BISHOP SHANAHAN: A HOMILY ON SATURDAY, FOURTH WEEK OF EASTER
I attended a primary school which had the name ‘Bishop Shanahan Primary School’. This name was later changed to ‘Roman Catholic Missions Primary school (RCM). Right now, it is no longer a Catholic School but a government school on Catholic property. This school was initially named after Bishop Joseph Ignatius Shanahan, who was one of the earliest Spiritan missionaries to Nigeria. He is very popular especially in the Eastern Part of Nigeria, where he is burried, even though he died in Kenya and was previously burried in Kenya. He came to Nigeria in 1902 and worked till 1938 when he moved to Kenya. His first experience in Nigeria was that of rejection. He was not just rejected; the people were very hostile to him. This is especially true in Dekina where I had my primary and secondary education. The popular understanding is that due to the rejection and hostility of the people, he left the town, and before he did, he shook off the dust from his shoes. Up till today, there are people who still believe that the lack of development in that town is a result of this gesture which the people consider to be a curse upon the town.
When Jesus sent his disciples out, he never gave them the impression that everybody will accept them. Not everybody believed in Him. In the gospel of today, He reminds us that to have seen Him is to have seen the Father. He promised life to those who believe in Him. He had told his disciples to remove the dust from their feet in any place where they are rejected. We see Paul and Barnabas shaking off the dust from their feet after they were rejected by the Jews in the First Reading. Many people consider this gesture to be a sign that they are laying a curse on the people. If you know anything about Jesus, you will know that He could not have instructed His disciples to lay a curse on people. Jesus Himself was rejected and even crucified. His response is that of forgiveness and compassion. So, watever the shaking off of the dust means, it is not a curse.
What exactly does this gesture mean? It can be compared with how we speak today about washing your hands off something. It is a way of saying, ‘I have done my best. Now I was my hands and leave the rest in God’s hands’. It is not a way of saying ‘May God punish you for what you have done against me.’ The priest in the Catholic Church has the power to bless. He can also curse if he chooses to. But just because you can do it doesnt mean you should do it. Many times, both priests and sisters have come to Dekina to assure the people, that there is no curse upon the town. But I also witnessed a ceremony where the people asked forgiveness from Bishop Shanahan. In spite of that, some people still believe they are cursed. It is not good to go through life feeling you are under a curse. That mindself is in and of itself a curse.
As a priest, I do not expect everybody to like me. Expecting this will lead to many dissapointments and heartbreaks. On the day of your ordination, everybody will treat you like a king and some will almost want to worship you. If you put your heart into that, you are in trouble. Some people will accept you. Others will not accept you. As good as Pope Francis is, he is constantly under attack. If you go by the crowd around you on the day of ordination, you will be making a big mistake. The life of a priest is a bitter-sweet one. When you have done your best and the people are still hostile, dont force them to accept you. For every one person that is against you, there are 10 others who are there to support you. If they reject you, shake off the dust from your feet and walk away; not as a curse but as a sign that you have done what is humanly possible. Forgive those who hurt you, but dont try to force them to like you. You will never be without lovers. You dont need to look for supporters. God will send them to you.