PRIESTLY ORDINATIONS FOR THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF ACCRA ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 26, 2017.
- Sermon: “The Eucharist and the New Evangelization”, Mary, Our Lady of Fatima and the Holy Priesthood are some of the various thoughts that come to my mind for today’s Ordination sermon.
1.1:In our First Reading, Isaiah the Prophet consoles the poor and broken-hearted People of Israel with the imminent coming of “the Lord’s year of favour… a day of his vindication”. Yes, the spirit of the Lord is upon God’s messenger who will proclaim a “time of glad tidings to the lowly, healing to the broken-hearted, liberty to (the) captives and release to (the) prisoners…” The Lord’s Anointed, the one on whom the spirit of the Lord dwells will bring “comfort to those who mourn… (the) oil of gladness…and a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.”
The Prophet Isaiah prophesies good news, the Lord’s year of favour, a new era of God’s peace and salvation to Zion. This is what Jesus Christ came to fulfill starting from the synagogue in Nazareth his mission of salvation to all of humanity (see Lk. 4:16-21). And before he left the world to go to God his Father, Jesus entrusted this mission of evangelization for the salvation of the world to his apostles (see Mt. 28:18-20).
My dearly beloved, soon in the Rite of Ordination, these seven sons of ours will be consecrated to the Lord and anointed in the power of the Holy Spirit by the Church’s Prayers of Consecration and the laying on of my hands and those of all the priests here present; this is the Ordination proper which will enable these sons of ours take up Christ’s mission of evangelization to the ends of the earth. This they are to do in a completely new way all together, as we usher in the era of New Evangelization.
1.2: In the Second Reading of today, St. Paul makes reference to the Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood of his disciple Timothy as “…the gift…which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate”. By this gift, St. Paul, who had the privilege of elevating Timothy to the Priesthood, in fact to be Bishop of Ephesus, is exhorting the young man, in spite of his tender age, “to set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity…”
In short, Timothy was to be a role-model for the assembly of believers entrusted to his care. As a presbyter, Timothy was to “attend to the reading (of the Word of God in the assembly), (the) exhortation, and teaching (of the faith, of course).”
“Be diligent in these matters”, St. Paul admonishes Timothy, and “be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone…” And finally, Timothy was to “persevere in both tasks of personal spiritual development and teaching…for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” Timothy was to work for the salvation of his listeners.
This, of course, is some of what will be expected of our dear sons when ordained to the Holy Priesthood and placed in position of leading the assembly of believers faithful to Christ the Lord and Saviour. They are to do this diligently, so St. Paul exhorts Timothy. This is what we learn from today’s gospel.
1.3: Our Gospel, taken from St. John, is one of the most emotional pieces of the entire New Testament; in it the Risen Christ confronts Simon Peter the leader of his twelve apostles with the same question three times, and three times he entrusts his sheep and lambs to the care of Simon Peter.
Permit me to reflect a little bit more on the dialogue we just heard between the Risen Lord and Simon Peter. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus asks. And Simon Peter answers: “Lord, you know that I love you” to which Jesus says, “Feed my lambs…Feed my sheep.”
In the gospel we are told that after Jesus asked the same question a third time, Simon Peter was disturbed and answered: “Lord, you know everything, and you know that I love you!”
My dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, there is something to learn here from both Jesus the Risen Lord and Simon Peter, in fact from Christ’s first question and from Simon Peter’s last answer. Let us reflect on these:
- Jesus’ first question surely sounds quite strange: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?” How could Simon Peter know the measure of the love of the others? My guess is that the Risen Lord was asking Simon Peter “…do you love me more than you love anybody and/or anything else?” In other words, the Lord Jesus was asking for total love from Simon, son of John, all his love and nothing less!
- Simon Peter answers truly saying: “Lord, you know that I love you!” And I am sure he meant what he was saying to the Lord Jesus, for which reason the Risen Lord entrusts his sheep and lambs to Simon Peter’s care. “Feed my lambs…sheep” and “Tend my sheep.”
- For your information, in the Hebrew culture, to call someone by his name and his parentage, Simon, son of John, means the matter at stake is very serious. And more so, to ask something three times connotes divine import. It is, therefore, not surprising that Simon Peter was upset, in fact, disturbed at that. Simon Peter now becomes conscious of the seriousness of the question and of the divine stature of the one questioning him. It is the Lord!
- This is what also makes the final answer of Simon Peter very poignant and revealing: “Lord, you know everything, and you know that I love you!”
