Homily for the priestly Ordination of Dominic Nwaigwe

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Dear Dominic, it seems no time ago you were being ordained deacon in this church. Now, here we are again. Another page to turn. Another moment in your biography. Not a small one, and full of a future. It has been a long, sometimes difficult journey for you. That has brought its own richness. Please God, what lies ahead will be simpler. Today commemorates St Bernard of Clairvaux, and also the prophet Samuel. He was called from his boyhood onwards: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’ He became a bearer of God’s word for his people. He anointed Saul and then, to better effect, the young David. Maybe there are connections there, Dominic, both with your past and with what begins today. Perhaps Fr James has been your Eli! I hope you’ll always be enough of a boy to say, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’ St Bernard is portrayed by the liturgy as someone full of fire and light; may you bring warmth and vision into the world! And may the Saints of today’s Litany accompany you!

Today, through the laying on of hands and the prayer of the Church, the Spirit of the Lord is given you. You are newly anointed and sent. So Isaiah’s words (ch. 61) come to life here and now. Today the words of St Peter (1 Pet 4) are verified and, on the basis of ‘a special grace’, you are putting yourself ‘at the service of others’. And Christ says to you what he said to his disciples in the Upper Room: ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you…You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last’ (Jn 15). ‘This sacrament, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet and king’ (CCC 1581). Today, you enter the presbyteral order and are welcomed into the presbyterate of this diocese. I hope, Dominic, that you can sense the love of Christ that running through all this, and sense it in the hearts of everyone here and many not here too. St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, said simply: ‘The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.’

You were ordained as a deacon, Dominic, on the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, when the Gospel speaks of the Son of man being lifted up. And a deacon does a lot of lifting up: of the Paschal candle at the Easter Vigil, of the Gospel book in procession, of the Chalice at the great doxology. Those gestures tell us something of what a deacon is. Today, we all wonder what a priest is. So I wonder if the liturgy can help us again. Forgive me if I talk about a two-word rubric. At the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer, after the consecration respectively of the bread and then of the wine, the priest shows the consecrated Host and then the Chalice to the people. The Missal says: ostendit populo. Yes, you will say the words of consecration, then lift the Host and later the Chalice, and show them to the people.

This is powerful. We can think of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent for the healing of the people in the desert. We remember how the Gospel of John speaks of the Son of Man being lifted up on the Cross to draw all people to himself. St. Paul uses similar imagery. He reminds the Galatians how Christ crucified had been put before their eyes, posted, proposed on a placard (Gal 3:1), presumably by his preaching. He tells the Corinthians that every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim his death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26). Ostendit populo. Prayers from the Psalms come to mind: ‘Show us, Lord, your mercy, and give us your saving help’; ‘lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord’; ‘let your face shine on us, and we shall be saved’. Perhaps the showing of Christ’s Body and Blood is an answer to this prayer. Perhaps the ministry of the priest can be seen as an answer to this prayer. At the very least, here’s a pointer to what a priest is.

‘The hungry sheep look up and are not fed’, said a poet. Children look to their mothers. ‘His banner over me was love’, says the woman in the Song of Songs (2:4). The faithful look to their priests. We all look up. We all expect and hope and crave. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’ goes a famous version of Proverbs 29:18. There is a kind of mental glaucoma, a narrowing of vision, that’s always threatening us. ‘O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark’, said another poet. The points of light are so small, the “vacant interstellar places” are so vast, the power of oblivion so pervasive. So many lives thrown away and forgotten, one in four in the UK just from the life of the womb, with Scotland the European country with the highest suicide rate. Oh! ‘lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.’ Or there are just so many other things to catch the eye, to fascinate and obsess and distract and mislead, so many screens crying out for our eyes. ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5:21), warns St John. So many plausible alternatives. ‘“What can bring us happiness?” many say.’ And Psalm 4’s quiet answer is: ‘Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.’ Ostendit populo. ‘You have put into my heart a greater joy’. Over the Church the Lord lifts the banner of his love. This is the vision. This is the mission, Dominic, given you today. This is the commissioning the Gospel speaks of. I have appointed you, placed you, the Lord says, set you in this sacramental space – so you can show the people something other, something precious: a source of hope and healing, a haven and a home beyond all others, light in the darkness, the crucified and risen Christ. ‘He will conceal you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge.’ Here are the consecrated Host and the Chalice of Salvation. Here what they contain and convey and imply. Ostendit populo. Here is the light of his face, the shadow of his wings, the banner of divine love, the merciful Father. ‘His faithfulness is buckler and shield.’ Here is Christ on the Cross, arms outstretched, side opened. Here is the overshadowing Spirit offering faith, and hope, something more and something other. Ostendit populo. Dominic, the whole of your threefold ministry is, directly or indirectly, at the service of this showing: your telling of the Word, your celebrating of the Sacraments, your pastoring. Showing one thing, this one thing which makes your people one and you one: the one, same Gospel of mercy, Mystery of Faith, Paschal mystery, the crucified and risen Lord, the hope of the world. From today on, everything you are is about this. Everything you do, even material and financial, even when you can only go silent in the face of sad, terrible things you might hear and the only word left is prayer, even when all you feel is your own inadequacy or anger at the Church’s failings or distress at the constant attacks she undergoes or dismay at human weakness. Even then you can still be, Paul-like, preaching Christ crucified, posting him on the Facebook of the world. Through you, the Father longs to lift up the Son of Man and draw all people to himself. Isn’t it uplifiting that Salvador Dali’s The Christ of St John of the Cross was voted Scotland’s favourite painting? Christ crucified suspended over the globe. I often think, artist and priest can be at the same business, God the Father’s business: ostendit populo. The priest’s vocation is to show Christ to the people and the people to Christ. ‘Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.’ Go for it, Dominic. Thank you for going for it. It is a going concern. And when your arms grow weary, like Moses’ on the mountain, remember there are brothers and sisters to support you. God bless you! May he lift up the light of his face on you and give you peace all the days of your life. Amen.

(St Mary’s, Inverness, 20 August 2019)