The Bishop's homily for the Mass of Ordination on the 6th of July, 2019
On Saturday the 6th of July, the Bishop ordained to the Sacred Order of the Priesthood the Reverend Father Liam Carpenter and the Reverend Father John Owens, at the Cathedral. The following is the homily given by the Bishop at Mass and just before the ordinations.
"Central to the themes of this ordination ceremony are those of love and sacrifice; central because they lie at the heart of the work of God in all our lives, and so need to be at the heart of the life and ministry of a priest. The experience of love is something with which we are familiar; loving and being loved fills us with a sense of peace, of fulfilment. Love also opens our eyes to all that is good and beautiful; it’s what we desire, and it’s what we hope we will never lose. However, sacrifice, seems to be the very opposite, because it means giving up something of value, letting go of something that is good; in its ultimate sense it means giving up even life itself, losing that which is most precious of all. But our own experience surely shows us that love and sacrifice are in fact closely connected; that there is no true love that does not involve sacrifice; there is no true sacrifice that is not born out of love. Every married couple knows this, so does every parent, and every longstanding friendship involves both.
"Love and sacrifice are in fact central to the life of Christ, and to our salvation through his life and death. In Christ we see that love and sacrifice come together most perfectly, for the action of his love is seen most fully in his sacrifice, in his total self-giving even unto death. So the crucifix is for us, as Christ’s disciples, love’s true image; the sign by which we live our lives. The crucifix over the altar here shows us that self-sacrifice is at the heart of Christian loving, and this image of loving sacrifice is one, therefore, that runs right through today’s ordination ceremony. John and Liam, after being examined on their desire to commit their lives to God, will then prostrate themselves here on the sanctuary floor; it’s, as you will see, a gesture of profound self-abandonment, an entrusting of their lives to the Lord. It’s also an action which expresses their love for the Lord, a love which fills their hearts and makes them want to respond by giving their lives away in his service. In the litany of the saints we join Liam and John in asking for the prayerful intercession of the saints, men and women who have gone before us on the journey of faith, and who have sacrificed their lives for love of God and love of their fellow human beings. It also serves to remind us that such generosity, such self-sacrifice, comes only from great love; it is quite simply impossible without generous love. Sacrifice like this comes only from close intimate friendship with Christ, who in the love he pours out for us makes such a loving response a possibility.
"So the importance of these words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading so carefully chosen by John and Liam for their ordination Mass:
“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 all of us a wonderful example to follow, and especially someone 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 in loving 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. 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, you and me, and what we are to do: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you’. John and Liam, I know from speaking with each of you over the past few years, that it is this conviction of being personally loved and called by Christ that has brought you both, by very different routes, to this grace-filled moment of loving sacrificial self-giving, of now dedicating your lives to serve Christ as his priests. It’s this that has led you through prayer, discernment, study and formation at St Mary’s College, Oscott, and in parishes of our diocese, to this moment of ordination. This is why neither of you is afraid of losing anything by giving your lives lovingly and sacrificially in this way to the Lord. You recognise that you are each loved by God, and that whatever self-sacrifice Christ asks of you in your priestly ministry, he will always sustain you in his love and, through his Holy Spirit, guide and bless you. This work of love and sacrifice is therefore at the heart of priesthood; it is inseparable from priesthood. In the course of the Mass it is the priest who offers, on behalf of us all, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus as the great sacrifice of love; it is he who sacramentally breaks the body of Christ, and pours out his blood, so that they can become for us all our spiritual nourishment. But, from the example of Christ himself, we see that the vocation of the priest is not simply to offer sacrifice; he must himself be a sacrifice. His way of life as a priest flows from the sacrifice he offers for himself and for all people. Day by day he will make an offering of his life in loving response to the offering Jesus made of his life for our sakes, as indeed we are all invited to do. But the priest is bound to Christ in a special way, precisely in that the priest gives his hands and his voice to Christ so that they can be used to make present in the Eucharist that one saving sacrificial self-offering of Christ to the Father. So too, in his daily life, he strives to be as Christ-like as he can. But, as every priest knows, this resolve will be tested in many ways; his patience tested, as demands upon him seem at times unreasonable, his desire to be selfless tested, when at times he feels overwhelmed by all that he faces, and feels a need for some personal space, and so and so on. In all of this, as priests, we are greatly renewed and strengthened by our celebration of the Mass. Near the end of the ordination ceremony today, before Mass continues on, the newly ordained priests will receive, for the first time, the gifts of bread and wine for Mass, with these words: ‘Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.’
"These are words which sum up well those central themes of love and sacrifice, and sum up well priestly ministry. Liam and John hold onto those words throughout your priestly ministry and they will help keep that ministry fresh in your hearts. May the Lord bless you both, today, and throughout what we pray will be a long, happy and fruitful priestly ministry. Amen."