Ordination of Fr. Jonathan Whitby-Smith (June 30, 2018)
On the 30th of June, 2018, the Bishop, Mgr. Patrick McKinney, ordained to the priesthood the Reverend Jonathan Whitby-Smith, a deacon and Church student at the seminary of the archdiocese of Westminister at Allen Hall, in London. The Diocese welcomes our newest priest and wishes him well for his future ministry among us. The homily delivered by the Bishop on this occasion has been presented below, alongside several photographs.
"Jonathan, you have chosen some wonderful scripture readings for us to listen to and reflect upon before we witness your generous giving of yourself, to the Lord and to his Church, for service as His priest. In particular, I was very much taken with the words that Jesus uses in St John’s gospel to speak to his disciples then, and to his disciples in every age, of his love for them, of his love for us:
‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.’
In his life on earth Jesus knew what it was to be the object of his Father’s love and to abide in that love; and from his life he gives us all a wonderful example to follow, and especially one preparing to serve him as a priest. Why? Quite simply because, from the gospels, we can see that the life of Jesus was one of seeking and doing the Father’s will in all things; it was a life lived in loving obedience to the Father. Jesus was, quite simply, not afraid of losing anything by giving his whole life to the service of his Father. Why? Because he knew that the Father loved him, knew that the Father was with him, and was guiding him in his words and actions. Jesus’ relationship with the Father is a good model for all of us, and especially for one preparing to give his life in service of God as a priest. And it is this love of the Father for him throughout his life that Jesus uses to express just how much he in turn loves his disciples, loves you and I.
"Jonathan, I know that for you it is this conviction, of being personally loved and called by the Lord, that has brought you to this grace-filled moment of self-giving, of dedicating your life to God as a priest; it’s this that has led you to carefully discern, tested as it has been over many years through prayer, study and careful discernment at Allen Hall Seminary, under the direction of the Rector and Staff, that Christ is calling you to serve him as a priest; and that, through the Holy Spirit, who has guided you thus far, he will continue to bless and guide you as his priest into a lifetime of generous ministry. This is why you are not afraid of losing anything by giving your life in this way to the Lord. You recognise that you are loved by God the Father and that whatever Christ continues to ask of you in the priesthood he will sustain you in his love, and through his Holy Spirit he will bless and guide you.
"Jonathan, I would like to ask that, in your preaching, in the way you celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and in the manner of your life as a priest among those you are called to serve, you speak often of the love that Christ Jesus has for each person, and that you bear your own personal witness to the relationship into which Christ is inviting each of us: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love’. I ask this of you because I am convinced from my own experience as a priest that not enough Catholics really believe that Christ Jesus desires a personal relationship with each of them. Many Catholics do believe that Christ died on the Cross out of love for humanity, so in some collective way, as part of humanity, they do believe that they are loved by Christ; but that Christ desires a personal encounter with each of them, one on one, heart to heart. No, not enough of us as Catholics are as yet convinced of this and yet, as many of you will know, Pope Francis, like his immediate predecessors, St John Paul II and Pope Benedict, encourages all Christians to believe that a personal relationship, a true encounter with Christ, is not only possible, but that it is what Christ desires for each and every one of us. In his teaching document, ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ Pope Francis expresses it like this:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to so this unfailingly each day. No one should think this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms… Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew.” (EV,3)
"So Jonathan, I believe it’s important that, as a priest, you speak often of God’s love and of his mercy; and please speak personally of the One of whom you speak, speak out of your own experience of knowing God’s love and mercy; because in our preaching we are called upon to help the Word of God take flesh in the hearts and lives of those we serve. But to be able to do that we must first allow God’s word to speak to us, to speak to our own heart, and to the circumstances of our life and ministry. Whenever we preach God’s word, we first need to stand before God aware of our own weakness, aware of our own need of forgiveness, and deeply aware of our own need of the Word we are called upon to preach. So when we preach about Christ, this is not some abstract idea that we are preaching, but it is rather the living Word of God, the One whom we have invited to be the Lord of our lives, the one who inspires us day after day, who carries us through personal challenges and difficulties, through the dark moments of our ministry, the One whose forgiveness and faithful love sustains and strengthens us. Ultimately the message we are called upon to preach as priests is the living person of Christ Jesus whom we have personally encountered and whom we wish to share with others so that they too may encounter Him. We hear this commission, do we not, in today’s gospel passage: ‘You did not choose me, no, I chose you and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’ Jonathan, I dare to emphasise this today because the priest people will turn to, and the priest they need, he is one who has encountered the Lord and who knows personally his love and his mercy; is one who will help them to believe that Christ wishes to encounter them, wishes to speak to them and to listen to their hearts speaking to him, so that they too may experience his love and mercy.
"And such a priest is far from perfect, is far from being ‘holier than thou’, as well we all know; he is far from being the finished article; he too struggles, like everyone else, with sin, doubts, fears, frustrations and feelings of inadequacy; he knows that he is always a work in progress. The man who is a priest remains all too human, a vessel of clay, but, if within his heart he has truly encountered God’s love and mercy, this, along with the prayers and encouragement of the people to whom he ministers, will sustain him; by being open to God’s love and grace working in him, he will be shaped and transformed, gradually, day by day, by God the Potter, into the vessel, into the person, He desires him to be. So because such a priest knows that he is loved by Christ and that he is constantly called to abide in that love, he feels supported; he knows his true identity. In his preaching then, he knows he is not the Word, only a humble messenger for the Word; in his celebration of the sacraments and in his daily ministry of care and pastoral service he knows he is an instrument of the Lord, a means by which God’s love, mercy, healing, forgiveness and compassion can be channelled to others.
"Jonathan, as we prepare to celebrate your ordination to the presbyterate we pray now for a moment in silence that the Lord, who has clearly begun this good work in you, will continue to bring it to completion through a long and blessed and happy and fruitful ministry. Amen!"
the Rt. Rev. Patrick McKinney
Bishop of Nottingham 30 June 2018