Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Ordination to the Priesthood of Frank Drescher
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral Dublin, 14 September 2020
As a young priest, Pope John Paul II wrote a short play entitled “The Jeweller’s Shop”. It was about a jeweller who week after week from inside his shop observed young couples as they looked at engagement and wedding rings in his shop window. Each couple was different. The jeweller tried to imagine the passion of the unique relationship that had evolved in the life of each of these couples as they reflected on how they would shape their life in the future and bring their initial love to maturity.
On an ordination day, we think of the journey that has brought the candidate to this day. Each candidate is different. Each has heard a call from the Lord in very different situations. Each is filled with openness and generosity in wanting to respond to the call. We try to grasp something of the passion with which they wish to allow the Lord to shape their lives.
In a particular way, I think of each candidate who presents himself for ordination as a deacon as I ask him, “Are you resolved as a sign of your interior dedication to Christ, to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind”.
At that moment, my prayer goes with each candidate realising that responding to the call of the Lord is something that is so demanding, that no one could answer the call if they were not confident in the generous support of the Lord. Each new priest must be aware of the vastness of his calling and yet of his own unworthiness, weaknesses and limitations. Never despair of the Lord’s support. The warm embrace of God’s love will always be near at hand.
I remember Frank the first time that we met. It was in a suburban parish and I noticed you as one of the few younger lay people present. You were a successful young man in a promising employment situation. Yet I learned that there was something in your heart that seemed to be asking you to move away from that worldly security and to take that leap of faith to serve the Lord.
You made the decision to test your calling and began your seminary formation. Now years later, you find yourself this morning before God’s people. Today you solemnly pledge to place your entire life at the service of the Lord as I, following the tradition of the Church from apostolic times, lay hands on you. In the solemn prayer of consecration, I will pray that the Lord will renew within you the Spirit of holiness, so that through your ministry the Gospel may reach “the ends of the earth, and the family of nations made one in Christ may become God’s one holy people”.
Reaching “towards the end of the earth,” indicates the challenge of the Church to reach out not just geographically but also to every dimension of human culture. It is a mission to reach out into “the family of nations”, into the concrete realities of contemporary culture that must be enlightened by the message of the Gospel.
It is a challenging task, not least in the challenging times in which we live. I entrust you and your life to the Lord as you begin your ministry as a priest, just as I draw near the end of my ministry as Archbishop of Dublin and indeed towards the twilight of my life. You represent a new generation and I have confidence in your generation but I am also very much aware of the challenges you and the confreres of your generation face.
I am someone who by nature attempts to analyse and who thinks in terms of planning and strategies. The big challenge today is one for which it is more difficult to plan: that challenge is change. Change always involves an encounter with the unknowns of the future. The religious culture of Ireland is changing. The change is rapid and profound. I have said on other occasions that change belongs to the DNA of the Church. The unchanging message of Jesus must become incarnated and be made new as culture changes from one generation to the next. It is not easy to work within an existing reality and at the same time cope with profound change. Failure to cope with change can very often be a flight from reality. It can be seeking of a security that is humanly not there.
There are those who today seem to wish to hold on to a social vision of the place of the priest that had left us comfortable in a more stable past. The Lord is there, however shaking each of us out of complacency and facile satisfaction. Some find the change in the role of the priest upsetting. They are like those in our first reading who cry, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness”.
There are in the Church the prophets of doom who see only wilderness. Others place their hopes in the remnants of faith as it flourished in the past, and hope that at some moment things will return to what they were and that they would be able to banish from their ministry the current “unsatisfying food” of uncertainty.
Frank you are called to be a priest and exercise your ministry in the culture of today. It is not that you simply align yourself with everything that is present in that culture. It is not that you reject modernity. It is not that you feel satisfied with vague cultural Catholicism. As priest, you are called, like Moses, to lead the men and women of our time, the men and women you will encounter, to look upwards and seek the signs of God’s presence that will lead them towards a path of life.
You will not experience flash conversions. You must rather be one who accompanies and helps people to discern and to discern every day in a deeper and deeper manner. The priest must be one who can help the men and women of our time to seek the deeper meaning of life and within the ambiguities of modern life to find Jesus.
Where do the men and women immersed in the secularised culture of society find faith nourishment? You will do this not through routine or pre-packaged programmes and strategies. I was struck by a recent article on Pope Francis that illustrates how he urges pastors “to find God wherever He is found and not only in predetermined well defined and fenced in perimeters”. You must be one who exudes passion not for structures and personal standing but for the God who is love.
As a priest, you are called to serve God’s people. However, you must also realise that you learn from God’s people. God’s people has within it a true source of faith, a sensus fidelium, which challenges any notion of clerical superiority. The priest is called to live fully among God people and to belong to God’s people.
I am always struck by the fact that when at an ordination I ask if a candidate is worthy, the first answer is not that the seminary thinks so. It is about a worthiness that has been discerned through inquiry among the people of Christ. The people of Christ possesses a special charism that evaluates the worthiness of the priest and not just at their first moment. Secondly, at all ordinations, the candidate is asked and examined before the people to declare how he understands the ministry that he is to be assigned. The priest is answerable.
Frank, through ordination you will be conformed to Jesus and enabled to act in persona Christi in the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments and in preaching the Word of God. May the Lord accompany you in that ministry in the days and years to come. You will not carry out that ministry on your own. You will carry out that ministry within a Presbyterate, among your brother priests of this diocese. Get to know them and learn from them. We have every reason to be proud of our priests. They will welcome you and your talents.
May you come daily though prayer ever closer to Jesus so that your ministry will not at a projection of self but a humble yet passionate service of the power that springs from of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Open yourself to that love. Practise it and share it with others. That love is what enables us in the face of change and challenge to have firm hope in the future of our diocese and our Church.
Reproduced with permission from the Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland.