FR. AYODELE AYENI CsSP
January 30, 2012
About six years ago, academic wind blew me from Africa to North America: to be precise, to Ottawa. My quest for knowledge has continued with my pursuit of a PhD degree in theology at the Dominican University, where I am on the verge of graduation.
As a Catholic priest of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost Fathers or Spiritans), I now work as the administrator of Mary Help of Christians' Catholic Chinese Parish in Edmonton, pending the defence of my doctoral dissertation in theology.
The consciousness of the Church's universality, and my desire to be part of theological conversations, led me to request a teaching position at Newman Theological College. Of course, I am happy to serve as a sessional lecturer there, and to have the privilege to write some articles for the WCR as a member of the faculty at Newman College.
Arguably, Christianity is a life-long escapade and dialogue, in the words of the motto of Newman College: "faith seeking understanding."
In other words, there are a lot of things we do not know or quite understand about our faith at the time we were baptized, the sacrament which incorporates us into Christ and the Christian family called "Church."
Since most adults today were baptized as infants, even though that trend seems to be changing at the moment, I intend to assuage the quest for "understanding" by looking at what we believe.
Consequently, Anselm of Canterbury's words: "I believe in order that I may understand (credo ut intellegam)" appears to me to be complementary to "faith seeking understanding."
So this column will be called Credo, taken from "Credo ut intellegam." The explanation of some aspects of the New English Missal will be our first point of entry into this theological journey.
Having been born into a community in which Christians and Muslims are 50/50, with sporadic religious skirmishes between them, the question of human solidarity, unity and communion have tickled my imagination.
Why are human beings at each other's throats without regard to the apparent fundamental unity which binds them together, I often wonder? I must confess that I have not stopped wondering at how to solve the problem of human disunity, irrespective of the sources of human discord.
Rationality, in the academic sphere of philosophy, was my first port of call in my search for human solidarity. In 1995, I wrote my first journal article. Guess what. It was titled, "Allah in a crisis of identity."
I was toying with a linguistic problem: the Hausa-speaking Christians and Muslims of Northern Nigeria both call God "Allah;" an Arabic name.
My intuition in my article was to raise a philosophical problematic of ultimate reality: Were the Christians and Muslims in Northern Nigeria addressing the same "ultimate reality" in their worship or not?
My conclusion was that, philosophically speaking, there could never be two ultimate realities; consequently, that philosophical consciousness could serve as an alchemy to Northern Nigerian religious conflicts. (Sadly enough, the problem lingers on, and moves towards a tipping point.)
In 1996, the year I graduated from Spiritan School of Philosophy, Nsukka, Nigeria, my thesis in philosophy was entitled Human Solidarity in the Works of Albert Camus. My article of 1995 found fertile philosophical ground in the existentialism of Camus in my quest for human unity.
I will continue the same quest for unity in theology. In 2000, I wrote my thesis on Yves Congar and the Ecclesiology of Vatican II. The theology of Congar fascinated me because he was an ecumenist who grew up in a Protestant neighbourhood. Incidentally, I happen to have been born into a Protestant family myself. But beyond that, Congar's writings on the laity and ecumenism appeared to me to be efforts in human solidarity.
On my arrival in Canada, I spent three years at St. Paul University, Ottawa, researching themes of communion ecclesiology and liturgical anamnesis, all in a bid to understand how human beings are bound together in God's plan of salvation.
WE ARE ONE
The last three years have been spent trying to understand what St. Paul means when he says: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3.28).
Perhaps I shall become a unity crusader. However, I surely do not look forward to winter in Alberta; I have resolved to face it squarely in boots, gloves, coats and hats. I wish you happy reading of my articles.
Spiritan Father Ayodele Ayeni is a sessional lecturer at Newman Theological College and pastor of Mary Help of Christians (Chinese) Parish in Edmonton.