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Father Jovita: Transforming Influence

by V. Rev. Chukwudi Jovita Okonkwo, Ph.D.

 

EASTER: OUR TRANSFORMATION

Father Jovita color official portrait light blue bckgndIn many ways, Easter portends joy more than any other event or celebration that the mind can conceive. Easter joy is joy presaged by horror; the horror of the cross. Many of us have been touched over the decades we’ve lived by the passing of a loved one, or tragedies in which the mind experienced utter bewilderment.  For example, last week, a good friend of mine, a nun and medical doctor was laid to rest. She was only 39 and had just got her medical license two years ago and was getting ready to touch many lives with her glowing smile and physician’s skill. Then came the destroyer: cancer. She fought for two years, but cancer won. I prayed so hard that my innermost being got caught in dejection, and begged and begged God to spare her life. Even after she was pronounced dead, I still thought that something would happen to bring her to life. But what use is life on earth if she has attained the transformation of the resurrection.

When we talk about the resurrection of Christ, our minds are drawn to the event that has had the greatest transforming influence in the history of humanity. It remains impossible to think of anyone who has walked this earth and has had as much influence as Jesus did. He came from unknown Palestine, at the time occupied and governed by mighty Rome. He was the “illegitimate” son of a poor carpenter and an unknown mother. Born in a cold animal house, his first bed was the trough on which animals fed. He lived only 33 years; died in the company of two thieves and was buried in a borrowed grave. His companions were poor fishermen and others with little or no influence. Hard to imagine that this person’s name would be on every lips and is the one who has been most talked about in history, as well as most maligned. The number of books written about him is impossible to count. Nearly two thousand years ago, a companion of His wrote that the entire world itself, would not be able to contain the books that could be written about Him (John 21:25). We see how that statement has become validated by the amount of literature in circulation in which the name of Jesus is inscribed.

And so, this month of Easter, I am happy to present this tract on the transforming influence of the resurrection of Christ and how it affects us and the world. I will also speak about how we can transform the world as intentional Catholics drawing from the transforming influence of Christ. Transforming influence is the last among the behaviors and virtues that have been suggested for attaining intentionality in the faith. In my earlier discussions, I have presented five behaviors, namely, voluntary subordination, authentic self, covenantal relationship, responsible morality, transcendental spirituality as the bedrock of intentional Catholicism. In the future, I will move the discussion to more group-oriented behaviors that will influence the climate on which the faith is lived and how such climate would attract others to our fold.

WHAT IS TRANSFORMING INFLUENCE? 

Transforming influence is a contagion effect. If you understand contagion in terms of infection or contamination, you won’t be wrong. Because contemporary society has gone rogue and acquiesced to evil, we must first infect it before healing it. Only by consciously, intentionally and joyfully practicing the faith, even amidst the scorn and derision of the world, could Catholics positively transform our society and culture in multiple dimensions – emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. The personal transformation that intentional Catholics can bring about in others would have to happen collectively and repeatedly, and in turn, stimulate positive change in organizations and societies (Fairholm, 1997). Transforming influence occurs through visioning, modelling through personal example in visible and tangible ways, mentoring and faith empowerment, and building of trust. Hence, an intentional Catholic will see and perceive the world in the manner in which Christ perceived it, as a fallen world in need of redemption; must model in tangible ways and through personal examples the sacrificial love of Christ; mentor and empower others to embrace Christ-esteem rather than self-esteem; and live in a manner that others can see him and trust that Christ is first in her life. The lives of intentional Catholics must contradict contemporary culture.

THE CONTAGION EFFECT

A male student who started attending the Newman Center activities at the University shared his Newman journey experiences with the chaplain. Ted became friends with one of his classmates Wilma only because they sat next to each other on the first day of class. Each time before class Ted would reserve a seat for Wilma, and vice versa, depending on who arrives to class before the other. As the semester progressed, Ted realized something in Wilma that made him wonder what kind of girl Wilma was. She always appeared unruffled by stuff that bothered other young girls and showed no interest in the Friday happy hour to which college boys and girls, freed from parental ‘confinement,’ looked forward. No profanity ever dropped from Wilma’s lips; something strange for a college student. She shared often how she missed her friends and family. She was about the only girl in the class who appeared not to care about campus-style dressing – skimpy short pants and flip flops. And she would always zoom off at the end of class to attend what earlier she described to Ted as her Newman function. She later joked that the Newman club was her sorority and invited Ted to join her, as guys are also welcome, but he respectfully declined. After three months of what was becoming a weird relationship with Wilma, Ted braved going to the Newman function. His first experience of the Neman function, which was Wilma’s code name for the Mass, was pleasantly disturbing to Ted. How close to 230 college students could sit quietly for 40 minutes, engaged in some surreal activity was mindboggling for Ted. But that was the beginning of a journey to the faith for Ted who is currently studying for the priesthood in a Benedictine-run seminary. Ted was one among many children raised in contemporary pagan family. Life consisted of work, sports, social activism and desire to fulfil the American dream. His only experience of religion was when his step-grandmother took him to a church where he remembered a man on choir robe shout and hurl insults at them, in the mighty name of Jesus. Ted remained deity-blind until the transforming influence of Wilma.

