Jubilarian Mass - Celebrated 2nd September

One of the proverbs which has constantly remained with me is that history repeats itself.  We need to reflect on what has happened in the past so that we can learn how to act and persevere today.  The three readings chosen for today have been written quite a few years ago but they are still so relevant and deserve deep reflection today.  What the prophet Isaiah, Paul and Jesus experienced is still being so true today as we celebrate twenty five years of priesthood of Fathers Tony Hill, Peter Austin and Brian Carey.

As he reflected on his call the prophet Jeremiah went through three different stages.  In the first place he realised that being called to be a prophet of God is an awesome call which had the potential to influence for the good many people.  Moreover this call was pure gift, pure grace.  It was God’s idea.  It was God’s initiative which caused a stirring in his heart so powerful that he could not ignore it.

The call to the priesthood is also a pure gift.  It is a plan that God has for us.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews has this to say ‘Every High Priest is taken from among human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationships with God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin …..  No one can take this honor on himself, it needs a call from God” (Heb 5:1-4).  What is the essence of the priesthood? Many things have been written about this.  Much reflection has been done over the centuries.  Personally I find the essence of the priesthood in the Book of Genesis chapter 24.  In this chapter we find Abraham thinking about his Son Isaac and desiring that he should settle down by marrying someone who would bring him fulfillment.  How was he going to go about all of this.  He summons one of his most faithful servants and asks him to go where his relatives lived and choose a wife for his son.  On his journey he meets Rebecca.  How was he going to make her fall in love with his master whom she had never seen before.  He met her father, and her brother and he spoke so well about Abraham and Isaac that all the family became convinced that Rebecca would find happiness in the house of Abraham and Isaac.

The servant spoke so well that he led Rebecca to Isaac.  This is the essence of the priesthood.  As priests we are given the necessary grace to speak well about Jesus Christ so that we can lead our people, the bride not to us but to the bridegroom to Jesus Christ.  Enabling our people to savor and establish a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ enables them to reach their own fulfillment as people created by God and be a source of immeasurable blessings to others.

However, it is very interesting to note that even though Jeremiah realised the powerful and life changing nature of his call, his first reaction was to back off, to retreat rather than embrace wholeheartedly this call.  “Ah, Ah, Ah Lord Yahweh you see, I do not know how to speak.  I am only a child (Jer 1:6).  Jeremiah realized that because his call was powerful it was going to challenge his own way of acting and behaving as well as that of others.  Priesthood is a call which of its nature elicits a radical way of living.  We are not merely selling a product in order to make a personal material or financial profit.  This call entails an invitation to base our lives and the lives of those to whom we accompany and mister to live and think as Jesus does. Very often this is totally contrary and totally opposite of many people in our society.  This call requires constant nurturing, perseverance and commitment.  Very often this call also involves swimming against the current as we try to faithfully deepen our understanding of the radicalness of this call.  No wonder that doubts and anxiety arise.  No wonder that we feel and yearn for more understanding and encouragement.  No wonder that at times we find it hard to see what would  be the end result.  However experience teaches us that the more difficulties we face, the more problems that we have to contend with the more influential and powerful our call is reality.

Yes this is God’s call and therefore we would be very unwise if we think that we can live this call relying only on our talents, intellect and physical power.  This is God’s work and therefore it necessitates God’s spirit.  How did God respond to the cry of doubt and fear of the prophet Jeremiah?  Yahweh replied “Do not say, ‘I am too young’; you must go to all to whom I send you and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of confronting them for I am with you to rescue you, Yahweh declared”.  Then Yahweh stretched out his hand and touched my mouth; and Yahweh said to me “There I have put my words into your mouth” (Jer 1:7-8).  This is where the secret of success in our call as priest lies.  We are not following an ideology or ideas which seem nice and good.  Neither are we simply following a well planned programme.  Our call emanates and is nurtured through an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  In the second reading of today Paul realised his identity as a person called by God to be an apostle.  “All I want is to know Christ and experience the power of his resurrection” (Phil 3:10).

This is what gave Paul strength and the necessary perseverance in the midst of so many difficulties and uncertainties.  We are well aware what the word “to know” means to a person with a Jewish mentality like Paul. “To know” has a very specific meaning.  It does not mean to know intellectually about someone.  It has a much deeper, richer and intimate meaning.  “To know” refers to relate intimately to a person like a married couple does. So what Paul is saying in plain English is this.  Yes this call is powerful.  Yes this call is life changing for me and for other because it has eternal consequences. Yes there are difficulties.  Yes there are problems.  Yes I do feel inadequate at times.  Yes I have been treated badly by others.  Yet this is the only way to go because this is God’s call for me and I will hang on to his promises that he is always by my side loving, nurturing, encouraging and enabling me to do what He has called me for.  I know what the end result is.  By modeling my life according to the life of Jesus I am going to do the same things that Jesus did and even greater things (Jn 14:12).

Jesus was conscious of his anointing by the Holy Spirit to fulfill his mission as we just heard in today’s Gospel.  We are also anointed to give hope where there is despair, to give life where there is death, to give encouragement where there is hopelessness, to enable truth and justice to flourish where there is none, to help people realise their dignity when many are treated  as robots and their worth is measured only by what they can produce. In short we are called to promote the beauty of our God and at the same time stay in the muck of human limitations and striving and take very opportunity to sow the powerful transformation emanating from the Word of God.

We know that at the end everything will be submitted to Jesus Christ.  Whether we feel it or not we are on a victory role.  The important thing is to believe it because this is what Jesus promised.  So yes let’s celebrate with our brothers.  Thank you for your ministry over those twenty five years.  Thank you for accompanying our people in their journey of life.  Thank you for always pointing the way to Jesus.  Let us continue as priests of this diocese together with our people to proclaim boldly that “Jesus is Lord”.

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