Saturday, 16 July 2016
A Week of Priesthood
During the past week I had the privilege of being at the Solemn High Mass of a newly ordained priest, Fr James Mawdsley. Speaking to him after Mass I advised him,
“You were not led blindfolded and handcuffed to the sanctuary as into a Burmese prison*, rather your hands have been tied together in prayer and in Christ. Never get used to being a priest; we can get so caught up with the busyness of parish life, and we celebrate Mass so frequently (daily) that it can become routine: never lose the wonder that fills the soul on the day of ordination and the celebration of your first Mass”. I hope Father never gets used to being a priest. I hope that what happens when we celebrate our First Mass is repeated at every Mass we celebrate: that we (hopefully) catch ourselves thinking, “This is God in my hands…who am I that the Lord should descend from heaven at my word to offer Himself to the Father on my/our behalf?”
It was a glorious evening, and Father preached a superb homily. I hope I am faithful to the content and thrust of Father’s sermon when I say that he reminded us that the Church is currently embattled by storms from within and without; that we should never forget the Pope is Successor to Saint Peter, but that even Peter can lose faith and sink into the water rather than walk upon it. He reminded us that we must pray very much for the Pope, the Successor of Peter, and for the Church, amid the storms of today. He reminded us that secular forces are lined-up against the Church and the Gospel, and that these forces must be fought. He reminded us that Islam, which describes itself as a religion of peace, harbours fundamentalism which engages in terrorism, and that such forces must also be resisted. All of this is done only in the faith of Christ (who alone is the Way, the Truth, the Life -and our lasting peace, one might add). After Mass I observed a discussion between a lady and a young layman; they were debating Father having singled out the Muslim Faith for comment. Had the young man not been doing so well I might have interjected that there is a single religion wherein fundamentalists are beheading Christians on beaches, putting bombs on undergrounds and flying planes into buildings; the Muslim Faith, so it was right to single it out. It would have been unjust for Father to add Buddhists, Jews, Hindu's or any other faith to the list of forces to be resisted.
Today I attended Mass in thanksgiving for a priest’s 60 years of priesthood; this is the priest who instructed me in The Faith and handed on a great love for the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy sacrifice of the Mass (though he did not at all approve of the Traditional Rite); this is the priest who vested me at my ordination, and whom I thus regard as my father in the faith. He is poorly these days, but his love for the Lord, the Eucharist and the people of God still shines out of him. I remember spending six months with him while completing a course of study, and going into a dark Church one winter morning at 5am to discover he was already there, prostrate before the tabernacle. He once told me he offered his recitation of the Divine Office every day for priests who do not pray.
I have no doubt that all our priests are sincere men with the good of the people at heart, but I do wonder if they have lost the sense of the priesthood: the Novus Ordo is so often offered in a perfunctory manner as though it were nothing more than a celebration and affirmation of the community (hence the recent anger at the suggestion we face the apse for the celebration of Mass, since it is not people-focused). Meanwhile, Confession has become counselling, while preaching has become an exhortation to social work. All of this makes today’s Catholics feel good about themselves in that  the Mass is now about affirming them, rather than a propitiation for their sins;  their rightful feelings of guilt are removed by their reconciliation therapy rather than the real guilt of sin removed by Confession with repentance and absolution;  they can forget about personal sin and focus instead upon social sin (social injustice). How far we have gone in the last 60 years from the worship of God and the salvation of souls.
Until we regain the wonder of the priesthood that I advised Father Mawdsley not to lose; until we again put God at the centre of the Mass, and until we once again guide people to personal holiness by confession, repentance, absolution and amendment of life, we will not save many souls. It all hangs on whether or not the priest comprehends the sacrality of his office and the beauty of the ministry he performs in the Person of Christ. This week’s celebrations have reminded me yet again of the wonder of the ministry to which God called me, and which is nicely captured in the following famous poem by an unknown author:
The Beautiful Hands of a Priest
We need them in life's early morning,
we need them again at its close;
we feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
we seek them when tasting life's woes.
At the altar each day we behold them,
and the hands of a king on his throne
are not equal to them in their greatness:
their dignity stands all alone.
And when we are tempted and wander
to pathways of shame and of sin,
it's the hand of a priest will absolve us
--not once, but again and again.
And when we are taking life's partner,
other hands may prepare us a feast,
but the hand that will bless and unite us
is the beautiful hand of a priest.
God bless them and keep them all holy
for the Host which their fingers caress;
what can a poor sinner do better
than to ask Him to guide thee and bless?
When the hour of death comes upon us
may our courage and strength be increased
by seeing raised o’er us in pardon
the beautiful hands of a priest!
*Read Father's story in his Book, "The Heart must break".