Friday, July 31, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: Ordination Sermon by Bishop Joe Grech

In Jesus superstardom is not limited to one or to a few individuals. In Jesus we are all empowered to do great things. Some time ago during a meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council I was struck with a phrase that was used at the opening prayer. "I am God's story of hope to the world." How true it is. There have been and there are so many people who manifest in various ways this reality. There are young people whose generosity and embrace of life enthralls me. There are married people whose sense of care, tenderness and compassion amazes me. There are single people whose dedication encourages me and there are priest and religious whose faith and genuine shepherding gives me so much hope.

This evening we are here to support, pray and encourage Jake who in a short time is going to say publicly. "I am God's story of hope to the world in my ministry as a priest." What is a priest supposed to do to be an instrument of God's hope to the world? The Official Church documents and the Roman Ritual for today's Liturgy of Ordination talk about three specific ministries. The priest is ordained to (a) preach the gospel; (b) sustain the people; (c) celebrate the liturgy. I would like to offer some remarks about these three roles.

In the first place, Jake you are called to preach the gospel. In other words you are called to preach Jesus Christ and the power that is present here today through his resurrection. Over and above everything else this is our proclamation. Paul was convinced of this as we heard in the second reading of today. The ministry of Paul was animated and empowered by the conviction that he was commanded to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus is the Messiah, truly human and truly divine. Jake as all of us priests, you are called to preach with conviction, with passion and in an intimate manner what Jesus taught and what Jesus promulgated and relate all of this to the life situation of our people. Do not be afraid to preach about the Cross of Jesus. For us the Cross is not a sign of death, defeat or of madness. It is rather a powerful reminder that no matter what difficulties we need to face, in Jesus there is life, there is hope, there is victory. The Cross is a stark reminder that we are people of victory because ultimately everything will be put under the leadership of Jesus, even death. This was also Paul's conviction.

Vaclav Havel, the ex-president of Czechoslovakia, who became president after the overthrow of communism in his country, had this to say about hope. "Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out." As Christians, the hope that we are all yearning for and the hope that we can offer to all the people of the world in the conviction that all that we live for, happiness and sorrow, victory and defeat will be found to have sense in Jesus. Proclaim this steadfastly. Remember as we have heard in the first reading. "Do not say I am a Child." Rely on our God who is alive today to guide you.

Secondly, you are ordained to sustain your people and to let God's people sustain you. Feed our people with Jesus; be close to them in the different circumstances of their lives. Do not minister in isolation. Our ministry is tied up with our relationship with our brother priests, religious and our people. In this way we are not alone. Fear can creep up on us if we think that we have to do this ministry on our own. There is only one way to combat this fear and that is by refusing isolation and by building communion around us. Timothy Radcliffe the former Superior General of the Dominican order tells this story taken from his book entitled "What is the point of being a Christian?" Someone once wrote to a famous Rabbi that he was deeply unhappy. He wrote, "I would like the Rabbi's help. I wake up each day sad and apprehensive. I cannot concentrate. I find it hard to pray. I keep the commandments but I find no spiritual satisfaction. I go to the synagogue but I feel alone. I begin to wonder what life is about. I need help." And the Rabbi just sent the letter back underlining the first word of each sentence. And it is always the same "I". This is the unhappiness of the lonely self. Yes sustain and feed our people but let also our people, brother priests, sisters and religious sustain you too. Love the church and let yourself be sustained by the love of the church.

In the third place, you are being ordained to celebrate the liturgy. My brother Jake, remember that when you are celebrating the liturgy you are not representing yourself but you are representing Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and in union with God the Father. The more faithful you are to your prayer life the more you give time to be close with our God, the more you will let Jesus Christ shine through you, with you and in you. The Sacraments highlight the awesome presence of Jesus Christ at the most important moments of a person's life. May the way you celebrate the liturgy give our people the experience of being touched by this God who cares deeply for each one of us.

God has called you to be his sign of hope to the world as a priest. We pray with you and for you today that through your ministry you may enable those who you meet to understand that they too are the sign of God's hope to the world through the various state of life that they embrace.

The Most Rev'd Joe Grech is Bishopn of Sandhurst in Victoria, Australia. This homily was preached at Jake Mudge's Ordination in 2008, and taken from the diocesan website.


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