Given at the Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Rev John Fitt Mbu Ashu CM on Saturday 4th June 2022 at Sacred Heart and Mary Immaculate, Mill Hill
My brother, John,
It is a great joy to celebrate your ordination to the priesthood so that you may serve the Congregation of the Mission, founded by St. Vincent de Paul, as a priest for the mission. As a priest of the ‘little company’, you are to conform yourself to Christ inspired by the words on the emblem of the Congregation and etched in the glass over the door of this Church, Evangelizare pauperibus misit me (He has sent me to announce the good news to the poor).
John, ‘the Risen Christ has sent you’, and summons you to your calling to mission and fidelity. As St Vincent wrote, ‘So, our vocation is to go, not just to one parish, not just to one diocese, but all over the world; and to do what? To set people’s hearts on fire, to do what the Son of God did. He came to set the world on fire in order to inflame it with his love. What do we have to desire but that it may burn and consume everything. My dear confreres, let’s reflect on that, please. It’s true then, that I’m sent not only to love God but to make him loved. It’s not enough for me to love God, if my neighbour doesn’t love him. [CCD, XII:215; SVP, XII:262; SVP.ES, 553.] St Vincent presents a wonderful image of the way in which you are called to set people’s hearts on fire with love of Jesus Christ so that this love spreads out to others.
Here in London, we live amongst a multitude of people following different pathways of faith and religion which help them to fulfil the spiritual yearning of their hearts. Others find meaning in new forms of spirituality. All these desires show the openness of the human heart to the Divine. They provide the fertile ground where Christ can plant and nurture the seed of Christian faith if only we can find creative ways of engaging with people about the truth of Jesus Christ.
The Vincentian calling to see the poor as ‘lords and masters’ upturns many of the values of our throwaway society, devoted to success and achievement. Humility is the key that opens the door to love. Being alongside the poorest and living the Vincentian charism is a means by which others will come to believe in Jesus Christ and his Church. To be a Vincentian priest is to be a man of tears who weeps at poverty and loves those who are poor. As St Vincent wrote, ‘Let us love God, my brothers, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows [CCD, XI:32; SVP, XI:40; SVP:ES, XI:539]. To be a Christian and to see our brother suffering without weeping with him, without being sick with him! That’s to be lacking in charity; it’s being a caricature of a Christian; it’s inhuman; it’s to be worse than animals.’ [CCD, XII:222; SVP, XII:271; SVP:ES, XII:561]
Many of the Vincentian family will remember with fondness Fr Kevin Scallon CM. Fr Jim McCormack CM, who died recently, commented in an essay on how Fr Kevin’s experience of the poorest in West Africa persuaded him of the preciousness of the blessing of priesthood as a gift to the faithful and strengthened his faith in the centrality of the Eucharist. He reminds us that ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’.
These words reminded me of celebrating Mass in the Parish of Our Lady of the Land of Promise (Ina ng Lupang Pangako) in Payatas, Quezon City. Payatas was the city refuse dump and home to over 100,000 people who tried to love and care for their families in conditions that were hard, often ruthless, violent, and depended on scavenging and finding something to sell. I celebrated Mass with the parish priest in a simple house to mark the one month’s mind Mass for a young boy killed by a rubbish truck while scavenging for his family. The hope and faith with which these very poor people met around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist still resonates deeply within me. Afterwards, they shared a lavish table of food and drink with those who had prayed and shared their stories of the son who had died. In that poverty, hope in Jesus Christ Risen was expressed deeply and with conviction. In tragedy as in joy, the greatest gift we can offer is to gather around the altar and celebrate the Mass uniting ourselves with the Church and the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice. Only this action helps to make sense of the senseless tragedies of life.
John, it is this gift which you will share with the faithful and this mystery which you will offer as a priest. As you offer the Mass uniting the prayers of God’s holy people with those of Jesus Christ, who offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears and was heard (Hebrews 5:7), remember the words which are spoken when your hands are anointed, ‘The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.’ Have confidence in Jesus whose permanent priesthood saves all those who come to God through him (Heb. 7:24-25).
Many people with deep confidence and trust will ask you to pray for them and will ask for your blessing. In the sacrament of reconciliation and penance they will hand over their sins and the secrets of their hearts to the Father through you. Tread gently so that you do not damage their faith and hope. As you anoint the sick and the dying, you will give them consolation and hope. Even when called in the middle of the night, be generous and make the journey to the hospital. You will never regret such an action. Remember that you are called to serve as Christ served: ‘Your life is not about you’ (Bishop Robert Barron).
I know that the friendship within the Vincentian family and the prayer and love of the Daughters of Charity will sustain you and support you on mission far from home. With them and in communion, ‘Fan into a flame the gift that God has given you’ and always allow others to catch light from the flame of faith and the love of Jesus Christ that burns within you.
Bishop John Sherrington