Spiritual formation occupies a pride of place in the formation of candidates for the priesthood. Consequently, Bigard Memorial Seminary, as a formation house, begins and ends her academic/formation year with a retreat. Thus, the end of the year retreat for 2013/2014 academic/formation year started on Saturday 21st June, and ended on Wednesday 25th June, 2014. The retreat was moderated by; Rev. Frs. Dr. Michael Akaigwe (moderator for the general students) and Anthony Ezeanya (moderator for the 4th year theologians). Both priests were of Onitsha archdiocese, ordained in 2000 and 2001 respectively.We cannot but loud the choice of the retreat moderators, especially for the moderators’ outstanding excellence in academics and steadfastness in spirituality.
Saturday, 21st June, 2014, was more of the introduction of the retreat moderators to the students and the introduction of the theme of the retreat. Also the time table was adjusted to suit the spiritual and other physical exercises that are necessary for a fruitful retreat.The brief night session was brought to a close with the compline said in common. Here bellow is the summary of the rest of the events of the retreat.
On Sunday 22nd day of June, the Holy mother Church celebrated the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. During the Holy Mass to mark the solemnity, Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Akaigwe, reflected on the theme: “I am the bread of Live.” With an allusion to the manna saga in the Old Testament, he compared the efficacy of the manna of the Old Testament, to the Bread and Wine which has become the Body and Blood of Christ, from the New Testament time. Sounding Pauline, he portrayed the Eucharist as the love of God for us. “In the mystery of the body and blood of Christ, we see love; love for our live, and love for our transformation.” He further called on all to pursue holiness of life, since we are called to Holiness and our God is holy. This call to holiness was the theme of the retreat. An aid to this Christian journey to holiness of life is the Eucharist. He then vehemently admonished: “Do not betray Jesus as you receive him in the Holy Communion.”
On the course of the retreat sessions, Fr. Michael emphasized the invaluable place of Holiness of life in the life of a Christian. From the text of Jeremiah 6:16; he exhorted on the path of holiness to which all of us are invited by the virtue of our vocation. This involves contact with God. “We could see a manifestation of this in Moses as written in Exodus 3:1-6. Moses saw the burning bush and drew closer to the bush. He heard a voice which instructed him to remove his sandals. Through these, he was able to experience contact with God. The place where he stood was holy. So, he has to be touched by the land that has been sanctified.” he remarked.
Furthermore, Fr. Michael, likened Abraham’s obedience to leave the land where he was to a new land at the age of 75, to the journey of Seminarians and Priests (Cf. Gen. 12:1-9). He invited all to follow God as Abraham did. “It involves sacrifice with an undivided heart. And we have to develop prayer life since it would facilitate our holiness,” he advised. “Prayer is first of all listening. The Lord always speaks to our hearing and we listen to God to get the message he passes across to us. Prayer is also obedient to what God instructs us to do.” To buttress this point he illustrated with the story of Elisha and Naaman.
“Prophet Elisha is known as a master listener. He obeyed whatever God instructed him to do.” He thus, beckoned on all and sundry to imbibe the spirit of constantly praying since “prayer and contemplation are meant to make us dwell constantly in the presence of God. Only contemplation is the solution to materialism. It is God’s answer to the menace of materialism. Riches and prophecy do not go together. True contemplation will make one feel, and hear the cries of the poor, the orphans. In prayer, one becomes a brother to all who are in difficulties. Unfortunately, as poverty keeps rising, some of uscontinue to amass wealth beyond our need.This contradicts the life of Jesus who emptied himself to the extent of his garment being torn, and finally was crucified on the cross.”
In continuation, he recounted the Fatima event of 1917, emphasizing Our Mother Mary’s instruction that everyone should pray the Rosary for peace in the world. “Notably, she repeatedly gave this message as often as she appeared in Fatima. Peace in Hebrew means Shalom. It contains whatever is good such as prosperity, abundance of grace, joy, and loveand so on. Peace is a paschal gift. Christ greeted the Apostles thus; ‘Peace be with you,’ after His Resurrection.”
