It’s wonderful to have you come here and join me for this celebration. At the risk of self-absorption I’d like to share with you some of my experiences of the priesthood these ten years.
Many people talk about how things in their life were unexpected. After a marriage people often say it’s not what they expected, or after getting a big job.
But, I’d have to say, for me, priesthood has been largely what I did expect. Now, that said, I was looking towards my priestly ordination from about the age of 5 –one of my earliest memories is kneeling during the Mass, watching the priest offer the Mass, and thinking: I’m going to do that one day.
The priesthood has been much as I expected. I expected many difficulties, and I have had them. I expected long hours praying in cold churches, and I have had them. I expected late night calls to anoint the dying, I expected uncomfortable seats in the confessional, I expected difficult parishioners, I expected that many things that I’d start would fail, and in all these things and more: the priesthood has lived up to my expectations!
But I knew that life has difficulties, that the priesthood would have difficulties, and it’s been as expected.
But there are two things that I didn’t really expect: first, that God’s generosity would exceed anything I had budgeted in from Him, and second, that I would change how I feel about the Mass.
I knew that God promised and promises that “my grace is sufficient for you”. I knew that the Providential ordering of God directs all things and that no difficulty would come to me but those difficulties that the Lord would prepare me for and strengthen me to bear. I knew that wherever the Cross comes the opportunity of the Resurrection comes with it. And I knew that the Lord loves a cheerful giver, and rewards him.
But my experience of these realities has far surpassed the mere statement of these doctrines.
There were many things I feared, in my own weaknesses, that I have been given the unexpected strength to not only cope with but live as if those fears had never existed in the first place.
And for every difficulty that has come there have been joys and satisfactions that made it all seem right.
So, while I knew this as a baseline doctrine, and kind of expected it, my experience opf God’s genroisty has been that it has greatly exceeded what He promised.
But there was second thing I said I didn’t expect in my priesthood, and that was how I’ve changed how I feel about the Mass.
Today it is ten years since I offered my First Mass. And I’ve come to realise that the Mass is much more important than I ever thought.
I always knew that the Mass has infinite value, infinite merits as Christ’s Sacrifice of Calvary made present continually on our altars and offered for us to the Father.
But I have experienced, more and more, that the Mass is what the priest is about.
In one direction: The Mass is what the priest is about because only the priest can offer the Mass.
But in another direction: The Mass is what the priest is about because the priest qua priest is not about what he is doing but about Christ. Whose body do I feed the people with? Not mine but Christ’s. Whose words do I say in the consecration? Not mine but Christ’s. And as I stand at the altar as the intermediary between God’s people and the Father, in whose person do I stand and whose prayer do I offer? Not mine but Christ’s.
And, in as much as I am a TRUE priest, this holds for ALL that I do. When I teach, when I preach, when I visit the sick, when I bless a home. If I am doing this things IN REALITY then it is not I who do them but Christ, with me as His instrument.
It is true that I also am at work, that His presence becomes incarnate in a certain sense in my flesh and in my humanity and my personality –and even in my personal quirks His incarnation becomes manifest in those.
BUT in as much as I am priest qua priest, I must be Christ.
And in as much as ANY Christian is a Christian qua Christian, we must be Christ.
And it is the Mass that SHOWS this most clearly, and by His gifts of grace, makes it POSSIBLE most directly.
So, in this anniversary, I am grateful to you for coming, grateful to God for the priesthood, and grateful that His gifts have even exceeded even what He had promised.