“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring Good News.”
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood, Brothers and Sisters,
The Gospel which we have just read offers us imperishable life, liberty, light and hope. It echoes what Pope Francis said about the joy of the Gospel and its power to transform each of us. Reflecting on the gift of priesthood in our Diocese and in our parish, we remember the life-giving constant service, which you my brother priests give so effectively.
Nearly one hundred and thirty years ago Blessed John Newman described his age as one of rationalist egotism. He pictured a man as one who makes himself the centre, not his Maker. Pope John Paul II further stressed the tendency for each of us to make ourselves the principle and reason of all reality. There is even a danger for the priest to think ‘we are our own person’. Yet, we priests are not our own. We belong to someone else; to Christ and the Church. Our soul bears the indelible mark of the Master’s ownership, the character that conforms us to Christ with the Holy Spirit’s gift of unity. We enter into communion with the bishop with other priests in order to serve the people of God. (Pastores Dabo Vobis 12)
The priesthood thus is relational; related to Christ and to us. By baptism the priest is already a member of the faithful. Like Saint Augustine we can say to our brothers and sisters, “with you I am a Christian”. Yet by ordination we have a new relationship with them, “for you I am a priest”. So the new relationship to Christ given on the day of ordination unites us to the bishop, to our brother priests and to the whole people of God.
In reality in celebrating Mass and the Sacraments every priest is an image of Christ bringing the Lord’s love and care to every situation of human existence.
While this reality exists in teaching, sacramental and caring ministry the lifelong challenge is given to us as priests to show in our personal life what has been given to us as a sacred charge publicly by the Church. The challenge for us is to draw close to Christ; to know and love and imitate him, to look for him where he will be found; in Lectio Divina, in personal prayer, in the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist. This is the basis of our celibate love, which enables us to reach out humbly and generously to build up the people of God.
We bishops and priests are the representative of Christ, but we are not Christ. Mary, the Mother of God, is the image of the Church and she is the first and pre-eminent member. As a lay woman she is first. By love and intercession Mary leads her sons, first John and then all those ordained, in the path of holiness, the way of Christ and Church-centred charity.
So my thanks and prayers go to all of our priests; to you my brothers, who serve the people so faithfully and generously and who in challenging times have had to bear witness to the faith which we know is life-giving.
To conclude I quote the words of George Herbert (one of England’s greatest poets 1593-1633).
First he presents Aaron:
Holiness on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.
Then he looks at himself:
Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is not rest.
Poor priest thus am I drest.
But then he remembers the character of the priesthood and the grace of orders:
Only another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another music, making live not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.
Then the Christ-centredness of priesthood:
Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev’n dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new drest.
Now facing God’s people we see the priesthood of Christ:
So holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my dear breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest)
Come people; Aaron’s drest.
The priest always and in an unchangeable way finds the source of his identity in Christ the Priest. Christ is the answer.
May Jesus live in our hearts forever.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.