mysterious appearance of ‘mene mene tekel upharsin’ (‘numbered, numbered, weighed, divided’- Daniel 5:25) on the wall during a banquet to the court of the debauched Babylonian King, Belshazzar, which had given rise to the modern expression, ‘the handwriting on the wall’, meaning, ‘a portent or warning of inevitable doom’. The ominous phrase is a reminder that whatever we sow, that we will also reap (Galatians 6:7-8). Sometimes, God speaks very sonorously into our lives, convicting us of sin and warning us of impending judgment (John 16: 8). It is part of our positive growth in the journey of faith not to ignore the ‘handwriting on the wall’.
Discussions during the interactive session of the retreat centred on evaluating the impact of ecclesial involvement in the murky waters of Nigerian politics, which drew mixed and varied reactions from Knights and Ladies. One line of thought contended that the doctrinal position of the Catholic Church on politics anchored on passive aloofness did more than necessary to alienate Catholics from the corridor and bedroom of power and all the benefits accruable therefrom. However, this conservative stance is beginning to witness a paradigm shift in recent times as Catholics appear to have been stung by the denigrating reality of otherization to pluck the fruit of political activism as an assurance against the potent existential threat. The political renaissance is gathering momentum and should be sustained by all acceptable ecclesiastical means to reverse the ugly trend and by implication launch the Catholics’ advent in the political firmament of Nigeria. Another train of thought sued for caution such that this rekindled fire of interest in politics does not backfire, perhaps due to lack of tact and rubbishes whatever gains already made. Another angle to the discourse emphasised the importance of carrying due diligence on potential aspirants to ensure good quality representation in consonance with Catholic tradition. The little but unsettling snag with this line of thought is the frightening prospect of the infamous slang – ‘join them if you can’t beat them’ – which implies that a true lay faithful runs the risk of getting sucked in by the accustomed apostles of political shenanigans, the ‘sharks’ and ‘hawks’ of ‘politrick’. Another drawback is the ‘pull him/her down’ (PhD) syndrome (or scorpion mentality), which arguably appears to be an attested trait peculiar to the typical Igbo. All in all, the consensual opinion was that the wind of political re-awakening blowing across the Igboland is a welcome development that must be sustained by all legitimate means. The journey of this ‘thousand miles’ begins with getting our personal voter’s card (PVC) in readiness to exercise our inalienable franchise at the polls.
At the end of the soul-enriching spiritual exercise, the Worthy Grand Knight, Brother Linus Anih and Lady President, Noble Sister Tessy Ofoegbu expressed appreciation of the Order of Knights of St. Mulumba (Nigeria), St. Peter’s Sub-council Nsukka, to the Retreat Moderator, Very Rev. Fr. Vitalis Ukwuaba and Worthy Chaplain, Rev. Fr. Franklin Ugwu for the spiritual nourishment of worthy brothers and sisters. In summary, the take-away from the annual retreat is that positive growth in the journey of faith in generic sense implies discovering new areas in one’s spiritual life. Christians should strive to grow incrementally but consistently by challenging well-worn thoughts and ideas in order to gain insightful inroads into new vistas and unchartered courses in their spiritual lives.