Homily of Archbishop Neary for Mass to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the World Priest apostolate
Celebration of Mass in the Chapel of the Avila Carmelite Centre in Donnybrook, Dublin
- The priest has privileged access to people in their suffering, pain and brokenness … this access is accorded to us, not for anything we ourselves have merited, but because we are ministers of Jesus Christ … this places enormous responsibility to respect and respond to this situation.
- Many people today speak of a crisis in the priesthood. This I consider to be a rather simplistic view of the situation. The real crisis is a crisis of faith.
- The priest’s mission is not voluntary activity initiated by him; rather, is chosen, authorised and sent by Christ. There is a sense in which it is true to say that we get the priests for whom we pray.
Welcome and acknowledgement of the Work of World Priest
I welcome you all as we come to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the apostolate of World Priest. The World Priest apostolate has been supporting and caring for priests over those years. The apostolate has done this through prayer, through the provision of priestly resources on-line, and in being available to support and encourage whenever needed. The annual International Rosary Relay has been an outstanding success and it grows in strength from year to year. The clear, attractive, most resourceful website worldpriest.com with the logo “affirm, inspire, inform” has been a huge help to many as priests undertake their day-to-day priestly ministries.
Supporting Priesthood at the Coalface of Ministry
World Priest is a celebration and affirmation of the men who commit their lives to the Lord and the Church in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It provides an opportunity for Catholics to thank God, affirm and share their love and support for priests. In our experience we know that when tragedies visit families, in order to get an insight into how the people are coping, the local priest is the one the media will contact. They recognise that the priest has privileged access to people in their suffering, pain and brokenness. As priests we know that this access is accorded to us, not for anything we ourselves have merited, but because we are ministers of Jesus Christ and are perceived as having a close relationship with him. This places enormous responsibility on the priest to respect and respond to this two-fold situation, namely our relationship with Jesus Christ and our concern to identify and empathise with those who suffer, to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the gardens of their Gethsemane.
Reflecting on the Decline in numbers of Vocations – A Crises of Faith
People are now beginning to acknowledge the fact that in many places priests are getting fewer and older and that many seminaries have vacant rooms. In a paradoxical way this is beginning to have a positive impact on the people of God. In parishes throughout the country men and women are committing themselves to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and imploring the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Priests, as they visit the sick and housebound on First Friday calls are reminded of the way in which those to whom they minister are praying for priests and religious. Many people today speak of a crisis in the priesthood. This I consider to be a rather simplistic view of the situation. The real crisis is a crisis of faith. In spite of the expressions of confidence with which we are very familiar in our culture, one has only to scratch a little beneath the surface to recognise that fear is a very powerful and crippling human emotion. Fear causes us to recoil, to become stagnant, to look for false supports. Faith, by contrast enables us to take risks, to go forward, to face the future courageously and to take Christ at this word when He says “I am with you always”.
Priesthood – Being in Solidarity with the Faithful
As priests we rejoice in being with people. Our priestly ministry brings us close to them just when they feel furthest away from God. We are with them as together we face human frailty, failure and sin. God who has entrusted his priesthood to us, however flawed and imperfect we are and grants us the authority to act in His name for the salvation of His people. We are authorised to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, build up the kingdom of God on earth and bless and serve God’s people.
The Priest as a Minister of the Joy of the Gospel
Joy is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, joy is related primarily to God’s triumph over evil. Joy is different from happiness or pleasure. The New Testament speaks even of joy in suffering. Pope Francis reminds us that, “those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”. Because of the responsibility entrusted to us of preaching the gospel, joy ought to be obvious in the life of the priest. This joy will find expression in hope – the joy of the gospel is such that it can’t be taken away from us (John 16:22). Joy and hope emanate from the victory of Jesus Christ on the Cross. They are gifts of God, achieved through God’s grace. The priest then is a minister of this joy and hope in a culture which places a premium on power, prestige and profit. The witness given by the priest who lives generously and joyfully is very striking indeed.
The Gift of Celibacy
The celibate life lived honestly and positively is liberating and edifying. Celibacy allows the priest to give himself to Christ with an undivided heart and to love others with an inner freedom that helps us keep in mind the fact that we are ministers of Jesus Christ and that our life is a total self-giving to God and to the people of God. Recent years have been difficult not just for priests, but for all who look to priests for example and inspiration. Sadly, some priests who should have been bringers of hope and healing have brought harm and hurt and have left a trail of brokenness, betrayal and disillusionment.
The Priest as a Person of Prayer
As a priest leads the people from the Offertory of the Mass into the Eucharistic Prayer he is conscious of all of this but also aware of the struggles with which the people in front of him are coping. The invitation “lift up your hearts” is a challenge to hope and can only be issued by the priest who is a man of prayer.
