Fr. TI’s Bio Rev. Fr. Dr. Theophilus Itaman (Fr. TI) is a Catholic Priest of…
“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born, and the day we discover why” as William Barclay epitomized. We gather here this morning to celebrate one of the great days in the life of our Papal, Archbishop Patrick Ebosele Ekpu, and to give thanks to God for his life. We come to say thank you, Lord for these 87 whole years he has lived on earth. These years have not been empty, sterile, unproductive, but rather very fruitful and eventful to an uncommon degree. Most importantly, they were years that count. It is not everything that can be counted that counts and not everything that counts, that can be counted. Hence, George Meredith says, “Don’t just count your years, make your years count.” “May your years be counted not by your age but by how you spend your days.”
What is a birthday? Yes, we gather to celebrate a birthday.
A Birthday is a new beginning –
A birthday is the first day of another lovely year,
A year of new tomorrow that is shining, bright and clear,
A year of possibilities as endless as the sky, and a chance to meet the challenges in everything you try.
A birthday is a million moments, each holding a promise of fulfillment of your thoughts and achievements. A birthday is a time to celebrate birth itself, the joy of life.
As the first reading indicates, it is a time to recount God’s acts of faithful love (Isaiah 63:7)
It is also an occasion to rethink your life:
How great is the disparity between what I have accomplished and what I can accomplish? Am I spending my time properly or am I involved in things that distract me from my higher calling? How can I strengthen the thread that connects my outer life and my inner life? A birthday can also teach us the concept of rebirth. To recall our birth is to recall a new beginning. No matter how things went yesterday, or last year, we always have the capacity to try again. Your birthday is a refresher, a chance for regeneration—not just materially, but spiritually.
In his book, ‘Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe,’ Simon Jacobson, sagaciously knit these ideas together thus: There is no better way to celebrate a birthday than to be thankful and show a special act of goodness to those around us. Not because someone is forcing you. Not because someone suggests it. But simply because your inner goodness, your soul, wants to express its thanks for being born and alive. Such an act of kindness gives God great pleasure because He sees that the child in whom He invested, the particular child he wanted to be born on a particular day, is living up to its potential. This is the true experience of birth, the true beginning of a life of meaning. I know that His Grace has lived up to his potentials.
We have not come here to sing the praises of the Archbishop for his endowments and achievements; rather, we come to thank God for those endowments and achievements that are associated with him. According to Fr. Itaman, “When a king is empty, he gathers praise singers. When you are an achiever, your works sing your praises.” The Archbishop’s works are visible to the blind; I am a testimony. We have many reasons to thank the Lord for the life of the Archbishop, for his health and well- being. For the many lives, he has touched, brought to God and his impact in making the world a better place.
Who is Archbishop Ekpu? (Vita Voyage) I want to quickly highlight and hyphenate some landmarks in the vita voyage of the Archbishop.
1931: Born Oct. 26, at Uromi.
1946: June 12, Baptized, Holy Cross, Benin city.
1950: Jan. 20, began Minor Seminary, Benin city
1955: Sept. 1, began Major Seminary, Benin city
1963: Jan. 27, Became a Deacon
1963: July 7, Became a Priest
1968: Feb 11, Further Studies, Boston, USA.
1971: Nov.21, Became Coadjutor Bishop of Benin City,
1973: Became Substantive Bishop of Benin City
1975: April 6, Founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
1994: June 29, Received Pallium from the Holy See.
1994: July 23, Became First Metropolitan Archbishop of the See of Benin City.
2006: Nov. 21, Retired as Archbishop of Benin City.
This is a journey that was highly punctuated with self-discipline, prayers, hard work, God’s grace, and achievements.
At the commencement of his episcopacy, there were only nine Nigerian priests in the Diocese; before his retirement, he had ordained more than 105 priests serving in various apostolates, in the Lord’s vineyard. The parishes that were only five in 1973 had grown to more than 60 in 2006, with many Mass Centres that now provide spiritual succour to the teeming and enthusiastic Christians throughout the old Archdiocese of Benin City. I am very sure that when His Grace looks around and sees the army generals he has raised for God, he could say with St. Paul, I thank God whenever I think of you all…” (Phil 1:3).
Considering the above facts, we cannot but thank God for the life our Papa, Archbishop Ekpu. So, it is a day of thanksgiving and to show gratitude to God. As Joseph Addison asserted, “There is no more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude.” The whole essence of this celebration is to show our utmost gratitude to God. As Cicero articulated, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue but the parent of all other virtues.” Therefore, we express our immeasurable appreciation to our Supreme Creator, who has sustained our Archbishop over these years and has been the bedrock of all his successes and achievements over the years. Therefore, “for today and its blessings, we owe God and the world an attitude of gratitude.” As William Ward says, “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Hence, we come today to join the Archbishop to register our total gratitude to God and also to appreciate all who have supported him in this journey of 87 years.
Often, we are quick at forgetting the source of our blessings. Deut 6:12 says “Do not forget the deeds of the Lord.” When Abraham Lincoln was declaring the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving in the United States, he said, “We are often prone to forget the source of our blessings.” Gratitude is an obligation that we owe God. Hence, St. Paul says in 1Thess. 5:18 “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you.” In fact, thanksgiving makes us grow in grace. We cannot thank God enough.
In three more years, we’ll celebrate the big nine zero.
And no matter how old you grow, you’ll always be our hero.
But this year, 87 awaits you with joy,
87 is a number that far too many people dread.
87 is a number that keeps an abundance of folks in bed.
They yearn for the years when they still had their youth.
They yearn for the years when they still had each natural tooth.
They think the future is full of darkness and despair.
Well, to you, our dear PAPA, we will always make a toast and celebrate you,
because each day has enough grace, joy, peace, happiness, and blessings for you. According to Oprah Winfrey, “the more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
To our Papal, today is the oldest you have been, and the youngest you will ever be. Make the most of it! As Paris Hilton underscores, live everyday like your birthday and drive your life with all varieties of appreciation. A life lived with thanksgiving every day is never tired of being lived again and again!”
Your Grace, have you ever considered that your birthday is truly a day to recognize the special gift the world received on the day you were born; the gift of you. You are a gift, you are appreciated, and you are loved. As another year begins for you, may you be filled with the thoughts of how special you are to all of us! Thank you for sharing your life with us.
My dear brothers and sisters, let all of us continue to pray and support the Archbishop, he needs our love, understanding, moral, and spiritual support too. God will bless you all for what you have been to him in these 87 years. Finally, your Grace, on behalf of your children, priests, religious, laity, and friends, I say 87th hearty cheers, congratulations, Amonghon as you mark your birthday. I pray that you have many more years to celebrate.