Given at the ordination to the priesthood of Michael Nazir-Ali at Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street on 30th October 2021
Gathered in this church, dedicated to our Blessed Lady, our reflections are guided by the scene depicted in the first reading we have just heard, from the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples, gathered around Mary, are on the threshold of something new, something about which they know little but trust a great deal.
Each one of them had travelled a long way, in the previous few years. For Mary, it had been a still longer journey, starting with her journey from Nazareth 'to a town in the hill country of Judah', as St Luke has told us. Mary had understood the message of the Angel, at least in its news about Elizabeth, and had acted promptly.
We are rarely prompt in our action, often prevaricating for some time before understanding the imperative we have received.
Mary's journey took her from the moment of the Annunciation, through years of quiet family life, to those great events of her Son's ministry, from the joy of Cana to the agony of Calvary, to this moment when she, and the disciples, are waiting to be 'clothed with power from on high'(Luke 24:49).
And so it is with us. We, too, are called upon to make our pilgrim way, through moments of joy and anguish, searching to discern not only the pathway marked out for us but also the gift of the Spirit needed for its fulfilment.
For you, Michael, this journey has been rich indeed, in its geography, in your journey of learning, of prayer, of public ministry and of decision. We welcome you most warmly on this day, especially into the very unique company of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Today we do well to envisage ourselves, like those first disciples, gathered around Mary, who will always bring us to her Son. It is precisely to this fellowship that the gift of the Holy Spirit is promised.
That gift affects the birth of the Church, a birth renewed, again and again, at every Eucharist. From here spring two key characteristics of the Church: its cohesion and its mission. Neither is easy to put into practice and sustain.
Indeed, the first practical problems emerge immediately for the infant Church. The first: how to replace Judas, whose heart had been totally corrupted by greed. It is not without consequences that the first words spoken on this matter were the words of Peter, leading decisively to the course to be taken. The gift of the Petrine ministry is part of the gift given to the Church to sustain its cohesion of life and action.
So too in its mission. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that after the great event of Pentecost, as the mission of the Church explodes into life, it is Peter who 'stood up with the Eleven and addressed them (the crowd) in a loud voice' (Acts 2:14). Already the challenge of the mission of the Church is clear, for that crowd consisted of people 'from every nation under heaven'. Our mission is always shaped by the interface between the joy of the Gospel truth and the history and culture of those to whom it is addressed. That dynamic, too, comes under the guidance of the Successor of Peter and those around him, and one with him, in the ministry of oversight.
Michael, you have so much experience in this interface and I am confident that your insight and learning will enrich this mission, from within the visible unity of the Catholic Church.
In both the work of sustaining unity, and in our mission, the continuation of the priesthood of Christ in the ordained ministry is of such importance. Through this priesthood, we hold together in Word and Sacrament. This is the deepest source of our unity. Yes, there is a great diversity of experience and perspective among the faithful but we share, willingly, a loving obedience to the one Master and to the gifts he gives so lavishly to his Holy Church.
The Church places such trust and confidence in the effectiveness of the ordained ministry. So that is why this ordination is a moment of great joy. It is a moment in which we ask the Lord to effect in you a full inclusion into the ordained ministry of the Catholic Church. As the prayer we will shortly offer states, here we seek to build on the fruitfulness of the priestly ministry you have faithfully exercised for so many years now.
As I think about my own experience of priestly ministry, I always seem to return to the words we heard last Sunday, from the Letter to the Hebrews, that the high priesthood of Christ himself is exercised from within 'the limitations of weakness'. In each of us, those limitations are often on display. But this does not bring us to a shuddering halt. No, we realise that the ordained priesthood we accept and seek to fulfil makes us no more than a biro in the hand of the Lord, an instrument that he can pick up or put down as he wills, with which he can write in the smallest of scripts, or, occasionally, in powerful headlines. But it is always his work we seek to do, never our own. So we are not afraid of the limitations of such weaknesses, for the power and message of the Lord can often be more clearly seen in them than in acclaimed successes and human praise. For this reason, too, our mission has one crucial tone: that of the proclamation of mercy, for 'Holy is his name and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him' (Luke 1:49-50).
In the treasured company of Mary, in the heavenly presence of the disciples of every age, and with a great humility of heart, let us proceed with this ordination, giving thanks to God and encouragement to one another.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster