Each Month the Pope suggests an intention for our prayer. In June, his suggestion was as follows: “That priests, through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves actively to a solidarity with those who are most poor.”
Last Friday, the feast of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Cardinal Vincent Nichols invited all diocesan priests of England and Wales together, at Westminster Cathedral, to mark the end of a year of events commemorating the 450th Anniversary of the Foundation of the English College, Douai, and the post-Reformation Mission of the secular Clergy in our countries. It was a day of universal prayer for priests, to give thanks to God for the gift of their priestly vocation, to remember those who have ministered before us, and to ask God’s continued blessing on priestly ministry and fraternity in England and Wales.
As I begin my 45th year as an ordained priest it is good for me to reflect on the importance of the ministerial priesthood in the life of the church today. Apparently, the late Cardinal Basil Hume OSB, when he ordained priests, suggested that we don’t ask: “Is the man to be ordained strong enough to be a priest?” but we need to ask: “Is this man weak enough to be a priest?”
As I look back on my life as a priest, I have come to accept my own shortcomings, my own weakness and rely on the strength that comes from putting my total trust in God. I chose for my ordination card the words of St Paul, “We are only the earthenware jar that holds this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians: 4v7.) St Paul was acutely aware that he needed to be used by Christ as an instrument of love and power in sharing the good news. Later on, in the same letter, Paul tells us about being given a thorn in the flesh to stop him from getting too proud. He asked God for it to leave him. God’s reply was: “My grace is enough for you: my power is at best in weakness” So as a result Paul reflected: “I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses…For it is when I am weak that I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
A friend gave me a tee shirt for my birthday and printed on it was a picture of myself with the word “Superpriest”, because I used to say this ironically when I felt at times the expectations of people in the parish were that I should be able to be good at everything. There were also times when I also felt I was failure because I failed as an excellent preacher, administrator, listener, leader and all-round good egg. To grow in maturity is for me to accept and understand that Christ has chosen me, not because I am perfect or better than anyone else, but he knows that if I submit to his grace and love I can become an instrument of his love. Super priest I’m not – I need all of you as part of our parish family to make God’s Word real in our lives and into the lives of those who we come into contact with each day.
Here is a suggested prayer
Holy Father, who by no merit of their own, chose priests for communion with the eternal priest of your Christ and for the ministry of your Church, grant that they may be ardent but gentle preachers of your Gospel and faithful servants of your mysteries. Amen