Last night, 19th January, a 'TIME FOR PRIESTS' began, presented by 'The Hook of Faith'. It is a series of nine conferences for priests that explores priestly identity and mission in the Irish Church today.
Here are the notes for last night's session.
THE HOOK OF FAITH PRESENTS
A TIME FOR PRIESTS: 19TH January To 16th February 2021
Brothers, greetings to you all. I am delighted with the response from priests all over the country. Thank God for modern technology. This gathering is possible in a way not possible in real time.
My hope is that this will be a time of mutual support and encouragement. A time of care for you as priests. To hear once more the truth that you are good men and that you are good priests.
Question: who is a priest to priests?
This has been a challenging time of pandemic and lockdown. We priests are not immune from isolation, sickness and bewilderment about how we will be as a Church post-pandemic. We also have the additional shock of the Mother and Babies Home Report.
‘FAN INTO A FLAME THE GIFT OF GOD WHICH IS IN YOU THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF HANDS’ (2 Timothy 1:6)
‘For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time’ (2 Timothy 1:6-9).
I love being a priest. Out of all the things I have ever achieved in life, nothing surpasses being a priest.
That Jesus the high priest has come to me, united himself to me and seeks passionately to heal, save and forgive his people through me. An awesome mystery. We possess this treasure in clay and human weakness.
This conviction is alongside the dignity of all the baptized.
Start with this: to love our priesthood and the mystery of the priesthood in which we intimately share. It is what we all have in common. We are priests. To love your share in the priesthood of Christ. To love being priests.
This aspect of loving the priesthood is something we don’t hear enough about. We focus instead on efficiency and what we do. We have drifted towards becoming functionaries with management and administration.
If you have grown out of love with being a priest then I hope that through these conferences, God will bring you back to that first love.
If your love for the priesthood has grown less, then may it be made stronger. If your love for the priesthood is strong then I pray that that love will burn even brighter.
‘FAN INTO A FLAME THE GIFT OF GOD WHICH IS IN YOU THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF HANDS’ (2 Timothy 1:6).
That we may allow the Holy Spirit to re-ignite the flame of love for the priesthood, for Christ and for the Church that hopefully filled us on the day of ordination.
For a point of departure, in these talks I have chosen the Rite of Ordination as the content of our reflection. I invite you to join with me in re-visiting what happened on the day we were ordained: what were the prayers the Church made for us? What did the Church ask of us? Who did I become on that day and who do I remain? What did I commit myself to and how have I fared? 5, 10, 20, 30 or 50 years later.
One of the main reasons for the choice of the ordination rite as a point of departure is that it takes us back to a clearer sense of identity and reminds us who we are. Priesthood is not what we do primarily. It is who we are and who we are related to and in relationship with. Doing flows from being.
Pope Benedict’s Letter to Irish Catholics 19th March 2010
‘It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents and the liturgical rites of ordination….you will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church’. N. 14.
To the question of who we are, God’s Word tells us: “You are the salt of the earth”; “You are the light of the world”; (Matt. 5:13-16); “You are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people set apart” (1 Pet. 2:9-10); “You are the men who have stood faithfully by me in my trials” (Luke 22:28); “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children for that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). To the question of what is our mission in life, we are told: “As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21); “Go teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19); “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
These words remind us of our collective identity but leave us with the task to clarify our vocations in the Church and how we can accomplish the unique mission God has entrusted to each one of us. In other words, where do I fit in to God’s great plan? Where do I fit in now in God’s great plan?
For us priests, having a clear identity and mission is an essential ingredient in a vibrant and healthy Church in the present and the future. Priests who are clear in who they are and what they are about, instill confidence in those around them in a way that confirms the deepest faith instincts of the faithful.
Clericalism, No – A strong priestly identity Yes!!
This need to clarify our identity and mission is all the more urgent given the recent crises and upheaval.
REVIEWING THE LANDSCAPE
The Inner Landscape:
Lockdown, quieter time. A time to stop running from ourselves. To just be. More contemplation and prayer. Less activism. To sit with and be present to the inner ache and longing for God, for wholeness and intimacy. We have wounds of love in our souls.
Blaise Paschal: "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."
‘Stand still and do not waver from your emptiness’. Meister Eckhart.
Presenting our wounds of love before God.
St John of the Cross: Here is the ‘The inner wine cellar’
St Teresa of Avila: ‘The Interior Castle’. A re-centering of ourselves in Christ.
‘There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever seems to come to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a little bit of smoke coming through the chimney and pass on their way. Now…one must tend that inward fire, have salt in oneself and wait patiently and yet with much, how much impatience for the hour when somebody will come and sit down near, to stay there maybe. Let him who believes in God, wait for the hour that will come sooner or later’. Vincent van Gogh
The Outer Landscape:
Secularism, scandal, being counter-cultural; confusion, anxiety about the future and a realization that old systems are on the brink of collapse. The future that we thought would come in 10 years time, is already here today.
A new opportunity, a new beginning, a sense that the Church’s prophetic voice is needed more than ever. A time not to be intimated by those who don’t agree with us but to share the Gospel on our terms because we believe we have something to offer – something that is good, true and beautiful. The belief that faith in God hasn’t died completely. That people are crying out for a community to show them the true face of Christ.
A Church of conviction, not convention.
The importance of reclaiming our confidence. Confidence in God and his Word. Need to reclaim our confidence to speak again to the modern world.
Also our purpose: Patrick Kavanagh in ‘The Hell of Unfaith’ referred to “this hell of unfaith where no one has a purpose, where the web of meaning is broken threads and one man looks at another in fear”.
Significantly, Kavanagh concludes his poem with the simple prayer “O God give us purpose”.
One of the great values of reflecting again on the Rite of Ordination is that it helps restore that essential sense of identity, confidence and purpose.
Personal story: I was ordained on 7th June 1998. Video of ordination that I watch every year.
The reason I watch the video - it reminds me of something new that I had forgotten. I must have watched it 15 times already but something new always strikes me.
When I worked in seminary formation: my experience of attending ordinations every year and being moved by them.
I see and hear something the Lord wants me to hear and see with fresh urgency something that applies to my ministry as a priest today.
We know of course that embarking on this journey of return to the rite of ordination will be marked by a series of contrasts;
That was then. This is now. But life is not a series of unconnected chapters. All the chapters of our lives make up a single volume, a single book and a single story in which the day we were ordained was a defining moment. In the words of St Gregory the Great: ‘O Lord give me the grace to see life whole’.
Returning to the sources in Scripture:
With Jesus on teaching on marriage: ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female’ (Matt. 19:4).
He takes his listeners back to the beginning, how things are meant to be.
That’s why it is so important for us to return to the source and start again. Second Vatican Council: Ad fontes.
We are not unique in this. Happens all the time in the secular world.
Most institutions from colleges to multinational corporations are constantly reviewing and revisiting mission statements, core values, long term and short term goals and overall strategic plans. Otherwise, it is all too easy for us to get caught up in maintenance and lose sight of our mission.
My brothers, I pray with you and for you in these days of reflection and rest. My hope is that, in the words of T.S. Eliot, by reflecting prayerfully on the Rite of Ordination, it may ‘lead us to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’. T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding.
‘We priests became priests because in our youth we were fascinated by the person and the message of Jesus. That joyful and challenging experience changed our hearts. We have to become passionate again every new day, and restless in finding ways in which we can lead young people today to experience in their lives what the fascination with the message of Jesus meant to us in our youth’. +Diarmuid Martin, Chrism Mass 2016.