Barely a month ago, Father George Ehusani, a highly respected Nigerian priest, published three new books to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his priestly ordination, bringing the number up to fourteen books, aside scores of unpublished papers, homilies, reflections, articles and essays on different subjects, and dozens of CDs, both audio and video, of songs, homilies and catechesis which he has authored. The fourth new book displayed on that day- August 13, 2011- was written by Taiwo Abioye, a Nigerian professor of Linguistics teaching at Covenant University, Ota. The book is titled: Language and Ideology in George Ehusani’s Writings (108 pages). It is a rehashing of the professor’s doctoral degree thesis written on the subject of rhetorical questions (RQs) in Father Ehusani’s vast literary output. One of the three new books was specially put together for young people. Its title reads: Father George Ehusani in Conversation: Young People and the Hunger for Meaning (160 pages). Its companion volume is Father George Ehusani in Conversation: Engaging the World with Passion (205 pages), while the third book is a collection of his profound reflections that, for many years, served as preface to the monthly devotional magazine, The Word Among Us. The book bore the title: Reflections in the Word Among Us (167 pages). If you guess that the first conversational-styled book, which is the subject of this article, is a product of long hours of discussion with Father George on pressing life issues affecting young people today, your guess will be perfectly right!
I guess that everybody knows George Ehusani, and so I don’t think I have to say anything about the man. Anyone who has heard of him or met him or read any of his plenteous works can perceptively discern that here is a man of immense intelligence, impeccable integrity and deep experience. His breadth, depth and decency as a person and his stellar credentials and character speak volumes about a man of his standing. Bishop Emmanuel Badejo seems to sum up every description anyone can offer of Father George in his homily at the anniversary Mass with the remark that “Ehusani must comfortably rank among the ten most popular priests in Nigeria today, home and abroad.” That said, I will like to offer a few remarks about the book on young people. With all sense of decency and modesty, I think that as editor of the book I stand in a position to offer some authoritative recommendation about the treasure that the book holds for all young people of our society today who struggle everyday to find the sure pathway to authentic fulfilment in life. We live in a society today where young people are caught up at dangerous and destructive crossroads. In the last couple of years, so many things have changed in the general organization of life in our society. These tectonic and paradigmatic shifts in the social geography have hit very hard on young people and have sent many asking how the young people of our age can adapt themselves to today’s realities and tomorrow’s challenges. Think of the revolutions in technology, commerce, politics, economics and culture, and the many great ethical questions they throw up before the young people of our day and you understand what I am speaking about.
Today’s world has succeeded in producing great material comfort and an alarming spiritual decline at the same time. In spite of the degree of ostentation, instant gratification and luxury with which modern life is now associated, many people still live lives devoid of happiness and tranquillity. A concept like ‘peace of mind’ has become elusive today. The more people struggle to make themselves happy and secure, the more they slide into the abyss of unhappiness and fear. In every age, man’s greatest questioning has focused not only on the question of his ultimate origin. What preoccupies us, what disturbs us is the hiddenness of the future that awaits us. We are afraid of the future which we do not know. This is part of the problems of young people today. Because of the impossibility of young people to derive satisfaction and absolute gratification in wealth, sex, power, prestige and position, we often witness reactions to the widespread sense of emptiness and meaninglessness with which the lives of many people have become associated in violent and criminal behaviours that destroy without any clear purpose. Young people today are both victims and villains of a human society which elevates the worship of the ‘culture of death’ to the supreme level of spirituality while at the same time turning its back on the ‘civilization of love’ without which humanity only slides into the brink of self-destruction. Today, many young people are asking more fundamental questions about the meaning of life and the course their lives should take. Many are now asking what the secret of lasting happiness consists in.
