Given at the Mass of Admission to Candidacy of Thomas Blackburn, John Casey, Robert Smialek, Dale Cuttan and Matus Meleg at Allen Hall Seminary on 28th May 2022
My brothers, Tom, John and Robert for the Diocese of Westminster, Dale (Archdiocese of Cardiff) and Matus (Diocese of Brentwood) who have requested admission to candidacy, and Lorcán to receive the ministry of acolyte.
In these days between the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost, we gather with the apostles and Our Blessed Lady in the Upper Room praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
You stand ready to allow the Holy Spirit more fully into your hearts and minds so that you may know the joy, the peace and love with which he calls you to service of his gospel and the Church. Jesus promised ‘when the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth’ and he will lead us into a deeper relationship with the Father and the Son.
Over these years of discerning the call of God and your vocation, the Spirit has been guiding you into the truth of your own call, deep within your being and created by God, as well as the truth of the Church and the mysteries of the Faith.
Christ gave us the command to ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest and you have responded generously to these words saying ‘Here I am, send me’.
Lorcan, today as a step on this journey you will receive the ministry of acolyte to help you to grow in your relationship with Christ in the Eucharist and in your imitation of his command to love one another as exemplified by Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.
Those of you to be admitted as candidates, you have placed your trust in the Lord and now you have placed yourselves before the Bishop inviting his response to the call that you have heard in your heart.
Today having heard the discernment of the Rector and his staff, as well as your own bishops, you are accepted and admitted as candidates towards the orders of diaconate and priesthood. The Church recognises God’s call to you and we pray that this call, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will be deepened, fostered and nourished through the sacraments and your prayer. Today you are committing yourselves to serve the particular church to which you are called and to fulfil Christ’s command to preach the gospel to all men and women. Today’s gospel invites you to trust deeply in the love of the Father.
Those of you who have read Bishop Erik Vardon’s book, Entering the Twofold Mystery, will recognise the following description. A sculpture on the north face of Chartres Cathedral, outside Paris, shows Adam resting his head on the knees of the seated Christ, just like a tired child might find comfort on the knees of a parent. Jesus strokes his hair. In this scene of great tenderness, we see the Risen Lord caring for Adam and here he is safe. The New Adam, Christ, restores the Old Adam who sinned, to right relationship with him and continues to love him in spite of his rejection. This is an image which can reassure each one of us and I find it a very consoling image of God’s love for me.
When I was at seminary in the 1980s, Charles de Foucauld was one of the authors whose life inspired me. Many of us read his writings, as well as those of Carlo Carretto of the Little Brothers of Jesus and Michel Quoist, both of whom were part of the Catholic Action movement. Pope Francis canonised St Charles de Foucauld two weeks ago and said how he had been inspired by the humility and simplicity of St Charles when he was a theology student. For me, maybe in the idealism of my twenties, the simplicity and prayer appealed to me and helped me to focus on the life of Jesus and the face of Christ. His prayer of abandonment can help us focus on what we really need and purify our desire, that is to do the will of God. We must abandon ourselves to his will. In the future, the grass may look greener in a different parish, in another place, but these desires need careful discernment by each person and by the bishop. Candidacy relates you to a specific part of the Church, a particular church or diocese, and so to the presbyterium and the bishop.
In the first reading, we heard of St Paul’s missionary activity moving from place to place, proclaiming the gospel in Galatia and Phrygia and establishing Christian Churches. We heard of Priscilla and Aquila who are now in Ephesus and assist Apollos to a deeper understanding of the gospel. In teaching us about humility, St Charles de Foucauld’s message of humility speaks into the first reading. Apollos, whose faith has been deepened by the teaching of Priscilla and Aquila, will travel to Corinth and later the Church there will develop tensions as the early Christians shout, ‘I am for Apollos’, ‘I am for Paul’. Favouritism against other members of the presbyterate is a danger through which the Evil One sows seeds of discontent. May you always hold unity with those with whom you serve.
In this light it seems appropriate to conclude with the prayer of St Charles de Foucauld,
Father, I abandoned myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all. I accept all. That only your will be done in me and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, oh Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul. I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, for I love you, Lord, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. Amen.
Bishop John Sherrington