Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Mass to Celebrate the Closure of the Year of the Priest
HOMILY: In most walks of life, we need back-up: e.g. reaching agreement in a family about some proposal; winning support at work for a new idea; welcoming a helpful word or a shoulder to lean on at a time of crisis; in sport, as in cricket: backing-up at the wicket to prevent an overthrow; and, of course, in the world of computers, making a back-up copy of files gives new meaning to the phrase Jesus saves! In the Church too, the sacraments back-up the living-out of our Christian calling. Indeed, the Eucharist is not just a back-up to something else; it is the very means of receiving the Lord fully into our lives. It is the major part of a priest's ministry, in which he brings the Lord to others. It is the summit of our prayer and worship as priests.
The Ministerial Priesthood functions amid today's frenetic reality. What we are doing today can seem to some a bit out of touch with reality. To some, the Priesthood appears to be a bit remote from the physical and moral difficulties of ordinary lives. Yet, as priests, we are to step into a new space, the space of the Transcendent, of Otherness. For, we are signed by a special character and - conformed to Christ the Priest. We need to see beyond the Priesthood, and delve more deeply into it, because it is our call to Priesthood that has to change people's lives. The transcendent demand needs ratification, so that the Priesthood is recognized as that group of men, anointed by Christ to stand in that daunting space, to gather the rest of God's people around that space, and to underwrite the presence of that holy space as near and accessible to each one of us. This 'other' space will provide a bridge between this world and the next, between what we are and what we shall be. So, by our ordination, we are anointed, to be Christ-like, to bring others to that goal of human history and that focal point to which the desires of humanity aim: Christ himself. We are called to a ministry of preaching and healing, to make people whole again, ready and willing to meet the Lord when he calls, to be there when others need us most. This requires us to develop our inner well-being; our generosity; our selflessness; our desire to give and encourage forgiveness in others by our word and example, and most of all by our generosity of service. We are called to have the strength and courage to contradict the ways of the world.
And to do all this, we cannot do it alone. There is another aspect of priesthood that complements the ordained priesthood. It is the priesthood of the laity. It is the priesthood conferred on all who are baptised. Yet, there is only one priesthood of Christ, within which there is a diversity of kind and function. It is the role of the ministerial priesthood to bring to its full exercise - and to its full expression - the priesthood of the entire body of Christ, in which all share in different degrees. And to remember, every ordained priest comes from among the laity in the first place.
It is difficult to convey what it means to say, for the first time, the words of consecration at Mass, and to realise that it is the first person singular - I - that we are using. It is my voice, my hands, my mind, that are engaged in this tremendous act which is central to the Eucharist, in which Christ is made present through my person. How could anyone in the priesthood ever have abused that anointing deliberately and-repeatedly, not just in a single, one-off moment of immaturity or indiscretion immediately regretted, but by knowing and planning habitually, without remorse or regret, what they were doing?
It's ironic that the Year of the Ordained Priest began as the Year of the Abused Victim. During this past year we have made no excuses; for there are none to make. The lapses and the offences of the few, who make up no more than a half of one percent of all clergy, have sadly damaged also the many. It's been a year when society has called into question the integrity of politicians and their expenses, financiers and their bonuses, and not least of all priests and their assaults on the innocent and vulnerable. All these groups have been guilty of betraying trust. All have been convinced of their own self-righteousness, almost their entitlement to do these things, their conviction that they were doing no wrong.
For priests who offended, I'm not sure that their abuses grew out of the rule of celibacy; abuse happens within otherwise good families too. I'm more convinced that it grew out of the clericalism of the past. That clericalism risks raising its head today among those who again are looking for identity in status, not service. They want to be treated differently. There are those who set high standards of morality for lay people, while they blatantly violate those same standards themselves. There are those who go to extremes to express the Mass in a particular way, whether it is in the Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form, in a so-called VAT II rite or Tridentine Rile, through the "People's Mass" or the . "Priest's Mass". Some want to put the priest on a pedestal, whilst the people are consigned to be privileged spectators outside the rails. Flamboyant modes of liturgical vestments and rubrical gestures abound. Women are denied all ministries at Mass: doing the
, the serving, the Bidding Prayers, and taking Communion to the Sick. To many in our Church and beyond, this comes across as triumphalism and male domination. This clericalism conceals the fact that the Church as an institution has often acted in collusion with what I can only regard as structural sinfulness. It has paid dearly for it and is untrue to its humble Founder, Jesus Christ. Readings
This underlying culture of clericalism has to end and never happen again. In addition, where there have been victims of it, they merit our individual and collective expression of sorrow, without reservation, plus our promise of listening and healing, and our assurance of Support, These are openly given. Accompanying all this is a deeper truth without which life would be just too hard to live. It is the truth that there is a deeper power at work below the surface of our human failings and our uncertainties. The strength of the priesthood, exercised by some 99% of the clergy, lies in the daily sacrifice of self in the service of the Lord, in making him known, in a Church that all of us love and that does so much, good. We can only glimpse a horizon beyond which so little is known this side of eternity. Here, earthy symphonies will always remain unfinished. And we want a priest to ease us out of this world, who anoints and forgives us, to speed us on our journey into the next.
Together, whether you are ministerial priest or baptised priest, you are all called to be a dynamic force in the Church. You, the ordained, have to realise the power for good that you have and thus exercise your God-given gifts. None of you can measure the good that you do. Most of it is hidden. It is rarely publicised, and because of its personal and confidential nature it cannot be shouted from the roof-tops. It is known to the individual who has benefited. It is known to the Lord himself. Whereas everything else can be taken away from you, even your reason can diminish or disappear, no-one can take away your priesthood. You are a priest forever. Cherish that. You, the laity, and us, the ordained, have been given a dynamic force to be Christ and to make Christ present in this world, today and for as long as we are alive. Sometimes we need to pray as Pope John XXIII did one night he knelt by his bedside, tired and frustrated at the end of a long day. He said: "It's your Church, Lord. Get on with it!" AMEN.
Bishop Tom acknowledges the helpful advice and comments which he obtained as a result of consulting certain individuals and resources in the preparation of this homily, which was given in St. Joseph's Cathedral, Swansea, on the occasion of the Closure Mass for the Year of the Priest' 21st June 2010.