The following homily notes were delivered by His Excellency Archbishop Charles J Brown, Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, on Sunday 22 July 2012, at the Church of Saint Gobnait, Ballyvourney, County Cork, Diocese of Cloyne, during the Ordination Mass for the Reverend Damien Lynch.
“Feed my lambs, feed my sheep”
Your Excellency Bishop O’Donohue, my brother priests, distinguished civil authorities, brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a great joy for me to be with you this afternoon on this solemn and beautiful occasion here in the Church of Saint Gobnait. What is happening here today is an incredibly significant event in the life of the Church. For one thousand and five hundred years, Ireland has seen men ordained to the Catholic priesthood, and today history has brought us to the moment in which the newest priest, the latest priest in that line stretching back to Patrick and Palladius, will be ordained here in Ballyvourney – Deacon Damien Lynch of the Diocese of Cloyne. The entire Church rejoices in this beautiful moment, and not just us, the Church on earth, the Church here in Ballyvourney, but also the saints, whose intercession we will implore shortly in the litany. They see us and rejoice with us. The virgin Saint Gobnait rejoices, because with the ordination of a new priest, the Church continues to live.
Damien has been preparing for this moment since the day he entered the seminary in 2004, so it not surprising that he has prepared the liturgy for his ordination with great care. His choice of the Gospel is particularly appropriate. It is from the last chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, and takes place in Galilee after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord. Jesus appears to Peter and the other disciples while they are fishing. He is on the shore; they are in their boat. Saint John recognizes that it is Jesus on the shore, and then Peter, in his joy, jumps out of the fishing boat and swims to land. The other disciples arrive and then they eat with Jesus beside the lake. When the meal is finished, Jesus begins to speak to Peter. And what does he say? First, he calls Peter by name – Simon, Son of John – and he asks him: do you love me? And Peter responds that he does, not once but three times, and so, making up for his threefold denial of Jesus during the passion: “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”.
This dialogue between the Lord and Saint Peter, the first of the Apostles, is not something restricted in time and place to that moment on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. In a mysterious way, it is the story of every vocation to the priesthood. It is the story of every priest in this church this afternoon, and it is the story of Damien Lynch. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus called Peter while he was fishing (Matthew 4:18-20) and here again, at the end of the Last Gospel (John 21), Jesus again meets Peter while he is fishing. But what does this mean? Peter was fishing, that is, he was doing his normal work; he was living his normal life. But Jesus comes to him in the midst of normal life and calls him. He speaks his name – “Simon, son of John”. The speaking of the name is the indication that Jesus knows Peter; he chooses Peter; he calls Peter. In fact, he chooses Peter in spite of Peter’s failures. In some way, every vocation to the priesthood is like that. The Lord comes into our ordinary, everyday life and in some way “speaks our name”. He makes us understand in the depths of our heart that he has called us. This is what we mean by a vocation, and this is the call that Damien Lynch has received. But what does Jesus ask Peter? The same thing he asks every priest – do you love me? And Peter responds, “Yes Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”.
It is the indispensable requirement for following the Lord as a priest: to know him, and to love him. And the threefold dialogue between Jesus and Peter ends each time with the Lord’s command: “feed my sheep”, “feed my lambs”. The call of Jesus leads to our response – “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” – and our response then leads to mission – “feed my sheep”. That is what a priest is sent to do: to feed, to nourish, to lead people to God. God, who is the source of all life, natural and supernatural. The priest’s mission of feeding is most fully expressed in his celebration of Holy Mass. As the Second Vatican Council teaches: “The other sacraments, as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate, are connected to the Eucharist and directed towards it” (Presbyterorum ordinis, 5). Damien Lynch, like every priest, is ordained today in order to celebrate the Holy Eucharist; to feed the flock of Christ. To feed them by giving them Christ himself in the Holy Eucharist.
Damien, your whole life needs to be focused on and shaped by this central mystery. In a few minutes, you will be ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of hands. Then you will receive from me the chalice and paten prepared for the celebration of Mass. The prayer of the renewed Roman liturgy at the moment when the chalice and paten are handed to the new priest, is very beautiful and telling. Make it the motto of your life as a priest. The Bishop hands you the chalice and paten and says: “Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate. Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. Imitate the mystery you celebrate. In the mystery of the Holy Mass, the Lord feeds his flock with his Body and Blood and leads them to the life of the world to come. Imitate that mystery. Give yourself completely to his people. Our lives as priests need to reproduce, to image the self-giving of Jesus in the Eucharist. Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this point in a very profound and deeply personal way in his homily for the Mass at the beginning of his Pontificate. The Holy Father quoted the words of Jesus giving Peter his mission: “Feed my sheep” and then he reflected on them in a way that expresses what Damien is experiencing today as he is ordained to the priesthood. The Pope said: “Feed my sheep”, says Christ to Peter, and now, at this moment, he says it to me as well. Feeding means loving, and loving means being ready to suffer. Loving means giving the sheep what is truly good, the nourishment of God’s truth, of God’s word, the nourishment of his Presence which he gives us in the Blessed Sacrament”.
My dear friends – the Pope went on to say – “at this moment I can only say: pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more… Pray for me that I may not flee for fear of the wolves” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 April 2005). So, Damien, imitate the mystery you celebrate. Give your people Jesus, and give your people your own life. That is what it means to be a priest. But we cannot give what we do not have. Nourish your own spiritual life. Spend time with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Be faithful to prayer. Mediate on his holy word. Love his people.
The words of Jesus in the Gospel today – “feed my sheep” – were not only on the lips of the Holy Father that day in April seven years ago. They are also quite literally written in Saint Peter’s Basilica itself. The interior of Saint Peter’s Basilica is inscribed with these words of Christ to Peter. Written in Latin and in Greek in huge letters on the frieze running around the interior at the top of the columns, they conclude with a kind of prayer of the Church herself directed to Saint Peter: “O Shepherd of the Church, you feed the lambs and the sheep of Christ”. Our Gospel today for the ordination of Damien Lynch reflects beautifully what it means to be a priest, but it also reflects the role of the Holy Father as Successor of Peter, as the Chief Shepherd to whom Christ has entrusted the universal Church. Let us always remember to pray for the Holy Father and to be faithful to him and to his mission as Shepherd.
Brothers and sisters, we rejoice today in Damien’s ordination. The Church in Ireland is alive. A new priest is about to be ordained. The Faith continues. Damien, we pray for you today that you will be a good and holy priest. Imitate the mystery you will celebrate!
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