Samuel, Samuel’, the Lord called. And Samuel answered, ‘Here I am’!”
‘Brendan, Brendan’, the Lord called.
‘Let Brendan McCarrick who is to be ordained priest come forward’, we just heard.
And you answered ‘Present’ – Here I am!
Samuel heard the call. So did Brendan
But it took Samuel three attempts before he knew how to answer.
As you yourself know, Brendan, it’s one thing to hear the call, but how exactly to answer can take time (and a number of attempts!)
Discernment takes time and persistence…and the help of the wisdom of an Eli.
So now you know how you must answer.
And it hasn’t changed over the centuries and two testaments, for those called to priesthood:
Its fundamentally a matter of attitude, an attitude lived obediently:
The attitude in the response given by the old priest Eli:
‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’.
This first reading is the one you wanted yourself today, Brendan. It’s a wonderful, challenging and appropriate reading, for today and surely for the rest of your life.
‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’…surely the motto to guide any man who would wish to serve as a priest of God, and to bind himself forever as a servant of God and of God’s people, and specifically within the society of the Catholic Apostolate of St Vincent Pallotti.
In the Collect of this Ordination Mass, we prayed: ‘Lord our God, grant a persevering obedience to your will to this deacon, (Brendan,) so that by his ministry and life, he may gain glory for you in Christ’.
But no glory for yourself. That’s the call. Fundamentally to humility, which is acquired only in the furnace of humiliation, and in the obedience which you solemnly promise today, not just to God and his Word, but also, in a few moments, to your human superiors.
We live in a world that doesn’t always understand the value that is obedience, but we follow Jesus, whose path was one of ‘humbling himself and becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross’. That path was prefigured in the life of Samuel, whose call, like yours, Brendan was primarily one of listening to God and his word ‘Speak Lord…’
I would like to think therefore that it is providential for you that you come to ordination on this Sunday when the Church gives us all the Gospel we have just heard. This moment when, touched by the example he was witnessing, one of Jesus’ disciples asked him ‘Lord teach us to pray…’ The disciple of Jesus is a person who longs to pray, a person who sees that somewhere somehow prayer is the foundation of all that Jesus was, all he did, all he spoke. Prayer is the wellspring of all Christian life, this was the example Jesus showed, and those who wish to exercise the apostolate of Jesus Christ, particularly as priests, cannot do so unless their every day, their whole being and every word they utter is founded on prayer. The people of God expect this of us and deserve it, and prayer is the first service we render to them and for them. It’s why you will live in community as a Pallotine, so that you will be encouraged and called into prayer, the only foundation on which Christian communion can be built, by your brothers.
The word priest means ‘mediator’…one who speaks on behalf of others, who in our case as ministerial priests speak to God for our people, our world, ourselves. So that all may be one as Jesus pleaded before his death. Our example is crucial, as was Jesus’ example for his disciples, so that they in their turn might embrace that common priestly baptismal call to be men and women of prayer.
But prayer is also, and primarily what Eli the old priest knew, about listening to God, time with the one who loves us first, pondering his word with Mary. ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’
So, Brendan, from now on your life will not be your own. It will be given… as indeed others give themselves in marriage, for example. And in so far as it is fully given, your example will be the most powerful and effective way that you will inspire, support and serve others…as with Jesus in today’s Gospel.
In this context of the given life, I’d like to recall the Testament of Christian de Chergé, the extraordinary abbot of the Monastery of Tibherine in Algeria who was kidnapped and assassinated along with six of his Cistercian brothers in March 1996. The Testament, written in a letter to be opened after his death, begins as follows:
‘If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.’ [Christian de Chergé] As priests, all our lives are given. To God and to the people we are sent to serve. It is a way of great personal fulfilment…not without struggle and pain…and it is a call from Jesus, worthwhile and entirely necessary in the world of today.
We are told that from the moment he gave the answer ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening’, Samuel ‘let no word of the Lord’s fall to the ground’.
May that be so for you, Brendan, and you will be a happy priest, given to God and to his people, as Samuel was, – and Jesus – and Vincent Pallotti.