NEWMAN TRANSFORMING INFLUENCE

Cardinal Newman believed that the key to reclaiming the primacy of theology and its relation to other disciplines, classical studies, modern science, and intellectual rigor lies with infiltrating the university system with the consistent practice of the life of virtue. This, according to Newman, would become a subtle, silent, unconscious but profound and energetic countering of the infidelity of the day. Hence, without uttering a word, Wilma infected her classmate Ted with her zealous practice of the Christian faith; because, while vice always attracts and ensnares, virtue and virtuous living has a way of shining its light over the dark citadel. Cardinal Newman thought that, unlike in the past when Catholicism was the sole religion recognized in Christendom and unbelief made its advances under the language and guise of faith, today, unbelief has thrown off its masks and taken its position over against us in the citadels of its own, confronting us in the broad day light with a direct assault. Intentional Catholicism becomes easier to practice today that the fight is in the daylight, rather than in the twilight; for it could be considered gain to be speared by the foe than stabbed by a friend. Let it be clear to all that, regardless of how we view it, unbelief and immorality will endure, and, Newman advices that we be prepared to experience in our day immorality more odious, and unbelief more astute, more subtle, more bitter, and more resentful, in proportion as it is obliged to dissemble. In this day, truth and error lie over against each other with a valley between them, and David goes forward against the Goliaths of today’s establishments.

WHEN CORPORATIONS BECOME DICTATORS OF MODERN ETHOS

I read, recently, that the credit card company PayPal plans to punish a state in the nation for its ruling that men should use bathrooms designated for men and women use bathrooms designated for women in public places. In their corporate “brilliance,” PayPal thinks that men and women were not designed to be different: in looks, composition and biology; rather, gender is something transient, and people should be allowed to decide the gender with which to identify in the morning or evening, at any time of the day and each moment they feel the call of nature. You may think that it makes sense for public bathrooms to be gender restrictive, but corporations don’t think so. Managers at PayPal feel that selling credit cards has become too boring; now they are flexing their muscles and becoming dictators of contemporary morality. Using discrimination against a state to fight what in their warped corporate mind they consider discrimination against their most esteemed interest group – the queer lobby, is my definition of insanity turning insane. Having gutted human imagination into tolerance of any and all forms of ambiguity in modern culture, the worldly-wise old devil, Screwtape, in the language of C.S. Lewis, no longer requires his novice demon (Wormwood) to use sense and logic to secure the damnation of the ordinary folks of contemporary society. But the good news is that it has become easier to be an intentional Catholic in our age. Intentional Catholics of the past were thrown into hot pans of boiling oil, delivered to wild beasts and had combats with gladiators; today’s intentional Catholics need only stay focused and practice their faith as the gulf between unbelief and faith has plentifully widened.

 

HOW DO WE TRANSFORM MODERN CULTURE?

Believe me, it is easy. Modern culture has reached a tipping point. It has lost any foothold at all: no logic, no sense, no rule, no guide, no god, no worship, no teacher, no student…, only feeling. Catholics should capitalize. Intentional Catholics and a few others are the only ones left who think that common sense is what it is…, common. All intentional Catholics need to do is live the basic tenets of the faith, that is, wake up, say their prayers, go to work, meet at dinner table, come to Wednesdays at the Cathedral, say their prayers, and go to bed. To socialize, they read their news, watch football or any sport of their interest, do volunteer work, mow the yard or do some other exercise, and play Bingo. They would avoid talk shows and news commentaries (let the silly talkers talk to themselves), unreality TV, foolish meanderings on the internet and the iStupid, and useless hours of gossip on the phone and social media. They’ll find themselves maintaining bodily, emotional and spiritual health to the envy of those who today ridicule them. For, unless the Lord returns much faster than we expect Him, modern man and woman will in no distant time either get so bored with their feelings that they fall on their own sword or cry and beg for rescue from themselves.

I’ll like to conclude with this advice from St. Paul: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is God’s will for you: what is good, and what is well-pleasing, and what is perfect” (Romans 12:2). Though messages from large billboards encourage us to think, look and behave like the studded stars in them, our purpose and destiny wasn’t designed by the world; rather, by God who loves, empowers and cheers us on. Have courage to be a light in this dark alley and joy to hearts broken by the false promises of the earthly city. Make a difference, be the one whom God made and called you to be. Be an intentional Catholic.

 

And, may the Blessed Mother Mary remain close to you as she did the apostles after the resurrection, so you may experience the joy and a new life of Easter!

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2 Responses to "Father Jovita: Transforming Influence"

  1. Susan Melaugh says:

    Thank you. This is so uplifting.

  2. Brittany Longden says:

    Eloquently stated, Father Jovita. I look forward to reading your thoughts again next month. God bless you.

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