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Mgr Newton's Ordination Homily
Mgr Keith Newton preached at the ordination to the Sacred Priesthood of Fr James Bradley and Fr Daniel Lloyd on Saturday 21 April 2012:
As you send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. John 17:19
The popularity of David Attenborough programmes such as Frozen Planet, Life of Mammals, and so on, shows the continuing fascination many people have with the natural world. We inhabit this planet with many other creatures but, in a large measure, its future is in our hands whether we believe in global warming or not. That God is the creator of the world and all that is in it is a basic doctrine of the Faith. It was for this world that our Blessed Lord lived and died, as Saint John reminds us in one of the most well-known verses of the Gospels:
'God so loved the world that gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life' John 3:16
Did you notice, then, that the word 'world' occurred nine times in today's Gospel reading? In it, Jesus tells his disciples that they do not belong to the world. They are in it but not of it. This is because they have been chosen by Christ, and the world will hate them as it hated him. There are really difficult words, and certainly Jesus did not leave his followers under any illusions about the consequences of following him, and in those early years his followers experienced what it meant to be persecuted.
But how are we to understand this passage? What does it mean for us not to belong to the world, when at so many levels we obviously do belong to the world? We eat and drink and breathe, fall in love and marry, buy and sell houses and take part in politics. Such passages have led some Christians to shun the world and to see Christianity only involved with the things of the Spirit. But other parts of scripture lead us to believe that creation is good and the material world has been sanctified by the incarnation of Jesus, who took flesh for our sake.
In Saint John's Gospel, the world 'world' often seems to suggest not only the created order, but also a human society which has no place for God. Inevitably there is bound to be a clash between those for whom God is the all-embracing and abiding reality for whom the demands of God control the way we live, and those for whom such talk is meaningless or irrelevant. But even within the Christian world there is significant difference between those who believe that God has acted and revealed himself in Jesus and that revelation challenges us about the way we conduct our lives, and those for whom religion seems little more than a way of expressing our deepest human aspirations. Between those who think faith is a gift to be received, however challenging for us, and those who think we should always be acceptable to the world as a way of gaining followers.
It seems to me that Pope Benedict's teaching often focuses on this; the need to stand up for the values of the Gospel in a secular world. We are, as Catholics, counter-cultural; we will often find ourselves against the world as far as the prevailing culture is concerned - which in the 'post-Christian world' does little more than pay lip-service to the Faith. We are beginning to learn this as never before, when a government tells us it values the Christian Faith, and yet is planning to bring forward legislation on marriage which will undermine some of its basic truths.
James and Daniel: it is in this world that you are called to minister and will have to live out your priestly calling. It is an office of great dignity, but of great challenges. Indeed, for the most part, the world does not understand what a Priest is. It will often be an heroic struggle, as there must be an element of sacrifice in your life, where your priestly ministry must be put before your own personal needs. For this you will need to put your life close to Christ. Indeed, in a few moments you will be encouraged to 'model your lives on the mystery of the Lord's cross'.
Of course, the words of that opening text apply to all Christian disciples, but they apply in a particular way to those who have been chosen to share in Christ's Priesthood through ordination.
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.
Jesus was aware that he had been sent by the Father, and he now send you out with the same mission, to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments in a secular and sometimes hostile world. In the second volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth, our Holy Father Pope Benedict considers this passage and points out that consecration and mission are intrinsically linked. Sanctity or holiness belongs only to God, so to be consecrated means to be set apart for God, but also for his mission to the world. "Consecration", he says, "means that God is exercising a total claim over this man, 'setting him apart' for himself, yet at the same time sending him out for the nations". There is your commission.
No doubt you will both be feeling ill-equipped and unworthy of this great calling: and so you should, as none of us can be Priests because of our own goodness or in our own strength. A few years ago my attention was drawn to a poem by George Herbert, a seventeenth century Anglican Divine, which I hope is part of that Anglican Patrimony we bring to the Catholic Church. The poem is called Aaron, and in it he begins by describing the lovely robes of Aaron the priest, and goes on to lament the defects of his own life by comparison, and says 'poor priest thus am I drest'.
In the following verse he gives the solution. The priest is not a priest in his own right, but acting as a representative of someone else. It is that persons character and goodness he 'wears' as if it were a garment. In him, he says, he is 'well drest'.
Then he reveals that the person is Christ himself who is described in the Epistle to the Hebrews as 'our great high priest'.
Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev'n dead;
That to the old Man I may rest
And be in him new drest.
James and Daniel: I hope you have prepared for this day with awe and trepidation. It is a great calling, but one all priests know they can never live up to - you will live with that knowledge all your life. But you need also to have confidence that, through his grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be set apart to stand in his place as you present his sacrifice in the Mass, and in him you will be 'well drest'.