Sunday, June 18, 2023

Priests of our God: Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time 2023

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (The Ghent Altarpiece), Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck, St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium.

My dearest brothers and sisters,

Having celebrated the feasts of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, and Mary, we are now firmly within the Ordinary time of the Church, and I for one welcome this low. This cycle of homilies to the faithful in Aldona began with my first homily on the first Sunday of Lent and concludes today, as I proceed to end today my diaconal ministry in Aldona and proceed for my final year of priestly formation.

The readings today seem to direct us toward contemplating the priesthood, both of the people of God as well as their ordained ministers.

In the Gospel we hear:

Then he said to his disciples,

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;

so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

There are at least two ways in which we can read this command of Our Lord that we ask the master to send out labourers for his harvest. First, it could be read as a plea for ordained ministers, and for vocations to religious life; and secondly it could be read as a command to all of us to take up the triple offices into which we were baptized, that of priest, prophet and kings. Recollect Moses’ words from the first reading today, from the book of Exodus:

You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.

Over the past few months, while I have been in Aldona, I have been speaking to a number of people who I thought were special. “Think of the priesthood, or religious life”, I urged them. A number of them would respond to me: “I don’t think I have a vocation!” they would tell me. And I would disagree with them, and this is why.

I often think that this talk of a “vocation” and “Jesus is calling me” is nineteenth century sentimentalism. The way I see it, the question of discerning a vocation is this; First, do I – in the course of my prayer life – see a need crying out to be fulfilled in our holy Mother the Church; and second, am I willing to step up and fill this need and with the grace of the Holy Spirit be committed till the end of my life? If you do, then God is calling you through the gifts of the intellect that He has given you, or through the person who suggests to you that perhaps you have a calling to the priesthood or religious life. It is that simple.

The resistance to this idea, is, I believe, that idea that was dominant until some time ago, the tendency to assume that marriage is a necessity for everyone. Perhaps this was the result of the growing affluence of our communities, and the possibilities to delight in the garden of earthly delights that we can so easily access now. The result is that vocations to the priesthood and religious life have dropped.

But the fact is, that not everyone is called to married life, and in such a case, one is most certainly called to live in a religious community and I urge people, especially those who are close to their forties and still not married to actively consider that perhaps God has called you to live in a religious community, or perhaps as a priest.

There are many who believe, even within the Church, that there is a vocation to be single. But I disagree. Man was not called to live alone, but always in a community. God Himself, as I pointed out a few weeks ago in my homily on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, lives in a community. Thus, if we are single, and not living our lives in a loving community and for others, then we are living contrary to the wishes of God.

What of those who are married, or who will marry? You too have been called to be a part of this holy nation of a kingdom of priests. We are often told that when we are baptised in Christ, we are also baptised into his offices of priest, prophet, and king. And this is now our obligation. As God told us through Moses: “keep my covenant”.

What does it mean though, for all of us to be priests? Clearly not all of us are called to the ordained priesthood. If so, then how do we play our priesthood?

By doing what priests do. The first job of the priest is to worship God. For this task they have been set apart. This applies to the ordained minister as much as to the people baptized into Christ. While the job of the priest is to lead the people in liturgical action, St. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us what the job of the Christian people as priests of their God are: reconciliation. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, reconciled us with His Father, and now asks that we do unto others as He has done for us. Thus, as part of the priesthood of Christ, we are called to actively reconcile this fallen world to God the Father.

And how do we do this? Rejoice my dear brothers and sisters for in the failed state that is Goa under Indian rule – the Egypt that God drew us from – there are plenty of opportunities. Start following the rules when driving. Yes, I know that it is at times impossible to follow the rules, but try. Start making the fact that you drive aggressively or fail to follow the rules part of the sins that you confess. If you have broken the rules, and someone corrects you, accept their correction in the spirit of meekness and humility. Let them know who we are through the way in which we behave on the roads. This is one great way in which we bring Christ’s healing into the world.

Another thing we could do is to challenge the evil that is spreading actively. Stand up to it. Too many think that they cannot do anything and sit by quietly and in doing so allow it to spread. I am reminded of the words from the first letter of St. Peter (5: 8-9)

Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith

And remember that no one is asking you to do this by yourself, you are called to resist in community. Find the people who will support you in righteousness and virtuous living, and work with them.

On the day of my ordination to the diaconate a friend of mine from school and I were chatting and she confessed to me “I learned long ago that if you can’t fight the system you just have to learn to live and accept it for your own mental health.” I don’t disagree with this, after a point we must recognise that we are not the Messiah and are only His priests and prophets. However, I wondered if she had made any attempts to work with people and actively build a consensus against the madness of this collapsing state. Remember the words of the psalm, “we are his people; the sheep of his flock.”  Therefore, flock together we must.

And so, my dear brothers and sisters, as I wind up my time in Aldona with you, a time in which I have benefited immensely, I leave you with just one message that we can draw from the well of eternal life which is the Gospel of Our Lord. You have one life, use it above all to worship God in everything that you do. Nothing matters more than worshiping God. Worship God properly and even the necessary, mundane acts you undertake – taking your children to school, shopping in the market – will become acts of worship that testify to God and reconcile the world to Him. Worship God, and in so doing, you will become a holy nation, drawn from this Egypt that we are all in today, and in the process draw more people to Him, for this indeed is your only task in life.

May God bless you all.

(A version of this homily was first preached at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, parish of Aldona on 18 June 2023)

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