Have you ever thought of being a priest?
It was one of those round-robin emails that went through the Catholic network in the heady days after World Youth Day in Sydney.
I smiled quietly, pressed the delete button—then thought again —have I ever thought of being a priest?
Well, yes, I have, I think about it every day. The circumstances of ministry change daily and I find myself saying, ‘This is the situation God has put me in and I accept in faith that God will fill this day with grace’. I think about it every day as I live out the gift offered to me in trust back in 1976 when Cardinal Reginald Delargey prayed for me at my ordination: ‘Pour out upon this servant of yours the blessing of the Holy Spirit … the grace and power of the priesthood … support him with your unfailing love’.
During the laying on of hands, the Cardinal continued: ‘Almighty Father … renew within him the Spirit of holiness … may he be faithful to the ministry’.
I remember those words again every year on my ordination anniversary and at the Chrism Mass and I remember that this is God’s gift—God chose me!
At the presentation of the gifts, the challenge of the life I had chosen became quite clear:
• Know what you are doing;
• Imitate the mystery you celebrate;
• Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.
The Mystery of the Lord’s cross is often present. This is when I think of Jesus ‘resolutely taking the road to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51). I am then strengthened to carry on knowing that my particular cross is part of the mystery I have been asked to imitate.
As I look back on these 32 years of priestly service—in parishes in NZ and the Cook Islands, in youth ministry and seminary formation—I have experienced the blessing of the Holy Spirit and the support of God’s unfailing love in the daily nourishment of the Word of God and celebration of the Eucharist, in times of confidence in the face of difficult pastoral situations and in deep and life-giving friendships that sustain me.
The Eucharist and the opportunity to be nourished by the Word of God are essential for me; they help me to make the decision every day to continue living as a priest and to re-commit myself.
Scripture is so important that I chose when I became the Archbishop of Wellington to include the ALPHA and OMEGA on my Coat of Arms.
Central to the life commitment I made to serve God and the church as a priest is the promise I made the day
I was ordained deacon of ‘celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom’. In response to God’s unfailing love, I have chosen to love by trying to accept all people and all situations which come my way as God’s presence to me. I am not always successful but I try to live the words of St Paul to the Philippians: ‘Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing…you will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of Life.’ (Phil 2:14-15).
A little over 10 years ago, I was ordained a bishop and chose as my motto: ‘Peace through Integrity’, a phrase taken from the prophet, Baruch (5:4). This was (and is) important to me at the time because the word ‘integrity’ means so much to me; it expresses honesty, strength, truth, solidity.
A long time ago I heard a man described as a ‘person of the utmost integrity’, my immediate thought was that I would like to be described like that. My motto reminds me daily of my commitment to priesthood and all that it entails.
This took on a deeper meaning for me when I was involved with others in defining the protocols for professional standards in ministry, in response to clerical abuse of the trust placed in them.
I have been privileged to work closely with Cardinal Tom Williams in my first years as bishop, and now I try to continue his vision of a church living according to a spirituality of communion in collaboration with lay leaders. There is truly an invitation here to a mutual enrichment in the baptism we share, affirming both the uniqueness of the gift of priestly ordination, as well as the call to all the baptised to engage fully in the mission of the church.
However, the church does not exist for itself. We are called to be both ‘salt and light’ (remember the 2006 Synod?) and ‘salt and light together’ to the wider New Zealand society and the world through courageous and principled commitment to social justice and peace. The church has a mission to ‘Christ the world’. I am privileged to be called to do this as a priest.
The WYD theme was: You will receive the power. In these post-World Youth Day times, we thank God for the many gifts of those days in Sydney, and pray they will continue to bear fruit.
Have you ever thought of being a priest? I was grateful for that question which came through on the connect.org.nz page after World Youth Day. It gave me the opportunity to think again of this privilege I have been given. Yes, I do think every day of being a priest.
Image shows Archbishop John Dew during the laying on of hands at his episcopal ordination.