2016 PRIESTLY ORDINATION HOMILY
HOLY SPIRIT CATHEDRAL, ADABRAKA – ACCRA
- Sermon: “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit! For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained”. My dearly beloved in Christ, these are words taken from today’s Gospel, which I have chosen together with the First and Second Readings from the Prophet Isaiah and from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, respectively. I intentionally picked these readings so that I can share a reflection on the Holy Priesthood within the context of the Extraordinary Jubilee (Year) of Mercy, being celebrated from December 08, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, until November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
In an interview on his reasons for proclaiming a Jubilee of Mercy, our Holy Father, Pope Francis said: “I am ever more convinced of it, this is a kairos, our era is a kairos of mercy, a time of opportunity” (see: The name of God is mercy, page 4). And in the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (the Face of Mercy), the Holy Father writes:
“I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective” (MV 3).
According to Pope Francis, it is a time in which “we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives”. This fatherly directive of the Pope is what I am trying to follow in my reflection on the Holy Priesthood within the spiritual context of the Jubilee of Mercy.
“Yes, if only we knew the gift of God!” Keeping this in the back of our minds, let us open up our hearts to God’s gift of the Holy Priesthood!
2.1: Ordination in the Jubilee Year of Mercy: To you, my dear sons soon-to-be-ordained priests, know that you are being ordained to the Holy Priesthood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. As I have quoted above, this is “a kairos, a time of opportunity”, and “an extraordinary time of grace” (MV 5). Never forget the extraordinary time in which you are being ordained, and may the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy mark your souls indelibly in your future ministry as priests of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the words of Jesus to the Samaritan Woman: “If only you knew the gift of God” keep ringing in your heart and soul all through your life! Yes, Jesus is saying them to you and to me today. Let us listen to him!
1.2: Every Priest is called to be the face of Jesus Christ! Opening the Bull of Indiction, Pope Francis writes: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s Mercy”. For, in the “fullness of time”… “(God) sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way.”
The Holy Father continues: “Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God” (MV 1).
So, my dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, this teaching is what I believe is also being emphasized in the Gospel of today, as the risen Lord, appearing in the Upper Room and in the midst of his apostles, says to them: “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you…Receive the Holy Spirit! For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained”.
Let us listen carefully again to this Gospel, and reflect on the words of Jesus Christ, for they really show us how he is the face of the Father’s mercy, and how he shows the Father’s mercy to his apostles, and how he also sends his apostles to be his face to humanity as a whole.
1.2.1: “Peace be with you…” By and through these words, the risen Lord Jesus forgives his apostles and grants them his peace; come to think of it, one apostle had betrayed him to be crucified; another had denied knowing him three times; the rest of the apostles had deserted him to die alone, in spite of their swearing allegiance and friendship to him. They had really sinned against their best friend of three years, and now here he was standing before them. A ghost or a person? They surely were frightened, and so he calms their fears: “Peace be with you…”
We are told the risen Lord then showed them his hands and his side, and again he said to them: “Peace be with you…” By these words and actions, Jesus forgives them completely of their sins of betrayal, denial and desertion. He reveals to them the unfathomable mercy of God the Father.
1.2.2: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you…” Not only does Jesus forgive them totally, now he is going to send them just as God his Father has sent him. And so, we are told, “he breathed unto them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’”
This act – he breathed unto them – takes us back to the Prophecy of Isaiah in the First Reading of today: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me and he has sent me to bring the good news to the poor…” It is this same prophecy that Jesus Christ will adopt as his manifesto (his mission statement), so to speak, at the start of his public ministry in the Synagogue at Nazareth (see Luke 4. 18-19). Yes, God gives his Holy Spirit to Christ, his Son, at his baptism, and anoints him so that he can bring God’s good news to the poor…
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is the Face of God’s mercy, is here at work in today’s Gospel; he shows God’s mercy to his apostles who had betrayed, denied and deserted him to die alone on the cross. In the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus 3, Pope Francis teaches that: “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive”.
This is very true of the experience of the apostles, the first time they encounter the risen Lord. “If only you knew the gift of God!” Indeed, the very first gift of the risen Jesus is to forgive his apostles, and then to give them the power to forgive sins in his name.
1.3: “Receive the Holy Spirit…”: My dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, very soon during the Ordination Rite, we shall invoke the Holy Spirit to come upon these men and to pour out his graces upon them. God will, without fail, send his Spirit upon them through the prayer of consecration and the laying on of my hands and of those of all the concelebrating priests.
Unworthy as we are, the God, who, in the Second Reading of today, chooses the weak to confound the strong, and the unwise to put to shame the wise, will, certainly in the name of Jesus Christ, his Only-begotten Son, choose and consecrate these young men into priests in the Presbyteral Order.
“If you knew the gift of God!” Whatever we are, and we do as priests is by the power of the Holy Spirit which Jesus Christ breathed out unto the apostles, and which, to date, has been handed down from them through the Order of Bishops to priests in the Church. This is what God is about to do for these seven sons of yours.
My dear sons, my wish and prayer for you is that you will never ever doubt this gift of God which you will receive through the laying on of hands and the prayers of consecration of the Church. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, first and foremost, you will be moulded into the likeness of Christ, Teacher, Priest and Shepherd. God will not only make a gift of the Holy Priesthood to you, God will also make of you a gift to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ and, at the same time, make of you a gift and a blessing to humanity. “If you knew the gift of God!”
“In this Jubilee Year”, our Holy Father exhorts us all in general, and especially you my dear sons in particular, thus: “let us allow God to surprise us”. But not only that, “we (also) are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (MV 25, 3). This, I believe is what you, my dear sons, are being called to make your lifelong spiritual goal in the Holy Priesthood.
