23 Sep Ordained a Priest
Order of Service
Homily by Bishop Duncan Tsoke
A few moments ago, in response to the assurances given to me by Fr David on behalf of those who have been part of the formation of Matthew, and speaking in the name of the Church and of our Archdiocese, I proclaimed that “relying on the help of the Lord God and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, we choose this our brother for the Order of Priesthood”. It is a solemn moment but also one of joy as the applause with which we all greeted this proclamation shows. Tonight’s Gospel reminds us that it is also a moment of confirmation. Matthew has only reached this crucial moment in his life, tonight after a long and sometimes challenging journey of discernment and discovery. In all kinds of ways, some of which Matthew might be able to identify and some of which are hidden to him, God has been at work in his life, whispering to him in his heart, shaping and moulding him through moments of suffering and moments of joy, revealing Himself to him in the people he has encountered and the challenges he has had to face. In all of this, the words of tonight’s Gospel cry out to him: “Peace be with you, As the Father has sent me, so I send you Matthew ”. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ”Receive the Holy Spirit.”
St Paul in our second reading to the Corinthians reminds his readers, and of course us, that “we are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us”. The New Testament speaks often about treasure. In the Gospels, Jesus tells us that where our heart is there will our treasure also be. To discover what we have set our hearts on is really important for all of us and no more so than for newly ordained priest. For St Paul, in tonight’s second reading the treasure of which he speaks is “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ”. As the popular hymn Earthen Vessels phrases it, we have “one treasure only, the Lord, the Christ, in earthen vessels.”
Now as we approach the moment when you are ordained a Priest of Jesus Christ I know that you are aware and grateful to all who have assisted you in reaching this day. Indeed your choice of readings for the liturgy of the Word – readings from Jeremiah, St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and from the gospel according to John – enable us to see a little into the soul and mind of one who takes on priestly ministry as their way of life, their profession.
In the first instance there is the mystery of the sense of being called, as Jeremiah describes it, or of being a prisoner of the Lord, as St Paul describes his calling. This sense of being called, this attraction to the service of the transcendent, quickly clashes with the human sense of inadequacy, weakness and apprehension. This tension is found in the biographies of all vocations. Then through training, prayer spiritual guidance, trial, error and correction, the sense of vocation grows, strengthens and consolidates. Apprehension is understood, tamed and rendered manageable and one learns time and again that one is a minister of the dynamism and power of God’s Word and Grace, of the self-sacrificing and healing love of Jesus Christ, not of any personal accomplishment, nor of institutional power. One is a servant, a channel of divine grace, a bridge- builder, a pontifex, to divine mystery and its workings.
The scene you have chosen for the Liturgy of the Word from the gospel of John recalls the appearance of the Risen Christ to his disciples. The primary recollection of the author is of the words he spoke : Peace be with you. They are addressed to these disciples, fearful, disoriented, let-down, drained of morale after the arrest, trial, torture, and death of God in Jesus of Nazareth. This risen Christ does not deny their horror, nor chastise their weakness – he shows them the wounds he bears, as he reveals and makes present among them the new life, the new power of hope he offers, a new life and a hope he asks them to proclaim and hand on.
Matthew, this evening, you become a priest, a minister, of that peace of the risen Christ. Like all clergy and religious you become that minister in and to a broken, wounded humanity, as you share and bear, Christ- like, its frailty, violence, contradictions and its greatness.
This peace of the risen Christ calls Christians to form communion and unity in faith. As a priest of Christ, Matthew, like all other priests, you are called to serve, build, and re- build, where it is broken, that unity of Christ’s peace.
This you will not, indeed you cannot, accomplish alone. The priest’s is not a solo act. St Paul, in this extract from the letter to the Ephesians that you have not chosen, hails the contribution of all charisms and talents in building a vibrant community of faith. This collaborative ministry, this active partnership, is the heart and core aim of the Living Church project in our Archdiocese and with which you will become involved as a priest here in our local Church.
It is a time to get to work with parishioners, with youth, with the students (“#FeesMustFall” –a real challenge for you do not fear, but you bring Christ to them who brings Hope), with religious and fellow-priests. It is a time to mould and try imaginative initiatives in catechesis and the provision of pastoral care. It is a time to work towards and invent moments to build and shape Christian identity in response to the demands and pressures of contemporary life.
For it’s also true that we all live in a time and context of uncertainty and opacity in society. Economic uncertainty and fear for the future, mistrust of institutions, including the institutional dimension of the Church, the erosive force of waves of secularism : all of these colour the context of our lives and the context in which we show forth the meaning of faith in Christ and celebrate its grace and its power to give new life and hope. These ambiguities and sources of stress, so present to families, can erode faith.
