40th Anniversary Homily, 1st July 2012.
Last year, 2011, when Pope Benedict XVI, came to Britain and visited Birmingham, he beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Newman once wrote a Meditation about the vocation or calling of each Christian:
“God has created me to do him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to any other.”
Vocation is not just a call given to priests and nuns.
The call of God is given to everyone in the circumstances of our lives which present themselves to us day by day.
This means that we are always the right person in the right place and the right time – here and now. That is how St Paul once described it in his letter to the Ephesians (4/11-13):
“Christ has appointed some to be apostles, and others to be evangelists, pastors, and teachers. They are to knit God’s holy people together for the work of service – to build up the Body of Christ, until we all reach our common unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and so become fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.”
We are all called to work together in building up the Body of Christ,
but we cannot do so without divine assistance:
St Mark stresses, in this Sunday’s gospel reading (Mark 5/21-43),
that Christ alone can heal and bring us to new life.
The woman with the haemorrhage is marginalised because of her complaint.
Jesus restores her and enables her to play her rightful part in society once again.
The child is desperately sick even unto death.
Jesus lays his hands on her and she is restored to her family.
He simply stresses, “Do not be afraid, only have faith”
The priest is ordained to enable that growth to take place through prayer, through the Eucharist and through the Sacraments.
It is a ministry of service to the whole People of God.
That is how we thought of ourselves when we were ordained 40 yrs ago.
Some of us met together at Oscott College, Birmingham, three weeks ago, to join in the community Mass and have lunch together.
The ordination class of 1972 claims to be the first year to have been fully trained with the new vision of church brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
The forthcoming Year of Faith will mark the 50th anniversary of the start of Vatican II in 1962.
Pope John XXIII convened a meeting in St Peter’s basilica of the 2500 Catholics bishops from around the world which is said to have been the biggest meeting ever in the history of the world.
Its deliberations last four years and had just finished as we were beginning our studies for the priesthood in 1966.
There have only been twenty Ecumenical Councils in the 2000 year history of the Church and they always strive to maintain the eternal truths of Divine Revelation. Pope John determined that this was to be a uniquely pastoral Council applying these truths to the circumstances of our present day and age.
As a consequence we have been privileged to experience 40 years of momentous and far reaching changes in the way that these eternal truths are expressed in the life of the world wide Catholic Church.
It has not gone as far as some would wish. It has gone further than others would have wanted.
The Council fundamentally placed renewed emphasis on the role of all the People of God, each member having his or her own unique vocation by virtue of their baptism.
It stressed the importance of baptism as the foundation of the Christian life when it reminded lay people that they also possess the special gifts of the Holy Spirit.
When speaking of the priesthood, the Fathers of the Council chose to use the older term ‘Presbyter’ rather than the word ‘Sacerdos’, which emphasised the ritual aspect of the office.
The Presbyter’s role on the other hand was expressed in the traditional biblical words of Prophet, Priest and King.
Prophet being a proclaimer of the Word of God based on a renewed and deeper understanding of the Holy Bible.;
Priest being a minister of the sacraments for the faithful and a prayerful intercessor for all people;
King emphasising leadership and service to the wider community.
All this gave new emphasis to the way that we celebrated the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the priest facing the congregation and the people taking an active part in their own language.
The Bishops then called upon Catholics to participate in the Ecumenical Movement which has led to great strides being made in the quest for Christian Unity.
Another document recognised our bond with peoples of the Jewish and Muslim faiths as children of Abraham who together express their faith in One God.
The pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World is addressed to all people of good will. It reminded Catholics that the Church is a community in the world, and that we must assume our share of responsibility for its well being, not simply denounce what we find to be wrong.
That is just a brief overview of the changing landscape of the Church in which each individual Christian fulfils his or her own vocation working together with, other Christians, peoples of other Faiths and all people of good will – to build up the Kingdom of God together.
Cardinal Newman’s Meditation continues:
“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good. I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it – if I do but keep His commandments.”