"Know the Shepherd": Homily of Bishop Hudson

POST BY SBishop

Bishop Hudson with the ordinands at St Ignatius Church
Bishop Hudson with the ordinands at St Ignatius Church

There was a parish which invited a famous actor to come and recite some of their favourite writings.  The actor recited all different kinds of texts.  As the evening neared its end, he said he would recite just one more.  They asked him to recite Psalm twenty-three, “The Lord is my shepherd”.  “I will,” he said, “on one condition - that the lady over there recites it after me.”

He recited it; and everyone applauded.  She recited it; and everyone cried.
“What was the difference?” they asked him.  “The difference,” he said, “is that I know the psalm; she knows the shepherd.”

Know the shepherd. That’s the message to take from this story.  Dear Alphonse, Anthony Paul, Mikael, Nilan, Roy Alex, Sandeep, Swaminathan and Thomas, if there’s one thing I want you to take from this celebration is that you need to know the shepherd.

Get to know the shepherd and he will make you into a shepherd after his own heart.
The passage chosen for your first reading reminds you he has always known you – even before you were formed in your mother’s womb.

“Lord, I do not know how to speak,” says the prophet.  I think that all of us here who are shepherds, pastors, whatever our stage of ministry, will know the prophet’s reluctance to speak.  But spend time with the shepherd and the fear to speak will subside: gently he’ll speak to you the words you need to utter.

Isaiah also reminds us we’re called not only to be pastors but to be a prophet also.
What you are about today is deeply prophetic – not least the promise you make to be celibate – “to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom”.
To promise celibacy always was a most generous act but the fact that it’s so counter-cultural today makes it more generous than ever.
It’s because it goes so much against the prevailing culture that it speaks so loudly – at least to those who have the ears to hear and the eyes to see; it edifies and encourages them.

I don’t believe we can live celibacy unless the Lord is calling us to. The Lord Himself said celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is only for those to whom it is given. That’s why Pope St John Paul II stressed the need for those of us who feel called to diaconate and priesthood to pray for this gift – pray earnestly for the gift to be celibate.

Over the years of formation, you see your peers approach the day when they will make the celibate commitment; and how it becomes a part of their spirituality.
I remember how encouraged I was to hear one of my year, when asked, “Why celibacy?” reply, “Well, the way I see it is this.  If I’m to preach a crucified Christ then Christ must be crucified in me.”

“If I’m to preach a crucified Christ then Christ must be crucified in me.” I thought to myself, “That’s how I see it too.” His testimony was a grace and an encouragement for me.

I was reminded of his words when I re-read recently St John Paul’s vision of Priestly Formation – which he called I will give you Shepherds.  John Paul talks there about the identification with Christ crucified which is at the heart of celibacy.

Identification with Christ crucified, he says, witnesses to our belief that there is value in self-sacrifice - in suffering, austerity and asceticism - especially within a culture which is so imbued with secularism, greed and hedonism.  But if we want to identify with the crucified Christ in this radically bodily way, we have to be sure we’re receiving the gift to do so.  Only gradually do you reach the point of being able to say, “Yes, I can drink the cup.”

You should always think in terms of receiving the gift, not as having received it. Because, like marriage, it’s a commitment which we need continually to work at.  But, whereas the married person rightly puts his or her trust in both Christ and their spouse, the celibate puts his trust explicitly in Christ.  As St Paul says, we put on Christ.  We ask for the grace to put on Christ; and so preach Him with both our lives and our words.

Pope John Paul helped us to see it in an even more existential way when he said: “Vocation is the answer to the question, ‘Who am I?’”  I suggested to our eight ordinands, when I had the pleasure of meeting them all together a few weeks ago, that, as each presents himself for ordination, he hold in his heart these words of Pope John  Paul - “Vocation is the answer to the question, ‘Who am I?’” - and seek to find within himself the freedom and the strength and the faith to say, not out loud, but to himself and to God, “Well, this is who I am; this is who I am called to be.”   Make their own the words of Paul to Timothy as well: “I know who it is that I have put my trust in, and I have no doubt at all that he is able to take care of all that I have entrusted to him”.

Dear ordinands, if there’s one thing you will remember about your Diaconal ordination, it’s the steep steps which you ascended to the sanctuary.  I was moved, when I visited the Holy Land recently, to see the very steps Jesus descended to cross the Kidron Valley.  
“Can these be the actual stones?” I asked my guide.  He was quite a sceptic; so I expected him to say. “You wish.”  “But no,” he replied, “these will be the very steps that Jesus descended as he left the Upper Room to cross the Kidron Valley.” 

“And ascended again,” I thought.  Because he came back up these same steps when he was brought from Gethsemane to the house of Caiaphas.

As I contemplated these stones, it occurred to me that, when he descended them, he descended them a free man but when he next ascended them a few hours later he ascended them held, bound - and committed.

Dear ordinands, you too will ascend these steps in total freedom.  When you descend them, you will have been changed: not held or bound but most certainly committed: committed now to go wherever the Good Shepherd needs you and leads you. And I hope you feel the same joy as we do in seeing you commit yourselves so freely to work of the Shepherd.

I remember, the last thing the Bishop said before ordaining me as a Deacon were words I wish to end with you now.  They’re words from the homily which is to be found in the Roman Pontifical.

“Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord’.”  It made my spine tingle then as it does every time I remember it.

“Finally, on the last day, when you go to meet the Lord, you will hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord’.”   I say those same words to each of you eight men about to be ordained this afternoon.

I pray that you too will hear the Lord say, when, at life’s end, you go to meet him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord’.  For, dear brothers, the gift you make of yourselves this day is truly precious in the eyes of the Lord; and we rejoice in it heartily.