In our somewhat new-found cultural context, we have become a missionary Church on the shores of our own future. It is on this challenging shore, Matthew, that you take up your mission today as an assistant priest of Braamfontein and Chaplain of the university students. It is on this shoreline that Christ’s words, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you”, relayed in the extract from John’s gospel that you have chosen for your Ordination liturgy, are spoken to you … and to all of us, for we are all co- responsible for the vitality of the our parishes, our faith communities, for the Church, and for the impact it makes on life.
In the face of this missionary challenge from our own society, the engagement, the generous and voluntary work of thousands of lay men and women in parishes, catholic organisations and movements gives life, energy and witness to our parishes. Their essential involvement cannot however replace the mission and ministry of the priest. Indeed the contrary is the case. Our Church needs to produce more priests. It is becoming more and more difficult to assure an adequate priestly presence in each parish in our diocese, to provide chaplains in our hospitals, universities and prisons, to provide priests for academic and specialised ministries. And yet, when that shortage makes its effect felt locally, people rightly cry out or even protest.
Is it possible that we have become blind to the risk for faith, community and society being generated by the falling numbers of clergy? Do we unwittingly think that the pursuit of professional and financial success will make our sons more fulfilled and happier than in lifestyle of personal and professional service to proclaiming the gospel, teaching the ennobling beauty of faith in Jesus Christ and celebrating the saving mysteries of His life, death and Resurrection for communities of living faith?
We have also to provide for the future of Christian faith and we need to think and pray not just for vocations but also about the significance of the priestly ministry for Church and for society
Let us never cease to pray that young men of experience will be moved to respond to the call to priestly ministry.
And now as we move to the Rite of Ordination, Matthew, I thank your mother for her example to you in faith, for her support and that of your brother and sister to you in your years of study and training. With you I thank the priests, teachers, lecturers, The Jesuits, and the parishioners who have supported you and made you the young man you are and to become. I thank the priests of this parish, All who have supported you. I thank numerous others who have guided you, and the many faithful who have supported you with their charity and their prayers.
We give thanks for you, Matthew, for your gifts and talents which you put at the service of the gospel and the Jesuits, the people of the Archdiocese and we praise God for the vocation he has given to you. May the Risen Christ ever strengthen, guide and inspire you in your priestly ministry.
There is so much to say, and all that comes to mind right now is thank you. Thank you to all of you here who represent so many different stages of my growing up and discerning this vocation, persevering in it, and arriving very joyfully at this day. I promise I won’t keep you much longer as I know many of you have sacrificed a lot to come out at this time of night – but I am so happy you did. Thank you.
- I would first like to thank my mother and sister for coming and for their faith and example that has made me who I am today.
- There are so many people to thank for today’s organisation, and I hope I didn’t leave anyone off in the program, but if I did, please accept my special thanks now. Many want to remain anonymous at these events – but sometimes you don’t get everything you want in life! I think I speak for all of us when I say we publicly thank Bishop Duncan for agreeing to ordain me after only meeting me on Wednesday – but it was the Feast of St Matthew so I think I met him with an advantage up my sleeve!
- To Mr Cameron Upchurch and the Schola Cantorum for their wonderful singing,
- and to the parish for allowing this ordination to take place in this beautiful church – thank you all!
As I look out tonight I see faces from so many different parts of my life – there are friends here from many different places. From people with me from my school days in Johannesburg and Pretoria, from class mates to teachers and even old neighbours; friends from my University days in Grahamstown, as well as my friends from Church – thank you all for making the effort to come out tonight after I’ve been away all these years. I also see some people (now grown-up) who I used to serve with at the altar with at Victory Park; as well as others I met through the wonderful network of ACTS; the Old Abe Bailey scholars; and Debaters; all whom have challenged me and been so loyal and helped me to grow, and so many more!
I want to say a special thank you to the Jesuits here tonight – some have come from Canada, Nairobi, and Zimbabwe – and I know there are many more who wish they could have come. Thank you all.
There are also people here who do not know me that well – but have been praying for me for all these years – my mother’s friends from Bryanston Parish – I notice there’s a contingent of you here tonight – thank you to you all too! And to the many people from Holy Trinity whom I shall get to know soon, thank you all for coming.
Please join us in the Church Hall afterwards, which you will find if you go through the back doors and take a left and just follow the crowd.