Our Lady Help of Christians and Saint Aloysius,
Saturday, 9th July 2011
Dear Jonathon, you know well that you, like all the baptised,
share in the one priesthood of Christ by virtue of baptism and the
gift of the Holy Spirit. United to Christ in the power of the
Spirit, God’s holy people constitute a royal priesthood united in
Christ, the head of the Body.
You also know that from the midst of this priestly people, Christ freely chooses and calls some men to share in a special and more public way his priestly ministry. They are chosen, called and sent in his name to proclaim the Gospel, to gather together the flock of God, and to lead them to a life of holiness, to a life of unconditional love and compassion after the example of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
Jonathon, I’m sure that there have been times when you have felt that you are unworthy to be so called, and perhaps too that you are unfitted for the task. But in calling us to this particular ministry in the Church, God in his goodness does not leave us to our own devices. In the Sacrament of Sacred Orders, by the laying on of hands and the anointing with the oil of Chrism, he gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit to make us grow more and more each day into the image and likeness of his beloved Son whom we are called to represent. It is through the gift of the Spirit that he empowers us to do whatever he asks of us.
It is through your prayerful listening to God’s word that you will deepen your relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd in whose ministry and mission you are called to share through ordination as a priest. That intimate relation with the person of Jesus Christ is essential, is vital (literally, ‘life-giving’) for each and every one of us who are his disciples. If that is true of every Christian, all the more so, then, for those who are called to share in a very special and particular way in the one priesthood of Christ.
It is only in listening and hearing the Word of God in your own heart first that you will grow closer to the person of Jesus Christ. Then you will be able to proclaim that living word faithfully and fruitfully to others - and it is that proclamation which lies at the heart of your ministry as an ordained priest. Always remember Jonathon, that it is God’s word you are called to preach, not your own. Therefore at the heart of your priestly ministry must be your prayerful meditation and reflection on God’s word, so that ever more deeply you will “believe what you read, teach what you believe, and put into practice what you teach.” In that way you will be a model and example to others of the importance and centrality of the word of God in your life, both as a disciple and as a priest.
That means that you must become ever more deeply a man of prayer, meditating on the scriptures, growing in an intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You are called, as we all are, to follow in the footsteps of Christ and to follow his way which is the Way of Calvary, the Way of the Cross. You are called to go through that “kenosis”, that self-emptying, so that you can be filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who will give you all you need to fulfil the vocation God has given you in Christ.
It is an awesome responsibility. It is also pure gift. None of us could possibly say with any justification that we are worthy to fulfil that task from our own resources – however gifted, however good or however holy. And if you, Jonathon, rightly tremble at the prospect, reflect on the words of the Preface for Martyrs: “God chooses the weak and makes them strong.” Remember too that Mary was deeply disturbed when she was called to be the Mother of God’s Son. How could this be, she asked? That question was answered in her great hymn of praise to God, the Magnificat: “The Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name.” It was her closeness to God in prayer and in her reflection on the scriptures which opened her heart to receive and accept in faith what God asked of her even though she could not see where that “Yes” would lead her, or its consequences.
It is in his name that you will preside over the liturgy of the Church, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, gathering together God's people and helping them to grow in holiness. You will have the task of leading them effectively, through Christ and in the power of the Spirit, to God the Father. In doing this, never forget that you are called to serve, not to be served, in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd.
All this you have been chosen to do, using the gifts and talents God has given you. But you will be dependent, as we all are, on the grace of God working in you and through you. It is God's Church you are called to serve, not your own self-interest. It is Christ's mission in which you are called to share and which you are ordained to promote.
As you carry out your priestly ministry, be confident that you will have the companionship and support of your brother priests, your family and friends. Thank God for that, because there will be times when that support and companionship will sustain you through the inevitable difficulties which will come your way. Like all disciples, you are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ – and that is the way of Calvary, the way of the Cross. It is not an easy way, but it is the way which leads to the resurrection and the fullness of life and love.
Be assured then, Jonathon, that like Christ, you will be given the gift of the Spirit to fulfil whatever God asks of you in Christ. Like him you are sent to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight. You are sent to set the downtrodden free and proclaim the Lord's favour to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. For the rest, leave it in God's hands, as Our Blessed Lady did at the marriage feast in Cana, because what is impossible for us is never impossible for God.
I pray that your example and way of life as an ordained priest will lead many people closer to Christ and to a deeper holiness of life. In that way all those you serve will become more credible witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.