Carmelite Ordination in Terenure

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Homily notes of  Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin


Terenure College, 29th April 2015

Dear James, when I ordained you as deacon last June, you may remember that I said to you that ministries in the Church:

“are not just functions, but involve a closer configuration to Jesus Christ and they demand a specific style of life and spirituality appropriate to that calling.

An ecclesial ministry always involves a call to closer configuration to Christ.  There is a sense also that each individual ministry is marked by a specific configuration to Christ which determines the way in which that ministry should be exercised.

Ministry is never something through which I as an individual seek to promote myself.  There is nothing farther from authentic ministry in the Church than showmanship.  Celebrity ministry inevitably turns out to be celebration of myself and who I think I am.  True ministry is the difficult challenge of allowing Jesus and his message and his ministry to appear through me, even in ways which through my sinfulness are poor and far from the ideal.

Priesthood is a ministry of witness to Jesus Christ.  Jesus allows us to be his ministers despite our poverty and our sinfulness.  Indeed, it is recognition of our weakness which allows us to understand better and to witness more authentically to the mercy that Jesus brings to every sinner.  When we become self-centred or use ministry for our own self-aggrandisement that we can quickly fall into that arrogance which drives sinners away from Jesus and damages the very nature of the Church.

Priestly ministry involves configuration with Jesus Christ.  This configuration is not just the mechanical result of an act of the Church’s ministry through the rite of ordination.  Priestly ordination is unique in that enables the priest to act in persona Christi.

What are the prerequisites for the one who is called to authentic priestly ministry acting in person Christi?  If asked, you might list the sort of human characteristics, which would appear in a vocations workshop booklet, or you might list the theological and philosophical and spiritual training which a seminary or house of religious formation is expected to impart to candidates.

Let us, however, look back for a moment at our Gospel reading.  It is an interesting text in that for the first time in the narrative of Saint John’s Gospel it attributes the responsibility of being shepherd of the flock of Jesus to someone other than Jesus himself.  Up till then, Jesus alone is indicated as the true and unique shepherd.  There is a sense then that this Gospel narrative is another moment in the process of the institution of the sacrament of orders.

But what is vital in understanding this narrative is the prerequisite which Jesus requires in Peter before he confides pastoral ministry to him.  Jesus has no questionnaire or check list.    Jesus simply asks Peter: “Do you love me?”  And he asks it three times.  Priestly ministry requires configuration with Jesus Christ and configuration with Christ involves aligning our lives with the love of Jesus and loving Jesus in every dimension of our lives.  Without reflecting Jesus love and without truly loving Jesus our ministry will be technically valid but not fruitful.

The essence of the Christian message is love.  Jesus reveals to us a God who is love.  He shows us what love is especially through his own self-giving.  He reveals to us what love is through that sacrificial self-giving which he showed by emptying himself of all the privilege of divinity, even to the point of accepting the ignominious death of the Cross.  It is that love, James, that you will re-enact in the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection in the Mass.  It is that love that you are called to emulate in your own person.

It is that love which you will be called to emulate within the particular charism of being a Carmelite priest.  The holy mount Carmel is a sign of your call to union with God in prayer.  It is a sign of rising above the things of the world into true friendship with the Lord.  Your ministry as a Carmelite involves removing all obstacles to friendship and discipleship with Jesus.  There is a sense in which today such ministry is all the more essential.  Young people especially need moments in which they can rise above the hustle and bustle, the noise and activity of daily life and experience moments of calm and serenity.  They need to get to know not just the intellectual Jesus of the catechism, but Jesus as friend, Jesus as the friend who accompanies, supports, and opens new meaning and purpose in their lives.

Remembering that the essence of the Christian message is a love that goes beyond any human understanding is commonplace in speaking about our faith.     The history of the Church is a history in which humans and the human dimensions of institution have failed and been unfaithful and as result have become sterile in witness.

The Church is called to continual reform. The Church is called continually to identify sinfulness in its ranks – each of us is called to identify sinfulness in our hearts – and to repent and to return in all humility and purification to our true calling.  The Church is called to reform every day and in each generation.

There is a sense in Ireland today in which there is a culture of relentless reminding the Church of the sins of its members and at times of painting every individual and every moment in the history of the Church with the same condemnation.  I notice a certain justified resentment among priests and religious and committed Catholics at somehow being unfairly under attack as they live out their faith and their ministry generously and with dedication.

There is a sense in which they feel that it is time to stand up and respond.   The response cannot, however, be to deny the mistakes and the wrongdoings of the past or get into unfruitful or polemical quarrel.  Evil is conquered by goodness; nastiness by love; dishonesty by truth, corruption by integrity.  The response of the Christian to criticism is reform and conversion; it is the call to renew the Church to be more effectively a witness to the God of love.  The way to recognise the sinfulness of our past is to witness more intensely today to what is the essence of the message of Christian love.

Our first reading, James, indicates what we as Christians – priests, religious and people – are anointed to do and to be; we are anointed to reach out to the poor, the broken, the bereaved, the despondent and hopeless and those imprisoned by guilt and the pressures that weigh them down.  Your ministry will be to introduce these men and women of our time to Jesus their friend through sharing your friendship with Jesus with them and opening new horizons of hope and meaning.

James, you become a priest at a new time in the history of the Irish Church. My generation may seem to be handing your generation a weaker and more fragile Church, fewer in numbers, weakened by scandal, less credible due to our life style.  We look to your generation now to call the Church to renewal and we pray that your ministry will be marked – as I said at the beginning of this homily – by “closer configuration to Jesus Christ and a style of life and spirituality appropriate to that calling”.