This afternoon the Reverend Tony McAleese was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Down & Connor by Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor, at a ceremony held in the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul, Ligoniel, Belfast. Please find below the homily delivered by Bishop Treanor at the Ordination Mass.
We gather in joy and in thanksgiving to God
Tony, the day of your ordination has come! With joy we gather in thanksgiving to God here in your native parish Church of Saint Vincent de Paul, on the hillside of Ligoneil, together with you, with your father, Edward, with your brothers and their families, with your wider family, with your relatives – some from Canada – and with your neighbours, fellow parishioners and your friends from near and far. We remember with you and hold in our prayers your deceased mother, Anne Marie, may she rest in the peace of Christ.
For our local Church in Down & Connor this is a day of grace and rejoicing. We thank God for the gift of your vocation to serve the Church, the people of God, and the Christian community in our times and, we hope and pray, for many years hence.
Our thanks go today to all who assisted and supported you in your years of formation, to your family, relatives and neighbours; the staff of Saint Malachy’s seminary in Belfast; the staff of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth – the Formation team and Sister Cait, your professors and lecturers, the spiritual directors; the faithful of the diocese who support the seminary fund; the members of Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society; the Knights of Saint Columbanus as well as many others. Such a list illustrates the barely recognised fact that the training of a priest is the work of the Christian community.
Priestly Ministry: continue the work of Christ, teacher, priest and shepherd.
The readings of the liturgy of the Word, which you have chosen from the Hebrew Scriptures (Is. 61.1-3 and Ps 18) and from the New Testament (Eph 4. 1-7, 11-13 and Jn 20.19-23) set out core terms of reference for priestly ministry and service. They draw our attention in particular to three core elements :
(i) ministry as a mission to restore and give new hope
(ii) ministry as having an essential community dynamic, not a solo run
(iii) ministry as anchored and sourced in Christ crucified, dead and risen to new life
The first reading, lines from the prophet Isaiah (61.1-3), read by Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4. 16 – 22) as the Charter for his ministry, score the challenging tones of priestly work and ministry in terms of restoration, healing and the cultivation of hope in the arid conditions of human distress, suffering and abandonment. Your work as a priest will take you into these zones of the human condition. Oftentimes only the “spirit of the Lord” (Is 63.1), “the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20. 22), of which you are a minister, can reach these dark places to heal and to awaken the spiritual gift and reality referred to in the gospel passage as the “peace” (Jn 20.21) of Christ.
Priestly work and ministry is not a solo run: the passage from the letter to the Ephesians whispers across the centuries a constituent quality of Christian life and of priestly ministry, a quality that we are re-discovering and re-appropriating in our times. What is that quality? It is this: that priestly ministry, as a life of service within the Christian community, is a ministry that calls on, promotes, coordinates, collaborates with and channels the gifts of many parishioners and volunteers so that, as the second reading puts it, “the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4. 12 ).
These lines from the letter to the Ephesians are a source of the vision behind the Pastoral Plan for our diocese to which you are called to work, Tony. These lines from the New Testament carry the code for the future way and working method of the Christian community – the way and art of the active, willing co-responsible living and handing on of the Christian faith and way of life in our parishes and Pastoral Communities in which you will work and minister. As priests we are team workers.
Your prescient choice of the passage from the gospel according to John anchors your priestly ministry and life not in a sense of preaching prescript nor in the officialdom of system or priestly caste, but in the saving mystery of Jesus Christ risen to the new life of the Resurrection. Into the fear and apprehension of his disciples huddled in a room and into their elation at the experience of his presence among them, the Risen Christ spoke that deep and time-transcending word “Peace be with you”. That peace of the Risen Christ, a peace for sharing and for mission, is the source and anchor of our priestly ministry. It is the new order and dispensation of which we are the earthly ministers. It is a peace which we are privileged to minister; it is a peace beyond our making.
One could say that the sum-total of these readings is caught in a line of the Instruction for Ordination to the Presbyterate: “attend to the affairs of Christ before your own”. As the years of your life and ministry pass, Tony, that line will accompany you, I hope, as guideline and lodestar of self-sacrifice in the loving service of the people of God.
As you know, Tony, the same instruction details you to continue the work of Christ as teacher, priest and shepherd. You job description is :
- To make the Word of God known, to open and unveil its spiritual power: “share with all mankind the Word of God you have received with joy” … and let your words be “true nourishment for the people of God”, the instruction asks us as priests.