Furthermore, he quotingPaul VI he said; “The Rosary is a compendium of the Gospel.” He explained further: “the mysteries recited in the Rosary make a comprehensive part of the Gospel and that makes the Gospel our own.” Peace is traceable to the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Glorious Mysteries, and the Luminous Mysteries. He said on the mysteries; “We need Our Mother to take us by hand and teach us, and lead us to the mysteries.She will lead us to encountering the Holy Spirit.” He concluded the conference saying, “Pray the Rosary everyday as Our Mother instructs.”
More still, he describedOur Mother Mary as our spiritual mother who “became our mother under the cross when Jesus said, ‘Mother, behold your son; Son, behold your mother’. Undeniably, if Mary is regarded as Mother of the head who is Jesus, she also is the mother of the entire body, the church. The Blessed Virgin had instructed at Fatima that the whole world be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart. It is a great mistake and loss for seminarians not to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
He described Mary as the Ark of the Covenant. That which the Ark did for Moses and the Israelites, Mary does for us. When the Israelites reached Jordan, God instructed that the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant should step on Jordan. As soon as they stepped on Jordan, the river separated and formed dry ground from which the people passed. Fr. Michael described this as one of the things Mary would do for us if we find solace in her. Finding solace in Mary would entail praying tirelessly through Mary. “Nature abhors vacuum. If you don’t pray, a spiritual vacuum will be created. He charged: “Pray the 20 decades daily.” According to him, some who often perform poorly in academics do so because they don’t have God in their lives. Therefore, everyone must know that “God is with us when we are with God.”
Directing the course of the retreat to the cost of Discipleship Father said, “To follow Christ, we have to lay aside our self-interest. We have to renounce all for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of the body the Church. This renouncement for St. Paul is to be carried out with happiness (Cf. Col. 1:24). St. Paul would on several occasions enumerate what he had undergone for the sake of Christ. When we give all, Christ will use us to accomplish His designs and we shall not lack. The evidence of this fact is not hidden in the life of the prophets, and saints.”
Tuesday 24th June, 2014 the entire Bigard was again consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. There was a rosary procession that took us round the whole Bigard compound two times, in the company of the statue of Our Lady.
Our final year theologians feasted with the Lord in the C.I.C chapel, guided by Rev. Fr. Victor Ezeanya. Fr. Victor through his well thought out reflection insisted that there is no half measures in following Christ; “Its either you decide to follow him and avoid your evil ways or you remain where you are.”
He highlighted the evangelical counsels, affirming: “Fidelity to the three evangelical counsels, guarantees ones effectiveness in the priestly ministry, if not one may be in the ministry for years without being a priest for one day.” Furthermore, he reflected on the lives of Blessed Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi, John the Baptist and other saints. He exhorted on the need to prepare homilies well before preaching. This will enable us to restore the image of the mass and the image of God.
More still, he said: “How I wish I can get another chance to undergo another training in the seminary. Something more than ordination is needed to make priests. Daily meditation is the only way to succeed in the priesthood especially at this time that stronger battle is needed against the flesh. How I wish your eyes can open to understand how blind you are. In the words of the psalmist, ‘O that today you would listen to his voice harden not your heart’ (94:8).”
On 25th June 2014, there was a Eucharistic celebration presided over by Rev. Fr. Dr. Michael Akaigwe to mark the end of the retreat. Fr. Victor Ezeanya was the homilist.
Before the final blessing of the Mass the Bigard family in words andconcretely appreciated the retreat moderators. The moderators thanked the students and admonished further: “Keep your daily hour with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Go to the right hand side as Mary instructed Juan Diego.Jesus is the Lord of time. Consider how, after Peter had denied him three times; not minding the sorrows of the passion, he turned and their two eyes met.When you keep your time with Mary, She does great in your life. Pray the 20 decades every day. With this, your contact with Mary is assured.Wherever the Holy Spirit finds Mary, He produces the single fruit of Mary, Jesus. Mary is the bearer of Light. And the light is Jesus.”