As Father Ehusani recounts in one of his moving articles on the subject of authentic happiness, “A major paradox of human life is that we are constantly looking for the easy way out, even when we know that nothing good comes easy. We are constantly drawn to glamorous path even when we recognize that not all that glitters is gold. We are constantly looking for more and more comfort; for more and more pleasure, for more and more wealth, and of course for more and more power, prestige and popularity, even when we know that they don’t necessarily bring contentment and fulfillment. We put all our attention and all our energy into pursing wealth, pleasure and power, seeking to find happiness thereby, yet we know that these things do not in themselves bring ultimate happiness. This is precisely what St. Augustine meant when he noted that men and women pursue happiness even when they live in such a way as to make happiness impossible world, and that they often can endanger our eternal salvation.”
The kind of destructive lifestyles that many young people pursue today is only a symptom, a metaphor, a footnote to the inner pollution and spiritual contamination of the human heart that goes unchecked today. As Peter Seewald, a leading German journalist and papal biographer, asks: “What about the contamination of our thinking, the pollution of our souls?” He goes on to strongly remark that, “Many things that we permit in this media- and commerce-driven society are basically the equivalent of a toxic load that almost inevitably must lead to a spiritual poisoning.” Pope Benedict XVI has graphically described this phenomenon as the vast expansion of interior human deserts. The lives of many young people have become nothing other than the frightening expansion of unending wildernesses of despair and destruction.
As Ehusani himself recounts, “With all the distractions of our age, many people find it so difficult to reflect on the fundamental question of life’s ultimate purpose. We prefer to just live through each day, struggling for space, competing for power, and grabbing as many toys as we could lay our hands on along the way, rather than engage in the more philosophical question of the essence of our existence. We often get so engrossed in the rat-race to succeed in business, to get to the top in politics, and to become social celebrities that we miss out on what truly matters in life and what really gives meaning to life. Indeed, today, we are all under such intense pressure to live on the fast lane, to be like the Joneses, to consume more and more goods, to indulge in more and more pleasures, and to acquire more and more personal freedom, that we have little time left to ask ourselves what meaning there is in all our earthly preoccupations. The Greek Philosopher Socrates observes that a life that is not reflected upon is hardly worth living.” We have failed to real
ize that “As human beings we are created for a purpose. Our ultimate fulfilment and happiness lies in the realization of that purpose. We are designed in such a way that we can neither find happiness nor attain fulfilment within ourselves – no matter how much we try.” Our lives are so wired- a concept Ehusani loves to use with passion- in such a way that “ultimate happiness and fulfilment for each one of us lie beyond us. No amount of material pleasure, no amount of wealth and no amount of power and security can provide for us the joy, the peace, the authentic happiness which is only available in God our Creator. Indeed the human heart hungers and thirsts after something beyond all that is available to acquire in the material world.”
Our traditional institutions of socialization- family, school, church or mosque- have not really helped young people to discover this ultimate meaning of life. Think of the palpable state of decay and decline in marriage and family life today which eats into the fabric of many people’s lives from the house to the church and to the society. We seem to have forgotten that the key to social order is the family. Chinese philosophers have long argued that the kingdom is merely the family on a grand scale; and as the great German Sinologist Richard Wilhelm wrote: “The family is society in embryo; it is the native soil on which performance of moral duty is made easy through natural affection, so that within a small circle a basis of moral practice is created, and this is later widened to include human relationships in general.” In the recent event of the waves of riot which spread across cities in the London metropolis of Britain in which bands of young people fomented violence, terror, looting and destruction of property, we perceive the truth that unless the family is put in order, the future of human and material civilization and, in fact, the true edifice of civilized humanity, will continue to rest on shifting sands.
Only a healthy family life will lay a strong foundation for a healthy relationship with society at large. As Richard Wilhelm further argues, “If the father is really a father and the son a son, if the elder brother fulfils his position, and the younger fulfils his, if the husband is really a husband and the wife a wife, then the family is in order. When the family is in order, all the social relationships of mankind will be in order.” This seems to be the point of departure of Father George Ehusani in his book on the challenges facing young people today. Sometime ago, I walked into a bookshop at the SilverBird Galleria in Abuja and caught sight of a book by Stephen Covey, America’s leading public motivational speaker, titled, The Leader in Me, a book written for a young audience. On opening the first page, here was what Covey said about the youths of today: “Today’s young people, our children, belong to the most promising generation in the history of the world. They stand at the summit of the ages. They also stand at the crossroads of two great paths. One is the broader, well-travelled path that leads to mediocrity of mind and character, and to social decline. The other is a narrower, ‘less travelled’ uphill path leading to limitless human possibilities- and the hope of the world. EVERY child can walk this latter path, if shown the way.”
