Priestly Ordination of Sean Gough and Benedict Skipper at St Chad’s Cathedral: 20 Sept 20

Homily of Archbishop Bishop Bernard Longley:

No one takes this honour on himself but each one is called by God.

Dear friends, we are celebrating the ordination of Sean and Benedict in highly unusual circumstances and having to observe the current restrictions on gathering together for the health and wellbeing of one another.  At such a time, when we are surrounded by so much uncertainty and concern because of the coronavirus pandemic, the fact that Sean and Benedict are ready to dedicate their lives to serve the needs of others as priests is a sure sign of God’s loving presence and provident care in our midst.

Jesus continues to intercede of us in the closest possible way through the ministry of his priests.  By the power of the Holy Spirit the Church ordains those who are ready to spend the remainder of their lives in the service of God’s people and as faithful disciples who are called to share in the priesthood of Christ himself.

Our Lord’s priesthood is the pattern for ours, so it is important that we reflect on the priesthood of Jesus Christ today.  He is the one who intercedes for us with his heavenly Father.  He knows all our needs and he asks the Father to hear the prayers that we make – prayers of praise and thanksgiving, as well as our prayers of petition, asking God to bless and uplift other people in their needs.

This lies at the heart of a priest’s life, celebrating Mass for the intentions that are requested by his people, for the benefit of all the faithful, the living and the departed.  This is the motive for priestly pastoral care, for visiting those who are sick or troubled in any way, and for comforting those who are dying or their grieving relatives.  Jesus is a compassionate intercessor with the Father and his priests are called to show the Lord’s compassion as they pray and preach, administer the sacraments and attend to their people’s concerns.

St John’s Gospel sets before us one of those moments when our Lord was preparing the Apostles for his departure.  The words he speaks are part of his final testament and mandate to them:  As the Father sent me, so am I sending you with the certainty that he will not leave them but will be with them to the end of time.

The words of our Lord in this Gospel also shape the mission entrusted to the Apostles and to our two new priests.  They are to receive the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins – to bring healing and peace of mind to those who suffer and search for truth and integrity in their lives.

Sean and Benedict, you are called to be messengers of salvation, proclaiming the Good News of God’s forgiveness through your preaching and in the way that you live your lives.  The Letter to the Hebrews shows some of the characteristics of the priesthood of Christ that you are invited to imitate:  taken out of mankind and…appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

In order to act for the people in their relations with God the Church needs priests who are prepared to enter into the world, with all the risks that that entails.  You must get to know the people you are being sent to serve – Sean alongside Mgr Mark Crisp in Wolverhampton and Wombourne – and Benedict with Fr John Cross in Royal Leamington Spa and Lillington.  These are the people on whose behalf you will offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

The Word of God crossed the threshold between heaven and earth so that we can do the same.  Whenever you celebrate Mass you open the doorway that enables us to glimpse the Kingdom of God and to live by its values here in the world. 

In a striking passage which you have chosen the Letter to the Hebrews reveals a core value at the heart of the priesthood of Christ:  Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering.  Christ, the teacher of all mankind and the judge who will return at the end of time, had the humility to learn.  He learnt to obey through suffering.

If we are truly to reflect the priesthood of Christ in our own priestly ministry we must also be prepared to continue learning for the rest of our lives.  He learnt to obey.  Obedience means listening with our inner ears – it means being touched by the truth that we hear and see in others, even if that is different from or challenges our own perceptions. Obedience is about learning.

In a few moments you will be asked to promise “obedience…to me and my successors.”  The attitude of obedience is precious to everyone who is ordained, whether bishop, priest or deacon.  It enables him to listen for the pointers of God’s will in his own life and in the lives of others.  In your priestly ministry listen obediently to the Word of God in the scriptures and in prayer. 

Try to tune your ear to what you may hear of God’s voice speaking not only through those you respect and trust but also through people whose words or attitudes you may not find it not easy to accept.  In this way you can learn to see beyond the surface of things to the deeper meaning that lies within them and so enable our Lord to respond people’s deepest needs through you.

Sean and Benedict, you have been called from different families and experiences to share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. 

For Sean: with your family roots in the Walsall area you know intimately an area where Catholic faith has traditionally been very strong and we see the fruits of this in the four priestly vocations that have been nurtured in recent years in your old school, St Francis of Assisi in Aldridge.  Your time at Newman House supporting the Catholic students at the University of Birmingham offered a good pastoral foundation for the formation you began in Valladolid.

For Benedict: the support of family has also been important to your faith.  Your own roots in the West Country (albeit still within the Metropolitan Province of Birmingham) enable you to bring a perspective from beyond the Midlands to the life and mission of our local Church and your personal journey will motivate and deepen the compassion you show to those struggling with illness and uncertainty.

You have both come to appreciate what it means to uproot yourselves and to serve where the Lord is sending you. 

In a beautiful meditation on the power of the Eucharist during the pandemic, to which I referred at last week’s ordination, Cardinal Sarah quotes the prayer for the dedication of an altar.  As you prepare to stand at the altar to celebrate the Eucharist today may this prayer inspire your priestly ministry for many years to come.

Here may the flood of divine grace overwhelm human offenses, so that your children, Father, being dead to sin, may be reborn to heavenly life.

Here may the joyful offering of praise resound, with human voices joined to the song of angels, and unceasing prayer rise up to you for the salvation of the world.

Here may the poor find mercy, the oppressed attain true freedom, and all people be clothed with the dignity of your children, until they come exultant to the Jerusalem which is above.

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