HOMILY BY HIS EMINENCE, OSWALD CARDINAL GRACIAS AT THE ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD, APRIL 6, 2019
“Neither do I condemn you”
The key words in today’s Gospel are these very meaningful words of Our Lord, “Neither do I condemn you”. My dear Ashwin, Omar, Renold and Leon, you are being ordained during the Liturgy of the fifth Sunday of Lent, when the Church presents to us the beautiful narrative of the forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery from St. John’s Gospel. While the date for the ordination is chosen by the Seminary, for those with faith, nothing happens just by chance. The Lord is giving you and us a very apt message that is most relevant to the ministry of priests.
In this particular Gospel incident, we notice that the Jews and the Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus in a conflict between the narrow legalism of condemnation and the unlimited mercy of God. If Jesus said she should not be stoned, he would be going against the Law of Moses which they quoted to him. How could a devout Jew, moreover one claiming to be a prophet do so? If on the other hand, Jesus protected her from the stoning to death, he would be seen condoning immorality? How do you reconcile the two?
The loving and compassionate face of God in Jesus could not condemn nor could he break Moses’ Law. Instead Jesus who had come to save just responded, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ And he began writing on the sand. What he wrote we do not know. Scripture does not record that. But one by one they dropped the stones they were carrying, instruments for the woman’s execution and quietly departed. When no one was left, Jesus looked around and asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord”. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”.
For me personally this is one of the most beautiful incidents in the Gospel. It shows Jesus as most merciful, the door for our salvation. As you begin your priestly ministry today, I invite you to take this as one of your foundational principles. “Neither do I condemn you”. You are sent, as priests, not to condemn people, not to search out their faults and condemn. But to be dispensers of God’s goodness and mercy. All priests are called to personify the mercy of God who by forgiving redeems and by reconciling, renews.
On this very significant occasion I would like to share with you some thoughts on the priesthood. It is over 50 years since the Second Vatican Council. Yet the principles the documents make stay still relevant.
The profile of a priest for the Archdiocese of Bombay for the year 2019, drawing from Vatican II and in the context of our Archdiocese would concern five points. A study done by Boston University over two years has come to some conclusion about the priests for today and I have reflected much on what they have said.
1. The priest is called to be a preacher
2. The prime thrust of the priest’s ministry is to be an evangelizer. We are in the age of digital communication and social media. Preaching should be at the heart of the priest’s ministry using also these means. Vatican II said that the authentic proclamation of the Word of God in Scripture is the first duty of priests. The Word of God that you are called to preach must first touch and transform your own lives and thus connect to Jesus Christ. You must be “a person of faith” proclaiming the Good News.
3. The complex, social, political and economic forces that are shaping the world and shaping the people, men and women in this Archdiocese, gives us the context in which we are to communicate. It is a context which influences your lives, your minds, your hearts, and also influences that of our people. Your homilies should be music that strengthens, encourages, and challenges the people to live their gospel calling. You are called to preach with creativity. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis has devoted a whole section to preaching and preaching homilies. I urge you my brothers, if you have not already done so to read this text and note the very concrete and practical advice the Pope gives to priests.
4. And your preaching should not be limited to homilies at Mass only. Find many occasions in your priestly ministry to continually preach the Word of God. This is your primary task today.
5. As a priest you are called to be a leader of worship and prayer. You are called not just to be a presider at a community gathering. I have heard so many people say that they do not get a God experience at the Sunday Mass and so they seek it elsewhere. Your creativity should enable you through your homilies, through the way you celebrate Mass, through your own faith experience and expression, your communication with the Lord, to put our people in communion with the same Lord.
6. In many ecclesial, civil and secular settings you will be called to be official pray-er and not just to say a prayer. You will be able to truly lead the people in this if in your own life you are first strengthened and enriched, by your own personal prayer which is indispensable for your ministry.
7. I would mention here also that besides the liturgy there are pious practices so popular with our people. Here too you can lead like the prophets in the Old Testament, like the priests at the time of Jesus, you are called to lead the people in prayer and take them to the Lord. Fulfil this role effectively and with enthusiasm.
8. As a priest you are called to be a collaborative leader. This is the third function as you fulfil the triple role of our Lord as Prophet, Priest and King. The opportunities for this are enormous, unlimited. There was a time when the people came to the priest in every situation – in sorrow and in joy, in success and in failure, in difficulties when everything seemed lost. They still want to, but we sometimes feel ourselves unable to handle this. The Seminary training you have received for eight full years should have prepared you for many possible challenges.
9. Today we know the tremendous need for networking in every field. In your ministry too appreciate, encourage and involve with people called to ministry in different ways. Many of our lay people have discerned vocations to the ministry in different forms. The priest of today in the Archdiocese of Bombay cannot fulfil his role adequately without lay participation and association.
10. And may I point out to you that today we have got to give more importance to the role of women in the Church. You must learn to encourage their spiritual enthusiasm. Women: religious, married and single, play a significant role in the Church. This is the direction the Holy Spirit is leading us.
11. Also the Youth. May I share with you the cry of the youth, at the Synod of Bishops six months back, when they cried to the Church “listen to us”, “trust us”, “accompany us”, “we want to be involved in the Church”.
12. The priest as a representative of the Church. The Sacred Orders you are about to receive is an act of Jesus Christ and of the Spirit through the Church. You my dear Brothers Ashwin, Omar, Renold and Leon, keep this in mind everyday in your ministry. In every ecclesial ministry you fulfil you are in the Church, for the Church and seen as the representative of the Church.
13. Because of this your relationship with your Bishop and with your presbyterium is so very important. These are your two lifelines. Through your Bishop you have a lifeline to the universal Church. Through our brother priests, you have a lifeline to the local Church.
14. Since you are the representative of the Church you have a particular responsibility in your life, in your ministry, and style of leadership. Your acts in the ministry morally, in your style of administration, in your handling of temporal goods, is seen by all, especially by non-Catholics as a barometer of the Church’s holiness and fidelity to the Gospel.
15. I began with the quality of mercy so necessary and I want to end with it. You are called to be practioners of pastoral charity. Vatican II identified the exercise of pastoral charity as the means by which priests could integrate their lives.
16. Pope Francis has consistently spoken about mercy, compassion, about reaching out to those on the periphery, on the fringes of society, to the marginalized, the exploited. We have tremendous scope for this in India and in Mumbai. It is because of this that I asked each parish in the Archdiocese to take up one project for the poor. It is because of this I invited every parish to once again revisit their priorities. We must be a Church for the poor.
17. Through the teachings of Pope Francis the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to be more and more the face of the Father’s mercy: as we saw in last Sunday’s Gospel of the prodigal son and as we see in today’s Gospel of the woman caught in adultery,
18. My dear brothers, today in a few minutes you will be priests. We will lay our hands on you and ordain you as priest, consecrate you for life for service to the Lord, setting you apart to be his priests, his agents, his hands, his feet.
19. You are so joyful. You are so enthusiastic. Please don’t ever let the fire of this enthusiasm leave you. Keep it alive with the fire of prayer, with the fire of the people’s love, with the fire of encouragement from your brother priests, with the fire of guidance from your Bishop.
20. I do not want to lead you to an illusory world. All will not always be smooth. You will have some thorns, sometimes many thorns. But please stick to the Lord. We are in Lent. The Lord had a crown of thorns. He suffered and gave his life for us. But he did not run away from the Cross. Trust in Him, in Him alone, cling to him in prayer – public and private, common and individual – and He will never abandon you. In the darkest moments you will suddenly find his hand holding yours, his strength coming into you for you are his priests, you are doing his will. Congratulations my dear brothers. Let us proceed to the Ordination.