Kenyatta University Catholic Chaplaincy (20th January 2019)
“This was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11)
Dear Christians of the Kenyatta University Catholic Chaplaincy, Christ’s faithful from Christ the Teacher Parish, members of the Central Committee for the Beatification and Canonisation process of the Servant of God Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga, and all others present: Tumsifu Yesu Christu…………
Today, the second Sunday in Ordinary time, the Church presents to us one of the most mysterious narratives of the Gospels, the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee where Jesus revealed his glory, and thus the disciples came to believe in Him.
The narration of the miracle at Cana is well known to us all; yet, we shall do well to go in detail through the Gospel passage step by step:
There was a marriage feast at Cana, a feast very similar to the marriage feasts which are celebrated in our communities.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was present; she had been invited to the feast. It is possible that she was a relative of either the bridegroom or the bride. Cana is only seven kilometres away from Nazareth.
As it is the case also among us when inviting women, Mary was invited not only to take part in the feast but also to help in the wedding-related chores. Little could that family imagine how precious Mary’s help would prove to be!
Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry and he had come to the feast accompanied by the few disciples whom he had chosen until then.
For reasons we do not know, the supply of wine ran short during the feast. To run out of wine in the middle of the feast, meant for that couple a shame similar to the one our ancestors would have experienced had they run short of local-beer right in the middle of one of their feasts. In today’s world, we would experience similar shame if compelled to offer to invitees a feast of ugali and sukuma wiki, with no meat and chapati!
Mary quickly noticed that the wine had run out and knew the embarrassment the couple and the whole family would be put to because of it. She thought of no better solution than to quietly let Jesus know about it.
She did not know what he would do, but one thing she knew: Jesus would help.
Jesus solved the problem by working a striking miracle – his first, according to John: he changed some 500-600 litres of water into top quality wine, a large amount, more than sufficient for the feast and with plenty to spare.
Years passed since that miracle, the first of the signs of Jesus. John must have time and again narrated the miracle to his Christians, to strengthen their faith in Jesus, as his own faith had been, when the miracle took place under his very eyes.
Late in his life, and led by the Holy Spirit, St. John recorded the event in his Gospel since neither Matthew, Mark, nor Luke had narrated it. St. John calls it “a sign”, indeed “the first of his signs”; surely, a sign that Jesus is the Messiah sent by God to save mankind, but a sign of several other things as well, such as:
- A sign of the abundant generosity which Jesus displays in saving mankind, showed in the abundance of “new wine”, the symbol of the Holy Spirit.
- A sign of Jesus’ boundless love in saving every single person, manifested in his concern to assist the couple in their imminent embarrassment, and
- A sign of the important role that Mary, his mother, plays in saving everyone.
Thus, one most important lesson that Jesus meant to teach the world by changing water into wine is his extraordinary generosity and love towards us. At Cana, Jesus provided wine far superior in quality, and more abundant than the one that the couple had prepared. Similarly, God had been generous with man in the Old Testament especially with the people of Israel; the Spirit had been indeed active in their midst. However, with the coming of Jesus, the Spirit is given not to just a few chosen people, as in the Old Testament, but to everyone who believes in Christ; and he is bestowed far more generously than it had been in the past. In other words, Christ is extraordinarily generous with those who accept his salvation.
Today we are here recalling the person and life of the Servant of God Maurice Cardinal Otunga, someone who experienced Christ’s extraordinary generosity because he accepted Christ as his Lord and God, and was deeply devoted to our Blessed Mother. Not only did he experience the joy of serving the Lord, but also the Lord made his life extraordinarily fruitful.
Let me briefly narrate to you the story of his life:
Although by birth he was the son of the Chief Sudi of the Bukusu, and hence destined one day to inherit the mantle of his father, God had greater plans for him. During his early studies at School, God drew him slowly to Christ and the Catholic faith. In 1934, he was baptized in a group of about thirty other boys. He was named Maurice, after a Roman officer in the army who was martyred with his men for refusing to offer the sacrifice to state gods of the Roman Empire. He also appreciated greatly the service of a “Brother Maurice” who worked in his area. Remembering his baptism, he said, “When I was baptized, I felt like a different person”.
While he was studying at Kabaa, one day, the principal Fr. White walked into the classroom and asked the boys: “How many of you want to go to the seminary?” Otunga himself recalls: “I hesitated, then I thought, ‘after all I am not going to be a priest tomorrow’; so I put up my hand and so did six others boys”. This was to mark the beginning of his journey to priesthood. He journeyed through Mukumu seminary, Ggaba Senior Seminary in Uganda, and later studied in Rome where he was ordained a priest in 1951.
From the start of his priestly ministry, Fr Otunga wanted to be in a parish, to be with the people, and serve them; but his superiors had other plans. His first appointment was to teach at St Peter’s Seminary, Kakamega for three years. The next assignment was in Mombasa as private secretary to Archbishop James Knox where he learnt a great deal on Church administration. That was to prepare him for the work that lay ahead. Divine providence was laying the foundations for his ministry in the church in Nairobi and Kenya.
