Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood – Rev Royston Price CSsR, 4 Dec 2020, St Mary’s, Clapham.

2 Tim 1:13-14, 2:1-3; Ps 23; Jn 20:19-23

Dear Royston, my son and my brother

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Dear friends

Advent is a wonderful season in which to be ordained a priest. Bursting with hope and promise, the Church rejoices that her Saviour, who once came in time, and was born in Bethlehem, will, one day, come again in glory and majesty when all is, at last, fulfilled.

In the midst of this rejoicing, you, dear Royston, are to be signed with a special character through the laying on of hands and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.[1] In a new way, forevermore, you will be configured to Christ the supreme and eternal high priest. You are to be consecrated to act in His very person; to preach His Gospel; to shepherd His faithful; and to celebrate the Sacraments and divine worship in His honour.[2] If this all seems rather daunting, take courage from the risen Lord speaking to His disciples: ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’[3] It is Christ who has brought you to this point. It is Christ who will carry you forward.

In his beautiful Christmas carol, ‘Tu scendi dalle stelle,’ your great patron, St Alphonsus, announces ‘From starry skies descending, Thou commest, glorious King.’ In an intimately personal way, Christ comes to you, Royston, through ordination to the priesthood so that you can serve His Church and His people with a generous and undivided heart. The glorious King of heaven and earth chooses you to be His priest. In your own way, like St Alphonsus, you have heard the Lord’s voice say within you, ‘Leave the world, and give yourself to me.’ Put aside any anxiety and lay down any fears. Take heart from St Paul writing to the young Timothy: ‘You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us,’ who lives in you.[4]

A primary image for your priestly life comes from the Lord’s self-identification as the Good Shepherd. St John Damascene’s Pastor’s Prayer to the Good Shepherd echoes God’s great condescension. The Word is made flesh, as God reaches down to a fallen world. ‘O Christ, my God,’ prays St John Damascene, ‘you stooped down to me, poor straying sheep, to take me on your shoulders and … set me down in green pastures.’[5] The plentiful redemption you are called to announce must flow from your inner experience of Christ’s merciful loving. Before we shepherd others, we need to know what it means for the Lord to be our shepherd, my shepherd. Your priestly ministry will ring true when you speak and serve as a friend of the Good Shepherd. ‘Be a shepherd to me, O Lord,’ petitions St John Damascene, ‘and together with me, be the shepherd of your sheep.’[6] Let your priesthood manifest Christ’s special concern for His loved ones who stray, for the destitute and the dispossessed. Be a shepherd for the hundred, not just the ninety-nine.

Royston, because you know what it means to have been found by Christ, you are to lead others to the living water of the Sacraments, to restore and revive their souls in the hope of heaven. Like St Alphonsus, preach fervently, but compassionately, with goodness and kindness, in ways that can be understood by everyone. Pray to the Lord, in St John Damascene’s words: ‘Enable me to proclaim your word boldly, may your Spirit’s tongue of flame give perfect freedom to my tongue and make me constantly attentive to your presence.’[7] As you keep to the pattern of sound teaching, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus, seek to convert hearts and minds with the gentle call of the Shepherd’s voice.

Wonderful though it was and is, it was not St Alphonsus’ renown as a theologian that made him a saint. He was holy because he was another Christ. He lived a Christ-like life of unremitting charity, especially towards the poorest. Given all we know about the challenges he faced, probably he too, as we do, took solace from St Paul’s advice to ‘put up with [our] share of difficulties, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.’[8] When discouragements come your way Royston, accept them as a means of perfection, praying for the grace ‘not to refuse to carry the Cross,’ in whatever way Our Lord shares it with you.[9]  

There are three particular aspects to your priesthood that will enable you to live the spirit of St Alphonsus as a missionary evangelist. The first is your dedication to the Holy Eucharist. Celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass faithfully every day, prayerfully and reverently. Do everything you can to draw people more deeply into participation in the Eucharistic Offering and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Live the truth of Christ’s presence, expressed so beautifully by St Alphonsus: ‘Night and day, You remain here compassionate and loving. You call, You wait for, You welcome everyone who comes to visit.’[10] Help those you serve to experience this reality by living it yourself, each day, as a priest.

The second aspect of your priesthood is your ministry as a confessor. St Alphonsus was unfailingly sensitive to the needs of his penitents, especially those weighed down by scrupulosity. It was, perhaps, his own struggle that made him treat sinners as ‘souls to be saved rather than criminals to be punished.’ Ensure this sentiment shapes your own confessional practice. Be known for kind-heartedness and patience. Be an indefatigable encourager. Allow the Holy Spirit to breathe through you the merciful grace which brings pardon and peace. When you encounter those wounded and fearful because of sin, bring to life, through your priesthood, the forgiveness and healing of the Good Shepherd who brings home the stray.

A third aspect of your priesthood is your personal love for our Blessed Lady. Be a witness to her maternal care for humanity. ‘Those who make her known and loved by others,’ said St Alphonsus, ‘are well on the way to heaven.’ Take this good advice and put it into effect in your priestly ministry. In private and in public, broadcast the glories of Our Lady’s unfailing help. United to Mary, ask her prayers. United to Mary, sing her praises.

At a time of dispute within the Church, St John Damascene defended holy images, icons, against those who believed them contradictory of the commandment forbidding idols. He argued that because of the incarnation, matter had become the dwelling place of the divine. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, ‘God became flesh, and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human face of Christ.’[11]

‘The Son of God,’ wrote St John Damascene, ‘while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended…to his servants.[12] Here, Royston, is your invitation to greatness and holiness in the Kingdom. Allow the Son of God to inhabit you such that your priestly life is an icon of Christ, through which shines the glory of God, raising you to the place of His servant. By the sacramental outpouring you receive, and through your co-operation with divine grace, may God bring this good work to its fulfilment in Christ Jesus the Lord. Amen.

[1] Cf. CCC 1563

[2] Cf. CCC 1563; 1564

[3] Gospel

[4] First Reading

[5] St John Damascene, A Pastor’s Prayer to the Good Shepherd

[6] St John Damascene, A Pastor’s Prayer to the Good Shepherd

[7] St John Damascene, A Pastor’s Prayer to the Good Shepherd

[8] First Reading

[9] St Alphonsus, Stations of the Cross, Firth Station.

[10] St Alphonsus, Visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary

[11] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers and Teachers: From Saint Let the Great to Peter Lombard, Ignatus Press, 2012, 101.

[12] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers and Teachers: From Saint Let the Great to Peter Lombard, Ignatus Press, 2012, 104.