Given at Our Lady of Victories, Kensington on Friday 18 July 2014 at the priestly ordination of Fr Stefan Kaminski.
There is one moment, found in each of the Synoptic Gospels, which can give shape to our reflection this evening because it reveals the very heart of the sacrament we are about to celebrate. It is the moment in which Jesus calls the twelve who are to be his apostles. We are told that first of all Jesus spent time in prayer; then he summoned the twelve, to be with him, to be send out by him and to have authority over unclean spirits. These are the elements which we see at work here in the sacrament.
This evening we have already heard the initial call. Jesus called the first twelve. Now, speaking through the discernment of the Church, his Body, he calls Stefan to share in this one Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Jeremiah reminds us how radical this call, this choice by God, truly is. 'Before I formed you in the womb, I called you.' From before even the moment of Stefan's conception, it was in the providence of God that this ordination would come about. So we should never be mistaken into thinking that it is our will, our desire, our goodness that lies at the heart of a vocation to the priesthood. Jesus spells it out: 'I chose you, you did not chose me!'
This profound truth is borne out by the experience of many priests. Often when looking back on years of priestly ministry we have a sense of that call. Ask Mgr Whitmore, the Rector of the College. He celebrated the anniversary of his ordination yesterday. Or ask Fr John O'Leary who celebrates his anniversary today. And a few days ago I was with a priest who was celebrating his 36th anniversary of ordination. He spoke of the profound happiness of each of his years as a priest, not that everything had been easy. There are plenty of difficult moments, but through them all he was sure that it was right. Being a priest made sense of who he was.
Stefan, we hope and pray that in thirty years you too will be reflecting in the same contented mode.
The second thing we learn from the example of Jesus is that he chose the twelve 'to be with him.'
Stefan, your prostration here in this church is a sign of you handing yourself over to the Lord. In this gesture you say that he is absolutely at the centre of your life. You will be constantly in his presence, building and strengthening that bond between him and you by your practice of prayer, by your daily consciousness of being with him. This is the foundation of the life of a priest.
Recently I was privileged to have a one-to-one conversation with Pope Francis. As our conversation came towards its end, I thanked him, on behalf of us all, for the remarkable ways in which he was helping people to see the Church in a new light, making clear its true purpose. He shrugged slightly and said: 'It's all God's work, not mine.' Then he added, 'Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be sitting in this chair. But since I have been here I have never once lost my peace!'
How remarkable! This profound and lasting peace is, quite certainly, because of his constant presence with the Lord, expressed in his pattern of daily prayer and stronger than anything else in his life.
This means that in every priest there has to be, for the Lord, an 'undivided heart.' We know him, we cling to him and nothing else usurps his place. Our promise of celibacy is a rich and powerful expression of having an undivided heart. As priests we do not embark on a life of loneliness but one of rich and lasting friendships, friendships which are always shaped and guided by the fact that the Lord comes first.
We are always to be with him. Indeed, in the Gospel passage, St John uses the word 'remain' three times. We are to remain with him in a permanent and lasting presence that shapes our lives day by day.
When Jesus called them he did so not only in order that they be with him but also for them to be sent out.
Jeremiah expresses this step in these words: 'Go now to those to whom I send you.' In the Gospel we hear: 'I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.'
These tasks of the priest we take up to joy: to teach the Gospel and the saving doctrines of the Church; to be a shepherd to the people entrusted to our care. We are called to be out and about, among the people, not hiding away in our own world, secure but out of touch.
But please note that the Gospel sentence continues with these words:'Then the Father will give you anything you ask Him in my name.' Part of our mission is this call to prayer. As priests we are constantly to pray, to call our people to prayer.
The Letter to the Hebrews points out that in the mission of Jesus prayer was central: 'During his time on earth, he offered up prayers and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had power to save him....'
Prayer, then, is always part of our lives as priests, part of our mission, in fact. And there is so much for which we are to pray, so many for whom we should lead prayers, silent and in tears: for those broken hearted through death and separation; for those bearing the burden of daily suffering; for those caught up in the conflict in Gaza where there are no hiding places and no escape; for those who have lost their lives in the downed aircraft; for our society, in thrall so deeply to the notion of personal choice that we consider legalising direct, intentional killing in the name of medicine.
There is so much about which we are to pray. This is part of the leadership of the priest.
The third feature if the identity of the priest, on which we reflect, is that the priest is sent out 'with authority.
Confronted with his mission, Jeremiah spoke of his sense of utter inadequacy. This is surely something shared by every priest. And the response of the Lord is unequivocal: 'See, I am putting my words into your mouth!'
And this is what Jesus does with each priest: he puts his words into the mouth of the priest. Literally. 'I absolve you from your sins.' 'This is my Body.' 'This is my Blood.' The Lord's words in our mouths. An extraordinary power.
But here I add serious words of warning, often spoken by Cardinal Hume. 'Dear Fathers,' he would say, 'please remember the power of your words, a power which is for good and a power which is for evil.' Every one of us priests must remember the damage we do with a careless word, with an arrogant remark, in a moment of anger. We pray today that we may all use well the authority we have been given. It is an awesome responsibility.
So, Stefan, today we rejoice in your ordination. With you we pray. With you we ask to be renewed. With you we sing a new song to the Lord, proclaiming his help day by day and always rejoicing in his company.
Now, Stefan, we must declare before the people your intention of undertaking the duties of the sacred priesthood.
+Cardinal Vincent Nichols