Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Dear brother priests
Today, together, as clergy, religious, and laity, we thank God for the gift of priesthood, shared universally by all the baptised, and individually by those configured to Christ through the laying on of hands.
Last year, the impact of the Coronavirus prevented our Chrism Mass from taking place. The Sacred Chrism, and the Oils of Catechumens and of the Sick, were consecrated and blessed on Pentecost Sunday. This year we, a representative group of clergy, religious, and laity, gather to embody the Church of Southwark. We pray today for everyone in our Archdiocese, especially those suffering and bereaved in the past year, and, not least, those to be anointed this Easter and in coming months with the oil sanctified by this liturgical celebration.
I want to pay tribute to our hospital and healthcare chaplains, to our prison and education chaplains, who have served in difficult circumstances over the past twelve months. Thank you to everyone who has ministered in chaplaincy, our priests and deacons, our religious and lay women and men. Thank you, too, to everyone in our parishes and schools for keeping in touch through live-streamed liturgies, and putting faith into action by reaching out to those in need. While there’s no substitute for our physical presence at the celebration of the Mass, technology has made spiritual communion possible in these days, keeping us connected in the life of faith, until we can all return to meet around the altar again. It’s amazing how attentive people have been to online liturgy. ‘We noticed,’ wrote one devoted viewer, ‘that your hat kept slipping.’ I wanted to write back and say it’s just an occupational hazard.
On this special day, when our priests renew their commitment, I want to speak to you, particularly, dear brothers in the priesthood. Thank you for saying ‘yes’ each day to priestly life and service: yes to loving the Lord Jesus; yes to loving his Church; yes to loving his people; yes to loving his world.
The only roadmap for our priesthood is Jesus Christ, our servant Saviour. His call, his very person, first captured us and brought us to ordination. Each moment, his loving mercy sustains the graced reality of our discipleship and ministry. We are priests of Jesus Christ and we are priests for Jesus Christ, in his Church, the bride for which he gave everything. Our daily intimate friendship with Christ is indispensable if we are to flourish as priestly disciples.
To varying degrees, the pandemic has challenged and changed us. Our praying, preaching, and pastoring, have all had to adapt, and, perhaps, not without some personal cost. Thank you for shepherding God’s holy people in this time of pandemic, both online and in person. It has made a difference and is so greatly appreciated.
It was after his temptation in the desert that the Lord Jesus travelled to his home town of Nazareth. From the beginning, testing and trial were part and parcel of his public ministry. We shouldn’t be too surprised when this is our experience too. In our own struggles, we need to seek consolation in the heart of Christ, especially in him present in the Blessed Sacrament. Time with the Lord Jesus is never time wasted. It lifts our spirit and brings the quiet reassurance that he really is with us.
As, please God, we move on from the immediate effects of the pandemic, we need to undertake careful discernment: What have we learnt? What do we want to hold on to? What do we want to let go? How can we encourage people to return to full participation in the sacraments? What can we learn and harness from the creativity of our parish communities during lockdown?
For our part, dear brothers, we need to rekindle our faith. We don’t just have some-thing tremendous to offer; we have some-one who offers the fullness of life. This is a time of opportunity and invitation: to help people meet Christ, in a new way or for the first time. To help them discover God’s love, to find answers to their deepest longings, to experience healing and forgiveness, to learn how to pray and embrace the Scriptures. Do not be afraid to put out again into the deep of our culture and society and invite people to meet the Lord Jesus. Collaborate with our faithful religious and laity to reinvigorate the evangelising life of our parishes and schools, building up a missionary Archdiocese.
The Lord Jesus stood to read in the Synagogue and made his own the powerful words of the Prophet Isaiah. At this time, in our place, we must do the same, under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Christ was given the scroll; but he chose the words. The priesthood is given to us, but we must enflesh it. We do this authentically as co-workers, placing everything we are in the service of mission. How might this plan, this project, this proposal, or this idea, speak of Christ, serve Christ, and draw people to Christ? These are the essential questions looking ahead.
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to us. As priests, together with all the baptised, we are anointed for mission. The Church truly is Pentecostal. The diversity of our gifts come from the same Holy Spirit, to serve the unity of faith. Priestly ordination doesn’t quash our personality or individuality. How could it? This is part of who we are, part of why and how God called us to be his priest. Yet, in all our variety, ordination roots us radically in Christ, in whom there can be no division. We are branches grafted onto the true vine, united in one Lord. Alive in one Spirit, we hold to one faith and belong to one Church.
My brothers, what we receive as priests bears fruit when it is given away. This is the example of the Lord Jesus. Lovingly and sacrificially, by what we do and say, we give of ourselves. But what does this mean, for us and the communities we are called to lead?
I think it really does mean preaching Good News to the poor: lighting the way for those searching for God and caring practically for the needy and the destitute. Proclaiming liberty to captives means announcing the call to conversion: pointing away from sin, towards holiness and virtue; it means defending human life and upholding human rights.
Bringing new sight means viewing everything, and everyone, through Christ’s eyes, beginning with ourselves. It means looking through the lens of God’s kingdom here and now, and with the hope of heaven yet to come. It means charity and justice on our doorstep and across our planet. We are in the business of announcing the Lord’s favour, his blessing, his call to enter right relationship with him, with each other, and with the whole of creation.
When all eyes were fixed on the Lord Jesus some looked at him in admiration, others in astonishment. Some looked in bewilderment, others with anger. My brothers, we are to lead people, whatever their situation, to encounter the compassionate gaze of Christ. With our own eyes on him, others will follow our line of sight. If we look elsewhere, so will they. But when our eyes are fixed on the Lord our faces shine with his light, our hearts beat with his love.
Whether you are younger or older in the priesthood, your ministry is essential to the Church in our Archdiocese. Priests in love with Jesus Christ are best placed to help others know, love, and serve him. Priests in love with Jesus Christ are the best advert for vocations to the priesthood, for which we all must pray.
May the word of Christ be fulfilled as people hear your words; as they experience your kindness; as they sense the hope you embody; as you shepherd them towards healing and mercy. Be sure of this: you matter to the Lord; you matter to his Church; you matter to his people.
In a moment, I will ask you three questions to rededicate yourself to the priesthood. Your ‘yes’ is united to Christ’s: not my will, but your will be done. Dear brothers, the Lord’s loving gaze is fixed on you. Take heart. To serve his God and Father, and each person he places in your care, Christ has made you a priest forever. Amen.