The priests’ relationship with the Lord determines the way he relates to the people of God whether in their trials and tribulations or in their moments of celebration. We all have memories of priests who are powerful witnesses of Christ’s compassion, understanding and love. These men are signposts, enabling us to lift our gaze beyond the daily drudgery of life and help us to put things in perspective as we go forward on our pilgrim journey of hope. People respond with a deep appreciation to priests who give signs that they genuinely care for them and that, like the Good Shepherd, they are totally dedicated to God and the people of God. Of course there are real difficulties and challenges for the priest as he struggles with faults and failures, with sin, selfishness and sacrifice.
Priesthood – Identification with Jesus Christ
Priesthood has no meaning apart from Jesus Christ. Two aspects of Christ’s priesthood are outlined in the Letter to the Hebrews. These two aspects are inseparable, namely compassion towards his brothers and sisters and secondly being faithful or worthy of trust in his relationship with God. These two dimensions provide the parameters for the priest today. A priest who is faithful or trustworthy in relation to God but lacking in compassion towards people would not be able to help them in their struggles, while a priest filled with compassion for the people but lacking in faithfulness or untrustworthy in relation to God would not be capable to intervene effectively on behalf of the people.
Courage and strength from the Gospel Message
Understandably, at times the priest may feel burdened by the enormity of the challenge facing him and feel that he is unable to address this adequately. Today’s Gospel reading however picks up and develops the idea of the small, insignificant beginnings which grow in God’s time. The tiny mustard seed literally grew to be a tree which attracted numerous birds as they loved the little mustard seed it produced. God’s kingdom works in a similar fashion. It starts from the smallest beginnings in the hearts of men and women who are formed by God’s word. It works unseen and causes a transformation from within. Jesus likens the kingdom to the mustard seed. It is organically present in Jesus’ own ministry although its manifestation may be as obscure as the mustard seed, nevertheless, just as the seed certainly grows to a massive tree, so also the kingdom will inevitably come with all its glory. Jesus’ emphasis is not so much on the glory of the future kingdom but on the present sign of its presence. This today underpins our hopes.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
The parable of the mustard seed dramatizes the presence of the kingdom in its insignificant beginnings, the parable of the yeast reminds us that even small beginnings, are powerful and eventually change the character of the dough. We dare to believe that what began with just a handful of followers in Galilee will eventually change our world. As priests we are invited to become agents of that change. In this Gospel Jesus draws attention to our dignity and the great hope of God’s creatures. Within our human nature God has planted a seed that will grow in surprising ways. These texts explode with magnificent, exciting possibilities in almost all directions. They state very clearly that every human being carries within himself or herself the seed of eternal life, a source of transformation into Jesus Christ beyond their understanding.
Complementarity of Vocations
Marriage, single life, religious life and priesthood all need each other, support and challenge each other. While each vocation provides an opportunity to respond to God’s call, priesthood carries a particular responsibility for the other vocations in that the priest, as a minister of Jesus Christ, is called to be a facilitator, enabling married couples, single persons and people in religious life to interpret God’s call for them providing encouragement and support for them in answering that call. The priest sharing the mind of Jesus Christ gives them the courage to see God as real in this world and in this life. The priest ultimately is one who radiates joy, serves others, is a man of prayer and gives expression to all of this in his celebration of the Eucharist.
Praying to the Lord of the Harvest
In St. Matthew’s Gospel Jesus instructs the disciples to pray that the Lord of the Harvest would send labourers into his harvest. A response to this prayer is the mission of the disciples who, in this context are represented as an expression of the divine compassion for the people of God who are in need. The priest’s mission is not voluntary activity initiated by him; rather, is chosen, authorised and sent by Christ. There is a sense in which it is true to say that we get the priests for whom we pray.
Thanksgiving, congratulations and blessing for the future
To conclude – it is my happy privilege to thank World Priest, and all involved in the great work they do for so many priests all over the world. Special thanks to the foundress and tireless disciple of the Lord – Ms Marion Mulhall and her great team of colleagues – for the energy and prayerful enthusiasm they bring to World Priest. Congratulations on the occasion of the tenth birthday celebrations and may World Priest continue to “affirm, inspire, inform” many generations of priests today, yet unborn and for many decades and generations to come! God bless you all! Amen.
Notes for editors
- Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam
- The work of World Priest: Marion Mulhall is the founder and CEO of Worldpriest, a lay organisation of professional communications people formed in 2003 to ‘Affirm the dignity, beauty and gift of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ to Humanity’. Marion Mulhall is the inspiration behindcom which she formed in response to Saint Pope John Paul II’s announcement of a World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests to be held annually on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To mark the tenth anniversary of the World Priest apostolate, a new website is being launched today. Please see www.worldpriest.com.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678