Priestly ordination of Brendan Kealy, University Church, Stephen’s Green, Dublin Saturday 23rd February, Homily Notes of Archbishop Martin
The Gospel reading we have just heard is a reflection on how one puts into practice that most central teaching of Jesus Christ: the new commandment of love.
Saint Matthew is beginning to order his collection of the sayings of Jesus. He wishes to show how Jesus had come to bring to fulfilment the law and the prophets but to show us also the newness of the teaching of Christ. Jesus reminds his listeners of “what they will have heard from their forefathers”, but then transforms that teaching with his own interpretation. Now they must listen to: “what I have to say to you”.
The teaching of Jesus challenges them to understand what worship in spirit and in truth means. He tells his listeners that they must live a life which is new and radically different to that of the gentiles or the tax collectors. In the same way the call to live the Christian life today must mark us out as believers as being different to the way in which others and live and act and differently to the dominant culture.
We have gathered to invoke the Holy Spirit on this deacon, Brendan Kealy, whom today the Church calls to ordained ministry as a priest. Just a moment ago we heard the call of the candidate who was asked to “come forward”. The candidate is asked to present himself and to present himself with a personal commitment which is to last for life.
That call however is not like a personal enrolment ceremony or a graduation ceremony during which a degree or a diploma is conferred. The first difference is that it is not simply the candidate who presents himself. The call to priestly ministry is, as we have heard, a call of “holy mother Church”. It is holy mother Church who calls the candidate. It is the Church, and not the candidate, which recognises in the life of the candidate the authenticity that his call has come to him from the Lord. It is also interesting how the liturgy notes that that verifying the authenticity of the call to priestly ministry is not a self-assessment, or even the assessment if the seminary staff: takes place through an “inquiry among the people of Christ”.
Priestly vocations spring out of and are developed within the faith of the community of the people of Christ. We give thanks to God for the many gifts that you, Brendan, have received from the Christian community. It was within that community that you received your faith and within which your faith was nourished, beginning with your family, your teachers and educators and priests and also those to whom you ministered. Your calling to priestly ministry does not take you out of the community of faith which is the Church; much less entitle you to any feeling of being above that community. Your ministry is within that faith community. As a priest you are called to a particular form of leadership but you will continue to receive nourishment and inspiration and deepening of your faith from the lives of those to whom and with whom you minister.
Priestly ministry is not the designation of the community but a call and a ministry which comes from the Lord himself. The priest is not the delegate of the community but neither is priestly ministry “self-designed”. One often hears priests talking about “my priesthood” as if the call of the Church to priesthood was somehow a personal possession or even in some way a privilege in the human sense. Priesthood is a call to ministry, to be a minster of Jesus Christ.
Through ordination you will receive from Jesus Christ the power of acting in his name. You will be configured to Christ in a special way and you will be enabled by Christ to be his minister and to be a disperser of his gifts. You will be configured to Christ in a special way, but that means not that you become special in any human or mundane sense. You will be configured rather to Christ the servant and day be day you must seek to ensure that your configuration to Christ becomes reality in your life and in the manner in which you exercise your ministry in service.
You are called to act in a unique way in persona Christi especially in the Eucharist and in the sacraments. You are called then to become identified with Christ through an exemplary life, so that you can be his minister in renewing his life-giving sacrifice. Acting in the person of Christ means that the priest can never put himself or his personal opinion at the centre of his ministry. He is a minister, someone who is called to be a sign; a sign which leads people not to himself but a sign pointing to Christ. Ministry is exercised through an attitude of obedience and docility in the hands of the Lord. Without this, ministry would be empty.
The priest is called to be a good shepherd. He learns to be a good shepherd, however, not simply through attending leadership seminars or being an expert in pastoral strategies or through being popular – but by reflecting in his own in their life the one good shepherd who is Jesus himself.
The priest is a shepherd and a teacher. He is called to proclaim the word of God in word and deed and in how he lives. The Rite of Ordination tells the new priest: “apply your energies to the duty of teaching in the name of Christ, the chief Teacher”. It urges the priest to “share with all humankind the word of God you have received with joy…” It calls on the priest to “Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, teach what you believe and put into practice what you teach”. In order to be a credible preacher of the truth the priest must also be a credible witness to the truth.
The preacher in the Christian community is never the minister of his own words, but of the Word. Ministry of the Word means becoming like the Word, in communion with the Father. It means the preacher lives in his life the abnegation and self-giving of Jesus. Priestly ministry involves participation in the Sacrifice of Christ. Without such renunciation of self, our preaching will only be a projection of ourselves, of our words, rather than the proclamation of the Word. Vatican II’s Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum (#25) reminds priests of the constant need to immerse themselves in the scriptures lest they become, quoting Saint Augustine, “an empty preacher of the Word of God to others, not being first a hearer of the word in your own heart”.
The priest is called to be a witness to the truth and the minister of the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ, as the way, the truth and the life. Priesthood involves witnessing to the truth. But we must witness to the truth as Jesus did. The Jesus who presented his claim to truth in an absolute sense – “I am the truth” – was also the one who wished to be among his disciples as a servant.
This is so well summed up in that beautiful scriptural hymn from the Letter to the Philippians. “Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to the grasped, but emptied himself humbling himself, even unto death on a cross”. The Jesus who is the truth in himself chose to reveal that truth through a life of service. He attains Lordship not through clinging to the outward trappings of sovereignty, authority or power, but through total self giving. He attains “the name that is above every other name, so that every tongue can confess him as Lord” through self-giving love unto the end.
Brendan, you are called now to ensure that through your ministry the universal law of love, the new commandment, is encountered by all you encounter on your path and by all whose journey you will be called to share. You have to bring that love to those who have never encountered it. You have to bring that love to those who have rejected Christ’s message because they never encountered it as a message of love. The Christian life is not a collection of rules and formulas which are imposed on the individual, but the message about a person – Jesus Christ – who comes out to meet us in our sinfulness filled with love, compassion and forgiveness.
Being a priest in Dublin today is challenging and not easy. Even demographically Ireland is not the same Christian country that it was twenty years ago. At the most recent census, over 25% of the population of the Archdiocese of Dublin registered as other than Roman Catholic and it would be foolish to think that every one of the 75% who ticked the census box as Roman Catholic will necessarily be really a committed Catholic. The call of the priest is more than ever a call to mission, a call to spread the Good News in ways that effectively touch the hearts of the men and women and especially the young people of our time.
Yet there are fewer priests and more things to get done. But the priest’s ministry is not just one of doing things. There is the danger that if we get involve in evaluating ministry in terms of doing things that we end up thinking that busily doing things will resolve all our difficulties. It is one of the particular temptations of our times that we all like to be busily doing things but we forget that we can easily get lost in the hectic and get frustrated when we fail.
Priestly ministry will be empty if it is not based on prayer. Only a life of prayer and silence and contemplation will witness to what the message of Jesus means and thus challenge our world and our society where so often the emptiness of noise prevents people from even asking the fundamental questions about life. Without that dimension of prayer we will be offering to the world a Church built on human planning and we will create a Church which quickly comes to look unhappily just like any other purely human institution.
Through prayer, through a prayerful reading of the scriptures we come to know and to love Jesus Christ who becomes the inspiration of all that we do. Only thus can we witness to a world in search meaning and hope to the meaning and hope and the wisdom that we derive in our own lives through our faith in Jesus Christ.
We pray that Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, patron of the Newman University Church, will accompany you Brendan in the mission you are now called on to undertake. ENDS