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Father Jovita: Who Needs Conflict?

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

Father Jovita color official portrait light blue bckgndAs we draw close to the final weeks of our Easter celebration, the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, I’ll like to reflect on the impact of the resurrection experience in forming intentional Catholic disciples. The resurrection was a deeply shattering experience for the apostles and the early Church. The truth of Jesus’ resurrection needed to be told amidst all the maneuvering by the authorities to hide the fact and silence the truth. The soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb had been bribed to tell a different story: the apostles of Christ came and stole the body which they (the soldiers) were paid to guard. The chief priests and the authorities promised they will take care of any fallout. Clearly, a conflict situation was present and the apostles had to confront it. Should they tell the truth and risk the consequences or just go with the flow? They made the choice to announce the truth. As the stone that closed the entrance to the tomb was rolled away, so the fear that kept them locked up in the Upper Room dissolved when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

 

CAN WE HANDLE THE TRUTH?

Soon, several Catholics will head to their summer vacation. I wish everyone safe travel and a wonderful time! I advise that we carry with us the power of Christ’s resurrection wherever we go. Our bodies and minds may need vacation but our spirit does not take any vacation. We must have in mind always the admonition by Peter that “your enemy, the devil, is prowling round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Stand up to him, strong in faith” (I Pet 5:8-9) Several years ago, a well-meaning Catholic who takes her faith seriously shared with me that her parish priest told her and other parishioners that when they are on vacation, they need not attend Mass. Vacation time, for the said priest, included taking vacation from God. As hard as it is to counter the advice of my brother priest, I’m afraid I would have to disagree with him. And I’ll appeal to my predecessor, Monsignor Halpine of blessed memory, who said about confession: “Years ago, a priest told you that you don’t need to go to confession. He has left and has married. I am here now, and, I tell you, you have to go to confession.” I am sorry to also interject that a priest who tells you that you do not need to go to practice your faith during vacation, may mean well, but does not help your spiritual advancement. He might as well advice you to take vacation from eating, taking shower, sleeping, breathing, and so on. Short-cuts may seem easier and more popular, but they do not lead to Christ.

A few months ago, a Catholic lay man, Joe Ollier, coordinator of Youth Ministry in Ohio and a professor of Religious Studies, penned this advice to priests:

“Don’t be afraid to speak the truth in love. Sometimes, […] we need a gentle push. So challenge us. Raise the bars. Don’t be afraid of offending people. Don’t be afraid to lose parishioners. We live in a world awash with post-modern relativism. We can get wishy-washy. If we want fluffy preaching we can go to the Vineyard or any other megachurch that has a stage instead of an altar. And then we’d probably get free coffee and great worship music as well. In Revelation, the Lord says to the Church in Laodicea, “I know your deeds; I know you are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were one or the other – hot or cold. But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth!” You see, we don’t want wishy-washy marshmallow fluff. We want something we can chew on. We want to be challenged – to be called to radical discipleship. We want to wrestle with hard questions without easy answers and to know that the truth of the Gospel is higher, deeper, and richer than anything the world has to offer. We want you to preach about the things that smack us every day because we need to know the truth about how to live our faith in a world that assaults constantly.”

 

LETHARGY AND FEAR

To be able to follow this advice, priests, but also intentional Catholics who have received the great commission to go to all the world and tell the good news must, like the apostles, brace up to face the discomfort that the great commission often entails. We’re often afraid that people don’t want to hear the truth we tell them. We’re also fearful we might stir the waters and cause more problems. We fear that we’re incapable of changing the world and people’s perception of it. We fear that we may ourselves become challenged by truth. We fear that the great commission will imply giving up some small sin with which we’ve grown comfortable. We fear that the little time we have for comfort may be lost. We fear the unpredictable. We are not sure that God wants to use us. He may use Mother Angelica, but not us. We’re too insignificant to be used by him – we think. The truth is: you’re not alone. The apostles of Christ felt the same way when they locked themselves up in the Upper Room. They had every kind of fear imaginable. But God unlocked their fearful hearts. He sent His Holy Spirit and they were not to be the same again.

 

OPEN CONFRONTATION WITH CONFLICT

Who needs conflict? Not me, not you. I don’t know who does. Yet, conflict we must face. Run from it as we may, like our shadow, it follows us in our flight. If it doesn’t ruin us, it makes us better people. What it doesn’t do is leave us the same. Conflict shapes our world, our views, and our life. It reminds us of the past and paves the way for the future. Maybe, without it, we’ll be at a loss how we may confront its many sisters that never stop being at our face. How then do we confront conflict? The only positive way to do it is, openly. Open confrontation with conflict is an idea that has been expansively studied and found to promote solidarity, concord, engagement, ownership and participation. We ought to move beyond the negative perception of conflict as opposing ideas and actions which create antagonism among people. Conflict is an inevitable part of life, which we often cannot wish away. We must choose to confront it so we may grow rather than let it bring us down.

