Homily for Ordination of Fr Toby Lees and Fr Luke Doherty
Saturday 7 September 2019 | Archbishop Malcolm McMahon preached this homily at the Ordination Mass for our brothers Toby Lees and Luke Doherty.
It is always a great pleasure to ordain my brethren to the sacred priesthood, and today I feel excited to be able to ordain you, Luke, and you, Toby. The Dominican order’s ministry of preaching which describes who we are is rooted in Christ, the source and end of life. It is in sharing his priesthood that we come closer to the mystery we preach.
In the rite of ordination you will be referred to both as priest and presbyter. It would seem that the rite cannot make up its mind what you are and hedges its bets by describing you as priest in the presbyteral order. But the two words are not fully interchangeable, they describe different aspects of the wonderful ministry you are about to undertake.
A presbyter is an elder of the community. It refers to those who are wiser because of their experience of life, and take responsibility as a consequence. You may wonder how this applies to you because you are so young, or at least your looks belie your years. Or you may wonder how this alters your place in the priory – ordination is not to put you in competition with Father Prior. Essentially the word presbyter describes your relationship with the people you will serve both in the religious community and outside. You cannot be a presbyter in isolation: it is a word which compares you with others and puts you in a relationship with them. What is that relationship? The Decree on priesthood from Vatican II makes it very clear. It is to gather the family of God as a fellowship endowed with the spirit of unity and lead it in Christ, through the Spirit, to God the Father.
Building community is at the heart of what you will do as a presbyter. This will take you beyond the understanding of priesthood that you will have received in your training and studies, and will inevitably involve becoming close to the people and being their servant. For you as a friar this happens in the first place amongst your Dominican community, and then amongst those whom the community serves. You will exercise being a presbyter in many and varied ways, and at times you will wonder what you are doing. You might think that you would have been better off if you had trained as a social worker when you are presented with seemingly intractable difficulties regarding families and marriage breakdown, or in talking to a group of seven-year-olds and finding their questions much more difficult to answer than the questions posed during your studies by learned professors; or maybe being a bereavement counsellor would give you the answers you need when you are sitting with someone recently bereaved. But you are not a social worker or a counsellor or any of these things – you will become a priest and you will bring the people of God into being through being a priest. You will make your community into communion, by your presence, by celebrating Holy Mass, by placing Christ in the midst of the community and at the centre of your life. Many communities exist which are not communions, and they can be good for us and so mediate something of God’s love to us. However, it is only by the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers that the community is transformed into communion. This has always been so, since the time of the apostolic church, and is just as true today here in St Dominic’s Priory.
Luke and Toby, your part in that as priests in the presbyteral order is vital and necessary: through the celebration of Holy Mass you will draw the many grains that make the one bread into the eternal sacrifice. You will unite the people of God in the Eucharist, the divine food which will nourish their lives. Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Eucharist ensures that we become one in him. Jesus did not give us a way to love, a code of practice, a moral code, and then tell us to get on with it on our own. He has given us the means to live it and beyond. This grace is nothing less than Jesus’ own life in us. That is why it is truly amazing to be a priest, because through you and your actions you will bring the people of God into being, baptising them in the name of the Trinity, reconciling them when they are lost, and you will build them up through bringing God’s love to them through the healing touch of Jesus, and celebrating the exchange of vows in Holy Matrimony. You will break open the Scriptures for them and show them God’s wondrous and loving deeds. You will become a herald of what you read and believe.
But as a Priest of Jesus Christ you will share in Christ’s Priesthood, the one High Priest. But Christ’s priesthood is different from that of priests of other cults and religions. Christ was not only the priest but also the victim. As the High Priest he prepared the means of his sacrifice, a task reserved for priests, by carrying the cross on which he died. He is both priest and victim. Being a victim and suffering some of the pain of the crucifixion is also part of being a priest. You cannot be a true priest of Jesus Christ unless you are prepared to suffer. Suffering with Christ for his people is a positive way of bringing Christ’s love to others. You must emulate your Master and live simply, making the evangelical counsels your own. Your celibacy will inevitably bring with it the pain of a life lacking physical intimacy with another person. But it will also bring much joy as the freedom you find leaves you available to serve more readily and come closer to Jesus in your prayer and service.
Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady. This devotion to the Mother of God reminds us that she was human just as we are and yet through the grace of her Son was able to bear many sufferings in quiet contemplation. Like her – the one who enfleshed our saviour – you have been chosen by God to bring the body and blood of Christ to his people. As Dominican you too contemplate the mysteries of Christ and bring the fruits of this comtemplation to many as you go forward as His priest to preach the good news of His resurrection.
May you, through the intercession of Our Lady, under whose mantle all Dominicans are gathered, be gentle priests who bring God’s people deeper into the love of her Son.
Photos from the ordinations can be viewed here.