By Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai (AMDG)
When humans die, it is customary to say things about them, to look at the legacy they have left behind. When great and good men and women die, it becomes difficult to offer a word because the onus is not so much on what they have left behind, but on what one has learned from their lives.
Often when people die, civility demands we say good things about them – De mortuis nil nisi bonum, said Horace. The interior consolation I have is that what I am saying here does not belong to such customary and oftentimes, superficial civility. These are concrete sentiments that could only account for less, not more, of the remarkable life of Dr. Christian Mofor. It fills me with profound gratitude to recall that Fr. Mofor knew my deep appreciation and esteem for him, while he lived this evanescent life. He knew that I had grown to love and nurture a profound admiration for him, first as my teacher, and later as my rector in St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, STAMS, Bambui. He was the supervisor of my philosophy thesis while I was in STAMS, and also the one who recommended me for graduate studies at Boston College, with his sole lament being that I was not going to read philosophy!
In Dr. Mofor, a new experience of teaching and learning found a lively and enduring synthesis. He was not a teacher who lived distinctly from what he taught! His life bore an eminent and remarkable harmony with his philosophical master, Plotinus, and the entire Ancient Western philosophical tradition. There are teachers that you meet and you are grateful to God when the course ends. There are others that you meet and they remain with you beyond the course work. Fr. Mofor certainly transcended even the former category, for he incarnated in a rare enduring manner, the spirit and the letter of whatever he taught his students.
How could one ever forget Dr. Mofor’s orientation of freshmen in the Library of STAMS, in which with a clear, calm voice, he pronounced his reservations about students who were punctual in the refectory and chapel, and yet, failed in their courses? How could one forget the day Dr. Mofor stood on the professor’s table to demonstrate a philosophical argument, with outstretched arms? How could one forget the oral exams that used to be Fr. Mofor’s own “Christmas party,” how he longed for such examination moments? How could one forget the sight of Fr. Mofor around the football field, coaching in a manner that could only be expectant of one result, victory? How could one forget Fr. Mofor’s most enduring homily I am convinced he ever preached in STAMS, The Dialectics of Gratitude According to Emmanuel Livinas, in which he pointed out the shallowness of expressing gratitude to pave the way for more requests, especially in the context of what was then referred to as “Seminary Councils”? It is not possible to forget the sight of Fr. Mofor carrying with utmost devotion and reverence, the Enneads of Plotinus from the Library to the classroom in STAMS, to allow students to at least, have a look at them, since he was convinced that many students will never on their own, go to read the Enneads in the Library! Unquestionably, Fr. Mofor’s coming to STAMS, Bambui, marked a new era in the life of the Philosophy Department of that Seminary.
The outsized number of students who opted opted to write their end-of-course philosophy dissertations on topics on Ancient Greek Philosophy was a persuasive testimony of the “Mofor Effect” in STAMS, Bambui. Upon becoming Rector of STAMS Bambui, Dr. Mofor once again heard the voice of the Lord through the Church that called him to Yaoundé, where he served in a distinguished manner as Rector of the Catholic University of Central Africa, all the while sticking to his teaching career, an experience he could never trade for anything on planet earth!
In 399 BC, the Athenians had charged Socrates of injustice based on their perception that he corrupted the young and had refused to believe in the gods in whom the city believed. In the Apology, Socrates offers the most convincing defense of his life and legacy: “If I was getting something out of this, and if I was receiving pay while I exhorted you to these things, it would be somewhat reasonable. But as it is, even you yourselves see that the accusers, who accused me so shamelessly in everything else, in this have not been able to become so utterly shameless as to offer a witness to assert that I ever took any pay or asked for it. For, I suppose, I offer a sufficient witness that I speak the truth: my poverty”(Apology, 31 c). These words, offered by Socrates, appears to many who knew Fr. Mofor closely to be the most fitting epigraph that could describe the entire priestly life of Fr. Christian Mofor. His poverty!
