Given at the Mass of ordination to the priesthood of Revv Julian Davies and Benjamin Woodley at Westminster Cathedral on 27th July 2019
'Come Holy Ghost, Creator come, from thy bright heavenly throne. Come take possession of our souls and make them all thine own.'
These are the words we shall sing, in a few moments, at a central part of this ceremony of the ordination to the priesthood of Julian and Benjamin. Indeed, this is the work of the Holy Spirit, a great gift of God, who fills our hearts with joy.
The giving of this gift of priesthood has a history, for both Julian and Benjamin, stories that are rich and distinctive. Today they come to a central moment in their lives, to the flowering of a seed planted long ago, coming to this fruition.
The words of the Prophet Jeremiah, in the first reading, prompt this reflection: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you.' (Jeremiah 1:5). Yes, this has been God's intention for these two men from the moment they were first conceived. No wonder there is a deep sense of fulfilment about today, as that intention of God, pondered over so steadfastly in prayerful discernment, comes to this decisive moment. I thank all who have encouraged each of these men along this path and who love them so much in this moment of thankfulness. This is the joy we all share.
And this is a decisive moment. We now invoke the Holy Spirit, who is the decisive actor in this event. Only the Holy Spirit can achieve what we ask this morning. Only by the gift of God can this change take place in the consecration of these two men as priests of the New Covenant. The prayer of consecration, which we come to shortly, spells this out: 'Almighty Father, grant to these servants of yours the dignity of the priesthood. Renew within them the Spirit of holiness.' We pray that the Holy Spirit will seize the heart and soul of both Julian and Benjamin and fill them entirely. Then their hands will act as the hands of Jesus; then their words will be the words of Jesus, supremely so in the celebration of Mass and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Then we shall see in them 'another Christ' and know that through their ministry he is with us, as he promised, every step of the way.
Yet the story does not end there. This ordination is indeed a moment of fulfilment. But it is also a new beginning. A new ministry starts now. For this reason, the whole Church rejoices. You rejoice. I rejoice. In the prayer of consecration, we also hear that just as the Father gave companions to the apostles of Jesus, so too he gives companions to me as a successor of the apostles because, in the words of the prayer, 'we are weak and our need is greater'. Shortly Julian and Benjamin will take their places among the priests of the diocese, as co-workers with the bishops, in service of the mission we all share.
St Paul spells out that mission. He tells us that we are 'ambassadors for Christ' (2 Corinthians 5:20), and not for any earthly interest group or agenda. He tells us that our work is that of reconciliation, to be reconciled to God and, consequently, reconciled to one another. He emphasises that such reconciliation, with God and with one another, can only come about through forgiveness, by 'not holding anyone's faults against them'. This is our task, the Good News of which we are to be ambassadors.
When we consider this mission in the context of our world today, then we can recognise, immediately, that it certainly requires the work of the Holy Spirit to bring it about. Left to ourselves, as a society, we do not make much progress in reconciliation. In our present circumstances, there is little or no shared vision around which to gather; our culture offers no reason or encouragement to offer forgiveness to those who do willful damage and harm. Yet, from the cross of Christ flows the vision, the grace, the new life, which is so needed today. This is our task, in word, sacrament and example.
Today, then, we rejoice in these stories of vocation, in this action of the Holy Spirit and in the service to which we are all called. In this ordination, the words of the Gospel, too, are being lived out. The gift of self in the priesthood is total. It is a letting go of all else. It is an enactment of the words: 'unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.' (John 12:24). We pray that this will be so in the priestly lives of Julian and Benjamin. In their gesture of prostration, their falling to the ground, they offer themselves totally to the Lord that he may be ever fruitful through and in their ministry. So be it, we say. Amen, amen.