Saturday 29 October 2011

Clergy Colloquium

Mgr Wadsworth was not the only Mgr - nor the only Liturgist - at the Colloquium

An extra hour in bed tonight, so time for a late night post. Just back from an amazing live telecast of Don Giovanni from the Met. Two days ago the entertainment was a little different - Mgr Andrew Wadsworth, genius of ICEL and the New Translation, speaking to a group of clergy at the Oratory School near Reading. We heard too from Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, and from the Australian part of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett. You can see more about it on the Anglo Catholic and elsewhere, but it gave me a focus for this Sunday's sermon.

‘They do not practise what they preach.’ : a sermon preached at the Ordinariate Mass on Sunday October 30,at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Southbourne

Jesus challenges every priest with his words to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. We have far better news to share than ever the Pharisees had. They taught the Old Testament law, we are entrusted with the Good News of Jesus Christ. But as the Gospel is better than the law, so the judgment on those who do not practise what they preach is so much the harder. And how can any priest live up to the words of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?

Very well, you could say, that is for you and for Fr Graham and Fr Gerry to worry about. You are the ones who must preach, and must practise what you preach. but what does it have to do with us? We don’t preach, we have only to listen. Well consider this. For two days last week a group of priests met at the Oratory School near Reading, to consider our vocation and the way we live it. We were challenged by the Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mgr Mark Davies. He reminded us of St Jean Marie Vianney, the Cure D’Ars. That humble faithful little priest, who spent his whole ministry in that remote desolate French village, was instrumental in renewing the whole life of the priesthood, not only in France but far beyond. He was not particularly gifted, no great orator, no scholar; but as St Paul reminds us, it is our failings and our weaknesses that God chooses to use. So when Fr Jean-Marie spoke about his poor self, he did not want us to think he was exaggerating. Bishop Mark recalled us to our first stirrings of vocation. The saints often write of their own first call. The bishop spoke of the priest who encouraged him to consider whether he might have a vocation – when he was just twelve years old. When first we hear God speaking, as the child Samuel heard him calling when he was sleeping in the Temple, it is always a call to love. “The priesthood”, said Bishop Mark, “is the love of the heart of Jesus”. We are constantly to stir up that love in us.

Now the People of God have a very active role in this recall to love and holiness. Since becoming a Catholic Priest, only a matter of months ago, the affection of lay people for their priests has touched me. In previous ministry people have sometimes expressed their thanks; but never as regularly as now. Say a mass at my local parish church, and invariably people will thank me for it. It is as though the Eucharist, the thanksgiving, naturally overflows; as we have been giving thanks to the Father, so thanks continue after Mass, and are addressed not only to God, but to his priest.

Which is, or should be, very humbling; for we are only doing what we must do; as Jesus teaches us, when we have done all we have to do, we are to say “I am an unprofitable servant”. There is huge encouragement from the people towards the priests. It is not just explicitly in words of thanks that this is conveyed. As Bishop Mark expressed it, “Penance has a pedagogical influence on the priest as confessor”. That too I knew in my Anglican days. There is great grace given in hearing confessions – and especially the confessions of the very old, and of the very young, can challenge us. Can we be as honest, as straightforward, as trusting, when we make our confession? The penitent becomes the teacher, and the confessor the one who is taught.
This is why the Gospel tells us today “You have only one Teacher, the Christ.” So we do; and it is through our encounters, especially with our fellow Christians, that he teaches us. Similarly, when people address us as “Father” we know this is only because of our priesthood, not from any great virtue in us. He permits his priests to act on his behalf, to stand in for him – only in this sense can we be “Father” to the people of God.

So it is interacting with the family of the Church that a priest begins to learn what it is to be a priest. That means that although Our Lord’s words are addressed today to the Preachers, they are meant for all of us. The laity can encourage, or shame, or nudge priests into becoming what they should be, by having very high expectations of us. You will, alas, be let down. Priests are frail earthen vessels and things of no worth; but still you must persist in praying for them, and showing just how high a calling they have. That above all, his calling is to imitate Christ – in his humility. For today’s Gospel ends with Jesus saying “Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted”.

The Parish Priest fulfils an Office; but the priesthood is the shared gift of the holy common people of God. ‘For you also’, says St Peter (I Pet. 2.5), ‘are built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’. Certainly support your priests through your prayer; through your attendance at Mass, through your participation in the sacrament of reconciliation.

Fr Marcus and Fr Peter, two of the originators of the British Province of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.

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