1.3.1: Just one more quotations from Misericordiae Vultus for our edification! In order to express his very deep desire for the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis writes: “How much I desire that the year…will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!
“May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst!” (MV 5).
1.3.2: The Priest: a missionary of mercy and an ambassador of reconciliation: Our Holy Father says specifically in relation to our priestly ministry: “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope” (MV 10).
This, I believe, is exactly what must have happened to the apostles of Jesus Christ on the day of the resurrection as seen in today’s Gospel. He, first, forgave them and reawakened them to new life, giving them courage to look to the future with hope; and then he sent them out to be missionaries of his mercy and ambassadors of reconciliation in Christ Jesus.
Again, as Pope Francis teaches: “Jesus asks us…to forgive and to give. To be instruments of mercy because it was we who first received mercy from God. To be generous with others, knowing that God showers his goodness upon us with immense generosity”
“…In mercy we find proof of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing in return…” (MV 14).
And so as priests, we are to be truly “the face of Jesus Christ, who is “merciful like the Father”. To the Church and to us the priests, the Pope says “let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands…
[“I will never tire of insisting that confessors be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy…We become good confessors when, above all, we allow ourselves to be penitents in search of his mercy. Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves.]
“We priests have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and we are responsible for this. None of us wields power over this Sacrament; rather, we are faithful servants of God’s mercy through it…” (MV 17 very important).
[“God’s forgiveness knows no bounds. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God makes even more evident his love and its power to destroy all human sin. Reconciliation with God is made possible through the paschal mystery and the mediation of the Church. Thus God is always ready to forgive, and he never tires of forgiving in ways that are continually new and surprising…” (MV22).]
“May the message of mercy reach everyone” (MV 19).
With regards to the Church, this is again what Pope Francis says: “…the Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love” (MV10).
“Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (MV 12).
1.4: Sent to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour: My dear brothers and sisters, in all his mission of mercy, so to speak, the priest is consecrated and sent to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, which Christ took upon himself to fulfill; namely to “bring the good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison, and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour…”
In the context of the Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father says: “A ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ or ‘mercy’: that is what the Lord proclaimed and this is what we wish to live now. (repeat!)
The Pope further explains: “This Holy Year will bring to the fore the richness of Jesus’ mission echoed in the words of the prophet: to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed” (MV 16).
Proclaiming the Lord’s year of favour is to be the life project of every priest, because by our ordination, we are moulded into the likeness of Christ the Teacher, Priest and Shepherd. Just as he sends his apostles to forgive sins in his name, so also Jesus the Lord sends his priests today to bring about God’s year of favour and of mercy. In other words, the priest is called to be “alter Christus” (another Christ), the face of Christ, who also is the face of the Father, to the people.
1.5: My dear sons, you are to become the face of Christ, of God’s mercy to the world through preaching the good news and teaching his message of love and mercy to all. You are to be men of prayer, daily praying the Divine Office for the Church and for the faithful people under your care; you will have the singular honour and responsibility to celebrate the holy Eucharist regularly, renewing the saving sacrifice of Christ, and making him sacramentally present to believers on the altar and in the other sacraments. It is in this way also that you will grow and mature into the full stature of Christ as St. Paul puts it in his Letter to the Ephesians 4:13; and so become a more effective sign of the Father’s mercy in your lives (see MV 3).
1.6: Conclusion: If only you knew the gift of God. My dear brothers and sisters, I began my sermon with these words of Christ to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, which our Holy Father put into his prayer for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
I cannot but thank the Holy Father for proclaiming the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and if I have seemingly overemphasized his message in the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (the Face of Mercy), it is also because “I (too) am (now) ever more convinced … this is a kairos, our era is a kairos of mercy, a time of opportunity.”
As I continue to wake up to the immense and unfathomable riches, blessings and graces of God’s Mercy in Christ Jesus, I want to cry out with St. Paul indeed: “Blessed be God the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ” (Eph. 1.3). In and through the gift of the Holy Priesthood, God the Father has truly blessed all of humanity with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
And for this, let us praise and glorify the Lord our God in the Magnificat of our Mother Mary “…for the Almighty has done great things to (us) and holy is his name!”
For you, my dear priests to-be of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, allow yourselves to be surprised by God always; and through you, may God surprise the world by the gift of your total self in the Holy Priesthood. May you grow to cherish this gift through an ever-deepening personal relationship with Christ! May you become ever more and more that face of the Father’s Mercy, the mercy-full sacrament and mercy-filled vessel of God and of Christ to humanity!
“As the Father sent me, so do I send you…Receive the Holy Spirit…” May the Holy Spirit make you daily more and more Christ-filled and through you may Christ reach out to all in the mercy of God the Father.
As priests of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, borrowing from the words of Pope Francis in MV 3: may you continue “to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that you may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives!”
May God in his mercy not only surprise you of his grandeur, may his bounteous mercy also convict you and convert you, like Christ did to the apostles! And may you live your entire priesthood as you continue to unearth every more deeply this mystery of God’s mercy, Christ Jesus, and become day in day out the missionaries of God’s mercy and ambassadors of Christ’s reconciliation!
May Mary, the Mother of Mercy, lead you deeper into unbreakable relationship of love and mercy with her Son and Lord Jesus Christ!
May St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, whose memorial we remember today, continue to intercede for you in your entire priestly life!
Arise, Catholic Faithful! Rejoice and Renew!
Be merciful like the Father!
If only you knew the gift of God! Amen!
Most Rev. Charles G. PALMER-BUCKLE,
Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra,
Saturday, August 27, 2016,
Memorial of St. Monica!