In an era marked by the miserable conviction held even by clerics that every priest with access to Church finances is an embezzler, Fr. Christian offered a stirring witness to time-honored Christian conviction that one cannot serve both God and Mammon, and that evil, even if attractive, remains a choice that could be consistently rejected. Some have blamed Fr. Mofor for his radical embrace of poverty. Some have said he could have given a little more thought to the reality of sin, greed and evil in the humans that make up the Church, conscious that not all believe in the ideal of poverty that defined his own convictions. Irrespective of what some think and say now, the radical manner in which Fr. Mofor embraced poverty places him on the angelic and apostolic caliber best described in the words of another Christian radical, Paul of Tarsus: “Here we are, fools for the sake of Christ.” (1 Cor. 4:10)
In deliberately choosing the path of being a “fool for Christ,” Fr. Mofor entered into the Christic experience of a vicarious representative in and for the Church of the Christ: “You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation, prepared a body for me.” (Heb. 10: 5). With the demise of his health, Fr. Mofor entered the destiny that awaited the radical followers of Jesus Christ. Standing tall in the midst of a sinful world and Church, Fr. Mofor’s whole life lived for the Church, reached its completion in the baptism of his death, which coincidentally occurred on June 11, 2015, Feast St. Barnabas, the Apostle whom Tradition maintains was martyred in Cyprus in 61 A.D. He entered the experience of that which was truly his own, perfect friendship in Christ. He is now at home. He is now beyond the sinfulness of sinners, awaiting with the saints that have gone ahead marked with the sign of faith, the time when men and women will obey God so that the total number of the elect will be completed (Rev. 6:11).
As one looks into the remarkable life of Fr. Christian Mofor, the legacy of this great son from Nso, Kumbo Diocese, Cameroon, is, in the final analysis, an invitation to us left behind to examine the quality of our interiority, in terms of the life we live here as a preparation for the next. In this context, the enigmatic words of Nietzsche, that we men and women do not want to enter the Kingdom of heaven because we have become men and women, and so want a Kingdom of earth, provide a jolting opportunity to discern the locus of our internal adherence: Nietzsche or Christ? In his matriculation thesis for the University of Algiers, Albert Camus parried the words of Christ: “My Kingdom is not of this world: Notre royaume est de ce monde – our kingdom is of this world” (Camus, Essais, 1225). However, in the end, Camus’ fascination for the beauty around him becomes a disappointing melancholic experience when he finds himself in Prague. He drowns in the prison of the abyss of meaninglessness and loneliness. May be Fr. Mofor’s unique legacy that might take us out of the greedy and materialistic culture, comparable, some might say, to Sisyphus’ rolling the rock uphill again and again, knowing fully well that it will roll back down again, lies in the victory of Fr. Mofor over Nietzsche and Camus: he proved to them that truly what really mattered was the Kingdom that transcended this fleeting world.
The last entry Bernanos has his country priest enter into his Diary reads, “Grace consists in forgetting oneself.” This certainly was the grace that marked Fr. Mofor’s life. His remains will be lowered into the earth as the seed of his immortality. What can one say to Fr. Mofor who is now beyond all human flattery? In the Symposium, Plato offered the pinnacle of Ancient reflections on love. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul of Tarsus wrote the most profound synthesis in the form of a magna carta of Christian love. What other fitting word can one offer to Fr. Mofor who now stands at the bosom of Abraham? Ratzinger comments about love in his Principles of Catholic Theology: to say, “I love you,” is to say, “It is good that you exist,” for it is the way of love to will the existence of the other. Fr. Christian Mofor, I love you, many of us your students love you, and it was good that you existed in this world of ours! Blessed are you because you believed! Enter the joy of heaven, until we meet there to part no more. Socrates, Aristotle, Plotinus, your Pre-Christian saints, and the Christian saints of God, your true and best friends, will be there to welcome you with open arms, as you enter the glistening gates of paradise. We are on the way!