For a New Priest

For a New Priest

Easter Thursday, First Mass of Fr Bede Mary

Dear Father Bede, Dear Reverend Fathers, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are still recovering, as it were, from the stunning event that took place yesterday in Sandy Bay, our eyes squinting as it were before the light. We are somewhat like the apostles and the holy women who, after the manifestation of Our Risen Lord, still found it hard to believe. Are we dreaming? Is this real? And I’m sure you are feeling that way today. Am I a priest? Did this really happen to me? Hopefully this sentiment will last a very long time, for a priest should never get used to being a priest. The mystery of what he has been called to, or rather the mysteries that he is drawn into, are so great, that he must always approach them with fear and trembling, with awe and immense gratitude.

The Archbishop reminded you yesterday of St Benedict’s reminder that the monk called to holy orders is not only not freed from the Rule, but even that he is, because of his ordination, even more bound to fidelity, more required to give good examples. All that makes perfect sense when we understand what the priest does at the altar. Henceforth, you will have the honour of offering Holy Mass, that is to say, of renewing on the altar the sacramental sacrifice of the Son of God. Through your hands and your voice, He will make present His unique sacrifice. As you look down upon the altar, what your eyes will behold is death, the separated Body and Blood of Jesus offered up in sacrifice, and the realisation of this can only inspire you to want to be like Christ. If the priest does not aspire to be more and more like Christ in sacrifice, he is not connecting with the most fundamental grace of his priesthood. This is why Christianity has inspired so many martyrs, souls who understood that the Christian can aspire to nothing greater than being like his Lord.

At the same time, we know also that Our Lord is no longer dead. Yesterday’s communion verse, so beautifully repeated over and over by our cantors, says is all quoting St Paul to the Romans: Christ risen from the dead dies no more; death no longer has any dominion over Him (Rm 6). And that is one of the really beautiful things about having an ordination in the light of the paschal octave. The brutal passion of the Saviour is still fresh in our memories; we are reminded that we too must suffer with Him. But at the same time, the Saviour risen in glory is in our midst, strengthening us to move forward, and giving us the hope that one day we too will rise with Him in glory.

Father Bede, today’s Mass on this Thursday in the Octave, presents us with a veritable catechesis on what your life must henceforth be. The Introit sings the victory of Christ the Lord who opens the mouths of the dumb and makes children eloquent. Christ has opened your mouth by sacred ordination to pronounce His very own words sacramentally, and to preach His truth with clarity and courage, to guide souls, to lead them back to God and move them ever to greater perfection. The conquest of each soul is a mighty victory that gives immense joy to the heart of the priest.

In the epistle, we are told how the deacon Philip was sent to evangelise a man who was truly seeking God but did not know how to find Him. Interestingly the passage that the eunuch was reading was from the proto-passion of Isaiah, one of the prophecies of the suffering Messiah. So it is that in your priestly ministry you must always lead souls to Jesus Christ crucified. Do not ever be afraid of pointing to the crucifix, of holding up the crucifix, the symbol of ignominy that the world rejects, but which is the only path to glory. Any preaching of Christ that does not lead souls to the foot of the cross and goad them on to aspire to share in the sufferings of Christ is deficient. We can say many things – and we must – to be an encouragement to souls, especially in times of trial. But never forget, my Son, that you can never make the Gospel better by trying to make it more palatable. No, the priest must challenge souls to take up their cross, manfully, generously, for it is only by losing one’s life with and for Christ that one finds it. Of that, a priest, and especially a monk priest, must always be the model.

And yet, in spite of all your efforts to be a good and fervent monk, to be a solid, inspiring priest, there will be times of sorrow, of misunderstanding, of brokenness even, in your priesthood. Perhaps you will be criticised for preaching the Gospel or for being faithful to your vows, or for cleaving to our liturgical and monastic traditions. There may be days when you are like Mary Magdalene at the tomb. You will not understand, your heart will ache, you will want to see and hear and touch Jesus, but He will be absent. Or so it will seem. In those times, stay there at the tomb, don’t run away. St Benedict tells us in the rule that when the monk has reached the fourth degree of humility, no matter what trials are heaped upon him, “he should with a silent mind hold fast to patience, and enduring neither tire nor run away”. And so it will be that by your patient love and persevering steadfastness, the Lord, who is never absent in the trial, will make His presence felt. He will say your name, that unique name that you have as one of his beloved lambs, that name that really only He knows, and that you will know, for only He can pronounce it, and only you can hear it. I know mine, and mine know me, and I call them each by name (Jn 10). Then you will pass from sorrow to joy, from death to life “for after winter cometh summer, after night returneth day, after the tempest a great calm” (Imitation of Christ, Book 2, ch 8).

And so my dear Son, rejoice today. Let the unworldly bliss of your priesthood inundate your soul. As we shall shortly sing in the offertory verse, you have been brought into a land flowing with milk and honey, and as the communion verse will remind us, you are part of a chosen race which has been brought out of darkness into light and whose duty henceforth is to make known the power and the glory and above all the love of the One who called you.

It is to Him, Jesus Christ our Lord, crucified for our sins, risen in glory, that we offer our adoration and praise on this day, and we do so through the Mediatrix of all grace, Mary Immaculate, the Mother of Priests, to whom we entrust your priesthood for time and for eternity. Amen.