In another place, Covey enthusiastically repeated this bold claim with even greater optimism, but ponders: ‘What kind of future awaits these young people? What is in store for them?’ This is the question that Ehusani attempts to offer a convincing answer from the standpoint of faith and experience, products of his long years of priestly service, especially in the concerns of young people. I can hear Ehusani asking: “What kind of future awaits the young people of our day?” In spite of the fact that he complains bitterly about the “epidemic of widespread thoughtlessness or lack of vision, as a result of which many people are living very destructive and meaningless lives” and also the fact that despite the “few positive examples here and there, the conduct of the younger generation does not particularly inspire hope in the immediate future”, he still believes that a new world is possible. That is the power of faith and prophetic imagination in which, it seems to me, Ehusani has been lavishly blessed by God in robust measure. Where people prefer to see only the bad and the ugly, Ehusani deploys the powers of his positive thinking and prophetic imagination to envision “a new heaven and a new earth.” He channels his Eros, his creative-imaginative power to dream of a world that is totally different from the present one.
He once wrote that “Prophetic imagination is the spiritual and mental attitude of defying the state of darkness and sin we find ourselves in today, and dreaming the promised future of bliss into the present. Prophets are the visionaries of their time. When all others are blind, prophets are the ones granted to see the light beyond the tunnel. Equipped as they are with superior knowledge and perception, prophets analyse the situation on the ground in the light of God’s ultimate purpose and inscrutable design. Prophets refuse to be defiled by the corruption of the moment. They refuse to be engulfed by the darkness of the surrounding environment. Instead they possess the vision of life as it ought to be, and they hold on tenaciously to this vision, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Prophetic imagination is the spiritual defiance of what is, in the name of what God has promised. It visualises an alternative future to the one fated by the momentum of current contradictory forces. It breathes the air of a time yet to be into the suffocating atmosphere of present reality. Prophets who are totally committed to the new inevitability, on which they have fixed their imaginations, can decisively affect the shape the future takes. Such prophets or dreamers are the shapers of the future.” This is the very reason Ehusani, after discussing issues and challenges confronting young people in the church and society today, ends the long hours of conversation with a loud proclamation, not just of the possibility of a new world but of a better world, a concept that Bishop Emmanuel Badejo draws upon in crafting the Foreword for the 160-paged book.
As Ehusani says, “young people need to realize that they can contribute to the emergence of this new and better world. A lot lies in their hands. Within the context of the Christian faith, built on hope, a new world is possible when we persevere. All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, Christians must keep the hope alive that truth will outshine falsehood and that light will overcome darkness” (p.159). He encourages all of us to “see ourselves as agents of the new civilization of love that Christ has inaugurated” by promoting justice and peace in a world devoid of both. “We can and should make a commitment to stand for God, to stand for the truth, at all times and in all circumstances. Every young person should make a commitment…. Yes indeed, with faith in God and ardent commitment to doing good even in a world of widespread debauchery, a new world is possible” (p160).
What Ehusani is saying is that the question of God has to return to the equation. The central challenge is the priority of God. Part of the conversion we need today is putting God in first place again. That alone changes everything else, because if God were to disappear from the equation, whole sectors of life, everything, will inevitably collapse. This is why we must acknowledge today that we cannot live in any way that we please. Freedom cannot mean arbitrariness, but responsibility. That is the imperative that must be relearned today. The signs of the times should be an urgent challenge to Christians; we must show and live accordingly that the eternity that humanity needs can only c
ome from God. Thus, Ehusani calls all young people, and indeed all Christians, to a major examination of conscience that must begin today in order to give life and form to this new better world. For such a reminder and for such a witness, all of us, and indeed all men and women of goodwill, can only be grateful to this reverend gentleman!