The year 2021 has set in upon us in Shendam Diocese like the dawning of day and the manifestation of the rising sun. Despite all the challenging and seemingly frightful circumstances and challenges of 2020, grace embraced us and here we are. Interestingly for us this year, the completion of Christmastide and the ushering of the Ordinary season of the church, which unfolds the “Order” of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism falls in sync as we began our priestly retreat all with the aim of re-aligning and re-configuring our believes to Jesus the Lord and Master of our priestly life and vocation. Indeed as with the psalmist, “unless the Lord, build the house, in vain is the work of the labourer and unless the Lord watches over the city in vein is our keeping vigil”.
Such necessary disposition with Jesus who on several occasion, would take time to go away from the crowd and his disciples to pray is the same spirit which takes us on this journey of rumination introspection and prayer for more grace. Like Janus the god of ancient mythology, who is depicted with two faces, one looking backward and one looking forward, the priests of Shendam and their Bishop have chosen January, the beginning of the year to perform this all important spiritual exercise of gratitude for the past year and renewal for the grace to function in the year 2021. Like a round peck in a round hole, Most Rev. Dr. Hilary N. Dachelem was the inspired choice to help moderate the retreat.
This is so said for reasons that will follow here below; not to mention the fact that he has been a seasoned retreat facilitator whose competence remains epic and his style uncommon and dexterous. • He was raised as Bishop from this same Presbytery. • He knows the terrain of the diocese. • He understand her struggles and challenges. Before we delve into the highlights of the retreat, we will say a little about Shendam for the benefit of readers. Shendam Diocese, is in the province of Jos. It is the first mission area in the North of the River Niger and Benue, in 12th February 1907 She has 33 Parishes and Pastoral Areas, 58 Priests 5 deacons about 16 Female religious and 2 Male religious (within 5 Religious Communities). She owns the prestigious Oswald Waller College of Education, the first Catholic College of Education in the North and a Catechetical Training Institute where the Retreat was held. She also has an upcoming Hospital, Divine Mercy Catholic Hospital, Shendam among other blessings in a Diocese that covers portions of the six geo-political zone of Southern Plateau.
On the first day, during the introduction, he made an acronym out of the word RETREAT • Review, • Evaluation,
All these are to lead us on as we journey through the days. In addition, we were asked to each score ourselves in the scale of 1- 10 as we look back on our: 1. Relationship with God. 2. Our fellow Priest. 3. Parishioners 4. Tasks assigned to us. 5. Our Bishop. Within the session, the Bishop refreshed our minds through the path of Psycho-spiritual sharing exercise – using the Johari window model we were all given room to sincerely give feed back to each other. There was room for interaction as priests shared how beneficial and what they observed during the exercise. Relating our experiences about the four spots Open, Hidden, Blind and Dark Spots, some Priests got some shocking revelations about themselves.
The Dark Spot opened the eyes of brothers to realize, that “No one can give a final and conclusive say about another person as there is always room for change and growth. He pointed out the value of the word “NOTICE” in the life and ministry of priests as he noted that “Taking Note” provokes reflection to bring about solutions. We were encouraged to be courageous enough to receive feedback and meaningfully work on them, positively for integral growth.
He drew our attention to mutual openness with the will to be our ‘brother’s keeper’ The Bishop spoke on PRIEST LIFE CYCLE and with the aid of a diagram highlighted important areas from Aspiration, Formation, Ordination, Death and Eternity all within the decimal which should end in the Christification of the priest. The last two, death and eternity are a necessary part of the cycle which should not float away from Priestly Maturity in Christ . He didn’t mince words in stating that since this cycle hinges on Christ, it must have its high and low moments, hence, the need for priests to gain a balanced disposition to grow in the midst of it all. A struggle which we must put in is like that of a “Candle in the wind” – with a lot of windy forces confronting it, we must keep protecting it less its light be put off. Christ the priest ‘per excellence’ must be the point of attraction within the priestly life cycle it remains a journey of christification for all whose life ought to be consigned more and more to Christ than at its initial stage.
Further on in his session, he drew our attention to the indispensable and unmitigated value of prayer he described prayer like the blood that runs through the veins and arteries of the priest to sustain his life. Prayer he notes is not making use of God for our purposes, but more about offering our selves in such a way as to be used by God for his purpose (Barkely). He admonished all to drive, pursue and gain lives of virtue, even in the small and little things of life. Hence, we are to become the saints that we want to see in others. As the days unfold, he led us to the function of mercy himself- Jesus, who in the freshness of his pain, hanging on the Wood of the Cross, made excuse for his persecutors saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”.
He showed us how much we must become vessels of mercy and forgiveness like Jesus our master, for one thing is definite we must experience hurt and pain from people, but what we do with the hurt and pain, makes all the difference. Using the models of psychology, he cautioned us not to allow room for the “binary baby” in us to prevail since it makes us feel, innocent, become self-exonerating and sacrosanct, hence, narrowing the prism of objectivity. We are to rather apply ourselves to the prism of objectivity, which is “Emotional-monotheism” which enables us see through matters with objective judgment and gives us the ability to not only condemn others or throw away the child with the bad water.
Likewise, it enables us to distinguish the sin from the sinner and the offence from the offender. Unforgiveness he says makes us unfree, prisoners and victims, and makes us willingly rent space to harbour bitterness in our minds. As the days went by, we further tapped abundantly from his wealth of spiritual, priestly and Episcopal reservoir in the area of Enneagram which helped us discover further our personality types and enhanced further our relationship in our pastors ministry.
On the last day, knowing fully well the role of Mary in Priestly Life, he admonished us priests to see Mary as our mother who constantly intercedes for us. The retreat came to an end with a vote of thanks from the Priest Council Chairman, who thanked God and the Bishop for graciously accompanying us through the days of retreat. We all resolved to go and be the best we can in building and working for the good of Our Diocese. To you who share in this spiritual resource, by the path of reading, we warmly extend our prayers and fraternal blessing in the year for you and all of yours.