As it has traditionally been done, when circumstances favour, this year, on the 01/May/ 2018, the feast of St Joseph the Worker, so dear to the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, who, like St Joseph, see themselves being called to speak less and preach the gospel by the example of their lives in the concrete situations through the various services they carry out among their brothers and sisters, among whom they live as brothers, companions and servants in a world that is becoming more consumeristic with an ever increasing degradation of moral and anthropological values defended with a wrong understanding of freedom; in such an environment, the scholastics here at St Daniel Comboni scholasticate, in a joyful and gratuitous mood renewed their commitment to witness to the gospel of Jesus, Poor, Chaste and Obedient, in the footsteps of St Daniel Comboni.
One needs only to live in the geographical space surrounding this scholasticate, and to encounter the people in their day to day lives to understand the radicality of the choice to live poor, chaste and obedient in such an environment.
Quite a respectable number of invited guests turned up for the celebration, although, perhaps due to other duties, many arrived when the mass had already started. But even among those who attended the mass, it was easy to see that a majority seemed not to understand exactly what was happening as the language, particularly at the very moment of the renewal of the vows, was unlike the language of the contemporary world. This paused a challenge to us, and perhaps to all religious out there, to try as much as possible to explain our identity to the people we minister to.
It is possible that in the name of living a simple life, we religious and missionaries do not make our identity intelligible to the people, and yet, in my view, this is important particularly in vocation promotion, in which many young people ask questions that need answers, not just by seeing the life of priests and religious, but by having this life explained to them in dialogue. St Francis would say, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words’. I think the sign of our time demands that we not only live a Josephite example of preaching by our life while doing little to use words to explain who we are to people. In our time, this only leaves people wondering at how able-bodied young men and women, capable of being ‘productive’ to the world, can choose to live all their lives without children of their own (chastity/celibacy), choosing poverty rather than riches, and worse still, giving their will to the ‘direction’ of other people (obedience) when in fact they are free to do whatever they wish with their lives.
Making the vocation to the priesthood and religious life intelligible to people is even more important in explaining the inevitability of the scandals that priests and religious sometimes are involved in because of human weakness. Such a thing cannot be explained in any way except in words, and this, today, is one of the frequently asked questions by young people in the vocation promotion ministry, just as much as it is a common question asked by people generally.
Coming back to the celebration, the gratuity of our ceremony was even increased by the fact that the community participated in giving thanks to God for a gift that he bestowed on one of our elder brothers, Fr Joseph Ngumba Lelo, who, in the previous week, had graduated as Doctor of Philosophy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. This was yet another example of intellectual witness necessary for a religious proclaiming the Good News in the 21st Century.
We are grateful to God for having continuously shown us his love and mercy by making us undeservedly sharers in his mission of bringing the Good News to the world. And as we thank all our brothers and sisters who joined us as witnesses to this, our conscious and demanding choice, we pray that this witness may be a potent invitation to the Christians to participate in vocation promotion and a moment of inspiration to the young people among whom we live, to come out in the midst of the external resistance of the world to say Yes to the inner call to this noble mission, for which God unceasingly raises labourers irrespective of the attitude of the world; ‘And remember, I am with you always, yes, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).
By Scholastic Augustine Epieru MCCJ.