ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD
29 June 2013
Today we give thanks to God, with great joy, for the gift of eight new priests. And what a gift this is! We also give thanks, in a heartfelt manner, for the parents and families in whose love they have been nurtured; for all who have contributed so much to their formation, in Allen Hall, in the Beda, in Neo-catechumenal communities, in our parishes; for those across the diocese who pray for our students and contribute generously, through Growing in Faith, to the funds we need now and in the future for this work of formation.
In our first reading [taken from the Vigil Mass of Ss. Peter and Paul], Peter and John go up to the Temple in Jerusalem together, and they act together. Together they show the unity of companionship and practice that should always characterise followers of Jesus. Together they meet the crippled beggar and give him the great gift of healing, in the name of Jesus, at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Not much is known about this Gate into the Temple. But we know full well that for this poor man it was indeed a beautiful gate. And it is beautiful for us too.
At this Gate the first miracle of healing in the new era ushered in by Pentecost took place. There the power of the Holy Spirit is shown in action, in this great deed. The onlookers are left astonished, unable to find an explanation for all they had seen.
But, and importantly, immediately after this miracle Peter makes, in word, the first proclamation within the very Temple of Jerusalem of Jesus as the one Saviour of all people. He speaks out boldly and unambiguously. “Why are you so surprised at this?” Peter asks. He responds to their puzzlement by explaining that, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and then disowned.....You killed the Prince of Life. God however raised him from the dead. We are witnesses to this. And it is his name, faith in his name, that has brought back strength to this man and given him this perfect health in the presence of you all” (Cf Acts 3.13-16).
The gate by which we come to hear such news is indeed a Beautiful Gate, the very Porta Fidei, the Gate of Faith. And it is this Gate we are invited to enter afresh during this Year of Faith.
Announcing the good news in deed and word is the task of each of us as followers of Jesus. We do so, even in the midst of our daily tasks, whenever we behave with compassion, with ready forgiveness and with generosity towards those in need. When we are seen to act in this manner of Jesus, then we may well make others wonder, at least a little, why we do so. Like Peter, we should be ready to put into words, simply and directly, the reasons for our behaviour: the truth of Jesus whom we know and love.
Today’s Gospel passage reminds us just how important our love of the Lord really is. Only when our lives are really rooted in love for him are we on sound footings.
Look at Peter. He had denied Jesus, all knowledge of him, three times in quick succession. Now he declares his love for him three times. And each time Jesus makes it clear that this love must be expressed in action. We hear Jesus speak to us today: Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Look after my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my sheep!
This is our summons: to show in daily practice, in love for each other, the love we have for the Lord himself. We are to watch over, nurture, and encourage each other: parents towards their children, friends and colleagues towards each other, companions at work and neighbours, always with special care for the weakest and most vulnerable.
Such love in practice is, of course, at the heart of the priest’s life, of these men ordained today.
Everything that you do for your people, in all the years of your priesthood, will be an expression of your love for the Lord. If it is not, then it will soon become a burden and immensely tiring. Stay rooted in the Lord each day, then the work you do will be your strength and joy.
Two particular tasks will be at the heart of your priestly ministry: to help keep us all rooted in Christ; and to help keep us all united in Christ.
Through you, through your ministry of word and sacrament, the Lord enables those whom you serve to become rooted in his life: in the confessions you will hear, in the anointings you will give, in the homilies you will preach, in the visits you will make, in the marriages you will prepare and celebrate - even in all those marriage forms! Your every action, every manner, word and gesture, will have the potential to root people more deeply in Christ. Such is the grace and privilege of the priesthood! But remember too: a careless word, a harsh remark, has its own amplified capacity to hurt, to uproot someone from life in the Lord. We are servants of the Prince of Life. May that be clear in all we do and say.
You are also to be visible signs of our unity in the person of Christ. You come from such diverse backgrounds and circumstances. Yet today you express that remarkable unity of mind and heart which is such a gift of our faith. You are as one in the life-long commitment you are about to give: a commitment to the people in service; a commitment to the Church in obedience; a commitment to Jesus in love. In the light of this commitment and your service in the unity of the Church, you know that the imposition of personal preferences has no part in your ministry, just as the fostering of personal favouritism must be avoided. All is for Christ, not for self. All is within obedience to the mind of the Church.
This service of unity finds its true source and power in the celebration of the Mass. The Eucharist makes, creates the Church afresh each day. At this Mass we sense a new vitality in the Church. And so we should. For today we receive a remarkable new gift - your future ministry as priests. Yet we can know a new vitality at every Mass. So often we come through the church’s door buffeted and bruised. At Mass we are healed and restored, formed again into the Body of Christ. The porch of every church, the doorway into Mass, is indeed always a Beautiful Gate.
My brothers and sisters, soon we will go out from here, through this Beautiful Gate of Faith, with our eight new priests, to confirm in word and deed the wonderful grace God bestows in this ordination mass. May St. Peter, the first to proclaim our faith, be with us and confirm our faith. May St. Paul, the great adventurer of our faith, encourage and embolden us. And may our own St John Southworth, our saintly patron and martyr, watch over us in every difficulty and draw us always closer to the Lord by his example and prayers.
Archbishop of Westminster