Ordination to the Priesthood
Revd Bing Oliver Monteagudo
St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, 7th July, 2014
Homily by the Most Revd Geoffrey Jarrett,
Bishop of Lismore
Dear Brothers and Sisters: for all of us this is a very happy and a moving moment, an occasion rather similar to being present at a wedding, when a decisive and life-changing choice is made. A bride and groom take each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, until death do them part; they pledge their constant love to each other, and set out on the journey in which their lives will be blessed and enriched with children, in generational continuity in this life, and through the new birth of baptism forming a new generation in the communion of saints.
In our Christian way of seeing things, it is entirely natural to see in this rite of ordination our new priest embarking on a similarly new life as a spiritual husband and father in the great family of the Church. This new life will call forth in him too all the human qualities, the faith, the generosity and the self-sacrifice, matched by the grace of God, that are demanded for a happy and fruitful marriage.
Like any newly-weds, he starts off not knowing the future, but entrusting it entirely to God. He starts off in difficult and demanding times, fully aware of the challenges ahead as faith encounters the scepticism, cynicism and selfishness of our age, the opponents of the Church outside her communion, the human limitations and weaknesses within. But no matter: with the courage of the saints, like an Edmund Campion, he starts off convinced of the primacy and power of God’s grace: “the expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun. It is of God,”and if only we give our best, in reliance upon Him, it cannot fail.
Another saint, Pope John Paul II, very much within living memory, at the beginning of this new millennium reminded us, and reminds our new priest, of an absolutely fundamental truth: that ‘without Christ we can do nothing.’ We must avoid, St John Paul says, the temptation “which besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act or plan. God of course asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom” . . . and it is prayer that firmly establishes us in this truth.
Perhaps the most important thing I want to emphasize at this moment, Deacon Bing, is that a priest’s ministry is only as good as his life of prayer. Looking back, all of us older priests know how true that is. We’ve all been tempted to become so involved and active in all the pressing demands on our ministry that we can forget that ‘without Him we can do nothing.’ Amid ‘this vast activity’ of ministry, we place ourselves in danger if we forget another primacy that goes with the primacy of grace; the primacy of prayer over action. Wrap yourself and your priesthood in prayer; pray in your own way as well as in the Liturgy of the Hours, pray without ceasing, as you will promise in a moment, and give it your best time each day.
That famous bishop and contemporary of St Edmund Campion, St Charles Borromeo, once said to his priests: “Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul. You have to be mindful of your people, but without becoming forgetful of yourself.”
Another lesson from a modern saint: few would appear to have been busier or to have achieved so much in the works of charity as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. But her work was fruitful only because it was driven and sustained, it has been said by those who knew her best, by a secret motor of prayer before the Eucharistic Lord, a secret dynamic which ran day and night within her without missing a beat. Every priest must have that secret motor, his personal prayer, his dedicated time before the Lord, day by day.
This same point was made just a few weeks ago by Pope Francis when he met with priests in Calabria and spoke to them of the joy of being a priest. He said: “When we priests are before the tabernacle, in silence, then we feel the Lord’s look upon us, and this look renews us, it reanimates us . . . sometimes it is not easy to remain before the Lord; it is not easy because we are set upon by so many things, so many persons. Sometimes also it is not easy because we feel a certain discomfort, the Lord’s look disturbs us a bit. But this does us good! In the silence of prayer He makes us see if we are working as good agents, or perhaps we have become somewhat like “employees”; if we are open, generous “channels” through which His love and grace flows abundantly, or if instead we put ourselves in the centre, and so instead of being “channels” we become “screens” which do not help the encounter with the Lord, with the light and strength of the Gospel.” To the Pope’s words one can perhaps add that just as the priest’s prayer keeps open the channels of love and grace to others, so also it preserves the priest himself from falling into worldliness and preoccupation with material things, and defends the ordinary daily round of priestly ministry from succumbing to the dullness of routine.
Dear Bing, our spiritual life as a priest, grounded in prayer, finds its highest expression in the celebration of the holy Eucharist. Configured to Christ and leading a Eucharistic people, we priests have a unique relationship with the Eucharist. Here we identify most intimately with Christ, Priest and Victim. For that reason the priest’s daily celebration of the Mass, normally with a congregation but even without when necessary, is the cornerstone of his spiritual life. Whatever else a ‘day off’ might involve, whatever break for recreation and refreshment it is good for him to have, that secret motor running quietly in the priestly heart will always bring him each day to the altar of God to do what precisely and above all he is ordained to do: to stand in the midst of the Church and on behalf of the holy people to offer sacrifice to God, for the living and the dead.
In the same recent talk to priests, after speaking about prayer,
Pope Francis spoke of another vital dimension of our lives as priests. He called it “the beauty of fraternity,” of the way in which priests should nourish the gift they have received by cultivating their communion with each other in the presbyteriumaround their Bishop. The Pope referred to “a certain pastoral individualism that, unfortunately, in today’s subjectivist culture, is diffused in our dioceses. Therefore, we must react to this with a choice of fraternity; it cannot be something left to chance.” “Let us be priests together,” says the Pope, “following the Lord not on our own, but together, in the great variety of gifts and personalities, of origins and provenance, of age, and of talents.” When our Lord says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” it applies to all, but above all to those whom he has called to follow him in a greater intimacy. Tonight at an ordination, as at the Chrism Mass, we priests should dedicate ourselves anew to the strengthening of our fraternal unity, to resist that debilitating invidiaclericorum that feeds off gossip and leads to factions that sap the effectiveness of our ministry.
As we welcome you, Deacon Bing, into our presbyterium this evening with the fraternal kiss, may it be for you and all of us an effective sign of our one-ness in Christ the Priest, truly His friends, and in all charity truly friends to one another.
In a moment now, Deacon Bing, as the sacramental action is about to take place, you will publicly state your intention in undertaking the office of Priesthood – just like a couple on the day of their wedding before they make their vows. In the time-honoured words of the traditional exhortation read at this point, we pray that in exercising your sacred duty as a father and a teacher of the faith you will receive the Word of God with joy, that in meditating upon it you will believe what you read, that you will teach what you believe, and that you will practice what you teach. In your exercise of the ministry of the sacraments, as a father in Christ, we pray that you will understand what you do, and imitate what you celebrate, that the holiness of your life, like the sacred Chrism with which your hands will be anointed, will be a delightful fragrance to Christ’s faithful, so that by word and example you will build up the household which is God’s Church.
Under Christ, our Head and Shepherd, with the gifts and power that He confers sacramentally upon you this night, and with the help of Mary, Mother of the Church, may you bring His people together in one family, so that through the lifetime ahead of a blessed and fruitful ministry you may lead them securely to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Amen.