Brothers and sisters, it was Emmanuel Alagbaoso who chose the readings for us this evening and I have enjoyed pondering and praying over them. I love Jeremiah’s honesty and humanity in the story of his call. Over the years I have often reflected and been inspired by it.
Jeremiah is aware that he has been personally called by God, even before he was born. This is important for all of us. God has a plan for each of our lives. None of us are here by chance, by accident, and without a purpose. No, when God gave you the gift of life he had a plan for you, asking you to co-operate with him in a specific way in the building the Kingdom of God.
Emmanuel, always remember that even before you were born God wanted you as his priest. I am a great believer in Divine Providence. When I look back at my own life I can see the hand of God in many little episodes that, with hindsight, led to a definite path or point that I could never have imagined. In your own life too, as a young boy Emmanuel, you felt the stirrings of God within your heart inviting you to give your life as a priest, which you answered by joining the Society of St Paul (best known as the Pauline Multimedia or St Paul’s Bookstore in Glasgow). Among the Paulines you received formation and while the Society of St Paul has an essential ministry, so crucial today, in the specialised sphere of communicating the Gospel through modern media, yet again, within your heart, you felt God calling to you to a different experience of the priesthood – the pastoral ministry. However, following this call meant not only leaving your Society but also your country of Nigeria. What could be described as a chance meeting or what I would say was Divine Providence, Bishop Joe Toal met one of your former Superiors who recommended you for our diocese.
Appropriately, we heard that Jeremiah was appointed as “Prophet to the NATIONS” a phrase which refers to foreign places. Emmanuel, you too have been called to serve in foreign places, far from home. You are our first missionary from Africa but you follow in a long and distinguished line of priests who have left home to minister in our diocese – from the Celtic monks at our very beginnings; the brave few after the Reformation and then those who have come to be with us from abroad today. Nigeria, naturally, will always have a special place in your heart (and I know that you will celebrate your Thanksgiving Mass next week with great joy along with your family and friends) but all of us want you to feel at home now in the family of Argyll and the Isles. Slowly, quietly but persistently the Lord has been at work within and around you and you have said ‘yes’. Brothers and sisters, tonight let us give thanks to God for giving us Emmanuel and let us thank Emmanuel for co-operating with God and coming to us.
And yet Emmanuel, your journey doesn’t finish tonight. The Lord constantly invites us to deeper, more complete conversion!
Do not be afraid either of your own limitations or of the cost of living as God asks you. Jeremiah was personally called by God for a particular task, a very challenging one – to warn people that their rejection of God would be their downfall. This will bring Jeremiah much suffering which is why he resists God’s call but God encourages Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid, I am with you”. Emmanuel, a huge task awaits you: being a priest today in Scotland is not easy (In your television interview last night on BBC Alba interview you described the large crowds at Mass in Nigeria compared to here. Yes, in modern Scotland there is much indifference to the Faith and even aggressive secularism) – but the Holy Spirit descends upon you tonight through the Sacrament of Holy Orders – and he will always be with you! Please, no matter the challenges, no matter how inadequate you may at times feel – always trust in God! When God promised to be with you always he meant it. If you trust God then you will inspire your parishioners to do likewise and then you will discover that being a priest in modern Scotland is a wonderful life!
St Paul began tonight’s passage describing himself as “A prisoner in the Lord”, meaning not just that he was in jail for his faith but that he was actually bonded to Jesus, chained, owned and possessed by Christ. Paul had given his whole life to God. St Paul then asked the Ephesians, and therefore us, to do the same. Emmanuel, God has called you to the priesthood. Please surrender your whole self to him so that, with God’s grace, you always strive to live the lifestyle which is expected of a priest.
Furthermore, Christ gives every believer different gifts so that when we work together with the Church better fulfills her task. Paul then speaks specifically of the Ministry of apostles, pastors, preachers etc. He teaches that the priesthood is itself a gift so that through the Mass, Sacraments, spiritual guidance, preaching, pastoral activity, catechesis, building unity, a personal example you will help people to mature as disciples and build up the Church. Emmanuel, for you, the priesthood is a primary path to your personal holiness and you will become fully mature in Christ only by giving of yourself. So use both the charism of the priesthood and your own personal gifts as a unique human person – but also encourage and allow your fellow clergy AND the laity to use their gifts too.
I have described the priesthood as a gift from Christ to his people. I would like to reflect on the aspect of leadership and priesthood. Immediately before tonight’s Gospel John and James approached Jesus asking for the best places in his Kingdom. Jesus instructs them that, instead of seeking privilege, they must be willing to share in his Cup of Self-Sacrifice and Suffering. Then calling together all twelve apostles, Jesus teaches them that although the pagan rulers dominate those under their power, the Christian model is one of servant-leadership. Jesus came as a servant who ransomed/saved us through his death and Resurrection and therefore his selfless service-leadership achieved infinitely more than the pagan dictators ever could. And so with us. Yet if even James and John, who along with Peter formed an inner core within the apostles, were tempted by comfort and privilege so will we be tempted by various corruptions of leadership. However the more, Emmanuel, you selflessly imitate Christ’s example the more good you will do as a priest.
I have talked a lot this evening about conversion. Emmanuel has just finished his license in Spirituality. Over the past two years, you have studied many of the Church’s great saints. I am sure that you will have realised that it was only after own conversion that they were better able to help others come closer to God. So tonight Emmanuel I thank you for giving us yourself as a priest and I ask you to be a man of prayer – worthily celebrating Mass, meditating on the Scriptures, properly praying the Office, examining your conscience, reflective on life – so that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will seek on-going conversion. The more you become like Christ then the greater the instrument of God’s grace you will be. This, of course, is a massive challenge, one which we can never do alone ourselves but with God’s grace, we can significantly progress. This is why I love the following prayer from the Ordination Ceremony:
“MAY GOD WHO HAS BEGUN THE GOOD WORK IN YOU BRING IT TO FULFILLMENT.”