Jer 1:4-9; Heb 5:1-10; Jn 15:9-17
Dear Dermott, my son and my brother
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Chapter 15 of St John’s Gospel begins with the image of Christ the true vine. Every disciple is a branch grafted onto Christ, receiving life from Him, producing fruit through and for Him. It’s this imagery which prepares for the Lord Jesus’ words we have just heard. They can be summarised as being about four things: Christ’s love, Christ’s joy, Christ’s friendship, and Christ’s choice. Four foundational words for discipleship. Four indispensable words for priesthood.
Dermott, your entire life has been a preparation for this transformative sacramental encounter with Christ. Twists and turns are part of everyone’s vocational journey. Now, you can be completely at peace. The fundamental discernment about what Christ wants from you is settled. He wants you to be His priest. Be certain of the Lord’s love for you and be sure of the Lord’s call to you. With a ‘brother’s kindness,’ Christ has spoken to your heart. In obedient response, you lay down your life, you hand yourself over, you give yourself away, as you are moulded into the likeness of Christ, the supreme and eternal High Priest.
Love, joy, friendship, and choice. These are words for you today.
Your priesthood must be characterised by a love modelled on Christ. In his Encyclical Letter on God’s love, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that ‘Love can be ‘commanded’ because it has first been given.’ ‘As the Father has loved me,’ says the Lord Jesus, ‘so I have loved you.’ As the Lord Jesus loves you, Dermott, so you must love others. Only knowing personally Christ’s love for himself can a priest live the commandment to love without reservation or discrimination.
But always remember that Christ’s love is a sacrificing love. Remaining in Christ’s love, abiding in Christ’s love, ensures our love is never self-serving, but always self-giving. The Irish Trappist, Fr Eugene Boylan, entitled his spiritual classic on God’s pursuit of the soul ‘This Tremendous Lover.’ It’s a title for Christ. It’s a title for the priest. Love and cherish the people entrusted to you by the Lord. Love them selflessly, not counting the cost. Love them faithfully, not heeding the wounds. Love them generously, not seeking reward. Like your Master and Saviour, you are called to be a priestly tremendous lover, often in the simplest ways, through kindness, courtesy, and patience overflowing from a heart united to Christ.
In Blessed Columba Marmion’s words, ‘Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.’ Let your priesthood reverberate with joy. Of course, you will have your off days. You won’t please everyone all of the time, and some people none of the time. In all likelihood, as we all do, you’ll make mistakes. But this is ordination, not canonisation. Today you are configured to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit. He will make your joy complete, so be encouraged.
Joy is a beautiful consequence of love. When we stay in Christ’s love, His joy makes a home in us. This joy is more than putting on a brave face, more than keeping cheery, more than looking on the bright side. This is a radical, death defying joy, arising from within, because Christ has conclusively demolished the power of death and irrevocably crushed the grip of sin. In your priestly ministry evangelise, preach, teach, witness, and announce the joyful Gospel of Salvation and Good News to everyone, without exception. Never pass by an opportunity to cascade the joy of Christ.
Dermott, your priesthood is a best friend forever relationship with Christ. It hinges on reciprocal love. ‘You are my friend, if you do what I command you.’ What the Lord Jesus commands is that you love as He loves. A new and permanent intimacy with Christ begins through the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration. Ordination shapes your being into the likeness of Christ the Priest, Christ the Teacher and Christ the Shepherd. Allow this interior change to expand your friendship with Christ.
Through the daily celebration of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the prayerful, devotional nurturing of your inner life, this bond of friendship will be strengthened. As Christ’s friend, you are at the service of His Church and His people. As Christ’s friend, you will act in His person, celebrating the Sacraments, proclaiming the Word of Life and the call to conversion. As Christ’s friend, you will care compassionately for the sick and the dying, for the broken and the distressed. As Christ’s friend you are to sanctify God’s people. Priesthood is a particular form of friendship with Christ sustained by closeness to Him in the Blessed Sacrament. It deepens too, by knowing His Mother Mary, so make sure your Rosary is never far away.
Dermott, your priesthood flows from Christ’s choice of you. Before you ever thought of Him, He had already chosen you. What seems like our choice for Christ, our choice for the priesthood, is more accurately our realisation, our acceptance of what He has desired eternally for us. Before God formed you in the womb, He knew you.
As an artist is commissioned to create beauty, Christ has chosen you, in the words of St Teresa of Calcutta, ‘to do something beautiful for God,’ to be something beautiful for God. In your life and ministry as a priest, produce beautiful fruit for the Kingdom. The fruit of speaking about Christ, about His love, and about His mercy. The fruit of leading people in His Church and leading people to His Church. The fruit of turning hearts to Christ and renewing hearts in Christ. The fruit of service, so that Christ’s love becomes real for the afflicted and the downtrodden. The Lord has chosen you to make a difference. We are, so often, bound by the limitations of our weakness. But Christ is not. He will work through you. When speech eludes you He will give you words. His love and joy are yours. In friendship He chose you to be His priest and, in friendship, you said ‘yes.’
Twenty five years ago this coming Wednesday I was ordained a priest in Halifax, which is in Yorkshire in case you didn’t know. As I look back, what endures is the overwhelming sense of Christ’s faithful, patient love. What endures are so many liturgical celebrations and pastoral situations I was privileged to share, just one of which would have made everything worthwhile.
With profound gratitude Dermott, look forward in joyful, expectant anticipation to all the priesthood will bring. ‘Do not be afraid,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am with you to protect you.’ Step forward with confidence. We, your family and friends, your fellow clergy, and the entire Church of Southwark rejoice that you are a priest with us, and a priest for us. To God be the glory, in Christ Jesus, in the Church, and in you, now and forever. Amen.
 Preface for the Priesthood of Christ and the Ministry of Priests
 DCE, 14