St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 17 March 2016.
It was good on Tuesday night to admit Andrzej Niski to candidacy, and how good this evening to congratulate Canon Alistair Doyle on the 53rd anniversary of his ordination!
‘In our sickness we need a Saviour, in our wanderings a guide, in our blindness someone to show us the light, in our thirst the fountain of living water which quenches for ever the thirst of those who drink from it. We dead people need life, we sheep need a shepherd, we children need a teacher, the whole world needs Jesus’ (The Teacher, 1, 9, 83).
So wrote Clement of Alexandria, 1800 years ago. It’s almost an echo of the 1st reading and the Gospel. It’s still true. Perhaps as the centuries pass and the battle between good and evil intensifies, it’s more true. ‘The whole world needs Jesus.’
He is ‘the light of the nations’, Lumen Gentium. He is the Word made flesh, Dei Verbum, ‘mediator and fullness of all revelation’ the one who is and has the intimate truth of God and human salvation (DV 2). He is the first-born of all creation, ‘the key, the centre and the purpose of all human history’ (GS 11), the one in whose mystery ‘the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear’ ((GS 22), our joy and our hope. He is the Son of the Father, anointed by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to the poor, to comfort the broken-hearted, to be a bodily and spiritual physician, the one whose humanity is the instrument of our salvation. And by the paschal Mystery of his blessed Passion, resurrection from the dead and glorious ascension, he has completed ‘the work of human redemption and perfect glorification of God’ (SC 5). He is our liturgy. This is the Jesus of the Gospels and the New Testament, proclaimed by the Church, present in word and sacrament. The one who brings us ‘grace and peace.’ The one we need.
It is a great pain for the human being not to love God – even if this is not acknowledged or registered. It’s the great bereavement, the great sorrow. It’s the great poverty and captivity. It’s the world’s great wound, the great need Jesus heals.
And in the world, we – we, all of us, lay faithful, religious, clergy – we are his Body. We are him and he is us. And it’s through us he continues his mission.
By the gift of faith and the sacraments of Christian initiation – baptism, confirmation, and the holy Eucharist – we have been called out of our separate-ness, our scattered-ness, our lack of love, into this Body, into him. We have been ‘re-membered’. ‘Who am I? asked Pope Francis. I am sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.’ ‘Who am I, asked St Augustine. I was a baby bird fallen out of the nest of faith, thinking I could fly before I could. ‘But the Lord of mercy raised me up that I might not be trodden down to death by passers-by, and put me in the nest again’ (Sermon 51:6). Who am I? asked St Patrick. ‘I am first of all a simple country person, a refugee, and unlearned. I do not know how to provide for the future. But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the top of the wall. That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord for such great good deeds of his, here and now and forever, which the human mind cannot measure’ (Confession, 12).
‘He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father.’ He has brought us to faith and the Church. He has re-membered us, made us his members. And neither our own failings nor those of our fellow-Christians, whatever their status, should ever take away our gratitude or disable our mission.
‘The whole world needs Jesus.’ We know that. We feel it. We know we disintegrate without him. And we are called and baptised and given the gifts of the Holy Spirit to meet this need. Or rather to allow Christ to meet it through us. ‘It is he who coming on the clouds, says the 2nd reading, everyone will see him.’ What faith! And it’s our vocation, as forgiven sinners, as Christians and Catholics, to allow, even now, glimpses, trailers, intimations – to write icons – of the One who is coming.
‘Christ be the vision in eyes that see me,
In ears that hear me Christ ever be.’
How good if St Patrick’s prayer were just sometimes answered! It can’t be impossible.
‘For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,
To the Father through the features of men’s faces’ (G. M. Hopkins).
This is the Gospel to the poor. This is the meaning of the works of mercy. It’s the call on all of us, the whole body of Christ.
And from within that body and for that body, we – ministers of the Lord- are called. As today’s Preface puts it: ‘For Christ not only adorns with a royal priesthood the people he has made his own, but with a brother’s kindness he also chooses men to become sharers in his sacred ministry through the laying on of hands.’ They are ‘to renew in his name the sacrifice of human redemption, to set before your children the paschal banquet, to lead your holy people in charity, to nourish them with the word and strengthen them with the sacraments.’ And to do that, which is beyond us, we are consecrated by the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of orders. We are connected to Christ in a new and specific way. We are connected to him at a point beyond our conscious grasp. We are connected to him as Shepherd, Bridegroom, Head of the Body. Servant of all. We ‘strive, says the Preface again, to be conformed to the image of Christ himself and offer you, Father, a constant witness of faith and love.’ We are called to be the transparency of Christ’s love for the Church. It is of course beyond us. But precisely because it is beyond us it can happen. Even on the clouds of our poor selves Christ can come. The word and sacraments are his. And so even now, flashes, slivers, rays, hints, touches, suggestions can come forth, even in power. Even now demons can be exorcised and the blind receive new sight. Even now the healing, anointing oils can flow. That’s why, this year too, we bless them. ‘The whole world needs Jesus.’
Why has he called all of us, lay, religious, clergy, into the Body of Christ? Because’ the whole world needs Jesus.’
Why has he laid hands on some of us and made us servants of this Body? Because ‘the whole world needs Jesus’.
And, strange to say, he chooses to need us.
And so, brethren, I invite you to renew publicly and joyfully your priestly promises.