Discernment of Vocation entails allowing the Holy Spirit to clarify one’s thought- Fr Gilbert Akam.

Rev. Fr Gilbert Akam is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki. He enjoys the privilege of being the second Indigenous priest of Izhi after Late Rev. Fr. Dr. Anthony Echiegu. In this edition of Vocation Story, Fr Nwizhi as he is fondly called, lays bare his sincere thoughts and convictions about the catholic priesthood. For him, priesthood involves an overwhelming conviction to emulate Christ especially in keeping to the evangelical vows of poverty, obedience and Chastity. 

Before we proceed, may we know you?

I am Reverend Father Gilbert, Joseph, Uchenna, Nwandegu Akam (popularly known and addressed as Fada Nwizhi). 

The Vocation to the Catholic Priesthood is a noble call which first of all involves discernment. How best do you think one can discern his vocation?

Yes, like thebiblical injunction “no one takes this honour upon himself; “Discernment is Divine, it is a spirit of a special call for a special purpose. It can come at any time early or late in one’s life but the truth is that the called understands as in the case of Samuel. The called is usually attracted to the service of God and His Altar. For example, at baptism we are called out of the darkness of sin into the glorious light of Christ. He pictures, the priests and other ministers with question, admiration and inquiries on the qualification and expectation for this special call.

One can best discern his vocation by first of all allowing the wonder of this spirit to clarify the thought of his heart. He approaches the priest for the guidance of this thought and a possible follow up to actualize this dream. No doubt, being close to the priest in the service of the altar offers a whole lot of idea of what it takes to function as a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Secondly, taking the advice of the priest (especially ones from the parish priest) will go a long way in taking you to your point of destination (answering the altar call). 

Thirdly, the importance ofbeing active with either of the existing Pius societies in your parish and keeping to the rules and regulations of such religious societies and statutory organization of your local church etc. 

Can you tell us about your apostolate since ordination?

I was ordained a priest on 6th July, 1989 and was subsequently posted to serve as Assistant parish Priest of Sacred Heart Parish Onueke, under the Very Rev. Fr. Macnamara. I was posted to the following parishes, where I served as a Parish Priest: St. Joseph Parish Ezzagu, St. Joseph’s Parish Ukawu, St. John the Baptist Parish Ndubia, St. Gabriel’s Parish, Onuebonyi and presently Parish Priest of Emmanuel Parish Edukwuachi. I also serve as the confessor to the Religious Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd Abakaliki.

In all these places and point of services, I did discharge my Priestly ministerial services with utmost vigour. To the best of my knowledge, I try to instill in the people the importance of keeping time with the sacraments of the church which bring us to “faith” in the power of God. I have this adage, thus: “put your faith in doubt and have your corpse in doubt” (onye gude okwukwiya tua ntumatu egude odzuiya tua ntumtu). One cannot stand with me when there is lack of evidence of communication with the church. As this has led me into the introduction of (unmasking oneself).

“kpufu mmongu ikpu l’iphu” by this personal rule, a true catholic Christian is expected to stand ever ready to prove his/her faith by presenting the record /card evidence of the person’s clear faith in what he/she believes.

On the other hand, I am good in circulating a surprise package/ visit to the deserving faithful. By this, they sit up to their responsibility to be on their guard always as God comes to us whenever He so desires, and happy are those whom the master meets very much ready on the watch. This same spirit pushes me in matter of burials, by doing everything possible to preside and give a befitting Catholic burial to the deserving faithful irrespective of the circumstantial implication of such emergency to my schedule. It reminds me of the nothingness of man, that one day “I shall die” and a reason to be better prepared for such eventuality.

My first masses would always come by 5:30 am, as I feel ‘it is God’ after the early morning rising and I frown at any distraction that comes against this dedication, people take names from me for their roles and action toward me and things pertains to God and humanity. But in all fun, I manage to accommodate all, knowing the fact that the difference of the human person come to play in such understanding. Not without the all-important discipline when the need arises. 

Yes, there would always be agreement and disagreement in the course of the ministry, but God on our side ‘we have kept the faith’.

What does it mean to be a Priest after the mind of the Church?

