Given at the ordination of Dom Ambrose McCambridge OSB at Ealing Abbey on 4 July 2015.
The Feast of St Benedict, the day Abbot Martin originally requested, would have been an excellent date for this most joyful celebration – the ordination to the priesthood of Dom Ambrose. However, next Saturday I’ll be in Birmingham with thousands of Catholics from every part of England at Proclaim ‘15, the National Catholic Evangelisation Conference for 'building missionary parishes'. The Feast of St Benedict is an excellent date for that gathering too. After all Benedictines have played a remarkable role in the evangelisation of these lands. And Dom Ambrose, as a priest in the Order of St Benedict, here at Ealing Abbey, you are called to continue this great tradition of monastic evangelisation, to contribute richly to the missionary outreach of this parish. Keep in mind Cardinal Hume’s firm conviction that no priest should ever shy away from his mission ‘to bring those who do not know Christ to the knowledge and love of Him’ (see Light in the Lord p. 72).
Your monastic life of prayer is essential to that task. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours in common with your brothers is itself an effective proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In prayer, we listen to Jesus speaking to us to as He did to St Peter, asking over and over: ‘Do you love Me?’ Ambrose, He asks you this time and time again, not because He needs to hear you say, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love You’. Rather because He wishes to grant you countless opportunities to profess your deepest love for Him, even though you may be painfully aware of many moments of betrayal. By letting you exclaim your love for Him, your willingness to hand yourself over to Him unreservedly, Jesus opens wide your heart to the mission He gives you as His priest: ‘Feed my sheep’.
In our lives as missionary disciples, we are often led to places we'd rather not go, to the edges of existence where poverty is rampant. Now, because of your vow of stability, Ambrose, some might reckon you couldn’t possibly be sent out that far beyond the cloister. (Although I must say I have met some extremely well-travelled monks; but usually they’ve journeyed to lovely places they were only too happy to visit!) Similarly, others may believe that leafy Ealing is hardly the ‘poor outskirts’. But the distance you, we, travel as priests is not primarily a matter of miles. Rather, Jesus sends us to those people and situations which we do not always find easy or appealing, which are frequently right on our doorsteps! Even if material poverty is not its chief characteristic, no doubt even in Ealing there are those starved of that joy born of a living relationship with Jesus.
So, kneeling before the Father, let this be your priestly prayer for all whom you serve, for everyone: ‘Out of His infinite glory, may He give you the power through His Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will, with all the saints, have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God’ (2nd reading).
By such prayer we nourish those entrusted to our care; so too by our preaching. Preaching, as we well know, begins in prayer. Within your monastic tradition you have a precious resource for enriching your preaching: Lectio Divina, the prayerful reading of Scripture. We listen to what God wants us to say. This demands also having an ear to the people, to discover what they need or long to hear. Pope Francis instructs the preacher ‘to contemplate both the word and his people so to link the message of a biblical text … to an experience crying out for the light of God’s word’ (EG 154). But before opening for others what Sacred Scripture means for their lives, we listen to Jesus telling us what needs to be transformed by the Spirt in our own lives, so that we may become sincere children of his Father.
Ambrose it will now fall to you to feed the Lord’s sheep by your prayer, by your preaching and by the sacraments you celebrate. Celebrate them with that special Benedictine sensitivity to the Sacred Liturgy’s power to proclaim the presence of the Risen Lord and to draw us into a relationship with him. As a priest, you will have the immense, yet humbling, joy of being the vessel of the Lord’s healing balm. When administering the sacraments of Penance and Anointing the Sick be a ‘tool of good work’, helping others heed St Benedict’s counsel in Chapter Four of his Rule: ‘never despair of God’s mercy’. Nourish them with divine mercy so that they in turn become missionaries of mercy. Feed them on the Eucharist, the food that is Jesus himself!
In his recent Encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis speaks beautifully of the Eucharist: ‘It is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life … The Eucharist joins heaven and earth [and in it] the world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration’ (236). So our celebration of the Eucharist impels us to go forth, announcing that every soul is invited to find eternal rest in God, in the life of the world to come. This hope of future glory moves us to care even more for our common home, here and now, as eternally precious in His sight.
Ambrose, your life is lived in the common home of your monastic community. The hope is always that the patterns of monastic living have much to teach us all about living in our wider common home. Your calling is to live by clear reliance on the inexhaustible wealth of the Gospel. This we can all learn. You can remind us firmly, by your example, that happiness is to be found in a life of generosity and simplicity. With God as our rock, we have the sure foundation for a world in which the dignity of each human person flourishes and the manifold gifts of creation are respected. Hear again the words of the Holy Father. He says that the Benedictine life of prayer, lectio, and manual labour ‘imbues our relationship to the world with a healthy sobriety’ (LS 126). It enables you, Ambrose, as monk and priest ‘to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God (1st reading)’; and by so doing inspires us to do the same.
With the unfailing intercession of Mary, Mother of Priests and Mother of Evangelisation, to support you, may your priesthood be a constant source of great joy for you, the joy of being loved by the Lord; a joy overflowing into your monastic and parish family; a joy attracting many more to join us in proclaiming: ‘Glory be to Him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to Him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.’