9th/10th February 2019

posted 18 Feb 2019, 02:24 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (8/2/19)


As I mentioned last week, this week the Archbishop is asking priests across the diocese to speak about their personal understanding and experience of being a priest.  So here we go.


I became a priest on Saturday 17th July 2010, which meant that I presided at Mass for the first time the following day.  One of the most profound moments of the Mass is when the words of consecration are said and the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of the Lord.  I think that to begin with, I was so concerned with remembering what I had to do at each point and getting everything right, that there was little time to reflect on this.  When Padre Pio used to celebrate Mass, at least in his earlier years, his Masses could take between two and three hours, because he used to pause at different points and get lost in prayer.  I think that if I was going to take in fully what is happening, I wouldn’t pause for quite as long, but I would need to pause a lot longer than I do.  I don’t because I know that everyone else is waiting, and we can’t have a series of mini holy hours in the middle of Mass.  So, really, it will take me a lifetime and more to come to appreciate the Mass and all that’s contained within it.  And I’ve hardly scratched the surface in what I’ve just said.


In both the first reading and the Gospel today, the experience of God leads both Isaiah and Peter to be filled with a sense of great unworthiness.  No man, no matter how good, gifted, holy or talented is worthy of the priesthood.  It’s a bit like what’s written in the Letter to the Hebrews.  Because God calls men who struggle with their own sin and weaknesses, they can then have some understanding of other people in their difficulties, trials, sins and temptations.  Hearing confessions as a priest is an amazing thing, and it’s an experience reserved to priests.  When you’re on placement in a parish whilst your in training, you can accompany the priest with various things he does, but you can’t sit in the confessional and observe all the confessions.  You get good training and practice in the seminary, but it’s slightly daunting when you hear confessions for the first time.


Without revealing anything that anyone has said, I would say that you really get an inside view into different people’s spiritual lives – how much they love God, and how deeply sorry they are for having offended Him.  Okay, you can gleam some of this from what people say at other times, but in confession people reveal to you a side of their relationship that remains hidden from the general public.  And hearing children’s confessions in schools helped me to see just how seriously so many of them are taking their faith – at times I have seen what you could perhaps call the “originality” of some of the things mentioned, which shows they have really reflected on their lives, rather than just choosing a few options on the list their teacher gave them.


As well as all of this, there’s also something unique about the relationship between your average Catholic and a priest.  Yes, how well each individual Catholic knows each individual priest colours things as well, but there are many times in the hospital or in other settings where I meet people that I have never seen before, and because I’m a Catholic priest, it means that already there is a relationship of trust there, and I make Jesus present by my very presence.  If I celebrate a wedding and then afterwards go along to the wedding reception, I don’t need to have spoken to every single person there or have had loads of funny anecdotes to tell or said something really deep and profound – just having been there means a lot to people.


Feeling inadequate can come to each priest at different points.  In the Gospel, Peter had been out fishing all night long and caught nothing.  All that hard work had been completely and utterly useless and pointless – he might as well have just been lazy instead and gone to sleep and not bothered to try fishing that night.  But then, when the Lord gave the word, the catch was so great that two boats struggled to bring it all in.  At the end of the day, any man is inadequate to the task of being a priest.  But you become a priest, not by gaining sufficient philosophical and theological knowledge, or learning about how to help people in their difficulties.  That helps you in your ministry, but what makes you a priest is receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders from your bishop.  It is a grace from God, not anything you have earned or learnt or worked out.  God doesn’t choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen.  It doesn’t mean that you’re perfect afterwards, but He works through you in a way that no man can achieve by himself.  St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, said that Our Lady and all the angels could pray as hard as they could, but they wouldn’t be able to make God descend from heaven and shut Himself up in a tiny host.  But a priest, even the lowliest, just has to say a few words during the Mass and that’s what happens.


Fr Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of Aid to the Church in Need, said, “The vocation to the priesthood so greatly exceeds ordinary human strength that its germination, its growth and its fruitfulness are entirely dependent on the prayer that must precede, sustain and accompany the life of every priest”.  Please pray for vocations to the priesthood.  Pray for your priests.  We’re not perfect, but we’re the ones that you’ve got at the moment.  And we will continue to pray for you.  God bless you.