Given at Our Lady of Victories Church, Kensington on 25 January 2014
Today’s Feast of the Conversion of St Paul is a most appropriate day for this Ordination to the priesthood. And there could hardly be a better reflection on this Feast and its meaning for today than the one already in your booklet. So thank you Shaun and maybe if we all read that reflection I am relieved of the duty of preaching.
But preaching today is much more than a duty. It is a great pleasure and privilege.
So to begin let me turn to the Prayer of Ordination which takes us to the very heart of the ceremony of ordination. Shortly we shall pray:
"Almighty Father, grant to this servant of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within him the Spirit of holiness….May he be faithful to the ministry that he receives from you, Lord God….so that the words of the Gospel may reach the ends of the earth."
Here we learn that the transforming action of this ordination is the work of the Holy Spirit, at the will of our Heavenly Father, so that the ultimate gift of his love, placed within our world, within our embrace, in the person of Christ Jesus, may be known and received with joy, thus transforming our world.
That is the essential message of the passages of Scripture we have heard. The Gospel gives us, the Church, our reason for existing: "Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation." And we have heard how Paul learns the reason for his existence too, the purpose of this radical transformation in his life. He is told that his is given new life, through the power of the Holy Spirit "because you are to be his witness before all mankind, testifying to what you have seen and heard."
This is the great heritage of which we, all of us, are a part. In the phrase of Pope Francis, we are all missionary disciples, people who place the joy of knowing Jesus at the centre of our lives and who want to share that same joy with others.
This is the very heart of the priesthood which you, Shaun, receive today.
As this is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, your life like that of St Paul must, more than ever, be directed by the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis puts it like this: "The Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language." Indeed he says "The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel." (Ev G 261)
To be directed by the Holy Spirit means to be rooted, day by day, in a living relationship with the Lord. It means having a pattern of prayer, an interior space, which gives a truly Christian meaning to all that you do, all that you say. Prayer of this sort is a kind a breathing deeply, taking in great lungs full of air, just as you might do before a challenging task or an important race. This prayer is the deep-breathing of the Church. The health of our life-blood depends on it. We need the oxygenation of daily prayer. You know well that it is not enough to be a good man, a kind man, a well-loved man. You are to be a man of the Lord, a man of Jesus, and that has to be clear, unambiguous, in every fibre of you being. And that new life within you is always and only rooted in prayer.
Today is the day on which you make this gift of yourself to him. Your prostration on the floor before us all is a powerful sign of handing over yourself to him. From now on you will give him your hands and your voice to do his work, to speak his words. Your voice will say: 'This is my body'. It is Christ who speaks. You will say 'This is the chalice of my blood', 'Do this is memory of me.' In memory not of Shaun Richards who truly no longer speaks of himself, but of Christ Jesus to whom you have handed over your tongue. When you say 'I absolve you of your sins' the penitent does not want to appreciate the magnanimity of the priest but the voice of Jesus speaking words of mercy to his inmost soul.
This is the great gift of the priesthood which you enter today, with generosity, with joy and with confidence, not in your own ability but in the readiness of Christ to use you for his work, to proclaim his Gospel.
Here are some more words of Pope Francis which describe the daily life of the priest as he lives out this wonderful vocation:
"Moved by his example we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives (Ev G 269).
Sharing the Gospel, in word and deed, is a profound joy because, quite simply, the Gospel responds to our deepest needs since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. And the best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love. Indeed, we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life (Ev G264). This is what we have to offer.
This, Shaun, is then life which lies ahead of you, building on your gracious ministry in the Church of England and on all that you have done and given, up to this day. This is indeed a day of great fulfilment, but also a great beginning.
One motive characterises the life of Jesus. Above all else he wanted to do the will of his Father. That is our ultimate motivation, too. In union with him we seek what he seeks and we love what he loves. In the end we live as we pray: 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'
In whatever lies ahead, Shaun, may that motive always will clear and firm in your heart. Then indeed you will be a priest after the heart of Jesus and bring us all the joy and gladness that you so often show.
May Mary, the first missionary disciple always protect and love you. May Paul, the great champion of his beloved Lord, inspire and guide you always.