When I was growing up as a little boy and a mass server in our village Church, I desired so much to be like the Italian Fr. Domenici, a Consolatta missionary who worked in our parish. What fascinated me most was his mastery of my mother tongue and above all the accent in which he pronounced his “carefully selected” words, so as to break the word for us on that only Sunday in a month that we got mass. the parish had 21 chapels in the villages some as far as 20 kilometers away. The rest of the Sundays of the month, either the catechist or one of the church leaders would preach.
Later on, after I had completed my secondary school education in the minor seminary not far from home, the people in my church, now another chapel closer to my home, which was split from the main church, deemed me qualified to preach on some Sundays when the priest was not coming. I also had felt called and capable and was courageous enough to do so. I would prepare very well the readings and write down the main themes. I would also choose a phrase that summarised the message from the readings and tried to relate it to the reality we lived in the village. But preaching in the village is not an easy thing, one had to be very careful otherwise someone would complain later that you were targeting them in your preaching.
It was while in the minor seminary that my desire to become a priest evolved and became clear, but not without the guidance of the spiritual directors who accompanied us in the seminary. One of the many things I learnt then was that: one had to have a clear MOTIVE for which he wanted to become a priest and no matter what happened, that motive had to remain alive. Later on, I would reflect and understand that this was, after all, what made the difference.
So in my many moments of introspection and retrospection along the many years of formation in the major seminary, 12 to be precise, that took place in Kenya, Tanzania Ghana and Spain, I came to realize that the motivation for which I wanted to become a priest was TO SHARE THE MANY GIFTS that God had endowed me with since my childhood, with the world, especially with the young people. Myles Monroe in His boo”Release your Potential” talks of God having created us so special that each one of us has something so unique that it is irrepetible in the history of the world. If we do not discover and exercise that, we will die with it and therefore the world will never come to benefit from it. As I read through the gospels, I always was fascinated by the many facets of the person of Jesus – the Jesus of Nazareth, a very talented and very motivated person. He was a Jack of all trades and a master of all and with a lot of energy to serve the people. I wanted to be like him, yes literally. Later on I would learn the meaning and the seriousness of that desire.
This motivation has evolved a great deal since then and by the time I was ordained, I had developed a concrete philosophy and conviction about it, that has seen me widen significantly the spectrum of my contribution to bring God’s love to the people I serve and be Christ to them. If there is something that I have come to cherish and look up to as a missionary, is the conviction that whenever someone comes to me he or she need not encounter my personality alone but syncronized with that of Jesus, with all that means. This is why Catholic priests are called “Father”, to denote the “fatherhood” of God revealed by Christ. That the FACE and the ATTITUDE towards the people, no matter who they are or where they come from, may be that of the Jesushimself.
This could not have been put more vividly than it was done by my nieces and nephews in the refrain of the poem dedicated to me on my ordination to the priesthood, that: “It will not be for you, but always for others”. These words still ring in my ears and mind long after and keeps on shaping and inspiring my apostolate especially when the going becomes difficult, that it is not for me but always for others. I think this is a very important aspect of a missionary’s job description that need to encourage and motivate one to forge ahead despite the failures and challenges. Far away from home and with many limitations, surely one has to have a very good reason and motivation for waking up every morning and going about his daily chores and meeting the people as the come, without counting the opportunity cost for his most fundamental choice.
Looking at it in a different angle, I realize that this is one of the greatest gifts that one can ever ask of the Lord, to take part in his mission and know that, He the Lord of the mission, is with him and guides him every day and in everything. The modern world has trivialized many important things in life, but this one has a life of its own, because no matter how much they try to discredit its fundamentals, it does not seem to lose its relevancy. It has to be by all means the will and the doing of the Lord who wants to meet and bless his people in a very tangible and realistic way. No matter how severe the challenges get, one always finds that typical consolations, that “it is I who called you, do not worry about what you will say or do, just leave it to me and go about what I have asked of you”. With this kind of almost tangible confirmation and consolation, one finds strength to start a new and with a renewed spirit continues to be Christ to them.
Fr. Lawrence Muthee, SVD