HOMILY: SUNDAY 14 ‘C’ 2019
Today, five men have been ordained in St John’s Cathedral in Norwich, to serve as Priests in our Diocese. So it seems to me rather an appropriate time now to spend a few moments reflecting on the kind of life these men have committed themselves to undertake.
Always at the heart of the Priest’s life, there is a tension: a tension that can be life-giving or that can lead to confusion, distress and even ‘burn-out’. This tension is always an issue, wherever in the world a Priest may be serving and whatever exact form his ministry may take. I mean the tension between ‘doing’ and ‘being’
The fact of the matter is, that to get things in a true perspective, every Priest needs to take careful note of the message contained in today’s Gospel. Jesus has sent out the seventy-two disciples ahead of him, to prepare the people to receive his words about the coming Kingdom of God. He gives them a ‘mission’ that demands a lot of ‘doing’. But then we need also to take careful note of Jesus’ words to them when they return to him after all their ‘doing’. They are very delighted with all their ‘doing’. ‘Lord’, they said, ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name’. But Jesus’ response is not what they will have expected. He says to them, ‘Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you’. But he also adds, ‘Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’
Jesus commends the seventy-two disciples for what they have done. But he makes clear that, in the last analysis, it is not their ‘doing’ which is the whole story. Rather, what matters more is ‘who they are’. ‘Rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven’. That is to say, ‘rejoice that you, your very being, has been touched by God’. Or, to use the language of our own day, Jesus makes clear that who we are must take preference over what we do.
Of course, we must not draw some hard and fast boundary between what we do and who we are. The two aspects of our life cannot be separated. Pope Benedict expressed this truth very beautifully in a homily about fifteen years ago. And it is significant that it was in a homily preached to a congregation of men preparing for Ordination to the Priesthood, along with members of Religious Communities. He put it like this: ‘To be with Jesus – and being sent and going out to meet people: these two things belong together and together they are the heart of a vocation, they are the heart of the Priesthood. To be with him and to be sent out – these two are inseparable. Only one who is “with him” comes to know him and can truly proclaim him’. And then, to conclude, he went on to say: ‘’Pope Gregory the Great, in one of his homilies, once said that God’s angels, however far afield they go on their missions, always move “in God”. They always remain with him’.
And here there is a message not only for Priests but for every one of us: as we go out from this Mass to resume our many activities, we can be confident that God is still at the heart of our being, just as he was at the moment of our Holy Communion. He is always with us – but let us take care that we don’t forget him.