by Bishop Sebastian Francis
The Spirit of the Lord has anointed us for Mission
As I speak to you, I am aware that I am speaking to all of you here in the Cathedral, to those who are following us from the chapel behind and to all of you who are following us online, especially in our Diocese which includes Kelantan, Perlis, Kedah, Perak and Penang.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, who happens to be the President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference, when he ordained 13 new Catholic priests in a very troubled country, Myanmar, just recently on March 19th this year, he said
“To be a priest is to serve and not to show authority over others,
to heal those wounded and the weak, not to wound others,
to search for justice, not to kneel and surrender,
but to proclaim that no powerful people are to govern the world senselessly.‘
He went on to say “Priests are soldiers of God’s army and fight for human dignity and justice.”
And he ended by saying “A priest is another Christ, an alter Christus. Christ is the Model, the Saviour, and the Healer of all priests.”
So thank you, Brother Cardinal Charles Bo.
At the opening of the International Theological Symposium very recently also from the 17th to 19th of February this year, with the theme for a Fundamental Theology of Priesthood organised by the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, this is what Pope Francis said (he said many things, I am just summarising it):-
“Those who are not close to God in prayer, not close to their Bishop and other priests, and not immersed in the lives of their people are simply clerical functionaries or professionals of the sacred.”
Of course he was addressing priests.
He went on to say “A priest needs to have a heart sufficiently enlarged to expand and embrace the pain of the people entrusted to his care while at the same time, like a sentinel, being able to proclaim the dawning of God’s grace revealed in that very pain.”
And he went on to explain what this closeness is all about. Closeness is essential, he said (Pope Francis) to the ministry and identity of a priest:-
- Closeness to God in prayer,
- Closeness to the Bishop,
- Closeness to other priests;
- and especially Closeness to the people of God.
“Closeness in all four areas allows priests to manage the tensions and imbalances that we experience daily. Closeness allows the priests to break all temptations of self-withdrawal, self-justification and of living like a bachelor.”
Finally he said:-
“Closeness, they are not an extra assignment but a gift that the Lord gives to keep the vocation of priests alive and fruitful.“
Very recently, two Cardinals sent a letter to priests worldwide on the Synodal journey. This was sent on the 19th March, particularly to priests, from Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, and Archbishop Lazzaro Sik, Prefect from Korea, who is now the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. And they said (talking also specifically to priests):-
“Here we are, two priests and brothers of yours! May we ask for a moment of your time! We would like to talk to you about a topic that touches us all.
And what is the topic? Of course:-
- For a Synodal Church: Communion, participation and mission.
- Walking together or journeying together is as St John Chrysostom affirmed, making the Church and Synodality synonymous.
so that we do not fall into the risks highlighted by Pope Francis that is formalism which reduces the Synod (that is coming up) to an empty slogan; intellectualism, which makes the Synod a theoretical reflection on problems; and immobilism, nailing us to the security of our habits so that nothing changes. It is important to open our hearts and listen to what the Spirit suggests to the Church.“
Obviously in the face of this journey, which all of us are undertaking, some fears may assail us but do everything so that the journey rests on listening to and living the Word of God.
So thank you our two Cardinals.
So what is the Bishop of Penang saying? So the Bishop of Penang is saying “Turun Padang and back to basics.”
So today, we are going to recommit ourselves to priestly life and ministry, particularly to priestly life and ministry. The Sacrament of Holy Orders encompasses the bishop who was a priest before he became a bishop, and was a deacon before he became a priest. It encompasses the priests who were deacons before they were ordained priests. And it also encompasses the permanent deacons and our transitory deacon. All three encompasses the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
So today we, bishops, priests and deacons, we are going to renew in public the promise of obedience and respect to the bishops, which is taken by deacons, priests, and we are also, for the priests and for the bishops, we are going to renew the promise of celibacy.
So these are the two obvious external things that we are going to do. And both obedience and celibacy is a gift, especially in the Latin church, in the Western Latin Church. It is a gift, a gift of the Holy Spirit and therefore, it is meant for sanctification. Though it remains a challenge till the very end of our lives, yet it continues to remain a gift and a challenge. Maybe it is an obstacle for some, or a burden. And if it is an obstacle or a burden, then we need to open it to purification. Purification is also the work of the Holy Spirit.
So this renewal of our promises, particularly towards celibacy and obedience, I would like to suggest it is a preparation, a preparation for a renewal that we will make together with all of you people of God, with all the baptised, with all those who will be newly baptised at Easter, a preparation for us bishops, priests and deacons to renew our fundamental baptismal promises at Easter. So one moves to the other.
I can’t help but remember Father Ignatius Huan today. Because one day before he died, he told me that he consecrates himself and his priesthood every single day to God. Now I thought that was a wonderful gift he gave me before he died. He consecrates himself like the Pope consecrated humanity, and not just Ukraine and Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Father Ignatius said he consciously consecrates his priesthood every day in his life.
And I can’t help but remember what Bishop Paul Tan and myself often say that we, for us bishops, we have two arms. One arm is the priest and the other arm are the deacons. And I want to say, and my brother Paul Tan will say it with me, that we bishops are incomplete without both arms, the priests and the deacons. By deacons, I mean the permanent deacons.
So we want to thank and praise God today for the gift of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, for the gift of bishops in the Catholic church who have the fullness of the priesthood (as we understand it in the Catholic church) and who are successes of the apostles. We want to also thank and praise God for all the priests in our Diocese, one arm of the bishop who share in the priesthood of the bishop and are sent on mission by the bishop who are extensions of the bishop wherever they are. That is the Catholic understanding.
And also to thank and praise God for the permanent deacons especially with our transitory deacon who will soon be ordained priest. We want to thank God for another arm, the permanent deacons who are also part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders because they too will renew the promise of obedience that they took when they were ordained permanent deacons.
So it is a day to rejoice because we are going to make this renewal personally and as a body, as a body of clergy, of priests, of deacons, and of bishops.
So may the Holy Spirit guide us as we do what we are asked to do on this beautiful day.
Click below to listen to homily and watch video:–