Reverend Fathers, Sisters and Brothers, my dear people, we are to witness and actually participate in something profoundly moving, the ordination of a Priest. Faithful to the tradition of the Church, established by Our Lord Jesus Christ, Stuart will be ordained into the Presbyterate of this Diocese. Shortly, we will hear more about what this entails. Stuart, before I begin my homily, I wish to greet your parents, Ian and Cathy, your brother Philip and the extended family. It is a proud day for you, perhaps emotional, and a little puzzling. Christ has called your son; you have helped him hear that call, and helped him answer.I am grateful for all who have had any part in helping Stuart discern his vocation, both within the Diocese and beyond our borders. I express my thanks to Father Paul Keane (acting rector) and the staff at St.Mary’s College, Oscott. Your years of careful work are bearing fruit. I bring to mind Father Giles, a key member of the staff, so recently gone to the Lord so soon after having been appointed rector. His death has been perhaps his greatest act of faithful service as one who has formed Stuart and so many others.
Our prayers are also with Fr. Michael Doleman recently appointed rector, who takes up his work in the autumn. I am delighted that so many of the clergy of this Diocese have travelled. For you, this is a day to reflect on your own call to the Priesthood. Let this day refresh and encourage you. It is wonderful to see the Cathedral so full again. I thank Father Pearson and all who care for this beautiful Cathedral, particularly all who have had a role in today’s Liturgy. And to all gathered here, whoever you are and wherever you are from, welcome.We must not forget those who were unable to travel but who are very much with us in prayer and in joy today. We are aware of the Saints, big and little, official and unofficial, those who have gone before us marked with the sign of Faith. We pray that many will be moved to hear the Lord’s call to serve as priests, and that many more will sense the call to holiness, drawn to follow Christ on the way of salvation.
Let us ignore Stuart for a moment, and turn – as we should and must – to Christ, and remember; What is important to Christ is important to us. His absolute priority is to do the will of His Heavenly Father. He became man with the sole purpose of carrying out the work entrusted to Him. He teaches us that we are made in the image and likeness of God, that we are loved by the Father, and that we are all called to live the life of Grace, the life of the Blessed Trinity for all eternity. But, and it’s a big but, sin has complicated matters, obscuring the Truth, distracting us and taking hope from us. An Irish poet, Padraig Pearse, executed just over 100 years ago, captured the heart of our dilemma in a simple phrase when he wrote,
‘The beauty of this world hath made me sad, this beauty that will pass.’
If this world is all there is, if this life is all we have, then our joys are short-lived, they will not last, yet deep within us is a longing for something more, something better, a beauty that will last. Our Lord brings us this, and reminds us of this, and He makes it possible. This is the work of the Church, of all the Baptised, called to continue the Mission of Christ in the world, obedient to the Father’s will. It is the role of the Priest to share Our Lord’s work of re-awakening this reality in the lives of all, but particularly in the lives of the Faithhful. In his preaching, in his administering of the Sacraments, in his teaching, and above all, in offering the Divine Sacrifice as he stands at the altar, and brings us into the Passion, Christ’s once-for-all offering of Himself to the Father for the salvation of sinners.Our Holy Father Pope Francis calls Bishops, Priests and deacons to ‘have the smell of the sheep’, effectively, to be one with the flock entrusted to them. That is important, but it is not enough to have the smell of the sheep. There is a story told of a man standing on the banks of a great river that was in flood. As he watched, he saw someone being washed down the river, obviously desperately trying to stay afloat but unable to swim. The watcher jumped into the water and managed to surface close to the drowning man. ‘I can’t swim either’, he said, ‘but I thought it would bring you comfort if I drown with you!’ No, that won’t do. He must offer something better. This leads us to reflect on a further point; the sheep must sense the smell of the Shepherd, and become aware of another smell, which can be expressed less crudely. It is the odour of Sanctity, the Sacred.
‘He asked Simon to put out a little from the shore. And He sat down, and taught the people from the boat.’Images are often more enduring than words. In this simple picture we are given a thought-provoking lesson. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, appears to distance Himself from the people. In fact, His astute action enables Him to be better seen and heard, without abandoning the people or His mission.
- He appears to leave us, but He is better able to teach us. A lesson for how we are called to live our priesthood in the world. Some may sense ordination as a separation from the rest, but it is rather a way given by Christ for us to do His work more effectively. The boat becomes His seat of learning. The sea conveys more clearly the sound of His voice.
Much in this world is exquisitely beautiful. That should not surprise us when we give thought to its Creator. Art, music, poetry, the inspiration of nature, friendships, all these deserve our admiration and thanksgiving. But they do not become an end in themselves. ‘The beauty of this world hath made me sad, this beauty that will pass.’ It is the work of the priest to constantly remind people of the Author of creation, its Divine origin, and so, its sacredness. The priest is the man who has not lost sight of this.The task before us, the task given to us.
Above all, it is the work of the lay Faithful to take the Faith into the world. It is their Mission, given in Baptism, accepted in Confirmation by which they are empowered with the Gift of the Holy Spirit. It can be a daunting vocation. It requires both competence and confidence. Once these two aspects are present, it is a task that will be an experience of Joy even in the face of apparently formidable opposition. The work especially of the Diocesan Priest is to nourish, equip, motivate and discipline the Faithful for their mission. He does this through the leadership he exercises in the celebration of the Sacraments – above all through his offering of the Eucharist together with his parishioners.
- The forces of evil are determined to undermine the work of Christ and the Church. Battle is engaged! Goliath, the giant, threw down the challenge, ‘Give me a man that we may fight together’ Ironically, it was a pagan, a man of war, Pilate, who recognised Jesus’ calibre and declared, ‘Behold, the man.’ But it needed the Apostle Thomas, the man of Faith, to look at that same figure and say of Him, ‘My Lord, and my God!’As a Diocesan Priest, you will spend much of your time amongst people who are mostly nominally counted as disciples. As you get to know your parishioners do not overlook how difficult it can be for them as they spend the greatest part of their time in the secular world and culture. They must work to pay their bills and feed their families. They must get along with their neighbours. They must use the same shops and roads as everyone else. They must breathe the same air. So, foster a deep love for them, and a deep respect and admiration. Don’t be like the old Parish Priest who heard the door-bell ring and, as he got up to answer it was heard to mutter, ‘O, heck. The enemy . . . .’ Remember that priests are often spared many of the difficulties and worries they face.
Mary, She is important to us because she is important to Christ her son. We are her children too. She forms us as His disciples and collaborators in the work of salvation, firstly by knowing who He is. He gave us to her; He gave to us. She continues to form us; we are not yet what we must become. She knows the demands and difficulties we face, both from the world and from within ourselves. She knows the smell of the sheep and she knows the smell of the shepherd, the odour of sanctity. In your daily prayer may you sense her closeness, encouraging you to persevere particularly in your more difficult moments.