 

I CONFRONTED MY FATHER

My dad was supposed to be an impeccable disciplinarian. Yes, he was, but, he also had an Achilles’ heel: anger, which a few times, caught up with him through his speech. On one occasion he vomited his venom to my older brother. It made me cry to hear how mean he was to my brother (who obviously did something wrong) but, in my judgment, didn’t deserve such vitriol. I went to my grandmother (his mom) and told her how hurt I felt about my dad’s words to my brother. She said she wasn’t shocked to hear that. She went on to reveal that my dad, when he was twelve, had done something similar. She and I went to my father to iron out the issue. For the first time, I saw my father cry and apologize. I was nine. He sent for my brother and apologized and blessed him. Toward the end of my father’s earthly life, we saw how the Holy Spirit was bending that which was stubborn in him and turning him into a very meek and gentle soul.

 

THE HOLY SPIRIT RESOLVES OUR CONFLICTS

The Holy Spirit is God coming into our lives with His love to resolve the conflicts in them. He gives us the secret wisdom to enable us handle our conflicts with self, the world and others. Jesus calls Him the Spirit of Truth who would come to remain within us. “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Advocate – to dwell with you always: the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you will know Him because He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, that is, our solicitor, our attorney, our counsel. He alone can give us the direction to follow in our confrontation with the conflicts we face. He is also the Spirit of Truth able to not only reveal what is true in us and in the world but also to expose the errors that undermine truth. Jesus says that the world cannot accept Him. Does that surprise us? The world runs counter to the Spirit of God because it lacks the faculty to either see God’s Spirit or know Him. If a Christian allows himself or herself to be wedded to the world, she will become deity-blind as the world is and a widow in the next. Through His indwelling the Holy Spirit infuses God’s life and knowledge in us to enable us resolve our conflicts.

The Holy Spirit resolves the conflicts in our lives through His gifts, which He imparts on the hearts of believers:

  • Wisdom: God’s secret wisdom that has been hidden, which God destined for our glory before the foundation of the world (1Cor 2:7)
  • Understanding: He enlightens our minds to know the truths of faith, enabling God’s peace to cast out our anxieties (1Pet 5:7)
  • Counsel: He counsels us to uproot our bitter roots and grow in us enlightened perspectives (James 1:2-5)
  • Fortitude: He fortifies us in tribulations to bring about patience, proven character, hope and love. He fires up our lukewarm, complacent and apathetic attitudes (Rom 5:3-5;Rev 3:16)
  • Knowledge: He equips us with the knowledge of God, showing us where we are weak and works to mature us in love (Eph 4:15)
  • Piety: He forms us in intimacy with God; clothes us with God’s mercy and compassion, kindness and humility (Col 3:12; Phil 4:13)
  • Holy Fear: He maintains us in love, holy fear, discipline and a healthy conscience throughout our conflicts (2 Tim 1:7)

 

The events surrounding our Easter celebration reveal that the resurrection of the Lord is an experience mired in conflict. In fact, the life of Christ was literally a story of conflict. There was hardly anything normal about him, from the announcement of his birth to the manger experience, the flight to Egypt, the presentation in the temple, the three days loss, then, the entire episode of the passion, death and burial reveal a life that was tremendously challenging to the protagonist, that is, the Lord Himself, and his disciples, then and now. The lesson of the post-resurrection Church reveals a group that would have to navigate troubled waters. The Church must openly embrace conflict. She has hardly known any other turf since her foundation. Conflicts have led to Church councils that defined and strengthened the articles of faith and paved new and unsullied ways to live the faith. The Holy Spirit whom the apostles and the elders invoked at the Council of Jerusalem continues to be present in the Church, guiding her through her conflicts and speaking through her to the hearts of believers. We should implore the Holy Spirit to heal the conflicts in our own lives: conflicts of marriage, sin and unforgivenss, pride and self-exaltation.

 

PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT TO RESOLVE OUR CONFLICTS:

O Holy Spirit of God, we beg You to descend upon us and resolve in us the complexities of our spiritual lives and combats, which are incomprehensible to us. Tear down the walls which conflicts have erected in our lives and teach us how to walk through them, so we may rise from the paralysis of strife into the healing and wholeness you bring. Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, your spouse, bring the fullness of your gifts into our hearts. We ask this in the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen!

 

 

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