20 December 2011

44th Ordination Anniversary

The graves of martyrs in front of the Pietá in Regina Martyrum (Queen of Martyrs) Church near Plotenzee Prison, Berlin, where many were executed by the Nazis, including Fr Alfred Delp SJ.

Today is the 44th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, my native city. Three days ago I posted about Fr Alfred Delp SJ, martyred by the Nazis on 2 February 1945. While doing research for that I came across a sermon he gave on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, one of a series on the Seven Sacraments in Munich in the autumn of 1941. I found it on the website of The Ignatius Press.

Here is the text of the sermon with some parts highlighted and [comments] added.

Holy Orders | by Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. | Preached in Munich, Autumn 1941

"Let the grace that is in you through the laying on of hands be rekindled." (2 Timothy 1:8)

...First: In that great moment of our life when we go to be ordained, we kneel before the bishop and he silently lays his hands upon us. He is silent. You feel the blessed and creative burden of this hand through your entire being. And the congregation is silent. And this silence will surround the priest. This keeping silent, the still hands of the silent bishop, calls forth the priest from his former homeland. It calls him forth from his previous refuges, and sequesters him and encompasses him with this silence, this stillness in which he will be consecrated, so that it will accompany him all his life. This silence must surround us. We guard people's secrets in silence. We call our heart to be silent, so that it does not love where it should not love. Our will for power must be silent, because we are sent forth to be the hands of the Lord in blessing. Silent, too, must be our will for all the other things that, otherwise, could shelter and anchor and secure a life in this world. The silence accompanies us, because it is always the sign that the Lord God has come especially near. [Fr Delp's great emphasis on silence is striking. We don't live in a silent word. '
But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart' (Luke 2: 19)].
Second: The second symbolic action tells us the meaning of this mission. This happens when our hands are anointed with the sign of the cross. Anointing is a sign of mission and authority, of stability and power. But our anointing is the anointing with a cross. It is, first of all, like that of the body of the Lord, an anointing to "passio", to the deepest participation in His vocation as Redeemer. Therefore, we are held and we are bound to give all we have, really to wear ourselves out, to give ourselves away completely. [As early as 1936, the year before he was ordained, Alfred Delp hinted in a letter to his mother that he might be asked to die for the faith]. Being silent must also be a silence before oneself and one's own will to live; an entering into the service, into the worship, and into the sacrifice. 

Third: And then we receive the chalice and the paten. With the chalice and the paten, we are commissioned to be guardians of the very holiest that mankind possesses, the body of the Lord and the holy chalice of His present sacrifice. [This to me speaks of the heart of the priesthood, something that has been lost to some degree, I think]. With the chalice and the paten, we are commissioned and sent--not to keep for ourselves the filled chalice--but to bear it onward, to share it, to give it away. With the chalice and the paten, we are commissioned and sent forth to gather together into this chalice the world's sorrow, sacrifices, and distress, and simultaneously to remove them--as much as that is possible to us--and to consecrate them in this sacrificial chalice of the Lord. [One of the situations in Ireland, where the Catholic faith has been lost by many in recent decades where people still look to the priest is when a tragedy occurs].

Fourth: Then there is another laying on of hands and we are told that we are to go forth and take away sin, that we are sent into this final dialogue, into the final duel with the demonical. [Living in Nazi Germany, Fr Delp had no illusions about the reality of sin, of evil]. With the guilty, the weak, and the sick, we must have an endless mercy. [In his prison writings Fr Delp showed great compassion for his fellow Germans caught up in the evil of Nazism]. There, where help is needed, it is really true [as Schiller wrote]: "Your duty and your vows are your rampart. And nothing more remains to you." [This is something that all who take vows, including married couples, need to take to heart. Our vows, when taken seriously, truly are a rampart and give strength in times when we are tempted to surrender to difficulties]. We must actually roam the outermost trenches, where it is imperative to take a stand against the demonical.

Fifth: And once again we turn to the consecrating bishop and extend our hands, and he takes our hands in his and asks us: "Do you promise?"

We answered: "Promitto" (I promise). That was the final commitment, that--with our very existence, our own salvation, and our eternal destiny--we bound ourselves to the fulfillment of this life. ['Commitment': have we lost that word and reality?] From this moment of consecration on, we must be under way, as long as our feet will still carry us, in order to bless and to help and to consecrate; to share the chalice of the Lord, and to bring light, and to ban the night and the darkness. [So often priests who focus on these things are dismissed as 'sacristy priests'. Father Delp is not calling for a retreat to the sacristy but to '
actually roam the outermost trenches, where it is imperative to take a stand against the demonical' (previous paragraph)]. That is the image, and the outline, and the duty, which we carried forward from our ordination day. 

...Seen from the perspective of what we priests should be and could be, we are an answer: the priest is a redemption and is a fulfillment. And look where you will, wherever people follow a man and follow him completely, finally and ultimately they expect him to be precisely what the priest should be and must be for them, if he does not want to betray his office and his consecration: One who is stable, completely helpful, really in possession of the ultimate in being; and also able to give, to communicate the great blessings, the great consecrations, the great graces. Therefore, the consciousness of the fact that in our community there are men who are ordained, who are blessed, should help you to stand with certainty, upright and unashamed in this life, whatever the effort, come what may. There are men placed in your midst whose only meaning and right to exist is that they be available, and give what they have--and more than they themselves have to give--the Lord God's entire abundance, which is entrusted to them. In the consciousness that such is among you, you can grow and be secure. [Surely this is a wonderful challenge not only to priests but to the wider community to support them in a way that will enable them to faithfully be what they are called to be].

However, you must always have the sense, as well, that you are helping us, so that the fire, which is in us through the laying on of hands and the consecration and anointing, does not does not go out. Rather, it should glow and blaze and burn, so that the seekers know where homeland is; and the erring know where counsel is; and the helpless know where blessing is; and those who have strayed know where the gates are for the return, which is awaiting them with the joy of the Lord. [A wonderful description of what a shepherd is called to be].


Fr Patrick said...

Many Congratulations on your anniversary.
Ad Multos Annos!

Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary!


Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you!