Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This time of fragility and uncertainty has almost been compounded by the result of a football match with England’s defeat against Iceland. Worryingly, there are reports of increased xenophobic tensions and incidents. The director of the Luton based Grassroots and Council of Faiths reflecting on the outcome of the referendum vote, writes that many immigrants are feeling vulnerable, fearing all kinds of racist backlash between neighbours, at work, at the school gate in shops and businesses. He describes how his nine year daughter asked him last Friday, “Does it mean that we have to leave Britain?”
I mention all this because of the great variety of nationalities among priests and people that make up our parish and school communities, and the need there is to live out our primary Christian vocation outlined in that first reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians – “Be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience – Put on love – May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts because it is for this that you were called together as part of one body.” The call to us all is a call to unity in Christ. And it is a call that must now be lived out consciously, sensitively and in the power of the Holy Spirit during the coming weeks and months.
St Paul also speaks of being thankful, giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ. Today, of course, we give thanks for our priests who have responded faithfully to God’s call. We remember, in particular, those listed in the Order of Service who are celebrating significant anniversaries. With us today are Fathers Paul Hardy and John Danford celebrating a combined total of 70 years of priesthood.
For all of us priests gathered around the altar, it is a moment to reflect on our vocation, on the call to be friends of Jesus, to remain in his love, and to bear fruit that will last into eternity. What Jesus commands us in the Gospel is that we love one another. We each bring different gifts to our priestly ministry. None of us is perfect. We all fail. But, when we fall down, we must let God’s grace take over and remember that God has chosen us.
I want to thank you all for your commitment and hard word. In the weeks and months since Easter I am travelling the length and breadth of the Diocese celebrating Confirmation, and I am struck again and again by the effectiveness of the priestly ministry in the Diocese, of your priestly ministry, not just as a result of my experience of the Confirmation Masses, but driving through towns and villages, and recognising that you are holding together the Catholic communities in your preaching, and in celebrating the Mass and the Sacraments.
Because of the demands on us, many of us find it hard to strike a balance in our lives. I urge you to take time to look after yourselves, to rest and to play, and to pray. It is so easy to become addicted to work and to the electronic communications which can swamp us.
In a way, I am preaching to myself! I, too, want to give thanks to God today for my priestly vocation and for his call eleven years ago this very day – Tuesday, 28 June 2005 – to serve him and to serve you as an unworthy servant. I want to praise God and to thank God for eleven very special years. I want to praise God and thank God for the priests and deacons, the religious and people of the Diocese, the family to which I belong. I want to ask forgiveness for sins of omission as much as commission and for any hurt I have caused.
Finally, as we celebrate this Jubilarians’ Mass, I want us to pray for vocations to the priesthood and for those studying for the priesthood, and I want to ask for the grace of perseverance in our priestly vocations, in acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with our God, and in letting Christ’s peace reign in our hearts.
Bishop of Northampton