17th/ 18th July 2021

posted 19 Jul 2021, 06:40 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – 17 & 18/7/21

On Tuesday, Fr Julian Green celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination as a priest with a special Mass at St Joseph’s, Goldenhill. The homily was preached by Fr Sean Gough, the nephew of the Fr Gough who was a curate here some years ago. Fr Julian didn’t want it to be all about himself, as if it was a eulogy at a funeral or a canonisation ceremony. So Fr Sean spoke about the priesthood, and what I’m going to say now is using a bit of borrowed material from what he said on Tuesday.

The first reading began by speaking about bad shepherds: “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered”, and as a result, God is going to raise up new shepherds to look after them instead. God is going to take care of the sheep through those shepherds. And that is what the priesthood is all about – God shepherding us through his shepherds.

We sometimes here about a priest acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. This happens especially when he celebrates Mass and changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and brings the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross into the present day. It also happens especially when he absolves someone of sin in the confessional, and when he preaches the word of God. It’s because he has received the sacrament of ordination that he can do that. But those aren’t the only times when Christ works through a priest. In fact, it happens all the time, both in the extraordinary moments of the sacraments, and the ordinary, routine events of life, and everything in-between. When someone dies, for example, and it hasn’t been possible for the priest to celebrate the sacraments before the person passed away, people still want the priest to come and pray. It’s not that they can’t pray themselves, or that their prayer has no validity. It’s that through the priest, Christ is present there with them, praying for their loved one who has departed this life. And we can’t be indifferent about that.

Today I celebrate/On Saturday I celebrated my eleventh anniversary of ordination as a priest, and each priest’s experience of priestly ministry is unique. We were all in different parishes at different times and eras, and we all have different stories that we can tell. The smallest hospital I have ever been chaplain to so far has been the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, yet it hold the record for me for the greatest number of calls to the dead and the dying in a single evening. I was called to see one person who was dying, and whilst I was still on site, I had three more calls before I went home. They were all grace-filled moments. One thing I tend to find is that some of your earlier experiences stay in your mind, whilst after a while, the others become a blur. You remember the first baptism you ever did – I learnt how important a microphone is to speak over a very noisy child, but my fifty-fourth baptism, well, I can’t recall which parish I was in at the time.

In the Gospel today, the apostles have come back from their missionary work and are in need of a bit of rest, so that’s what they try to do. But the people could see where they were going and went on ahead of them. You can imagine the frustration of the apostles. As a priest, you can’t always have things on your own terms – the needs of others can sometimes determine when you get time off and when you take your holidays. But I can remember certain holiday moments as times of real refreshment, and times to express my gratitude to God for calling me to be a priest. One thing Fr Sean Gough said in his homily is that he assumes, as a priest who hasn’t completed a whole year of ordination yet, that there can be the danger of the extraordinary becoming ordinary to you – the times people really open up to you and you help them in a profound way with their problems, the times you witness moments of grace and real conversion in people’s lives and so on. In some ways, a holiday can help remind you what “normal” life is actually like.

All the baptised are called to be missionaries and to witness to Christ as well, to be the presence of Christ in a different way to the way of a priest. It’s all very well people hearing from a priest what being a lay Christian is like, but they need to see it being lived out, today, in front of their very eyes, rather than just reading about it on a computer screen. Laypeople reach areas of society that priests normally do not. To give an exotic example, how many priests are airline pilots? So a Catholic airman is able to make contact with and influence other pilots and co-pilots and lead them to Christ in a way that a priest, normally, cannot.

Christ is our shepherd, and He takes care of us through His Church. His priests are an incarnation of Him, they act in persona Christi and make Him present. But the Church isn’t just made up of clergy. You, as lay faithful, also make Him present in the world, and together, we can make the world into something beautiful for God.