Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood – Rev David Hunter and Rev Matthew Donnelly, 17 July 2021, St George’s Cathedral, Southwark

Dear David and Matthew, my sons and my brothers

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Dear friends

Every would-be priest will have been encouraged in his vocation by the good example of other priests. If I were to ask you, Matthew and David, who are the priests who inspired your vocation, I imagine you could, quite easily, tell me. But relax, this is not an interactive sermon.

Through the sacred priesthood we encounter in another human being the very person of Christ. At the deepest level of his being, a priest is intimately shaped by the laying on of hands, by the prayer of consecration, and by holy anointing.

Those priests who made an impression on us may not have been the most erudite preachers, nor the most liturgically adept. They may not have excelled in parish finance or successfully managed leaky church roofs. Of course, like the priests gathered here today, they may have been outstanding in all these things, and more besides.

But what makes the greatest impact on us are priests who are self-evidently in love with the Lord Jesus. Priests who are men of deep faith and persevering prayer. Priests with a compassionate commitment to serve God’s holy people as stewards of the mysteries of faith.

With kindness and patience and, not least by their personal witness, inspirational priests simply bring people closer to Christ, gently and humbly, through lives of ordinary, contagious holiness. To the best of their ability, their, and our, priestly purpose is to reveal God’s love: a crucified and risen love; a love that will not let us go; a wounded love that mends broken hearts.

Priests such as this understand St John Henry Newman’s words: ‘And I hold in veneration, for the love of him alone, holy Church as his creation, and her teachings as his own.’ For love of Him alone. For love of Christ, above everyone else and above everything else. For love of Christ in selfless service. This is the priesthood to which you are called by the Lord Jesus, through His Church.

A disputed question arises in the Gospel, among the disciples; a question about who is the greatest? Let me tell you a secret; it’s not you and it’s not me. Greatness in the kingdom comes not to those who shout orders, who feast on fine food and drink, who linger in indulgence. No, greatness in the Kingdom, just like greatness in the priesthood, comes from waiting on table, not relying on status or power. A priest ministers as a servant who brings nourishment to others, the spiritual nourishment that leads to eternal life.

My brothers, we are priestly servants who accompany the ignorant and the wayward with gentleness, because, we too, live within the limitations of weakness. We are servants who, each day, learn to live by obedience, who, each day, offer sacrifice and prayer with reverence and devotion.

Much is spoken today about guarding against priestly burnout, and rightly so. A balanced life, humanly and spiritually, in both service and recreation, is essential. But as much as we must guard against burnout, neither do we want bedsores from inactivity. The priesthood is not an easy alternative to work, three meals a day and no heavy lifting. The priesthood is the gift of one’s self, one’s whole self, no reservations, nothing held back; the gift of yourself for love of Him alone and for the salvations of souls. You are ordained as priestly evangelisers for an active apostolic mission, to convert hearts and minds to Jesus Christ.

Dear Matthew and David, in a new way you must be men of the Eucharist. Men chosen and taken, blessed and broken, poured out and given. Celebrate Holy Mass faithfully every day and stay close to the Lord, truly present in the tabernacle and adoration. Christ trusts you to do what He did at the Last Supper, in remembrance of Him. ‘This is my body; this is my blood.’ His words are now your words. You no longer live for yourselves, but for Him, and for Him who offered the perfect sacrifice to the Father.

Unite yourself to Christ’s sacrificial offering that the Lord might keep you always faithful to His commandments and never let you be parted from Him. Live the truth of the Holy Mass through your priesthood. Make your life a fragrant offering, given over to making Christ present.

In all your pastoral endeavours: towards those seeking baptism and marriage; those you instruct for First Holy Communion, Confirmation and Reception into the Church; those to whom you preach and offer counsel and care; even, perhaps especially, those who are demanding and complaining; to everyone whom God sends across your priestly pathway, try your very best to be another Christ to them. Ask for the graces you need, petitioning Our Lady and St Joseph, and the saints dear to you, for their heavenly assistance.

Have a special care for your ministry as a confessor. In God’s name you will grant pardon and peace. ‘I absolve you,’ you will say, with the power of the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His son, in the Holy Spirit sent for the forgiveness of sins. This astounding responsibility should never be taken lightly. Let every penitent encounter, through you, the merciful heartbeat of our Saviour. Speak words of comfort and healing, words that give hope and encouragement. Never allow any sinner to doubt that they have met Christ in you, Christ whose yoke is easy and burden light.

In your care for the sick and the dying administer the rites of the Church with faith and sensitivity. Be spiritual physicians utterly dependent on the divine physician, the gentle healer, who anoints through you with the holy oil that saves and raises up.

My brothers, with serenity and calm, be sure that you are ready for all that will unfold for rest of your life as a priest forever. Whatever the journey so far, no matter the ups and downs, the Lord has brought you to this point for His purpose. Before you were born He knew that today you would be ordained a priest. He has waited for you. He will continue to call you to grow as a priest after His own heart, appointed and sent out to announce the wonders of salvation. Do not be afraid. Not today. Not ever. Before the Lord ever puts His word into your mouth, he puts His love into your heart. Do not be afraid.

From today onwards you have a priestly soul. Prayerfully and obediently, fervently and joyfully, take your place as a co-worker with me in evangelising our Archdiocese. I cannot serve the Church’s mission without you and you cannot serve her mission without me. A bond of service is forged between us for the sake of the kingdom. And so, together with the clergy, religious and laity of our Archdiocese, we step forward. Adveniat regum tuum, we cry! Lord, may your kingdom come! May your kingdom come!