HOMILY – ORDINATION ANNIVERSARY, 2 JULY 2017 – 13th Sunday [A]
As the seminary opened its gates to release a batch of students ready for ordination mid-1967, the Beatles were well on the way to converting the world to their unique brand of music. I began my ministry to the beat of their hit single, All You Need Is Love. It seemed a great anthem for a new priest in the immediate post-Vatican II environment.
In the exciting glow of that amazing Council, signalling long-awaited reforms within our Church, I was convinced that all I needed was love and everything else would take care of itself. The Second Vatican Council opened doors and windows to the world, asking Catholics to engage confidently with other Christians and with issues that concerned people generally. There were to be changes in the way we celebrated Mass; the priest would face the people for the entire liturgy, and English was to replace Latin so that everyone could understand and participate.
I found these changes exhilarating and did not appreciate till much later the anxiety and troubled conscience they meant for many of the older priests and parishioners. Another song came to haunt my priesthood. One of the early rock-operas explored the personality of Jesus: Jesus Christ Superstar! The song of Mary Magdalen, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, pushed me back to reality. It was easy to love Jesus in the security and protection of the seminary, but in the cut and thrust of parish life, beyond the hype of change and novelty, meeting the pain that people carry in broken relationships, terminal illness, anxiety and grief, did I really know how to love him?
A personal wakeup came in a Retreat in the early 80s, and it centred on today’s second reading [Rom 6:3-4]. When I was baptised in Christ Jesus, I was baptised in his death! How could I not encounter suffering, or have doubts, or become disillusioned? Jesus endured all this, and more. Unless I entered his death how could I expect to enter his resurrection? Soon after the Retreat a third song made its mark on me: one of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s: Love Changes Everything. There have been other songs since, but this is the one that helped cement my priesthood in the lives of the people I served.
When God told Adam, It is not good for man to be alone, he wasn’t just referring to the partnership of marriage. God was pointing out the inescapable fact that no one can exist alone. We are made for community; we need others in our life. A priest cannot be a priest just for himself; his priesthood only grows and matures and makes sense in relationship with those to whom he is sent. It is the love he meets in this relationship that changes everything.
It took me a long while to understand that this love does not exclude affection for family and friends but enriches them. The cross of Jesus is only a burden to those who limit their love to themselves. By “losing” or “sinking” your life into the life of Jesus, you discover yourself constantly renewed and refreshed. As the prophet Elisha [1st Reading] gifted the couple who befriended him with new life, all your giving, and all my giving, far from depleting our resources, will open new avenues, new wonders.
The Beatles told me All You Need Is Love! But it took a while for me to see that truth. I first had to learn what love really meant. I stumbled a few times trying to follow the footsteps of Jesus, and I reacted with I Don’t Know How To Love Him. My family, and my friends in and outside the parishes I’ve served, have shown me Love Changes Everything – not in the sense of altering, but transforming – enabling me to recognise my faults, value my gifts, and honour my priesthood. In the end, love IS all you need. For whatever part you’ve played in my 50 years, I bless and thank you. You are my life, my treasure.