Homily on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my ordination on June 29th 2011.

Delivered at Kippax

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to reflect with you and to express my gratitude for the privilege of being a Missionary of the Sacred Heart priest in the Catholic Church for 50 years.

I begin my reflection with a quote from Cardinal Franz König, former Archbishop of Vienna. He was one of the leading bishops of the Second Vatican Council and remained a staunch supporter of its central vision, especially its focus on ecumenism and the outreach of the Church to the world. He died in 2004 at the age of 98. I quote (see the Advent calendar of Wir sind Kirche-Jugend, 8 December 2002): ‘The Church of Christ must be an inviting Church, a Church with open doors, a warming, motherly Church of all generations, a Church of the dead, the living and the unborn, a Church of those before us, those with us, and those after us, a Church of understanding and sympathy, thinking with us, sharing our joy and sorrow, a Church that laughs with the people and cries with the people, a Church that is not foreign and does not act that way, a human Church, a Church for us, a Church that, like a mother, can wait for her children, a Church who looks for her children and follows them, a Church that visits the people where they are, at work or at play, at the factory gate and at the football stadium, and within the four walls of the home, a Church of those in the shadow, of those who weep, of those who grieve, a Church of the worthy, but also of the unworthy, of the saints and the sinners, a Church not of pious pronouncements, but of silent helping action.’

There are echoes here of the opening words of the document that most clearly expresses the spirit that flowed through the Council, a document that was presented to the Council numerous times and numerous times was sent back for reworking. It was finally approved towards the close of the Council (1965). I am speaking of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. More than any other document it picks up the movement of the Spirit that breathed through that graced gathering. I quote its opening words. You know them, but we can never hear them often enough: ‘The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts, for theirs is a community composed of men and women. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone.’ (Gaudium et Spes §1).

The reading from Paul that I chose for this celebration (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, 4:5-7) contains words that I quoted on my ordination card 50 years ago. Paul speaks of us finding freedom by turning to Jesus who is the image, the icon, of God. If we fix our eyes, our mind and our heart on him we will find that, through sharing the love-communion, the Spirit, that unites Jesus with the Father, we will be ‘transformed’, till, as Paul exclaims in another place, we can say ‘I live no longer I. It is Christ who lives in me’(Galatians 2:20). This is God’s desire for everyone. He wants each of us to be, in our own unique way, his Heart in the world by opening ourselves fully to the grace we were offered in our baptism to be part of his Body, the Church.

Let’s look at what we share by virtue of our baptism. As you know from the baptisms you have attended, when we were anointed with the holy chrism we were anointed priest, prophet and king.

Now we know that Jesus is the one and only Priest, for he is the one mediator of grace. As he promised, lifted up from the earth he is drawing the whole world into communion with God. There is only one Vine, and it is Jesus. Each of us is a branch, receiving life from the vine through his gift to us of the Spirit, the Breath of Love, his love-communion with his Father. We were anointed priests at our baptism because he graced us to be a sacrament of his priesthood. He wants us, through our self-giving love, to draw others to share in this communion.

Jesus is the one and only King, the one and only Christ, who lives to bring about the reign of God’s love. Jesus longed to light the fire of divine love in this world. It was this love that poured out from his pierced side on the cross. It was this love that he breathed forth on Easter Sunday and that he poured out in tongues of fire over his disciples at Pentecost. Jesus lives in us, so that each of us, according to our gifts of nature and grace, can carry out his mission in the world by doing our part to bring about the reign of God’s love.

Jesus is the one and only Prophet for it is he who makes God’s Word flesh. Each of us is graced to be a sacrament of Jesus the Prophet, speaking his word of truth in love.

Teilhard de Chardin spoke of the marvels of our harvesting the energies of space, the winds, the tides and gravitation. He dreamed of the day when we would ‘harness for God the energies of love’. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, for then, through us, he can cast fire on the earth, liberating us from our fears, our pettiness and our sin.

By virtue of our baptism each of us is graced to live the life and carry out the mission of Jesus, Priest, Prophet and King. Some of us do this as a wife, a husband, a father, a mother, a public servant, a builder, a technician, a good neighbour or in whatever profession or activity is ours, and we live it in our own unique way. The special grace of an ordained priest is that he is called to be a sacrament of Jesus, Priest, Prophet and King, in relation to the Christian community itself.

Fifty years ago I and my six companions were invited by the Church to this privileged ministry, and we made a commitment (and here I quote from the rite of ordination) ‘to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd in his ministry which is to make his own Body, the Church, grow into the People of God, a holy temple’.

In our busy, complex, rich but easily distracted lives, Jesus gave us the ordained priesthood, to connect us when we gather as the Body of Christ with the mystery of God, for our hearts are longing for this communion, for the healing and forgiveness that flows from the heart of Jesus. An ordained priest is called, in the words of Joseph Bernardin, former Cardinal of Chicago, to be ‘a bearer of the mystery and a doctor of the soul’. The ordained priest’s privileged mission is to lead the assembled community when we gather to worship God, to share our story, and to be nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ. Psalm 63, which we have just prayed, expresses beautifully our shared desire for communion with God.

As I mentioned earlier, the text I chose for my ordination card 50 years ago is taken from today’s Reading: ‘It is the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face (and as Missionaries of the Sacred Heart we could add ‘in the Heart’) of Jesus Christ’(2Corinthians 4:6). Paul goes straight on to say: 'We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us'.

My main feeling at this time is one of wonder and gratitude for the privilege of being invited to a life that has given me the opportunity to receive and to offer so much love. I joined your community in June 2002. For 8 years you welcomed me into your community, and I know the welcome is always there. Thank you.

I am not unaware that it is a cracked clay jar that holds the treasure of being an ordained priest with all that entails. I know of some people who have been hurt by my failure to live my priesthood faithfully, and no doubt there are others whom I have hurt without my knowing it. If any of you are among them I want to take this opportunity to express my sorrow and ask your forgiveness. I renew my vows to God in the Church and as a Missionary of the Sacred Heart, and I ask you to continue to pray for me that I will remain faithful to this service for whatever years lie ahead.

I join you in accepting the invitation offered us by Jesus in the Gospel chosen for this mass: 'Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will fine rest for your souls'.

I offer this mass for you in the hope that you will find rest for your souls in Jesus, and I offer it for your children with a prayer that they, too, will experience this rest, and that they will find ways to contribute to the building up of the community of the Church – the community which, as the Body of Christ, is graced to be the bearer of the mystery to the world, and the healer of its soul. As a parish served by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, may each of you, and you as a parish community, be the heart of God in this wonderful, searching, and sometimes lost, world.