Fr George Adimike
Goodness boomerangs, and so does gratitude, which boomerangs with a loud echo of beatitude. Daily experiences demonstrate that true gratitude expresses itself in beatitude―thanksgiving reaches its fullest expression in thanksliving. In other words, beatitude is the expression, perfection and destination of gratitude. Blessedness, beatitude, is a liturgy in which grace is the chief celebrant―the principal character. Beatitude spells a life of an absolute recognition of the sovereignty of God and total surrender to Providence in an awareness of the contingent and dependent nature of human existence. In this recognition of man’s nothingness, gratitude cultivates an attitude of grace, which undergirds the life of beatitude. For these past 21 years as the shepherd of Christ’s flock in Onitsha, Archbishop Valerian Okeke has underscored the power of grace by which he sees divine providence in his ministry, both in the extensive continuum of his life and the daily moments of its expression. His ministry ritualises the dynamic process of the Christian maturation cycle of grace, gratitude and beatitude.
While the goal of the Christian life is deification through the imitation of Christ (Christification), beatitude is its marrow and maturation. The trajectory of the Christian life, which begins with grace (that is God’s initiative), takes the course of gratitude by which God supports and sustains the Christian life until its destination, the beatific vision. In fascinating and inspiring fashion, the archbishop’s ministry is a powerfully resounding echo of the recognition of the power of grace and human cooperation (gratitude), which flourishes as an enterprise in blessedness.
In an indolent, mercantile and gullible culture, the entitlement disposition robs Christian life of its substantial character. Archbishop Okeke is a happy relief. Through his bishopric, God continues to give His people shepherds after His heart, who will rule with understanding and knowledge (cf. Jer. 3:15). These 21 years in the ministry have been progressively characterised by a grace-filled love affair with God and a hope-filled liturgy of selfless sacrifice for the Church of Christ in Onitsha. Each chapter of this ministry reveals an absolute dedication and singleness of purpose to return God’s graciousness by total self-giving for the salvation of souls and for human flourishing.
Notably, the archbishop is a teacher of grace and a theologian of gratitude who goes beyond mere words to exemplify these in his life and ministry. He has transitioned from giving thanks to imbibing gratitude in his life. For him, gratitude is not a 3-point lip service but a transforming life service. He expresses this gratitude by spending himself and sparing nothing in working for the growth and greatness of the Kingdom of God entrusted to him. Daily he pours out his life like a libation to see to the welfare of the flock, the progress of work in the pastoral field and the well-being of the pastoral agents. In facilitating the creation of the Aguleri diocese, not thinking about reducing the territory of his leadership influence, he demonstrated his selfless disposition to pastoral leadership and the priority he attaches to rural evangelisation and expanding and deepening the coast of God’s glory. He struggles to make his bishopric a ritual of grace, a liturgy of gratitude and a ministry of beatitude.
One can boldly say that Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke has a life-long testimony of grateful, godly and gracious life 69 years of nativity and 21 years of episcopal ministry, embodying the power of grace, exuding the fire of gratitude, and witnessing to beatitude. He has been an inspiring example of pastoral creativity and devotion, a chief witness to our glorious heritage and the great source through which our resilience in facing challenges is fed. One of the archbishop’s strengths is that he combines legendary discipline in financial management, pastoral charity and Christian generosity. The recognition of the grace foundation to Christian life inculcated a grace attitude, which he expresses as gratitude. This grace attitude leads to the cultivation of the virtues of love, hope and faith. The virtue of love helps one recognise the foundational value of love in relation to grace and gratitude. Similarly, the virtues of faith and hope inform efforts at true worship, which is God-glorifying and human-transforming, and perform the necessary acts of the worship.
In the days preceding his 69th birthday, the archbishop reached out to various victims of flooding and structures of evil with material reliefs worth tens of millions of naira to alleviate their pains and sufferings. These instances of thanksliving are not accidental but echo the continuum of his life of beatitude. Undoubtedly, Archbishop Valerian Maduka Okeke is a person of excellence, nobility and dignity not just because of the office but also the quality of his person. He goes beyond gratitude to beatitude, thanksgiving to thanksliving.
Fr George Adimike