Homily for the Ordination:

The Ordination of Douglas Duncan to the Diaconate and of Emmet O’Dowd and Rafał Szweda to the Priesthood

Stories about a Scotsman, an Irishman and a Pole are not in fashion these days. But we can surely give thanks for our three men and their varied backgrounds: one from not so far from the Lake-isle of Innisfree, another from the land of the Northern Lights, another from the marches of western Poland. Think of the languages: Doric, Irish, Polish. One for many years shepherding the facts and figures of a construction company; another, when not on a bicycle, packaging pharmaceutical remedies; another sometimes seen at the wheel of a forklift truck. Aberdeen, Elgin, Inverness: three spiritual homes. Converging here tonight. It is remarkable, ‘amazing’ as one of my monastic brethren is wont to say.

“Glory be to God for dappled things”: so the poet has it.

“All things counter, original, spare, strange;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him” (Pied Beauty, Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Yes, we do “praise him” – for each of you, dear ordinands, for the different ways you have picked up the parallel calls, caught the music of heaven and begun to sing it; for responding generously, preparing assiduously and today saying ‘Present’. In a moment, SS Doug Duncan will slide down the slipway and be launched on the sea of souls, ready to fish. In a moment, the Szweda forklift truck will go into gear and laying roads to God, and O’Dowd’s treasure chest of spiritual medicines be opened for us.

This is a moment of joy: for you, for us deacons, priests and bishops, for all of us, not to mention the angels and beyond. Here is a trinity of persons and a unity in service.

“These things he fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.”

Today we use two Prayers of Ordination, one to make a deacon, the other the priests. They are stately prayers and they give us a context: “Draw near almighty God, begins the one for deacons, giver of every grace, who apportion every order and assign every office, who remain unchanged, but make all things new…[who] make provision for every age.” Likewise the prayer of priestly ordination: “Draw near, O Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, author of human dignity: it is you who apportion all graces. Through you everything progresses; through you all things are made to stand firm.” There is a sense of divine providence, reaching from the beginning to the end, ordering all things sweetly and strongly. This is a prayer that begins on the mountains, as it were. A stream is flowing down the mountain side and filling the plain of history, drawing everything to the ocean of eternity. ‘Draw near, O Lord.’ Adesto, Domine: be present, be with us, come close. The God of these prayers is a God engaged in gathering the nations together in Christ, forming a people who is priestly in its entirety thanks to its baptismal consecration, building up the new Temple where the Father is worshipped in spirit and in truth. And, to enable that, to structure and energise it, this God establishes ‘three ranks of ministers’ – deacons, priests and bishops – to serve and sanctify and gather God’s people, ‘to carry out the work of salvation throughout the whole world’ under the lordship of Christ. They are sacramentally configured to him. For priests, co-workers with their bishop, the seventy elders who assisted Moses, the sons who followed Aaron, the companions of the Twelve are all invoked and, for deacons, the Old Testament Levites and the seven men of good repute from the Acts of the Apostles. There is a sense of continuity, of a God who is always calling and sending, appointing and providing: a God who comes close, whose mercies never fail, making provision for every age. A God who sends his consecrating Spirit again and again. This is the divine context of tonight. As St John Fisher wrote: “The succession of Christ’s Church…has continued and shall continue till the world’s end, even like the flood that [flows] continually. The waters go and pass but yet the flood continues and retains still the name of the flood: so the succession of Christ’s Church ever continues and is called the Church Catholic” (Preface to the Sermons of 11 February 1525).

These Prayers evoke this flood. They portray a never-ending opus Dei, the work of God in the world. Why are we people of so little faith? Why do we panic, forever lamenting a shortage of clergy? ‘The waters go and pass’. Mysteriously, only last week, after only two years of priesthood, Fr Peter Macdonald passed to become an intercessor, passing the baton to younger men. May he rest in peace! But “the river that gives joy to the city of God” (Ps 46:5) flows on. Today, Doug, Emmet and Raf – in two distinct, related ways – you are becoming in a new way God’s fellow-workers, ‘fellow-workers of the truth’ (3 John 8). You are becoming everything our readings suggested: prophets, disciple-makers, stewards of God’s manifold grace, speakers, helpers, fruit-bearers, and best of all in a new way Christ’s friends. And by a special coming of the Holy Spirit, he is gracing you as friends and comforters to others, as presence, as men of the essential, of what people really long for: the word of God and the Bread of Life.

I hope you won’t mind this next image. Perhaps the Church is like a train, travelling through time to the terminus of the heavenly Jerusalem, running on the tracks of the two great commandments, making disciples, picking up passengers, stopping at the stations of the centuries. Where do we find the ordained? In the driver? Well, you might say so: the munus regendi. The ticket-inspector? Many think of us like that. I suppose it is a task to remind of the cost of discipleship: munus docendi. Or the good soul who pushes the refreshment trolley through the train, offering the consolation of the sacraments: munus sanctificandi? Well, there’s a thought. But, forgive me, a train needs wheels. Wheels bear the weight of the train; we carry the suffering and hope of our fellow-believers. Wheels must stay on track; so must we through prayer and obedience. Most of all, wheels must just keep turning, 24/7, fair weather and foul, pressing forward, doing what’s required. That’s all. ‘Remain in my love.’ And sometimes wheels are changed. ‘The waters go and pass’. But the train of God’s people flows on through the days and nights of time, powered by merciful grace. And so for the span of our ordained life, short or long, we are privileged to be part of this, part of the opus Dei. I had a touching glimpse the other day of two young priests, recently arrived in the diocese, full of laughter and joy, mounting their bicycles in the Chanonry, riding off to say Mass at their new parish. And so today, that trim fishing vessel, SS Doug Duncan, is launched. The forklift truck lurches forward. The cycling pharmacist sets off. Take the Eucharist and take God’s Mother with you wherever you go.

And aren’t we glad to have you!

Brothers and sisters, this is a day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad. With faith we’re all opening our hearts to this trinity. God is drawing close to us today. Together in Christ, with the help of these chosen three, let’s all draw nearer to Him. Ordination is a call to holiness for us all.

“All things counter, original, spare, strange;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.”

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 6 July 2018


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