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Archbishop Peter A Comensoli's Homily
What makes for a successful Ordained Minister, many ask today? What does a priest or deacon need to succeed? Perhaps we would all hope that our Ordained Ministers come with a certain set of attributes and capacities: a skilled wordsmith of the Gospel; a man of faith, intellect and spiritual depth; someone accomplished in liturgical and pastoral knowhow; an experienced steward of God’s grace. All of these things would indeed be good to have, at least to an adequate extent, in all our bishops, priests and deacons.
The problem with this way of thinking – in terms of success or failure, of achievement or lack thereof – is that it is not the question Jesus asked of those he commissioned to be his ministers. On the night before his Passion, at the Last Supper, the Lord asked instead: have you gone out to bear fruit, fruit that will last? This is the ‘great commission’ given to priests and deacons by the Lord, as he prepared to lay down his life for his friends: to go out with their lives; to be fruitful in their mission; and to be a lasting gift that will continue to nourish.
To go out. For us who are ordained, our lives are not meant to be centred on ‘coming home’, as would appropriately be said of a family man. Ours is not an inward calling, but an outward one. We are commissioned by the Church to be on the move, and to be with others. It is why Jesus couched the commissioning of his first priests in the language of friendship, and not servanthood. You cannot be a gospel friend to others if you are only ever waiting for others to come to you for the sacramental or pastoral services you provide. While I wouldn’t want to advocate an inordinate lack of sleep and rest for the Ordained in the Church – brothers, we are meant to get tied from our labours in God’s vineyard!
To be fruitful. Fruitfulness is not the same a successfulness. ‘Success’ is a word that more often than not implies notions of competition, achievement, capability. But what kind of friendship could survive such a way of living and acting? Success needs neither love nor joy among it attributes. Yet love is the commandment that Jesus placed at the core of the ministerial life, and joy is its fruit: “Remain in my love, … so that my own joy may be in you.” Are there fruits of joy in our lives, brothers, that sprout from a gospel love? Do we show a warmth of heart and a tenderness of spirit when we go out as the commissioned friends of the Lord? Are our lives a source of nourishment to others? These are the questions that are asked of a life of fruitfulness – not questions of success or accomplishment, but questions of generosity and goodness.
To be a lasting gift. Pastoral programs do not last; liturgical styles do not last; not even our best homilies will last. But we all know what will last: faith, hope, love. These are the gifts that the Lord has invited us each to manifest in our lives and ministries, for the sake of others. Because gifts need to be given. Gift giving always means there is someone who is to receive. A priestly or diaconal life is a life of giving; it is not so much a private calling, but a public sending. It is not ‘our’ priesthood or diaconate, but ‘theirs’. Not ashes, but garlands; not mourning, but gladness; not despondency, but praise. Brothers, make these the lasting gifts we constantly bring among those to whom we are sent to minister.
To you who are to be ordained deacons and priests today – to you Simeon, James, Jude, Michael, Andrew, Trac and Nathan – look to the commissioning that the Lord is calling forth in you as your permanent invitation to go out and be fruitful, offering the lasting gift of Christ’s joyful friendship.