Sylvester Ibekwe has found solace in Jesus on the path to priesthood. Photo courtesy of Catholic Missions In Canada

In Jesus I found the meaning of life

By  Sylvester Ibekwe, Catholic Register Special
  • October 5, 2014

I was 17, and had just finished high school in Nigeria. The world had opened up to me with all its beauty, charm and possibilities. I had to consider what I would do with my life. I needed the best that the world could offer. I spent time with my friends. We talked about our future and the kind of profession we wanted. 

I wanted to become a medical doctor. The medical profession appealed to me because it was a prestigious profession. After the university entrance exams, I was ready to study medicine. But then I began to question myself: “What is it that I really want to do in life? To be a doctor is something great and wonderful, but is there something else better?” I wanted to live life fully. My questions continued: “Is there a certain way to live to find true life and ultimate fulfilment?” Answers came from my friends, but those were easy answers. I was not content with partial, immediate answers. 

One day, I went to pray in the Capuchin Franciscan House. It was a place of serenity and beauty. I enjoyed visiting there for my prayer and for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I stayed back to pray. I felt at peace. My concern about what to do in life left me for that moment. I wanted to remain in that peace. 

Eventually, it was time for the Franciscan brothers to say their midday prayers. As they entered the chapel for their afternoon prayers, I watched them very closely. Their countenance was peaceful, and they appeared to be very content. 

As I left the Franciscan house that day, I felt at peace. But days after that, a new set of questions flooded my mind: Who am I? Where did I come from? What am I living for? What does the future hold for me? How can I live now so that both my present and my future will be fulfilled? In what lies the true meaning and value of life? I went back to the Franciscan house. 

This time, I had the opportunity to meet one of the brothers. He talked to me about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and gave me a book on the Life of St. Francis. In the living room of the Franciscan house was a picture of St. Francis with “Lord what do you want me to do?” written on it. Like me, St. Francis was a joyful youth who enjoyed the company of his friends, attended parties and loved life. 

In reading the life of St. Francis, I discovered that at some point in his life, those things that gave him immediate joy and gratification no longer appealed to him. He sought and found the source of true, enduring and lasting joy in Jesus. In Jesus, he found the answers to the questions that accompanied his path, not in a superficial, easy way but through walking with Jesus. He shared the life of Christ and he learned to truly live. In Christ, he found himself and the true meaning of life. I was overjoyed as I read the life of St. Francis. This was exactly what I wanted: to discover true life just as St. Francis did. 

After a time of prayer, I decided I was going to become a Franciscan. I wanted to follow Christ more closely. 

The journey began in 1999. Through this journey, it became clear that the way to authentic life is to live for others. I wanted to serve humanity, to bring to different environments that newness which can change relationships, institutions, structures, to build a more just world marked by solidarity and animated by the quest for the common good. I wanted to find my life by giving it away in service to others. This is what the Lord has called me to do as a priest. This is the path I have found — the path to true life. In Jesus I have found the answer to the true meaning of life for in Him is the fullness of life. 

As I undergo my formation to the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton, I have discovered anew that there is nothing more beautiful than to have Jesus as a friend. Through my relationship with Jesus, I have also discovered the true beauty of each human person because we are made in His image. 

In the seminary, I have been given the joy of journeying with young men who have also searched for the ultimate meaning of life. Together, we journey with the Lord on the path to true life. My journey to the priesthood, in spite of the challenges, has been interesting and fulfilling. There is never an end to the way the Lord surprises me with little joys every day. This joy does not grow old; it is new every day, and I am confident that it will continue as I devote my whole life as a priest in serving God and the people of the Diocese of Nelson. 

(Sylvester Ibekwe is studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Nelson. Reprinted from Catholic Missions in Canada magazine) 

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