“Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost” – Bishop McAreavey
As we gather today we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. The experience of those who were ‘in one room’ was so amazing, so awesome, that they struggled to describe it: the only language or imagery they could find to communicate it was the account in the book of Genesis of God giving His law on Mount Sinai; this too was marked by fire and loud thunder.
In the Pentecost experience there was also an outburst of ecstatic speech that overcame all present and shook them to the core. This prayer experience of the infant Church left those present with a deep faith in the Risen Lord and it transformed the group of Jesus followers into a dynamic, enthusiastic missionary community. The community interpreted the event as an experience of the Spirit. This was the first of such experiences of the Spirit in the Church but there were other events when the Spirit was poured out on believers are recounted later in the Acts of the Apostles. The Spirit continues to touch the lives of the faithful, particularly through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and ordination; in every Eucharist the celebrant invokes the power of the Spirit on the bread and wine – and on the people of God gathered in prayer.
In Saint John’s Gospel Jesus appears to His disciples in ‘the upper room’, still carrying the signs of His Crucifixion and with a greeting of peace, ‘Peace be with you’. The presence of the Risen Lord fills His disciples with joy. Jesus shares with His disciples the mission He had received from God: ‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you’.
The mission of the disciples of Jesus is not primarily an activity; it is a new way of being, a way of life: the disciples are called to be the living embodiment of Jesus, just as Jesus was of the living embodiment of His Father. The disciples will do this by their joy in the Gospel and the witness of their faith.
Having been forgiven by Jesus, they were charged with being agents of God’s forgiveness in the world.
These tasks constitute the mission of all God’s people, all the baptised and confirmed.
Saint Paul assures us that there is a variety of gifts of the Spirit among the faithful but the same God who is working in all of them. Among you, the people here today the majority have received the gift of married love and to the call to love husband or wife; it is your mission to live the gifts of the Spirit in your married life and in bringing up your children with love and care. We all know how important it has been for us that our parents lived out their mission to each other and to us and how, in doing so, they handed on their faith to us by example and encouragement.
We reflect also on the vocation of those gathered here whose task is to be ‘a leaven’ in the world, in the wide range of secular activities – whether working the land or in business or in various professions and trades.
All the baptised and confirmed are equally called to holiness; there are no second-class Christians, simply Christians called to different ways of life in the vineyard of the Lord.
From among the people of God, some men are called to leave all things and to follow Christ, the Good Shepherd; they are called through the laying on of hands to make present among the people the compassion and care of Christ, the Good Shepherd for the flock, particularly those in danger of going astray or getting lost. Those set aside through ordination remain part of the people of God and their ministry is lived as a service of their brothers and sisters in the wider faith community. Twenty years ago Saint John Paul II wrote about the life of a priest:
“The priest who welcomes the call to ministry is in a position to make this a loving choice, as a result of which the Church and souls become his first interest and [the priest] becomes capable of loving the universal Church and that part of it entrusted to him with the deep love of a husband for his wife’ (Pastores dabo vobis/I will give you shepherds, n. 23).”
The Holy Father Pope Francis put in an earthy, pastoral way when he said to us last November: “evangelisers … take on the “smell of the sheep”’ (Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, n. 24).
So Brian and Colum, today you are being set aside for sacred duties. However I would counsel you to remain close to those who have loved you over the years and who have accompanied you throughout your lives and who have brought you to your ordination day. Remain close also to the people you will serve and carry them with you in your prayers.
As will become clear in the Rite of Ordination Rite, you will also become part of the family of priests in the Diocese of Dromore. Through the laying on of hands and the sign of peace, you become brothers to the priests of this diocese and they will undertake to be brothers to you. May that bond be a source of support, example and encouragement to you in the years ahead.
I will conclude these words with the address included in the Rite of Ordination:
“My sons, you are now to be advanced to the order of the presbyterate. You must apply your energies to the duty of teaching in the name of Christ, the chief teacher. Share with all mankind the word of God, believe what you read, teach what you believe and put into practice what you teach.”
Let the doctrine you teach be true nourishment for the people of God. Let the example of your lives attract the followers of Christ, so that by word and example you may build up the house which is God’s Church.
In the same way you must carry out your mission of sanctifying in the power of Christ. Your ministry will perfect the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful by uniting it to Christ’s sacrifice which is offered sacramentally through your hands. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate. In the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection, make every effort to die to sin and to walk in the new life of Christ.
When you baptise, you will bring men and women into the people of God. In the sacrament of penance, you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church. With holy oil you will relieve and console the sick. You will celebrate the liturgy and offer thanks and praise to God throughout the day, praying not only for the people of God but for the entire world.
Remember that you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them in relation to God. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.
Finally, conscious of sharing in the work of Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, and united with the Bishop and subject to him, seek to bring the faithful together into a united family and to lead them effectively, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, to God the Father. Always remember the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost.
Notes for Editors
· Bishop John McAreavey is the Bishop of Dromore. This Ordination Mass was celebrated today in the Cathedral of Saint Patrick and Saint Colman, Newry, Co Down in the Diocese of Dromore. The diocese has a Catholic population of 63,400 people and it consists of 23 parishes and 48 churches. The Patrons of the diocese are Saint Patrick, whose feast day is celebrated on 17 March, and Saint Colman, whose feast day was celebrated yesterday, 7 June.
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