- “The priesthood is so important, vital not only for the Church, but also for the whole world. Every priest is a sign of God’s love” – Bishop Cullinan
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially you, dear brother John, who is about to be ordained, it is very good to be here.
I want to welcome all of your family who are here today, your parents Michael and Patricia, your brothers and sister, Declan, Stephen and Deirdre, and also wish to welcome all of you who are joining us through livestream. I wish to greet the Abbot General of the Cistercian Order, Eamon Fitzgerald, all of the Cistercian community here and from around the country. It is a great day for you and for us all – a beautiful day especially in the life of the community here in Mount Melleray and indeed for the whole diocese.
We are here today because of Jesus, who wants his priesthood to continue in the world. And the question John that he asks you is the question he asked Peter three times.
Do you love me? Do you want to follow me in this way? Will you give me your life?
The priesthood is so important, vital not only for the Church, but also for the whole world. Every priest is a sign of God’s love, a sign that God is still working in the world, still carrying out his plan of redemption. For generations of people Mount Melleray has been central to this area and beyond, central to the faith and lives of countless souls. How many people have been spiritually fed here, consoled, encouraged, pardoned.
John you are part of this proud tradition, and part of a praying community. To that you will bring your own story and gifts. God asks of you that you play your part in this great tradition.
Some few weeks ago I met a priest from another diocese who told me that Mickey Harte the former Tyrone football manager had given the priests of that diocese a talk. He set up a TV in the room and showed them a goal from a Tyrone match. A very good goal. But then he showed the previous two minutes in the lead-up to the goal. He pointed out how several team members from the goal-keeper up to the full-forward had gained a few yards and made a few good passes, a few good sidesteps and eventually fed the ball to the full-forward who had the good fortune to score the goal and get the glory. But it was a team effort. Each played his part. Here in Mount Melleray John you are called to play your part. I hope that you will not have to sidestep the abbot.
All you need do is give your heart and mind to this community and the people you serve. Jesus is of course at the centre and the holy rule of Saint Benedict with its tremendous insights and wisdom will help you be holy and happy and fulfilled.
Today, our Lord is saying to you within the Cistercian community – follow me also in the priesthood. He is sending you to be a messenger of his merciful love, a steward of his holy mysteries, and a teacher of the truth about God and the sanctity and dignity of the human person. You have said YES but remember that Jesus chose you first
As in the 1st reading
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.’
In the Gospel too we hear that He chose his disciples. It is all about Jesus who knows you better than you know yourself.
Come my beloved brother, follow me in the priesthood, a vocation within a vocation.
Your first vocation was given you in Baptism, to be a son of God and follower of Christ, then the vocation to be a Cistercian and now within that vocation you are being called to priesthood.
To which the Lord has called you. How beautiful that line in the Gospel for today:
Jesus came and stood among them.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’
John, you are to be a priest of the pandemic generation, a pandemic which has turned the world up-side down. In a special way, you must bring hope and help to restore people’s trust – that God is still with us. People will look to you John as they look to all priests and religious for inspiration and guidance:
A priest should always be transparent. People should be able to “see right through you,” and through you, see the love of Christ.
A priest must see beyond the passing, the ephemeral, beyond the surface.
To the one in whose person they act.
It is all about Christ and his people.
John, before all else, you must try to “be Jesus” for people. Not only when you proclaim his Word, or celebrate the sacred mysteries at the altar. But in all things.
Speak of his love, share his wisdom and knowledge. Tell the stories of his life. Touching the divine, touching Christ.
Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead.
Try to be a living example of his tender mercy.
And we all know that every priest is a sinner called to holiness, just like every other baptized believer.
So, open your heart to the heart of Jesus, the heart that was pierced on the Cross out of love for all humanity. Love with the heart of Jesus and carry out your daily ministry in quiet acts of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. In the confessional you will impart God’s mercy in the wonderful and underused sacrament of Penance.
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
Love the Holy Mass. Make the celebration of the Eucharist the centre of each day. Live for the Mass, and live from the Mass!
At the altar, you are truly Christ, standing in persona Christi. Never take this for granted! Always do holy things in a holy way, knowing that in your hands you hold the bread of eternal life!
Give him everything you have, all that you are, even though you know you are weak and imperfect. All your thoughts and actions, your sacrifices and sufferings. Your voice, your hands, your heart.
Brothers and sisters, I ask you all – let’s pray for our newly ordained – and for all our priests in this difficult time. Let’s also pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, that many more men will hear our Lord’s call to follow him and to be his friends.
Brother John, stay close always to our Blessed Mother Mary. I know that years ago you visited Medjugorje as I did just last week. All our group prayer for you there. People from Saint Paul’s parish especially where you grew up. Call on Mary as a child, love her as your mother. I ask her intercession now for your priesthood. Through Mary, may you draw closer to her Son and become ever more like him.
And yes you may say as we all would say that I am not worthy that, “I do not know how to speak: I am a child!’ “But the Lord will reply,
“Do not be afraid,…. I am with you” as we read from the prophet Jeremiah.
And so John you are asked just to play your part as best you can with God’s grace, knowing that God is with you, now and in all the days to come.
- Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan is Bishop of Waterford & Lismore. This homily was preached in Mount Melleray Abbey, Cappoquin, Co Waterford, on Sunday 26 September.
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