Permit me to say that the church in her wisdom knows the challenging nature of the work of the Priest. Therefore, the Priest has this obligation to rule, as laid down by the mother church. He is expected to work according to the mind of the church duly represented in the Diocese by the Bishop, who stands as the Chief Shepherd in collaboration with the authority of the Holy see (the Pope).

At Ordination the Priest is handed down the responsible height of his calling thus, he undertakes the three vows of obedience poverty and chastity.He must obey his Bishop and his directives, believing in his ability of leadership after the mind of Christ who had demonstrated the height of humility in obedience to the will of the father. It is expected, under the vow of poverty, that the Priest gets detached from material things as all he owns come to him on trust, to be managed in his custody while he lives.  

It is important for him to know that demand canbe made of those things, for the good of the church wherever they may be needed. He is bound by this law to relinquish these items without argument or resistance to such order.

Finally, in his vow of chastity, he is called to the special life of Christ whose sole commitment is on this chaste spouse, the church. The Priest does not marry or have children and is expected to live a pure life free fromfornication and other sinful acts. By that, he imitates Christ who stand as the mostchaste spouse of the universal church.

What are the challenges of Priesthood in the present 21st century and how can these challenges be tackled?

Unlike when we started, this digital age comes with its own challenges some of which includes: Astronomical increase in the number of the faithful, for e.g., sacraments of the church like: Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy orders etc, have kept on bringing souls to the church. People make money and only come to church to advertise their wealth but never showed true commitment to things of God as they feel they are needed to keep the church and the Priest going. 

The above Sacraments as they are generously given by the church record abuses; recipients come and go while only few that tend to fulfill the vows and work hard to remain in the sacrament. You see conversion from one church to the other, divorce here and there, all in the quest to have their selfish prayers answered by hook or crook. These and many more leave the zeal of the Priest very frustrating. 

Other time the social media and all that go, bring a lot of challenges as the faithful adopt their experience in this platform to use against their Priest, the reason why the Priest must be up and doing in his knowledge update or he would be toiled with and trampled upon.

There are claims that the pitiable economic condition of the country has contributed to vocation boom. In what ways can you evaluate this claim?

Well, we don’t doubt the fact that there are great economic challenges in our society today. Of course, it is natural that people run more to God at times of difficulty.And as the cries for Divine intervention increases, people turn more to settle with the things of God.But the question is: How genuine are these souls taking to stand for God?

By their fruits you shall know them: this caliber of persons see business in every endeavour, instead of calming down to do the needful “seek ye first the kingdom of God and every other thing follows. They aim at the flamboyant nature of those Priests running ministry without finding out if he actually has such Charisma. 

This, no doubt, spoils a lot of things for the church. Sure, they go at any length to make it, but the truth remains that as the saying goes “what goes around comes around”.Just like St Paul remarks, “I never ate anybody’s bread without payingfor it”.Hard work and absence of greed, decide and be convinced of the reason why you should champion a particular course.You will certainly become an asset to self, family and community at large. 

Vocation is a call irrespective of the clan or person, it is not a do or die affair and not to be taken under pressure or selfish inclinations. But a pure thought directs for a wholesome bid. 

What are your words of encouragement to all those who nurse the ambition of venturing into the catholic priesthood especially in Abakaliki?

They should know and understand that priesthood is a gift of honour and blessing given by God to whom He so wishes to. One is encouraged to look at himself and ask those critical questions by proffering answers that will support your judgment and move into the rigorous journey of the Catholic priesthood. 

Put before you always the rules guiding this wonderful pitch, play your wings very well and never allow any obstruction to stop you from getting your shot directly into the sacred goal post, to attract both Divine and human cheers at the merit of your score.But if for any reason, you are unable to hit the mark take it as an act of God and ask for a Divine redirection for if one road closes another instantly opens as the services of God abound in various sectors of human Endeavour. Be conscious of this fact: Abakaliki Diocese will always present you with ‘Two commandments’; keep the seminary rules and pass your exams.

I wish you best of Luck!

Do this as God blesses you in abundance and according to his own will both now and forever, Amen.

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