Homily of Bishop Kevin for Ordination of Christopher Garrett
Sunday 28th May 2023, Pentecost Sunday
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo
As many of you know, Chris was born in California. He was Baptised two weeks later in Los Altos, becoming a member of the Body of Christ and being called, even at that early age to his mission in the Church. That mission was Confirmed here in this Cathedral when he was thirteen. For many years, he was engaged in the mission of healing which is, of course, also one of the key elements of the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the Church. In more recent years, as he lived out his Baptismal vocation in the community of the Church in Minnesota, Florida and Texas, he became conscious of a new call to mission as a priest, here in Elphin, which was a sort of second-home for him. It is a story of diversity of gifts and different kinds of service, but always to the one Lord.
As I was reflecting on the Scripture readings for our celebration today, that word “diversity” kept popping into my head. Pilgrims who have travelled to Lourdes, or Rome, or Medjugorje, or who have walked the Camino, as Chris did some years ago, will have some sense of what it might have been like in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, with devout Jews from every nation gathering for the Feast. These were the people, with all their diversity of language and culture, to whom the disciples were called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. It was both an enormous challenge and an enormous opportunity. The Acts of the Apostles, with this image, tells us that, in those days after Easter, the Holy Spirit was working powerfully in a relatively small group of believers to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If you are familiar with the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of the New Testament, you will know that it took much longer than a weekend to build up the Body of Christ. Peter and Paul, James and John worked hard, over many years to build communion, in the face of petty-mindedness, ignorance and selfish interest.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul also invites us to consider the diversity of gifts which all come from the one Spirit, and the many kinds of service that are made possible. Some of those gifts are associated with the ministry of an ordained priest, which is a particular and, indeed, an essential service for building up and nourishing the Body of Christ. The Instruction, which we will hear in a few moments, reminds us, among other things that a priest is called to be an authentic teacher of faith, who reflects what he teaches in his life; that he is called to incorporate people in the Body of Christ through Baptism, and to nourish them in their Christian life through the Eucharist.
Through Baptism, of course, we are all called to share in the mission of Jesus; to share in his priesthood, as we use the diverse gifts that the Spirit has given to us, laying down our lives in various kinds of service, but always to the one Lord. When we read more deeply into what Paul says about the working of the Holy Spirit, it becomes very clear that nobody has a monopoly on the gifts that are needed for the building up of the body of Christ.
We are not ordained to do everything or, indeed, to decide everything on our own. That would be to deny the gifts that the Spirit has given to our parishioners. Equally, of course, it can be a problem when parishioners feel that the whole mission of the parish is the responsibility of the priest. Every ordained priest is called to be a man of communion, helping people to discern their gifts and seeking ways to bring those gifts to fruitfulness in a coherent way in the life of the Church. In that way, when he celebrates the Eucharist with his parishioners, they are not just receiving the Body of Christ, but they are being helped to become the Body of Christ. I think that is, ultimately, what synodality is all about.
Our Gospel passage this afternoon invites us to consider the first encounter of the risen Jesus with his disciples. His greeting to them, not just once, but twice, is “Peace be with You”. If he had wanted to, he could have made them very uncomfortable, because their leader had betrayed him and most of the others had abandoned him. This Gospel passage offers us a powerful reminder of the mercy of God, who reaches out to lift us up. Jesus doesn’t water down the truth, but neither does he set out to make us uncomfortable. I think this is an important balance in the ministry of the priest, and indeed in the mission of all the Baptised. We are called to bear witness to the truth in our teaching and in our living. It is not our mission to make people uncomfortable. The mercy of God is part of our truth.
“Pardon and peace” are in different ways, the mission of the whole Church, but they are also an essential part of the ministry of an ordained priest, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession has run into difficulty in these times because, many of us have become convinced that there is no such thing as sin and, therefore, no need of forgiveness. Yet, I think we all know how easily diversity slips into disunity, how often opinion takes the place of truth and how frequently “we” gets pushed aside by “me”.
The words of absolution remind us that: “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself, and sent the Holy Spirit to us for the forgiveness of sins”. Why would he do this, except that he understands better than we do, what we need. I hope that all of us, priests and parishioners might look again at how we offer and receive this gift that is so essential to the renewal and building up of the Body of Christ.