By Pat Amobi Chukwuma
On Thursday 23 January 2020, I set off to Holy Cross Catholic Church Ufuma in Orumba North Local Government of Anambra state for the burial Mass of a centenarian deceased woman. Immediately I arrived at the gate of the church, I sanctified myself by making the Sign of the Cross thrice. In addition, I sprinkled my whole body with Holy Water. By these two symbolic acts, I found myself worthy to enter the Holy Cross church. Getting inside the church compound, I packed my pastoral car in an orderly manner. Then I walked angelically into the church edifice, carrying my vestments on my left hand and holding a small holy cross on my right hand. It is a contradiction to enter the Holy Cross Church without a cross.
The Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Awka, Most Reverend Jonas Benson Okoye, and a cluster of priests were already there dressing up for the burial Mass. Hurriedly, I put on my Mass vestments as well. Then the procession to the Altar of sacrifice began. I saw the Angels of God flying in front of us. The tall, huge and handsome bishop, who was created on Monday when God had sufficient time, as the chief celebrant was walking majestically behind with his holy crosier. The parish choir sang a befitting entrance hymn which brought down heaven on earth.
All the concelebrants and the chief celebrant bowed and reverenced the altar of God before going to their stands. The bishop incensed the altar and the Mass began in earnest. The corpse of the centenarian was already laid in a coffin before the altar. The first and second readings with corresponding Psalms and responsorial song took place. Then all stood up for the singing of the Alleluia verse before the reading of the Gospel.
Afterwards, an erudite preacher and evangelist, Reverend Father Luke Okoye, mounted the pulpit for the homily. He began by thanking God and eulogizing the deceased centenarian, late Madam Philomena Anuka, the mother of Rev. Fr. Prof. Damian Anuka and his two surviving siblings. The homilist, who was the first parish priest of Holy Cross Catholic Church Ufuma and a two-year tenant of the late centenarian, stated that the deceased woman never thanked any human being for any benefits. On hearing this, my face failed. I soliloquized, “What an ingrate!” But when the preacher went further to enunciate, he underlined the fact that the deceased centenarian instead thanked God for everything she received directly from God or indirectly from man. For her, it is only the Almighty God who gives us everything. That is, whatever (except evil) we human beings give to someone is from God. Therefore she would always say, “Thank God.” Her peculiar act of thanking God always for better or for worse made the people to call her 'Mama ThankGod.” Even during the demise of three of her children, one after the other, she cried and thanked God as well. It could be the continual expression of her gratitude to God that made her live up to 102 calendar years in this passing world.
My people normally pray for 'ogologo ndu na ahuisike' (long life and good health). How many years are long enough? Some say it is between 70 and 80 years as we read in Psalm 90. Actually the psalmist here was expressing sadness that we no longer live long as the Creator intended for us due to our sinfulness. Thus, some people live up to 70 years while those who are strong manage to live up to 80 years. God speaking through the prophet Isaiah said it is a curse not to live up to 100 years (Isaiah 65:20). By God's grace I am not under a curse. Therefore I have determined to be a centenarian priest. What of you? Nonetheless, what is more important is to lead a good life, whether long or short. If I live long, thank God. If I die young, thank God. Thank God if I make heaven, which is our target at death.
Longevity is what most people pray for. Hence, at the dismissal of the burial Mass of the late centenarian grateful woman at Ufuma, I overheard many people shouting 'Thank God!' as they were coming out of the church. Some familiar persons I saluted after the Mass responded, “Thank God.” As I was walking to my car, I was equally chorusing, “Thank God! Thank God!! Thank God!!!” On my way home, a policeman stopped me at a check-point and asked me, “Man of God, where are you coming from?” I responded, “Thank God.” Secondly he asked, “What do you mean?” I replied, “Officer, thank God.” He looked at me closely and asked, “Anything for your boys?” I responded, “Thank God!” He became confused. At last he hungrily shouted, Reverend ThankGod, please go!” I smiled and waved at him.
There was an elderly widow somewhere who lived alone due to childlessness. One night some men of the underworld broke into her house while she was saying her night prayer. They blindfolded her and ordered her to lie down flat. They stole her jewelries and a reasonable amount of money which she kept in the house. When the armed robbers were leaving, they ordered her to get up. She stood up and said, “Thank God.” The burglars asked her, “What do you mean by thank God? Are you not sad that we have stolen all your belongings?” Still blindfolded she repeated, “Thank God.” Being annoyed the men of the underworld stripped her and took away her clothes. Standing naked she insisted, “Thank God.” The evil men became confused. They released some shots in the air and disappeared. The widow untied the cloth over her eyes and knelt down and said, “Thank God that I am alive. They have stolen everything I have except my precious life.” She covered her nakedness with an old piece of wrapper available and raised an alarm after the departure of the armed robbers. Sympathetic neighbours gathered. They made contributions and provided for her more than she had before the robbery incident.
Thank God is an expression of gratitude to the Almighty Father of heaven and earth. There was a good and pious couple who have married for twelve years without any child. In all these years, they didn't despair. They sustained their happiness and put their trust in God.
Fortunately in the fourteenth year of their marriage, they were blessed with a bouncing baby boy (BBB). On the baptismal day, they christened him ThankGod. They made a feast by inviting friends and well-wishers to come and rejoice with them. Indeed, happiness conquered everyone on that festive day.
Later, the little ThankGod grew up gradually. From boyhood he entered into adulthood. As the only child of the family, the parents were full of positive expectations from him. Unfortunately he joined a bad company in the university. Instead of graduating in his course as a building engineer, he graduated in evil. He came out as a dangerous secret cult member known as Satanism. He changed his name to Thanksatan. His parents couldn't bear the atrocities he soaked himself in. Hence they died one after the other of heart attack.
ThankGod, now known as Thanksatan, became the chief priest of Satanism. He sold his family house and property and surrendered the proceeds to Satan. As he was travelling to a cult meeting one day with some of his cult members, their cult vehicle somersaulted and caught fire. Thanksatan and all the occupants were burnt into ashes. Why didn't Satan save them? The evil that men do lives with them. It pays to be good and God-fearing. Only God can save us. Satan comes to destroy. Our thanksgiving should go to God who created us and protects us.
We ought to thank God in good times and in bad times. God created us out of his infinite love to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him here on earth and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. Therefore we should be grateful to Him every day of our lives. We should thank Him not only with our lips but also with our lives by doing his will always. At times we fall into sin as imperfect beings. Since God does not desire the death of a sinner but wants him or her to repent (Ezk 18:23), we should be grateful to God's mercy by our repentance. The Saints in heaven are praising and thanking God forever. Practice makes perfect. Let us start now to praise and thank God until we join the Saints over there. Mama ThankGod, rest in peace until we meet to part no more!