In November 1956, Fr Otunga made history by becoming the first native Bishop in Kenya and the youngest Bishop in the Catholic Church. He was only 33 years of age when he was appointed the Auxiliary Bishop of Kisumu diocese. In 1960 he was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Kisii. In 1964 he was appointed the Bishop of the Armed Forces and in 1969 he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Nairobi. In 1971, he succeeded Archbishop JJ McCarthy and in about two years later on 5th March 1973, he was made Cardinal. He served the Archdiocese of Nairobi in active ministry, and the Church in Kenya and the Universal Church, until his retirement in 1997 after he suffered a stroke. He continued to serve the Church offering up the last six years of his life in prayer at the Nyumba ya Wazee retirement home. At his retirement, he said: “I would have wished to continue with Archbishop Ndingi, but my body says it is tired. I will join the sisters whose calling is to care for the old and deprived. There, I will continue to follow this diocese with prayers”. On 6th September 2003, Cardinal Otunga left us, to join our Christian ancestors in heaven. His life was a long service to God and His people.
The late Servant of God is remembered for his humility and as someone put it, for his legacy of “great many small things”. As a Bishop and later Cardinal, it might be expected that he would be a person too important to make friends with, chat with, share joys and sorrows. However, he remained one of the most approachable persons. He was, as Archbishop Ndingi once said, “…a good, humble, simple and holy priest”. He lived his simplicity everywhere he went. It was rather rare to visit him at his residence and be attended by someone else. He would open the door for you, serve you tea, make you feel comfortable; then he would sit down and give you his attention. It is said that “if Cardinal had a doorman, it was not obvious to visitors.” He remained a devoted and loving shepherd to his flock. “To his priests and nuns, he was at once a friend, a mentor, a father, and a superior. How he managed that, only He who strengthened him can tell”.
The Servant of God Cardinal Otunga is also remembered for his passion for education and the family unit. “He spent a lot of time and resources to educate his priests. More so he promoted education for the people too.” He assisted in opening many schools for our children. The Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), – whose first Chancellor was Cardinal Otunga -, is also a witness to this truth.
He worked hard to safeguard and strengthen the family, the domestic Church. He was concerned that our family units be truly African and authentically Christian. He stood firm on matters concerning family life. He supported the pro-life campaign. He affirmed that, “life is sacred and should be respected! It remains valuable however useless it may appear, until natural death.” “Parents should teach their children to be truthful and remain faithful to the truth”.
He was also firm in rejecting the use of contraceptives as intrinsically evil and detrimental to families. He stated emphatically: “Use of contraceptives encourages sexual immorality, hence moral decay due to promiscuity and other moral vices.” He told us to “remember that the Bible teaches that your body is the temple of the Lord. Abstain from sex or adhere to the natural methods of family planning”. To support the family, he helped found the Family Life Counselling Association of Kenya (FLCAK).
His ministry as a priest and Bishop was not an easy ride. Remaining a political and guiding the church along the path of holiness, did not come easily, especially during tough political storms that the country went through while he was the Archbishop of Nairobi. However, he remained strong and steadfast until the end, thereby earning immense respect from all faiths and the citizens in Kenya. At times when he had to assume his prophetic role and comment on political issues, he, “together with the late Anglican Bishops, Henry Okullu and Alexander Muge, were chastised and denigrated by politicians for behaving like ‘wolves in sheep skin’.” It is said that, “during the land/tribal clashes the Cardinal never appeared as a ‘Luhya’ leader, but as a Cardinal, a church leader for all.” This is the manner in which he approached all politically sensitive issues. As the Archbishop of Nairobi, he had a place close to the seat of government in Kenya, and from 1970’s it was clear to him that the church was never to align herself to a political side.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the life and virtues of the Servant of God Maurice Cardinal Otunga, whom Catholics and non-Catholics appreciate and admire, invites us to THANK GOD for His goodness and love. The Gospel of today told us that changing of water into wine, “was the first of the signs given by Jesus: it was given at Cana in Galilee. He let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11). Like the changing of water into wine was a sign for the disciples, the life of the Servant of God Cardinal Otunga is also a “sign” for us, a sign through which God is revealing His glory, His love.
What should our response be to such a “sign”? Just like the disciples who “believed in Christ” the Servant of God Cardinal Otunga is telling us to believe in Christ, to “do whatever he tells you”; to cherish those values that he cherished, and to imitate him in his humility and simplicity, in believing and living a life that corresponds to our Christian vocation. The late Cardinal Otunga is asking you today to cultivate purity, to refrain from sexual immorality, to reject the use of contraceptives, to embrace purity and chastity. To those married, he is asking them to be faithful in marriage and to adopt natural family planning methods when needed. He is asking all of us to love the Church and help her remain apolitical, a sign and instrument of communion with God and with one another, a beacon of hope in the world to come.
As you know, the cause of canonization of the Servant of God Cardinal Otunga is on course, and it will be a moment of joy for Kenya and the whole world when the universal church will find him worthy to be elevated to the altar.
We hope that this happens soon, and so we pray:
O God, you granted your Servant Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga the Grace to be an exemplary pastor at the service of the church, making him a symbol of humility and love for the poor and less fortunate in the society, while denying and detaching himself from the pleasures of the world.
Grant, we beseech thee, that we may also learn to respond faithfully to the demands of the Christian vocation, converting all moments and circumstances of our life into opportunities of loving you and our neighbours with joy and kindness, and of serving the kingdom of God with humility.
We humbly request you to grant your servant cardinal Otunga a share in the Glory of Heaven which is promised to those who have served you well.
Through his intercession Bless the Church, our country, Our Families and Children, and grant us the favours we humbly request. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.