Homily for the Priestly Ordination of Br Simon Piatkowski OSB

As the years pass, I find myself less and less able to say anything about anything. So, I’m in a dilemma and flailing around in hope of rescue. And here it is, staring me in the face. It’s Br Simon himself: confronted by a bishop, surrounded by brethren and family and friends, and sat on a stool in this Abbey church in the north of Scotland, in Eastertide, on the 27th of April, in the Year of our Lord 2024.

And what will happen to poor, dear Br Simon today?

He will receive a gift. That’s what ordination means. St Paul was already clear on it to Timothy, his spiritual son (cf. 2 Tim 1:6). Today’s Liturgy is clear about it too. Priesthood is a gift. A sacramental gift. Not a gift that every Christian or every monk needs. Not a gift that implies a lack if it isn’t given. Rather, a gift that’s surrounded and made sense of by gifts that come before and after: by what makes us human and by what makes us Christian, by what, please God, awaits us, the crowning gift of everlasting life.  Priesthood has a context. Priesthood is relative. It’s wholly at the service of those first and last gifts and makes no sense apart from them. It’s surpassed by what it serves: the Eucharist; human souls; the Bride of Christ, holy Church; the kingdom of heaven. Still, if given, it is to be celebrated. There’s an exquisite and inscrutable personal providence at work in it. The divine marksmanship is on show. Br Simon today is caught in the sights of heavenly firepower. He’s a targeted man, targeted by divine, predestining love.  And it’s for us all. There’s a collateral – no, not “damage”, but – enhancement. An ordination touches others and the others are not just the few but the biblical “many”. They include the living and the dead of every time and place, even every stone and flower and animal. In that graced sense, priesthood is “nuclear”.

“Catch only what you’ve thrown yourself, [wrote Rilke],
all is mere skill and little gain;
but when you’re suddenly the catcher of a ball
thrown by an eternal partner
with accurate and measured swing
towards you, to your centre, in an arch
from the great bridgebuilding of God:
why catching then becomes a power-
not yours, a world’s.”

With the help of today’s Liturgy, let’s trace the journey of this Gift.

It “is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17). It flows from the “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), from “the One who sits upon the throne” (Rev 2:4) and from the Lamb, the crucified and glorified Christ. It is a gift of the Gift in person, the Holy Spirit; it is a form of Christhood. Its goal is the ravaged world. It passes down through the ranks of angels to reach us. It’s a gift from God, but it engages others in its conveying. It enlists the judgment of the Church: he is judged “worthy”. It entails family and friends and the whole congregation that prays for the one being ordained. It demands his faith, his resolve, his willingness. It is warmed by the prayer of the Mother of God and of all the saints, invoked in the litany. It engages a bishop, with priests around him, to lay on hands and pray. An ordination has its essential core of minister and recipient, gesture and word, but it is not a duet between ordainer and ordained, merely spectated by everyone else. It is choral in its coming.

But it’s what happens next that matters most. At the heart of the prayer of ordination comes the request that echoes the Miserere: “renew deep within him the Spirit of holiness”: “deep within him”, in visceribus eius says the Latin, “in his guts”, in what’s inmost. This gift dives deep into the one who receives it. It may arouse feeling in him at the time or later, but it penetrates further than feelings. It will provoke thoughts, but it reaches beyond them. It lands beyond our consciousness, beyond our will however firm or flaky. It pitches its tent in an inner territory past either our consent or our rebellion. It’s not by chance that St Benedict speaks so much, in his chapter on Priests, of humility. It’s not by chance that the prayers of ordination suggest the repentant David. It’s to an earthed and contrite person this Gift goes. It enters the ground of the soul, and there it roots and grows. The ordained “sleeps and rises night and day and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how” (Mk 4:27). And it creates, crafts, fashions something new in him, in the garden of creation. This is God’s agriculture.

And what does it yield? What is it that’s fired from our clay by this strike of lightning? What is it this gift makes grow, like Isaiah’s rain? What is the effect of the sacrament?

It certainly does something. I see it again and again working itself out in priests with all their human limits, a yeast in their souls. They are laid hold of by something akin to what laid hold of Peter and Paul, Peter evangelising Cornelius, Paul proclaiming his ministry of reconciliation It turns them inside out. It is the very opposite of data protection. They are given, not withheld.

And what does it do, this Gift? Once again, the Liturgy can guide us. Our Gospel was of the Last Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist. After the Prayer of Ordination come the rites of a vesting, an anointing of the hands and the handing over of a paten with bread and a chalice of wine. Someone equipped to “eucharist” comes forth. Someone who can lawfully preside at Mass, who can “confect” the sacrament and offer the Church’s sacrifice for the sake of the people. When a monk becomes a priest in a community like ours, little changes outwardly. He still cooks and washes up, serves and reads and does whatever he does. The one daily difference is that now, in the community’s Mass, he leads (or co-proclaims) the Eucharistic Prayer. And in this simple service, the silent gift from above finds its voice in the world. “Do this in memory of me”, said the Lord. The task of a priest is to keep those last words and gestures of Jesus alive in the world, to proclaim his death and Resurrection, to lift Christ’s love over the world, to distribute it one by one to the poor of heart. To help the world and every soul he touches to their eucharistic goal of incorporation in Christ, and a life given to God in filial praise and thanksgiving and to others in Christ-like love and service. To gather everyone and everything, all the beauty and pain of nature and man, into Christ’s self-offering, so that he can make it whole and lovely in his Father’s eyes.

Young David was anointed by old Samuel, and “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam 16:13). And to conquer Goliath and free his people David took five smooth stones and a sling – minimal force. To fell the Evil One and bring the world to the obedience of faith, the Church’s newly-anointed Davids go to war with a little water, a little oil, a weird old book called the Bible and holding a plate of bread and a cup of wine. It’s crazy. It’s enough. It’s the presence of the Risen One.

Dear Br Simon, the Gift is on its way, and this is its fruit: a eucharistic man, capax doni. A eucharistic heart, given “for you” (those you know) and “for many” (those you’ll only discover in heaven). Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh”, the heart formed by Christ’s flesh. It can grow at every hearing of a confession, every anointing of the sick, every listening, every blessing, every teaching or preaching, every prayer, every encounter. And most of all in every celebration of the Eucharist. May this priestly heart make you as helpless as parents before the needs of their children, as helpless as Christ before us. Those who ask things of you will be your salvation.

How not remember the great Polish saint, St Maximilian Kolbe? When he stepped forward to offer his life in Auschwitz, he said simply, “I am a Catholic priest.” He offered himself for others and had men starving in a bunker sing their way to heaven with him. “I am a Catholic priest”.

And here is Br Simon just still upright on his stool!

Br Simon, entrust your priesthood to our Lady and love it! For, if you do, everyone here and beyond will love the Christ in you and love you still more than they do already. Amen.

Pluscarden Abbey, 27 April 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122