For the priests present this evening, I want you to take a journey back to your ordination day. Maybe it was many years ago or, for a few of us, it might have been in more recent years. We can probably remember those who were there, family, friends, parishioners. I’m sure there was a palpable sense of excitement, but also perhaps some fear and anxiety. There are many special moments during the Ordination Rite, tonight I want to refer to two of them.
The first moment was when you lay prostrate before the altar. Can you remember it? You lay there, and as you did the Litany of the Saints was sung. These saints, down through the centuries who themselves heard the call of Christ in their hearts, each one of them was being called upon to pray for you. Praying that you would respond to Christ. Those saints praying that within your heart you would hear the call of Christ; “You did not chose me, no, I chose you.” They were praying that you, with your gifts and your brokenness, would be a faithful disciple. You lay there before the altar, the symbolic gesture of surrender. Surrender to Christ and His plan for your life.
In the moments after the litany, you rose up from the ground, in preparation for the second moment I wish to refer to tonight, the laying on of hands. As the bishop placed his hands upon your head you were configured to Christ, forever changed in the depth of your being. In this moment it was Christ himself placing His hands upon your head. In this gesture He was saying; you belong to me, you are under my protection, I hold you in the palm of my hand. As I extend my hands over you, I ask that you give me your hands to do my work of service and of sanctifying.
These two moments; the laying prostrate before the altar and the laying on of hands are important moments for us to return to in the priesthood. They remind us of the heart of what we are about as priests. It is so important to return to those moments especially when expectations weigh heavily upon us and there are many.
You are expected to be great with the young people, you are to have a word for everyone. You’re expected to be a great preacher, being able to reach out to those who are seldom at church while at the same time able to keep the more traditional parishioners happy. Then there’s the finances, the data protection and safeguarding procedures that all have to be in place and up to date. You are to have a flourishing Pastoral Council, you are always expected to be in good form and to be visionary while also conscious that people don’t like change. You are to be on top of things, ready to be there at an impending death while at the same time planning a baptism for first time parents, a great man with the sick, great at visiting houses, but not too imposing, great at organising the parish and the volunteers to satisfy the challenges of Covid-19 and the reduced numbers and sanitisation of the churches, the list goes on…
As the memories of the ordination rite fade over the years and the reality of life in the priesthood becomes more real with all of its expectations, it can be very real to ask the question; “Is it worth it?” When that question arises, return to the moment you lay on the floor of your church, return to the moment the Lord laid His hands upon your head… He called you to be His priest, he called you to be His disciple not just in that moment as you lay on the floor or the hands were imposed upon you. He calls you to be his priest now, in this very moment! He calls you as much today as he did on your ordination day. “You did not chose me, no, I chose you!”
How important it is to root ourselves in that call at this time. The reality is that we find ourselves at a critical moment, change is inevitable. The cliché reminds us that there are two options around change, do we fear it or embrace it? As we face the future, we must remember that the Lord who called us, whom we surrendered to on the day of our ordination, the Lord who placed His hands upon our head, that same Lord is calling us now! The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, be open to that Spirit!
Pope Francis leads us on this path and encourages us not to be afraid. He issues and invitation to us in Evangelii Gaudium; “I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.” EG 33.
In the spirit of Pope Francis, let us be bold and creative in the task given to us by the Lord. In the coming months let us discern where the Lord may be calling us as His family in Achonry. What are the possibilities and opportunities He is offering us as priests and people?
So, is it worth it? Yes it is! As we lay prostrate before the altar on the day of our ordination, we were making the statement with our very bodies saying, we believe in Him, we trust in Him, we depend upon Him, we love Him. Let’s renew that belief, that trust, that dependence, that love this night…
“You did not chose me, no, I chose you.”
- Bishop Paul Dempsey is Bishop of Achonry. The Diocese of Achonry includes parts of counties Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo. The patrons of the diocese are Saint Nathy and Saint Attracta. The diocese has a Catholic population of 34,826 and there are 23 parishes and 47 churches.
- The Chrism Mass is usually held during Holy Week in every Catholic diocese. During this Mass, the priests, deacons and representatives of the entire diocesan community gather around their bishop, who blesses the Holy Oils for use in the coming year. These are: Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens, and Sacred Chrism. Whenever the Holy Oils are used in a diocese, the ministry of the Bishop who consecrated them is symbolically present. The Chrism Mass reminds us of our oneness in Christ through Baptism and its holy anointing, made possible by the ministry of the bishop and his priests. The Chrism Mass is also a key moment in which the unity of the Bishop with his priests (together, they form the presbyterate) is manifested and renewed. During the liturgy, the entire assembly is called to renew its baptismal promises; deacons and priests also renew their vow of obedience to the local bishop and their commitment to serve God’s people. At the end of the Chrism Mass, the Holy Oils are brought back to parishes of the diocese for use in the coming year.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678