Sunday, 3 July 2016
Leaving Shaftesbury, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
It's sometimes said that when a priest leaves a parish a third of the people are sad, a third of the people are happy, and a third of the people don't even notice that he's been replaced by a new man!
As you've probably read in the newsletter by now, I’m leaving: the Bishop has appointed me to West Moors, near Bournemouth, leaving September. For me, personally, this is a very sad moment in my life. These have been the happiest years of my life: I love this parish, these parishioners, this church building, and this town. But I've been here 9 years, and it's time for Shaftesbury to have a fresh face, a breath of fresh air, someone new.
Your priest changing is a good time to reflect on why you need a priest here at all.
In the Gospel today we heard of the sending of the 72. They weren't priests, but in many ways they show us aspects of what a priest of Christ is to do for you.
First, we can note that their role is so important that the Lord said, “the labourers are few, so pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to His harvest” (Lk 10:2). So, can I ask you, please pray for your new priest being sent here. He's a good man, a good priest, I know him, I’m glad he's coming here for you –but he needs your prayers if he's going to do good for you.
Second, the 72 didn’t stand in their own right but for the Lord Jesus: their mission was intimately connected with His: They were to go to the “places He Himself was to visit” (Lk 10:1), to prepare the way, to enable Him to come to the people.
They were to bring greetings of “peace”(Lk 10:5) –not their own peace, but that of the Lord.
They were to bring healing –not their own healing, but that of the Lord.
A priest, at an even deeper level, does the same.
He brings peace at the deepest level of the human heart, brings peace between God and man by forgiving sin in Confession.
He brings healing of our deepest sickness: sin, guilt, the corruption of evil.
A priest does this for you by using the instruments that Christ established for His new covenant: the seven sacraments, the teaching office of His Church, and the governance of Christian community.
Christ established these things in stages, and the sending of the 72 was an earlier part of His ministry, but their function in many ways was the same as the fullness of the priesthood: namely, it was about bringing Christ and preparing for Christ.
Let me point out something important here: The role of the 72 had nothing to do with their personalities, their style of speaking, their ability to joke, etc.
Their role was to prepare for Christ and bring Christ’s peace and healing.
It is the same with a priest. What a priest does for you is so important that it transcends the difference between one priest’s personality and that of another priest.
It's about Christ, not the priest.
The priests utters the words of forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession, but it's not the priest’s forgiveness that is given, but Christ's.
The priest utters the words of consecration in the Mass, “This is my Body…”, but it is not the priest’s body that becomes present, but Christ’s.
The priest preaches in the sermon, but the truth He proclaims is not His, but what He has received from Christ and in turn passes on to you.
So, to conclude. One priest is going, and another is coming.
What a priest does for you is not to bring himself, but to bring Christ. This is what makes a priest’s role so important: he's not about Himself, he's about the Lord.
Like the 72, he goes ahead to the places the Lord Himself is to go.