ORDINATION OF PRIESTS TO THE
MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF ST PAUL
GWAGWALADA, ABUJA, NIGERIA
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
SATURDAY 24 JUNE 2006
It is at this point in the ordination the Church asks the Bishop to explain what exactly is taking place to these men who are now about to be ordained priests. Let us pause for a moment to consider what exactly a Catholic priest is.
It is true that at our baptism God has made His entire people – that is, each one of us, and not just the ordained Deacons, priests and bishops, but all of us, a royal priesthood. Jesus Christ has called us – all of us – to the glory that has made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.
And yet, it is also true, that Jesus chose some of his followers – not all – to carry out publicly – not in private – but publicly – for all to hear and see – the work of a priest – in His name and on behalf of humankind. And we, we priests and bishops, do our best to act, not in our own name, but in the name of Jesus, that is, the holy name by which all people must be saved.
We act in the name of Jesus and on behalf of mankind – not in our own interest – not on behalf of our families but on behalf of the whole human race. For Jesus Christ himself, sent by the Father has sent, in turn, his apostles, Peter, James and John and all the others, out into the world. Out to the ends of the earth. Through the apostles and through their successors who are the bishops, Jesus continues and carries on His work, His work of sending people to the ends of the earth.
The readings for today’s ceremony have been well chosen. The focus, first of all, is on God’s call. In our ceremony these men will be asked a series of questions. These questions are pointers to the meaning of priesthood. They will be asked:
Are you resolved, to discharge, without fail, the office of priesthood in caring for the Lord’s flock?
They will each answer, “I am”.
Then they will each be asked:
Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully?
Again each will answer, “I am”.
Then the third question:
Are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and confirming the Catholic faith?
They will answer, “I am”.
Then the really challenging question:
Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people?
This time they will each answer, “I am, with the help of God”.
That is the key to today’s ceremony. It is all done with the help of God. Every priest realises that very well. His vocation is from God and the living out of that vocation is with the help of God.
These men have been called as Jeremiah was called. Jeremiah hesitated. He asked:
“Lord God, I do not know how to speak; I am a child”.
But the Lord replied:
“Do not say ‘I am a child’. Go now to those to whom I send you and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you to protect you”.
That is the consolation and comfort offered in our ceremony today.
It is a happy coincidence that this ordination ceremony falls within the shadow of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – a feast, which the Church celebrated on yesterday. For the heart of Jesus is the source of all graces and blessings. From its fullness, these men are about to receive the wonderful gift of priesthood.
So, our first prayer today is a prayer for all priests – for those being ordained today and for those ordained over the years;
Give us O Lord, a pure heart that fully loves you.
A heart that loves with joy and with the depth of love which you alone can give.
Lord God, give to your servants a heart made strong with their careful training and with their long preparation.
For the servants of the Lord need a great heart, a heart that is open to the thoughts of God and closed to all small ambitions and petty rivalries.
A heart that can find its joy in pondering the things of God and expressing them to the people of God.
Today these men are called to the priesthood at a challenging time in the life of the Church. At the beginning of the new millennium the late Pope John Paul II issued a letter to the world “Novo Millennio Ineunte”. He took for his text that well-known story of the sending out of the first disciples – when he said to Peter: “Put out into the deep: pay out you nets for a catch”. His message was a simple one. He said we had celebrated Jubilee 2000 with great fervour. It was a special moment in the life of the Church. It was a deep spiritual moment for many people. But now it was time to build on that; time to accept the real challenge of discipleship.
In your ministry you will be called to speak the Word of God to people’s real hopes and fears, their joys and their sorrows. You will be called to bring a message of hope to people’s lives. You will be called to be near those who suffer, to minister to brokenness in their lives. Much of it you will do without headlines; much of it will be hidden; it may never be recognised. But that is your ministry – discrete.
During his lifetime, Jesus went about teaching and preaching. He prayed often and long and fasted and towards the end of his life, at the Last Supper, he took bread and wine and changed them into His Body and Blood and asked the apostles to do likewise in his memory. He said, ‘I am the good shepherd who leads the flock to grass and water and protects them from the attacks of wild animals’. That is the kind of work which clergy – bishops and priests who are co-workers – that is the kind of service which we try to offer to you, in God’s name and to you, who are God’s people.
Of course the study is only one part of the course, an important part yes, but not the most important part. The prayer, the reflection, the spiritual direction, the counselling, the pastoral work, helping out in parishes over the summers, learning from other priests, this is by far, the most important part.
Remember these men were prepared, and are now about to begin, to serve Christ. Christ – who is all the time present and active and at work in the Church. For the Church is the body of Christ. And Christ is at work in His people to help us grow into the People of God. Christ is always present, building us up into a Holy Temple and each one of us is a building block in that Holy Temple.
And so, these young men being ordained today, like every priest and every bishop, are called to grow and become more like Christ. They are called to take on more and more the values which Jesus had and make their own, the attitudes which Jesus showed to friends and foes alike.
Today these men are being set apart, to preach and explain the Good News – to sustain, support, encourage and console God’s people in their efforts to live that Good News. They are set apart to pray with and for people, to forgive them their sins and, above all, to celebrate the Holy Mass.
You are now to be ordained priests. As you know well, you are called to apply your energies to preaching and teaching in the name of Christ – to writing sermons – preparing talks – explaining the Readings – preparing people to celebrate sacraments worthily and fruitfully. The faith formation of your people is a number one priority. Faith comes from hearing. So, share with all the people at every opportunity, the Word of God, which you yourself have received with joy over all these long years of preparation. Give interesting and attractive examples from your own experience of life and of study and meditation. Take time to meditate on the Law of God. Jesus did not come to abolish that law but to bring it to completion.
Pray constantly for the gift of believing what you read because, after all, God is the one and only infallible truth which can neither deceive nor be deceived. And, teach in turn what you yourselves believe. Try your best always to practice what you preach.
The Roman Pontifical says that the doctrine you teach should be true nourishment for the people. Make sure they can digest it and that it gives inspiration and consolation. Flavour it with real-life examples. The examples of your own life will be crucial. People are most impressed by those teachers who model in their own lives what they advocate in their sermons.
When all is said and done, every priest is called to make people holy – not with his own power – but in the power of Jesus Christ – who is the Holy One. So, when you offer Mass and you raise up the host and the chalice – the body and blood of Jesus Christ – the fruit of His sacrifice on the Cross on Calvary. Remember you are also offering up the countless sacrifices of the people – their pains, their sufferings, their hurts, their crosses. Listen to them as they tell you about them and unite them and your own sacrifices to the perfect and all-powerful sacrifice of Jesus Christ. At every Mass the one great sacrifice which each one of us is called to make is to die to sin in our own personal life and to try to rise up living the new life of Christ.
When you baptise you will bring men and women into the People of God. In the sacrament of Confession, you will forgive the sins in the name of Christ and the Church. In your preaching, remind the people of their need to have their sins forgiven. With Holy Oils you will offer praise and thanks to God throughout days you recite the Divine Office, praying not only for the people of God but for the whole world. Remember that you have all been chosen, from among God’s people and appointed to act for them, in relation to God.
Finally, always try to bring people together in God’s family and to lead them effectively to Christ and in the Holy Spirit to God the Father. Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served, but to serve and to seek out and rescue those who are lost.
The good shepherd is the one who has loved your and chosen you. He is now commissioning you to go out and bear fruit – fruit that will last. He is the one who brings joy to the world and to you and to your families on this holiest of days. May God guide and bless you always as you travel the road of life.
So today, after much prayer and relying on the help of the Holy Spirit, these men present themselves for ordination. Of course they are not taking the honour onto themselves of their own accord. They are doing so because they believes they have been chosen, chosen by God. As the letter to the Hebrews puts it, “Every high priest has been taken from among mortals and is appointed to act for them in their relations with God”. The first action of every priest is to tell people about the God who is present in their lives, the God in whom they live and move and have their being, the God who is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.
To try and make sense of what is going on in the world and in the life of each one of us, Christ has set up in His Church various ministries, priests, deacons, Ministers of the Word, Ministers of the Eucharist. He did so for the continual increase of the people of God. These Ministers are meant to work together for the good of the whole body – the Church.
These men will preach when they celebrate Mass but not only then. They will preach when they baptises people. And as they write their sermons and scratch their heads wondering what they are going to say, they will remember why they are giving the sermon in the first place. They will recall that they are preaching to people to get a response out of them, to move them to respond to the words of God’s good news. These ten new priests will be trying to help all who listen to their sermons. I am sure if you ask them why they became priests, they will say that they wanted to help people.
Every High Priest is appointed to act for people in their relationship with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. So we can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because we too live in the limitations of weakness. So every priest is appointed to act for people in their relationships with God. It is a tremendous honour to be chosen to do that – to act for people in this very special way. Can you tell me anything that is more privileged, more important, more honourable. Every priest offers gifts and sacrifices in every Mass but also everyday he offers the sacrifices of his own life. He begins by offering sacrifices for himself, because he too is a sinner.
Ordination gives, to the new priest, new powers but it doesn’t take away our weakness, our humanity. Every priest lives and operates and works and functions within the limitations of his weakness. After ordination the priest is still a man, though a man of God. While in earlier days he had been perhaps seeking glory in other ways, now he is going to apply his discipline and intelligence in seeking glory for God and salvation for humanity.
I read a story recently of a mother who was dying. Around her hospital bed was a small group of friends, relatives and medical personnel. But they did not hear her last words, only her youngest daughter, Sheila, was close enough. When they heard Sheila cry and saw her kiss her mother’s lips, then they knew their loved one was gone. “What did she say?”, they cried out, but Sheila couldn’t answer immediately. Her eyes brimming with tears, her voice cracking in grief, Sheila eventually told them: “Mum said, don’t ever lose the magic”. She had said that many times before.
I suppose we priests could say that to each other on an ordination day, on the day on which we welcome a new priest into our fraternity. We could encourage each other never to lose the magic and the mystery. Let us never stop gasping as what God has done for us each and every day. We can only lose the magic when we start to take Him and His gifts for granted. Certainly we must try never to take the priesthood for granted.
I wish all of you many graces and blessings as you begin your work for the good of the body of Christ here in this diocese and abroad on the mission fields in many parts of the world even in my own native country – Ireland.
Finally, I would like thank your Superior General, Father Hyacinth Egbebo for his invitation to be here today at this very special ceremony and I pray God’s choicest blessings that the strong links which have been forged between our countries over the last number of years will continue to grow. I also wish to thank the Missionary Society of St. Paul for providing young priests to serve in Ireland and in particular in my own diocese of Armagh, over the last number of years, where they have shared their many talents and gifts.