“We are challenged to present the vocation to priesthood, to consecrated life and to marriage, as fulfilling vocations to love God who loved us first!”
My dear brothers and sisters, the traditional greeting to a priest on his ordination day or on a special anniversary is “Ad multos annos” – “To many years” of priestly service. Allow me to wish “Ad multos annos” to all our priests who have gathered to renew their priestly promises and to consecrate with me the Oil of Chrism. We do so on (the eve of) Holy Thursday – the day which marks the gift of the priesthood and the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Those of you who have marked special anniversaries of priesthood, religious profession or marriage, know and understand what such a commitment means; you have given great witness to the values of fidelity, self-sacrifice and of course, love – because love is at the heart of it all. In a few moments I will ask the priests:
“Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him… confirming those promises (…) which, prompted by love of Him, you willingly pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?”
“Prompted by love of Him” – Saint John Vianney described priesthood as “the love of the heart of Jesus”. It is love of Jesus that sustains our priestly commitment – our priestly life is a “love affair with the Lord Jesus”! And the same is true of the commitment to marriage – the love of husband and wife is a “mirror” of the love of Christ for His Church.
Last year, not long before he came to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis met with couples celebrating significant wedding anniversaries. He told them about how he once asked a couple celebrating their diamond anniversary, “Are you happy?”. To his surprise they replied with great emotion, “We are in love!”.
And the Holy Father said to all those gathered: “See, love is possible! You can live your whole life “in love”, … despite the problems that come your way…This is beautiful.”
My dear brother priests, we chose our vocation because we too were ‘prompted by love’. Imagine if someone was to ask: are you happy in the priesthood? Might you answer: “Of course I’m happy – I’m in love with Christ! That is what sustains me as a priest, I celebrate it every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I dispense His merciful love in the confessional; I anoint the sick and the dying with the healing love of Christ; what marks me out as a priest is the love I have for the people I serve”?
The love of Christ is at the heart of every Christian vocation. On Holy Thursday evening at the “washing of the feet”, we remember the parting words of Jesus to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment; love one another as I have loved you; this is how people will know that you are my disciples – the love you have for one another”.
To live our vocation every day prompted and inspired by the love of Christ brings us back to the joy and happiness of our ordination day. It “rejuvenates” us. It keeps us young! And it attracts others. No young person will want to consider a vocation to priesthood or to the religious life or, indeed, to marriage unless they see priests or sisters or married couples who are living happy lives in the Lord – in love with the heart of Jesus!
In his recent message to young people, Christus Vivit, “Christ is alive”, Pope Francis encourages adults, as they grow older, not to lose the joy of their youthful enthusiasm and openness to an ever greater reality” (CV160). Pope Francis described how, when he began his ministry as Pope, the Lord broadened his horizons and granted him renewed youth. It was as if he got renewed joy in his heart, a new spring in his step! He said the same thing can happen to a couple married for many years, or to a monk in the monastery – “growth in maturity can coexist with a fire constantly rekindled, with a heart ever young”.
The Holy Father would want the golden and diamond “jubilarians” among today’s priests to pass on their priestly joy and wisdom to those in the seminary and to the newly ordained. He would encourage those who have been happily married for thirty, forty, fifty years to communicate their happiness and shared love to young people today – many of whom are fearful of making any kind of long term commitment. Pope Francis asks:
“What can we elderly persons give to the young? “We can remind today’s young people, who have their own blend of heroic ambitions and insecurities, that a life without love is an arid life”. What can we tell them? “We can tell fearful young people that anxiety about the future can be overcome”. What can we teach them? “We can teach those young people, sometimes so focused on themselves, that there is more joy in giving than in receiving, and that love is not only shown in words, but also in actions” (CV197).
He also cautions us about reducing the Gospel to something dry, joyless, distant and separate from the reality of the lives of young people today. He says:
“Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill. But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else. No! The Church is young when she is herself, when she receives ever anew the strength born of God’s word, the Eucharist, and the daily presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit in our lives. The Church is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source” (CV35).
Dear brothers and sisters, these days of Holy Week and Easter give us an opportunity to “return to the source” – to God who is love; to Jesus Christ our Saviour who died on the cross out of love and mercy for us, sinners; to our Risen Lord who is alive and who is the answer to the confusion and shallowness that bombards all of us nowadays – and especially our young people.
In an Ireland where vocations to the priesthood and religious life are dwindling, where by 2030 the rate of marriage is expected to have declined by almost sixty percent over fifty years, we are challenged to present the vocation to priesthood, to consecrated life and to marriage, as fulfilling vocations to love God who loved us first!
Only a committed witness to the joy of love will attract young people to faithful, lifelong commitment and service of any kind. As Pope Francis says to young adults in the opening words of his new message:
“Christ is alive! He is our hope … and he wants you to be alive! ” (CV1)