Simon Peter, having come to the realization that he once promised fidelity to Jesus Christ and had failed miserably, now makes a confession of his weakness first before the Lord his God; “Lord, you are God, you know everything…” And then he immediately professes his full love for the same Lord thus: “…and you (also) know that I love you!” In fact, Simon Peter admits having failed before, but he also professes that his love for the Lord was, and still is, total, as full as he is capable of giving.
1.4: My dearly beloved sons, this is what the Priesthood is about, giving to the Lord Jesus Christ our total love and self, giving to him even our weakness and failures, too. The Lord does not call us into service because we are perfect; all he wants of us is that we are ready to serve him in (or out of our) total love, and to give to the ministry of the Holy Priesthood our all, relying completely on the Lord our God and his will or direction for our lives.
This is what we learn from Jesus’ concluding injunction to Simon Peter saying: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” “Follow me!”
My dear sons, soon you are going to be asked to grow old, so to speak as you answer the questions I will ask you. You will have to declare publicly and of your own free will that for the rest of your lives you will do everything out of total love for the Lord Jesus and you will follow him, literally walking in his footsteps.
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, please let me deepen the meaning of this command, “Follow me”. Follow me in the mouth of the Risen Lord means, come, be with me and do just as I do; live as I live. This call to follow Christ totally is what today has come to be known as the call to the evangelical counsels of Obedience, Poverty and celibate Chastity.
1.5: Yes, to follow Christ Jesus means to live the evangelical counsels, whether you are a religious or a diocesan priest;
- to live in Christ-like obedience to the will of God his Father: the Holy Bible tells us “Son though he was, Christ learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Heb. 5:8-9; see also Phil. 2:6-11).
- Living a Christ-like life means embracing poverty of heart and soul, because Christ Jesus, “…even though rich, he became poor for our sake in order to make us rich…” (2 Cor. 8:9).
- That Jesus Christ lived a life of virginal purity and celibate chastity is unquestionable, indeed this is amply testified to in the gospels, for instance: “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). See also Mt. 19:10-12.
And so, my dear sons, you who are soon to be ordained and consecrated to a Christ-like life, this is what you are being called to, to follow Christ in total love and service, in obedience, in detachment from material considerations and possessions, and in a life of self-sacrifice all for the glory of God. In Church jargon, you are being called to become Alter Christus for the people of God to whom you are being sent. They are to see Christ the Lord in you, in your speech, your conduct, love, faith, and purity, like St. Paul exhorted Timothy.
You are to become the very sacrament of Christ; St. Paul says, “I live, but not I, it is Christ that lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20).
1.6: Some practical recommendations: Let me now conclude my reflection with some practical recommendations inspired by the various celebrations of this year, namely Ghana’s 60th Independence Anniversary, the 4th National Eucharistic Congress and its theme, and the Centenary of the Apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in Portugal.
Once ordained to the Holy Priesthood, Holy Mother Church gives you the faculty to administer the Sacraments of the Church to the People of God, most especially to offer Holy Mass or the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist daily, bringing the saving power of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ to all for the salvation of the world.
Dwelling on the powerful words of Consecration in the Holy Mass, let me exhort you to meditate daily on them and to try to live them until they become your life in prayer, praise and sacrifice, namely:
- “Take and eat, this is my body…”
- “Take and drink, this is the chalice of my blood…”
- “Do this in memory of me!”
In very simple terms, every priest is called to follow Jesus Christ and to offer his very life as prayer, praise and sacrifice to God for his flock of sheep and lambs. This is the very deep spiritual meaning of Jesus’ command at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me!” Every priest is called to become bread that is broken and eaten, wine that is poured out in sacrifice for the salvation of the world. In brief, the priest is to become a Eucharistic sacrifice and Eucharistic person by his life of love and service; his very life is to become the gospel of Christ for people to read.
This life of selfless service, love and sacrifice is what Ghana at 60 needs today. We need men and women of patriotic love and service for this country; men and women who are ready to sacrifice and even die for Ghana and for our fellow citizens. May you be such good role-models for Ghana by your very lives as priests in perfect obedience, generous poverty and celibate chastity in total purity of body, heart and soul!
Again, like Mother Mary, who bore Christ in her womb and gave Him to us for the salvation of the world, may you also bring the Word of God, Christ Jesus incarnated in your lives to all who meet you! May Our Lady of Fatima continue to intercede for you always!
Finally, meditate on this powerful poem! May it become true for you in your lives! O Priest of Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass, as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, and your only Mass!
Most Rev. Charles G. PALMER-BUCKLE,
Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra,
Saturday, August 26, 2017.