Homily by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
“Follow me,” these were the first words Simon, Son of Jonah, heard on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called him. He was with his brother Andrew. These are also the last words which Jesus addresses to Peter towards the end of the Gospel of John. There is another passage where Peter is curious about what is going to happen to John and Jesus snubs him and says: “It is not your business. You follow me.”
These are very clear words. They are words that need to fill our hearts as they resonate and they push us to answer that radical question; “Do you love me?” It is an extraordinary thing to connect discipleship with love – the responsibility to be a shepherd with being in love with Jesus. So, if anybody would think that our vocation is to forget about love or to renounce love, they have got it very wrong.
The question that Jesus puts to each and every one of us is about love. “Do you love me?” That is also a way of saying “Who am I for you?” Peter was there when he said: “Who do people think I am?” i.e. “Who am I?” What about you? What do you think? It is not a question of thinking but it is a question about the heart. It is a question of love.
So, dear brothers in the priesthood, welcome to the glorious family of the Maltese priesthood which has been here since Paul came on our shores. You are part of the family now and you know families, they are very complex environments. I am sure you would already know that you have lots of interesting brothers around in the priesthood. It is a great honour for the Church in Malta to welcome the fruits of the formation that The Institute for World Evangelisation – ICPE Mission is offering in this sacred ground which we call The Archbishop’s Seminary. Thank you for bringing this missionary ideal back on the agenda of the Church in Malta.
… the missionary spirit is part of our spiritual DNA.
We were baptized by an apostle who himself had been baptized, Paul. And we were baptized by a missionary apostle and I would like to think that the missionary spirit is part of our spiritual DNA. And when we lose that, we are losing our identity. So thank you for bringing this important aspect of our own identity and renewing us through it. It is a gift of the Spirit.
As a bishop, I realise that incardinating priests in a diocese is a responsibility and is also a risk. In your case, I assure you is a calculated risk. You are called to fidelity and my only recipe to fidelity is the psalm we prayed today. “Let the house of Israel say, his mercy endures forever. Let the house of Aaron say (the priestly house) his mercy endures forever. Let those who fear the Lord say, his mercy endures forever.”
In whatever we do and whatever happens to us, one word will always be essential. “Mercy”. Your hands have been consecrated; they have been anointed with chrism. I will remind you what I told recently to your brothers, the ten new priests. Jonathan is here to represent them. “Your hands are being anointed today as they are hands of Jesus with which he wants to embrace humanity – every one of us – with his tenderness, her mercy, his compassion, his care. They are not hands that should throw stones. They are not hands that should point fingers at the weak, at the vulnerable, at sinners. If they need to point at something, they need to point to Jesus crucified on the Cross. He is our salvation.
There was a very ancient Father of the Church, St Chromatius of Aquileia, who was the mentor of St Ambrose. This bishop of the early centuries of the Church has a beautiful and quite original meditation. Most of the Fathers have these beautiful and original intuitions of reading the scriptures. He says that when Jesus tells us that when a foot or a hand or an eye is an impediment, do away with it. Chromatius, who is a very practical man, said, now the Lord does not actually want us to arrive in heaven crippled, without a hand or blind. What does Jesus actually mean? Jesus is talking about his body, the Church.
The feet of the Church are the deacons, the hands of the Church are the presbyters and the eyes are the bishops. If these become an impediment, they have to be censored and chastised for they cannot corrupt the whole body. So taking a cue from Chromatius, the priests are the hands of the Church of Jesus Christ wanting to embrace, to feed. When Jesus tells Peter “Feed my sheep,” he reminds us of the extraordinary image but also the reality of the Eucharist. “Take this, Take this”. There is somebody who is handing it, handing the body of Jesus Christ. There is somebody who is going to forgive you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. You are the hands of Jesus Christ, not the hands of the accuser or of the tempter. May you grow in holiness and may you join with your holiness, that is really a wonderful work of the Lord’s mercy, a very august and special line of priests of this archdiocese who give their lives every day. You also need our prayers. We promise you our prayers.
Remember that Peter was arrested and put in prison. He was very alone and very afraid because he was already condemned to die. But the prayer of the Church saved him. I would like to thank so many of your friends today for their prayers and support. The priests need to love Jesus but he also needs somebody to love him and that is what the people of God also witness to. The love of Jesus for our priests.
You are going to be sent very probably where you do not know. I hope that you are not always sent where you don’t want to go as Jesus told Peter. But I realise that you are giving a special availability to be sent in missions and in mission territories and situations that you cannot imagine today. May this small and modest house of formation grow. May it multiply and bear fruit. May you be an expression of its blessing and a reminder of the Lord’s mercy.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta