As we gather for the ordination to the priesthood of Liwei, Joseph and Clement, I welcome you all, especially the Provincial Superior, Father Timothy Lehane, and his SVD confrères.
This is an important day for the Society of the Divine Word Missionaries. Liwei, Clement and Joseph, I would suspect that this day has been a long time coming for you. Since you entered formation, you have been availing of the rich and varied opportunities presented to you in Ghana, China and Ireland, in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, where you studied scripture and theology, and more recently when you served in the parishes of Leixlip, Jobstown and Knock. Furthermore, your priesthood will be shaped in response to special needs in the church and according to a particular charism given to your founder, Arnold Janssen. You have reflected on all of that in your prayer life and in your relationship with the Lord. Many hours in preparation have taken place for this day. Through your careful discernment and prayer, you have discovered that God has called you to this vocation, and now you are responding with your whole heart. Today, the Church entrusts to you this sacred ministry of priesthood. Through the laying on of hands, you will share in Christ’s sacred ministry.
When Jesus walked the roads of Palestine, he proclaimed the Word of God and Jesus himself, in person, brought God’s mercy and comfort to all. Encounter with the person of Jesus makes us who we are, and shapes what we do. “I do not live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Being at the service of this encounter is therefore the heart of our mission. As envisioned by your founder, Saint Arnold Janssen, the missionary outreach work of the Society is to bring the good news of Jesus to places where the Gospel has not yet been preached or sufficiently rooted, or where the local church is not yet viable, and especially to poor and marginalized people.
Yet, that is not the entire story! Not only did Jesus proclaim the Word, he was and is the Word made flesh, who entered human history. Moreover, he gave himself away utterly. Because Christ has gone before us in life and in death, he gives us a new vision, opens up new horizons, travels with us on that road and nourishes us, bringing us hope and the courage to carry the message that “Christ, the Saviour, has been born” to those who have not yet heard it or who cannot yet believe it (Luke 2:11). His mission is your mission.
Arnold Janssens, whose call to priesthood was deepened when he founded the Divine Word Missionaries, embodies the qualities of simplicity, humility, a spirit of hard work, trust in God; he loved God above all else and had a great love for the missionary work of the Church. The second founder of your missionary Society, Joseph Freinademetz, whose Feast Day was celebrated yesterday, was a “wandering” missionary who moved from place to place, founding new Christian communities and strengthening the old ones in their faith. Both he and Arnold Janssens gave up their lives in service of the people entrusted to them. Since the foundation of Society of the Divine Word Missionaries 147 years ago, your members have responded to the changing needs of the Church and the people they serve. Indeed, today’s ceremony illustrates the multicultural charism of the Society, whose priests build up communities in faith and connect them to the wider, global church.
Joseph, Liwei and Clement, during the ceremony today, I will present you the paten and chalice containing the gifts to be offered in the Eucharist, saying “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate, model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” The lives of your founders teach us to remain before the cross, to let the crucified Christ gaze upon us, to let ourselves be forgiven, and to be recreated by his love. It is not after the passion, but at the heart of the cross that we come to see the truth (1 Cor 2:2). Like Christ, Christians, too, will follow the same path, so as to be transformed into the image of the Son, by the action of the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor 3:18). As is repeatedly made clear in the Acts of the Apostles, it is the Holy Spirit, God’s breadth in us, who thrusts “us out of our ecclesiastical nest into mission” (see Timothy Radcliffe, Why Go To Church? The Drama of the Eucharist, p 198). In imitation of the Lord, we too must give ourselves away utterly. Clement, Liwei and Joseph embrace the cross, embrace the way of God.
Today you are asked: “are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?” In both Arnold Janssens and Joseph Freinademetz one finds a deep love for the Word of God. Like them your ministry must be empowered by the Word. As priests you are called to communicate the living Word of God to others by preaching, instruction, writing, indeed, all available means of communication. The essence of the Gospel is spreading the Gospel.
Yet, preaching and teaching requires more of you than learning and good technique. “The homily is the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people” (Evangelii Gaudium, 135). Our words must engage with the complexity of people’s lives, what they suffer and enjoy; otherwise they will be vacuous. As Pope Francis said “Christ’s message must truly penetrate and possess the preacher, not just intellectually but in his entire being” (Evangelii Gaudium, 151). That takes time. As you preach and teach, people will want to know if you are personally invested in what you say. When you were ordained to the diaconate you were entrusted with the Book of the Gospels with these words: “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” As priests should be: competent preachers; inspiring leaders of worship and prayer; community leaders who collaborate with laity, especially women; worthy and competent representatives of the church; and practitioners of “pastoral charity.”
It is His Gospel that you proclaim and preach, not yours; it is the Word of God, not our own word! (2 Cor 4:5). It is the Word, however, that we must make our own. It must be preached without compromise, without accommodation, fear or hesitation, in a culture where there is neither harmonious uniformity nor aggressive opposition. Your words, your deeds, your conduct, and your demeanour must brim with the radiant truth and love of Jesus who lives among us in the Church (Col 1:28). Saints Arnold and Joseph spoke not merely with words, but with their lives. Let the Spirit inscribe the Word on your heart so that your lips may utter words of wisdom and love. As priests, you are to further the Church’s sacramental and liturgical life, celebrating the Eucharist, baptizing, reconciling sinners, witnessing marriages, and anointing of the sick in the name of the Lord.
Be inspired and assisted by the example and encouragement of your founders. Many people said that Arnold Janssens was not the right man for the job, or that the times were not right for such a project. Arnold’s answer was, “The Lord challenges our faith to do something new precisely when so many things are collapsing in the Church.” We need to be brave in reimagining our Church so that it will continue to inspire and support a living faith in a secularised society.
Be an imitator of Joseph Freinademetz whose whole life was an expression of his motto: “The language that all people understand is that of love.” Make your own the words of St John Paul II on the occasion of the canonisation of Saint Joseph Freinademetz, “And they went forth and preached everywhere” (Mk 16: 20). The Evangelist Mark ends his Gospel with these words. He then adds that the Lord never ceases to accompany the activity of the Apostles with the power of His miracles. Echoing these words of Jesus, the words of St Joseph Freinademetz are filled with faith: ‘I do not consider missionary life as a sacrifice I offer to God but as the greatest grace, that God, could ever have lavished upon me.’” He made a gift of himself to the Chinese peoples of southern Shandong, embracing “their living conditions, in accordance with his own advice to his missionaries: ‘Missionary work is useless if one does not love and is not loved.’ An exemplary model of Gospel inculturation, this Saint imitated Jesus, who saved men and women by sharing their existence to the very end” (5th October 2003).
Inculturation also applies to Ireland which was declared a mission territory over twenty years ago by the Divine Word Missionaries. Joseph Freinademetz had the capacity to inculturate: which is an expression of respect and acceptance of the other, a putting of the other before the self, an act of service, which requires humility and endurance, and ultimately, a most profound witness to the Incarnation, the humble presence of God among us in his Son, and the enduring affirmation of all that He created.
As a priest your ministry is not only at the altar, but it is also in the world, sanctifying it by your life and ministry. Salvation is concrete, or nothing at all. Indeed, the same is true of the Church. A purely invisible Church banished to inwardness has betrayed the reality of redemption. So too for Pope Saint John Paul II, “if we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). The challenge is to draw others into ministries of charity, conscious of Christ’s command, “You must Love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).
I join with your own families and your Divine Word confrères, in warmly congratulating you and in doing so, I congratulate your parents, your family and all who have been involved in your formation for the way in which they have contributed to making you the person that you are, ready to go forward “so the Gospel may reach the ends of the earth, and the family of nations, made one in Christ, may become God’s one, holy people (Prayer of Consecration, Liturgy of Ordination).
- Archbishop Dermot Farrell is Archbishop of Dublin. This Mass was celebrated yesterday in the Church of Saint Philip the Apostle, Mountview in Dublin 15.
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