Given at the Ordination Mass of Antonio Pineda at St George’s, Sudbury on Saturday 28th July 2018
I am so pleased to welcome you all to this ordination ceremony. I thank all who have prepared for this day, most immediately Mgr Jeremy and everyone here at St George’s. This day has been very long in its preparation: in the life of Antonio’s family, in his friends and especially in the English College in Rome. I am so glad that Mgr Philip Whitmore, the Rector of that College, is here, together with others from Rome, to share in the happiness of this day.
So, let me begin in Rome. Those of you who know the Chapel at the Venerable English College may remember that above one of the doors is a mosaic, a picture, of St Philip Neri, that great saint of sixteenth-century Rome. He is offering his blessing to priests about to depart for the English Mission. He is saying to them, ‘Salvete flores martyrum’, ‘Hail, flowers of the martyrs’ for both he and they knew what lay ahead. Many of the frescoes upstairs in the tribune of the Chapel expound on that theme, on the brutality of the martyrdom which awaited those young men.
Each of those three words is full of resonance for today, nearly 600 years later, as, in very different times, another priest, Antonio, is ordained.
Salvete: a word of respectful greeting, and of encouragement. St Philip’s greeting encapsulates the openness, the respect, the encouragement that every priest needs to offer to his people if he is to be gracious and graceful in their service. The priest who knows his people by name; the priest who can answer the doorbell with a smile on his face, even in the most unwelcome or difficult moment; the priest who is at the sick person’s bedside at an inconvenient hour: that is the priest who is respectful, encouraging, and effective in bringing the love of God to bear in the world.
This spirit is, of course, at the heart of the words spoken by Jesus and heard in the Gospel passage for today. He ‘came not to be served but to serve’. This is the innermost heart of the priest. It is formed, deepened and expressed in every celebration of the Mass for there the love which is the life of Jesus becomes our life too. We are never closer to that love than when we are at Mass.
This is the privilege granted to you today, Antonio: each day, you will offer the sacrifice of the Mass, with and for those to whom you minister: for their good, and the good of all God’s holy Church. Never take that privilege for granted. Always see it as your greatest opportunity to imitate, and to grow in love for, Jesus, our Blessed Lord and, in his name, always to greet people with a gracious and cheerful ‘salve’.
That next word, flores, means flowers.
Flowers are things of beauty. In that beauty, they are eloquent of the goodness of God’s creation. They can lift our mood and express our joy. They are grown not as food, nor for medicinal purposes, but just for their beauty. We enjoy them for what they are.
This can be a valuable lesson. Thankfully, our lives are not a beauty parade. Just as well! But our greatest treasure lies in who we are, what God has made us to be. This is the importance of vocation, the calling of God to every person that they become what God has intended them to be! Our true beauty lies in finding and following what God wants of us. Antonio, thank God for your vocation. And please, all of us, be attentive to what God is calling us to be, praying especially for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
A key part of the life of the priest is that of preaching. Antonio, as a deacon you have already begun to break the Word of God in your preaching. Rightly, you will have taken seriously the words of the Lord to Jeremiah: ‘See, I am putting my words into your mouth’. But you will already know that sometimes the words don’t come so easily; sometimes we worry about what we say: Is it good enough? Is it helpful? Am I using the pulpit to push my own agenda, not the Lord’s or that of his Church? At times like that, the flowers remind us that the homily on which you will be judged, in the end, is not the words you have spoken but the life you have lived. The actions of the priest always carry more influence, for good or for bad, than the words he says. The priest whose life is an attractive advertisement for the love of God and the truths of our faith gives the best homily of all. This happens only when his life is indeed rooted in Christ: ‘planted in love and built on love’, as St Paul writes to the Ephesians.
The third word is more uncomfortable. We all know that the word ‘martyr’ comes from the Greek word for ‘witness’. The witness in martyrdom of which St Philip Neri spoke was filled with brutality, pain and horror. Those martyrs willingly put themselves in the way of such danger and pain, and an early death, because their faith was more precious to them than life itself. They believed, not as a dry intellectual assent, but from the very fabric of their being. They believed that the Church is Christ’s sacrament in the world, making him present and making us holy. They believed in the consequences that flow from the Resurrection: that while their present life was uncertain, their life in Christ was absolutely secure for all eternity. They knew that the Tyburn Tree, the scaffold on which they would die, would turn them into flowers of heaven.
In so many ways, their faith resonates across the centuries. It is a faith and confidence that, I pray, you will bring to your priesthood as you grow towards that ultimate fulfilment of heaven to which the martyrs came, and help others towards that fulfilment by your word, your witness, and your faithfulness.
In a few moments, Antonio, you will prostrate yourself, in an act of profound humility, as the prayers of the saints are sought in the Litany. Be sure of our prayers, too, on this most significant day in your life. We make our own that great prayer of St Paul. We make it our own for you, and for the life of priestly ministry that you enter today, and, we pray, carry with you every day until you too are summoned to the heavenly Kingdom.
‘Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, and then, planted in love and built on love you will, with all the saints, have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.’ (Eph 3:16-19).
The countdown is nearly over! So let us begin the ordination rite.