31ST July, 2013
St Kilian's Church, Bendigo
The powerful words from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians give a clear message to us all and are so appropriate for our reflection here today:
“Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God… just as I try to be helpful to everyone at all times- not anxious for my own advantage, but for the advantage of everyone else, so that they might be saved…… Take me as your model, as I take Christ”
We join also with the sentiments of the psalmist and give thanks to the Lord, as we celebrate the jubilees of five priests whose lives have long been dedicated to ‘doing all for the glory of God’.
We are pleased to gather with our priests to celebrate special jubilees of their priesthood. I know that you will all wish to join me in offering our warmest congratulations to Monsignor Bryan Long on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee and Monsignor Peter Jeffrey and Father John Ryan, as they celebrate fifty years of priesthood. Diamond and Golden Jubilees are wonderful occasions when we celebrate lives of faith commitment and love of God and His people. Furthermore, Father Peter Taylor and Father Owen Doyle have great reason to celebrate their Silver Jubilee which marks a quarter of a century of loving service of God’s people. Of course, this priestly service of God for Father Doyle follows his service of God as a teacher, husband and father.
I am not going to speak about these men individually. That can be done in another setting, when we praise their virtues and rejoice in their individual gifts and achievements. But I do want to look at those words of Jesus written in St Luke’s gospel. Because they had seen Jesus healing, feeding and teaching people, some thought, ‘Why not follow Jesus’? However, Jesus, reminds them that following Him is not without cost – ‘Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple’. In the rather stern words of this gospel passage, Jesus states to those followers the importance of detachment and wholehearted devotion to his kingdom: the kingdom of God. Saint Luke’s Gospel is noted for its extremes. On the one hand, Luke shows the radical and uncompromising demands that Jesus makes on those who would be his followers, and, at the same time, emphasises, as none of the other gospels do, the gentleness and compassion of Jesus. Both pictures have always to be kept simultaneously in view and they are in no way contradictory.
Like everything in our Christian faith, the priesthood exists, not in the abstract, but in the lives of actual priests. It is made flesh, in these men of different personalities, with their gifts and their limitations. We thank God today for the fidelity of all their years of service, which I am sure may not always been easy for any of them. However, they know that in difficult moments, it has been God’s grace that has sustained them; but they have had to say Yes to that grace. So, today we give thanks with them for both God’s grace in their lives and their Yes.
I am sure all priests will recall their Ordination day. It is impossible for us to forget, because after years of preparation, we were about to become priests ordained to walk in the footsteps of Christ and to share in his Priesthood. Perhaps some went forward with dreams that were never realised, churches that were never built, ambition that was never satisfied, and mistakes that were made but often never forgiven. Not infrequently, people from the past will cross our paths and remind us of the good we have done in their lives. Still, above all else that which sustains us over the years, is the realisation that God has called us to do the ‘extraordinary job’ which is the role of the priest: to announce the Word and to celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. After Jesus gave his life and was raised by God, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in remembrance of his life, death and resurrection. When Christ lifted the cup at the last Passover, He said, "...This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you" We memorialize His sacrifice every time we have communion.
I am reminded of the oft quoted words of St Theresa of Avila, which are appropriate for all baptized Christians, but perhaps especially for priests: Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.
To our Jubilarians I want to say that your celebration here today is a testimony, to your imitation of Christ; to your generosity; to your self-sacrifice; to your self-donation. All true love is this. It is a giving of self to another, for another. In giving our lives to Christ and for Christ, we are giving ourselves to be made other Christs, conformed to His image. Jubilarians and other priests, you offer a constant witness of faith and love and it is for this we celebrate you; for this we thank you. But above all we celebrate and thank our High Priest by whose wondrous design we were made to continue His one priesthood in the Church.
So, I congratulate sincerely all the Jubilarians for what they have achieved already and will still achieve in the years ahead. May God bless them always, as He draws new life out of their crosses, as they move towards their own resurrection in a future known only to God.