Homily by Cardinal John Dew given at Ordination of Cirilo Barlis

Ordination to the Priesthood of Cirilo Barlis, 6th May 2017

Cirilo, you chose the Gospel where Jesus told you “Feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep.” That’s the work of a shepherd; “Cirilo, Be a shepherd according to the heart of God.”’

Just 15 days after he was elected the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis preached at his first Chrism Mass, he used a phrase which has been quoted often since then.  He called on the worlds’ priests to bring the healing power of God’s love to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalized, hurting and lonely, and told all priests to be “Shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

That means for you Cirilo, and for all of us that we are to be with God’s people, to know them and like a shepherd, to love them.

We heard, Jesus ask Peter, as he asks you especially today “Do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter that question three times. By now Peter had learned his lesson. Peter had been deeply humbled by his own experience of denying Jesus. We know that he denied Jesus three times even though he had said that he would lay down his life for him.

Peter may have been surprised when, on this occasion, Jesus asked him three times “Do you love me?” Jesus will ask you that same question over and over again throughout your life as a priest, and each time you assure him of your love, he will say to you again “Feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep.” You will need to ask yourself many times how you will feed and look after the people God has entrusted to you.

Jesus wanted Peter to be a shepherd of the flock, he also wants you. There will be times when you feel like Jeremiah, think you are too young and maybe inexperienced, or you are not sure what to say. God will reassure you and say to you “Go now to those to whom I send you. Do not be afraid. I am putting my words into your mouth.”

Jesus wants you to be one of those, along with the rest of us who will soon be your brother priests, who is to feed his sheep and look after His people.  Remember always, the lambs and the sheep – the flock – belong to Jesus, not to us. It is for us to help them to be in communion with Jesus, it is for us to always go out of our way to help them and never control them.

In that Holy Thursday homily Pope Francis said: “priests who do not go out of themselves gradually become managers.”  Of course there will be things you have to manage in a parish, mundane tasks to be done, but don’t let those become your life. The people we are privileged to serve are not a project or assignment, or a business enterprise which calls for efficiency and looks to produce results. This flock is made up of real people with real needs, made up of people called by Jesus to grow in love. They grow in love when we love them.

Any of us, you and me, and your soon to be brother priests can only guide, nourish and be responsible  for people in the name of Jesus if we first accept his love and try to respond in love. That means being prepared to:

  • -give our time- even when we don’t feel like it
  • -give our energy – even if we are exhausted and think we are too tired
  • -give our hearts- even if something else seems momentarily more attractive
  • -give our life- if need be

When priesthood seems too demanding or it appears that there are too many things to do, when hard decisions have to be made, remember there are people with real human needs. The only love they may experience is when you love them in the name of Jesus – love them, look after them and feed them. That is a great privilege.

We are able to accept and take up this responsibility in the name of Jesus only when we love him and live as His friend. Never forget that Jesus says to you; “You did not choose me, no I chose you and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last….I call you friends.”

Being a chosen friend of Jesus, loving him and loving his people is not something devotional or sentimental. It is a commitment to help people to grow in the love of Jesus as we walk with them. When we walk with another person, accompany them through life we never look to see how we might control or use them, ….we always  look to see how we might set them free in the power of the Spirit of God.

If a priest fails to put his own skin and his own heart on the line he will never hear the warm heartfelt words of thanks from those he has helped. Blessed Pope Paul VI once said, “If the Lord demands sacrifice, then let there be sacrifice.”  Priests who are chosen by Jesus to love his people, to feed and nourish them must know those people, in other words, to be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.

That Holy Thursday four years ago Pope Francis said to the people “Be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to the heart of God.”

Please pray always for Cirilo, please pray for all of us, and tomorrow on Good Shepherd Sunday pray that we will be and that we will have many priestly shepherds who will know the smell of the sheep, that we are all shepherds according to the heart of God.