Priestly Ordination Homily
Sacred Heart Cathedral
19th September, 2015
We are gathered here in our Cathedral with Stephen’s family and friends, all of whom have in one way or another made an imprint on his life and training for the priesthood. Stephen has chosen the readings for today’s Liturgy of the Word: the call of the prophet Jeremiah, extracts from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and from the Gospel according to John.
These opening verses of the book of the prophet Jeremiah emphasize the context, the historical and community setting, in which Jeremiah came to know the Word of God. These lines link vocation and community; they link vocation and parish. Like Jeremiah, you Stephen, and indeed all of us, come to know the Word of God; we come to know Jesus Christ, over time, in a community of faith – our family, our parish, and through contact and exchange with many people.
Stephen has reached this key moment in his life after a long and sometimes challenging journey of discernment and discovery. In all kinds of ways, some of which he might be able to identify and some of which maybe hidden to him, God has been at work in his life, shaping and molding him through moments of suffering and moments of joy.
For this reason it is very important that, in the midst of our congratulations and our thanks to Stephen for his generosity in responding to the Lord’s call – a generosity which will bring such richness to the lives of so many – we must also remind him, and ourselves, that there is nothing to boast about in this.
To reach this overwhelming moment in his life is not really an achievement, although we might be tempted to think this way. It is simply a gift, freely given and yes, freely received. It is God’s grace which has enabled him to hear the Lord speaking to him, it is God’s grace which has given him the strength to respond, and it is God’s grace, and only God’s grace, which will carry him into the future and make of him the priest that the Lord and his Church need him to be.
Of course today also marks an ending. It marks an ending of the long period of formation for the priesthood, and so it marks an ending of seminary life. But it must not mark the end of conversion, or an end of openness to God’s transforming grace, or an end of the humility, which every Christian needs to keep us grounded and deeply aware of our frailties and weaknesses.
This quality of humility is very much what St Paul is speaking about when he reminds his readers, including us, that ‘we are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure’, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us’. For St Paul, the treasure of which he speaks is “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ”. As the popular hymn ‘Earthen Vessels’ phrases it, we have “one treasure only, the Lord, the Christ, in earthen vessels.” It is Christ who reveals the face of God to us: Christ who embodies, in the fullest sense of that word, the mind and heart of God.
In the darkness of so many lives, where the face of God has been disfigured, or never even glimpsed, it is we, who because of our baptism are parts of his living body present in our world through his Church, who are being called by the Lord to reveal him, to unveil his face to others, so that people can come to know; really know, the true God, the God who is made known to us in Jesus. And precisely because this is the vocation of every member of the Church it is in a special way the vocation of all those called to the ministry of priesthood through which Jesus continues to shepherd his Church.
Therefore, from today onwards these things take on a new meaning for Stephen. Amongst all the ways in which the Lord calls his people to carry the treasure, to share it with joy and enthusiasm, and to protect it, you Stephen, are being called to do so as an ordained priest.
You must put your whole life at the service of the Church and make the unveiling of the face of Christ the driving force of everything you do. He must be the treasure which you hold close to your heart, contemplate often and deeply, come to appreciate each day more fully, and share generously, without counting the cost, with all those people to whom the Lord will send you. Because of what the Holy Spirit will do within you through this mystery of your priestly ordination, you must, in the words of Saint Augustine, “become what you are”.
Stephen has chosen from St John’s Gospel the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. We hear the commandment of the Lord to, “Feed my sheep.” Shepherds of the Lord are to seek out and rescue the lost. They are to bind wounds. They are to heal in the name of Jesus. They are to preach in season, and out of season, the Living Word of God, to celebrate the Sacraments and nourish the People of God in service. This is the pathway we are to take, seeking always to serve, especially those most in need. In a whole new way from today onwards this becomes your life as an ordained priest.
So, Stephen, be ready with open heart: to give yourself entirely to the Lord; to receive these great gifts of Sacred Priesthood from the Lord Himself; to see the path ahead as one of true service, bearing all for love of Him, striving always to do His work, through Word, Sacrament and merciful pastoral care and thereby rejoicing always in this calling which is your hearts' desire and your greatest joy.
With the same hope which led you into the seminary, with the same hope that helped you through the difficult and challenging moments, with the same hope that brought you to your ordination as a deacon, now step forward again and once more, with all your heart and give your “yes” to the Lord.
Bishop Leslie Tomlinson