- You are to “do your part in the work of Christ” – by celebrating the sacred liturgy and the sacraments – “with genuine joy and love”, the instruction tells us. Experience will confirm for you that the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments, celebrated with the active participation of the community is the cradle and germline of faith. Celebrated well with the community the liturgy nourishes faith and hands it on to coming generations. Liturgy grafts the Christian community into the life of Christ; well celebrated, it is the doorway to faith and catechesis.
- At the heart of this Christ-given job description for the priest, as outlined in the instruction, is the model of the Good Shepherd calling you, Tony, to build and shape unity and community, among the faithful and always to “seek out and rescue those who were lost.”
The Eternal Word, this Day and the years ahead in this local Church
So, Tony, as you are inspired and called to priestly ministry by these passages from the Word of God, you and we realise that the Holy Scriptures have been proclaimed, sung, put to music over centuries. They are at once the fruit and the fuel of Hebrew and Christian conversion and renewal. They have constantly called individuals, peoples and societies back from the realm of evil and destruction. They have inspired witness and martyrdom. They have sustained hope and enabled self-sacrifice. They have nurtured identity and Christian life and lifestyle. Over centuries of the Christian tradition and in each generation they have unveiled the unique mystery of the new life offered to humanity in the Risen Christ.
Today, Sunday 17 June 2018, you are to be ordained a priestly minister of the living word of God, of the new life, of the order of new hope, offered to humanity in Christ.
Thirty two years hence, in the summer of 2050, you will have reached your early 60s. Much will have changed in the world within those coming decades and the face of the life of the Church may well have undergone further change.
In the years of your future ministry with the faithful, religious, priests, permanent deacons and bishops of this diocese, you will be called to work untiringly, imaginatively and creatively to sustain our parishes and Pastoral Communities as communities where the love of God is experienced, kindled, kept alive and responsive to the needs of the time within the local Christian communities, in our society and world-wide. With parishioners and clergy you may see the emergence of new models of ministry and pastoral care; indeed your service of Christ will call you, as it calls us as a local Church in these present times, to devise and accept new pastoral arrangements so that the spiritual good of all may be fostered and cared for.
Evidently one cannot foresee the developments these coming decades will bring. It is a fair guess that the future perception and understanding of the Christian community and of the Church will give greater emphasis to building communities of conscious faith, to mission and new forms of catechesis. It is probable that in a more secular and pluralist society we, Catholics and Christians, will realise more clearly that the Christian way of life is a freely chosen discipleship of Christ in ever renewed conversion to the living Word of God. We and society at large will probably come to a rediscovery of the early Christian realisation that the community of those who seek to live by the values of the Kingdom of God, that is, the Church, are a living presence, a faith and life-filled leaven in society, rather than a political power. It will be your task, Tony, to accompany and strengthen many in living in radical freedom the personal and social implications of the Good News of the gospel.
Today we pray with you and for you, Tony, that you will walk prayerfully in Christian love, dedication and self-sacrificing service with the people of this diocese in the years and decades of your priestly life.
May God who has begun the good work in you, sustain you, guide you and keep you true to his Word. Amen.
Notes to Editors
- Tony McAleese, a native of the parish of Saint Vincent de Paul, Belfast, was born on 4 June 1984. Tony is the youngest son of Edward and Anne McAleese. He has four older brothers. Tony received his primary education at Saint Vincent de Paul Primary School before continuing his education in Saint Gabriel’s College from 1995 to 2000 and Belfast Metropolitan College from 2010 to 2012. Tony worked in the field of catering management from 2000 until 2012 when he commenced his seminary formation in Saint Malachy’s Seminary, Belfast and philosophical studies through Queen’s University College, Belfast. He completed his philosophical studies in June 2014. Tony progressed on to theological studies at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth in August 2014. Having completed an undergraduate degree in theological studies, Tony has also engaged in hospital and parish ministry. He has worked in various parishes including Saint Agnes’ Parish, Belfast, Saint Vincent de Paul, Ligoniel, and the parish of Downpatrick. Tony has also completed a hospital chaplaincy course in Clinical Pastoral Education through ACPE Ireland.
For media contact: Father Edward McGee, Down and Connor Media Liaison Officer on +44 (0) 78111 44268