Given at the Mass of ordinations to the priesthood in Westminster Cathedral on 30th June 2018
Of all the events that take place in this cathedral, this is one of the most joyful. We are full of gladness at the ordination of six new priests; we are joyful at the hope this brings and we are grateful for all that has brought us, and you, to this moment.
Joy has these three parts: it is enriched by memory, it fires our hope and it rests in knowing that what we do, now, is right and good. Through such joy, our faith is strengthened and grows. So let's look more closely at the joy of this priestly ordination.
Memory enriches our faith and joy.
The Apostles never forgot the ways in which the Lord touched their lives. They spoke about them, wrote about them, handed them on as a true treasure, as we hear from both St Paul and St John today. In the same way, I am sure, our six candidates offer great thanks to God for all those good people who touched their lives and led them here. We can all do the same. Think, for a moment of all those people who have shared the faith with you, whether of your own flesh and blood, your mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers, or whether friends in the faith! In remembering them we smile!
I hope there is a priest among your memories! I hope especially you remember a priest who brought you God's forgiveness. It’s not a good idea to screen out of our memories our failings and our sins. If we do that we neglect the gift of God's mercy. And, this morning, St John has reminded us of how important to our joy is the power God gives to priests for the forgiveness of our sins.
There is one priest whom we can all remember today. He is here in the centre of our gathering: St John Southworth, one of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. He moved around these streets, administering forgiveness to a people in great need and risking his life in celebrating the Mass. The celebration of Mass is, of course, the greatest act of memory. It is a memory like no other, for, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it is active and powerful. In remembering it makes real among us the saving death and resurrection of Jesus.
Through the Mass, the life of Christ flows strongly within us again, and we become part of that great 'memory of salvation'. 'We proclaim your death, O Lord' - our call to evangelise; 'we profess your resurrection' - our faith; 'until you come again' - our great hope!
Today, then, we rejoice as six men, full of the memory of their own pathway of faith, come forward to be priests, for in their turn they will offer the Sacrifice of the Mass and minister the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the two great gifts of the priesthood.
The joy of today also fires our hope.
New priests are an important part of the future life of the Church in our parishes. Let us thank God and always pray for more such vocations to the priesthood.
This action of ordination strengthens our sense of having a secure future, for every celebration of the Mass, every receiving of Holy Communion, is a promise of our future glory. Yes, each day has its anxieties, sometimes too many! But in faith, we know that our future is secure, for it is given by a promise of Christ himself and his promises are reliable! As we leave the cathedral, this morning, we shall indeed be joyful, for this ordination is a strengthening of that promise, showing us the true horizon of our lives, the horizon of God, the promise of eternal life.
Today we must also remember that the dynamic of hope is love.
Hope needs daily expression in kindness and loving service. St Paul explains this in great detail. We have 'one and the same hope', he says, and this impels us to use our gifts in service of one another. A spirit of competition between us is out of place. It is but one grace that we share, to be used for the good of all. For this, too, we look to our new priests. May they be messengers of hope, showing us how to fight against every spirit of selfishness, pessimism and cynicism, spirits who want to rob us of the joy which is truly ours.
Now I say another word about the heart of the ministry exercised by us priests.
In serving the Gospel, especially the gift of hope, the art of the priest is that of knowing, in each different circumstance, what to say, what encouragement to give, what action to perform. The wise priest also knows what not to say at this point of a person's pilgrimage of faith, what not to demand. This is the art of being a pastor of souls: knowing how to discern the next step on the pathway to God.
This theme of pastoral discernment is so important to Pope Francis. He insists that it is the heart of priestly ministry. So today we pray that these six men will be given that gift in abundance!
Sometimes there is a temptation to make a distinction between the pastoral work of the priest and his teaching the doctrines of our faith. This is a false dichotomy. Everything that we do, our teaching, preaching, and our work of care, must flow from and give shape to our pastoral discernment.
Recently, Pope Francis explained what he meant by 'being pastoral' and he did so when addressing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. For him, there is no division in our ministry.
He said this: real, authentic pastors never leave people to their own devices, to their sense of feeling a bit lost, disoriented, not sure of the difference between right and wrong. Rather, he said, 'with truth and mercy we bring them back to find their true face in goodness.' Every action, of the priest and the teacher of the faith, is aimed at 'taking them by the hand, when their sense of dignity and destiny is lost, and leading them trustfully to discover the loving fatherhood of God, our good destiny, and the ways to build a more humane world' (Address to Members of the CDF, January 2018).
St John said to us that: 'The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord'. In the eyes of faith we see him with us, powerfully, this morning. We pray that many will see him in the ministry of the new priests ordained today. For this moment, for the memories of faith, for the hope which this gives us, let us thank the Lord with joyful hearts. Amen.