By Fr Pat Amobi Chukwuma
Clapping is the gentle beating of the two human palms together or face to face. It is not only human beings who can clap. Any animal endowed with palms can clap as well. Thus monkeys and chimpanzees are capable of clapping. However, the difference is clear. Human beings clap reasonably while animals clap instinctively or inductively. Mad persons clap unreasonably.
Clapping produces concordant sounds, depending on the rhythm or velocity adopted. It is a sign of encouragement, approval and appreciation for an excellent deed performed practically or orally. We clap for something good. Anyone who claps over an evil deed is mentally and morally deranged.
Clapping is also a natural musical instrument used to praise God. If you are not able to purchase musical instruments, you can freely use your palms to clap while singing. In many churches today, clapping has become a common phenomenon.
Before now, the Pentecostal churches were champions of clapping. The Orthodox churches have adopted it as well. Often during prayer sessions, Christians express their gratitude by clapping exceptionally for the glory of God. If the Angels and Saints have hands over there, they will be clapping solemnly for God daily as they sing praises to Him.
Clapping is medicinal. Whenever we clap, we massage the palms and keep our blood at equilibrium as it circulates in the human tissues. The more we clap, the healthier we become. Nevertheless, an unnecessary clapping is a clear sign of mental disorder. An injury on the palm or around it can impede the process of clapping. Also, if the right and left palms are not in good terms, clapping becomes impossible.
Clapping is an expression over human achievements. When something is endowed, do we clap for the endower or for the recipient? For instance, when a farmer is digging the soil with a hoe, do we clap for the farmer or for the hoe? Indeed, it is a foolish act to clap for the hoe which is only a non-living instrument. The energy being expended comes from the farmer. It is he or she who sweats.
The hoe can never sweat. Nonetheless the sweat emanating from the hands often spread on the surface of the hoe. In this case, can we assert that the hoe sweats as well? On the other hand, if the hoe refuses to be used, can the user sweat? Of course the hoe cannot refuse to be used because it is at the mercy of the user. However, its use becomes impossible only when it is faulty.
Where am I heading to? You can guess rightly or wrongly. I marked the 29th anniversary of my priestly ordination on 5 September 2022. It became for me an occasion of sober reflection and self-assessment. God has already done his own assessment of my priestly commitment over these years. Saint Augustine rightly says, “With you I am a Christian; but for you I am a priest.”
A priest is a human being endowed with divine grace to sanctify the people as well as himself. He offers sacrifice to God on behalf of the people of God. Strictly speaking, no human being is worthy of this holy honour since we are limited by our sinfulness. Hence the Revised Standard Version of the Bible emphatically states, “And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God” (Hebrews 5:4).
Therefore, priesthood is not a merit but a divine endowment. That is why it is not a profession but a vocation. Simply put, it is God-given. It is the grace of God working on the chosen human instrument of God. Thus a priest is an instrument and not the actor. God is the sole Actor. However, the human instrument ought to dispose oneself for this divine use. My human weakness makes me afraid of what I have been for the past twenty-nine years. Those who are congratulating me are wrong.
The glory and congratulation should be addressed to God. On the other hand, I count my failures and accept responsibility while asking for God’s mercy and grace to forge ahead. Priesthood is not an end itself, but a means to an end. The end is the Beatific Vision in the world to come. No wonder Saint Paul says, “I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others, I myself should not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). The referee must guard himself properly in the football field lest the players trample upon him.
For many years now, I have observed a wrong expression which takes place during diaconate and priestly ordination as well as during religious profession. When a candidate for ordination or profession is being called out; and he or she answers, “I am present” the congregants clap and clap. After taking the Evangelical Vows of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity, there is a clapping again. What are they clapping for? This commitment and vows are not so easy to keep.
The candidate requires prayer and not clapping. Clapping pulls him or her down. Prayer pulls him or her up. We can clap over trivial matters and not over serious matters such as ordination or profession. No one claps when we make or renew our baptismal promises.
How can we then clap when a sinful human being is taking solemn evangelical vows of obedience, poverty and chastity (celibacy)? They are easy to pronounce but difficult to keep. Hence it is only by the grace of God that they can be practiced. Therefore, pray for us and not to clap for us. The clapping should go to God who gives us the grace. Grace works on nature. Hence the receiver should dispose himself or herself efficiently.
The sacerdotal priesthood is a holy office. Strictly speaking, no human being deserves the honour. God does not find the Angels worthy of it. Why should He entrust such as an exalted and holy office into the hands of mere sinful mortals? God, your grace is superfluous! I shudder at this. I cannot explain how and why I accepted this holy office; mortal and sinful man as I am.
At the reception of a newly ordained deacon or priest and a temporal or final professed, the people exalt with joy. They dance with the deacon, priest and religious. Various gifts in cash and kind are offered to him or her. Food and drinks are served to the invited and uninvited guests. Group pictures are taken. At the end of all these, the people go away. Then the deacon, priest or religious experiences the loneliness of his or her vocation. The clapping and dancing are over. It is now time to live out the priestly or religious commitment and vows.
The taste of the pudding is in the eating. God looks down from heaven while the people look up to us. By God’s grace we can lead the people to God. On the other hand, by Satan’s disgrace we can lead the people astray. In fact, it is not an easy way. We need your prayers and moral support. It is not by might but by the grace of God.
Regrettably, most people nowadays look upon us priests and religious for the fulfillment of their material needs. They fail to understand that the goods and money of the Church do not belong to us. There is nothing like holy theft. We can only do genuine charity with the little resources we have. The building of houses or setting up of businesses for relations, friends and acquaintances is beyond our reach. The right demand is to ask us to pray for you and not to enrich you. Lead us not into temptation, but pray for us!