Homily by his Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias at the ordination to the priesthood, April 1, 2017
April 1, 2017
My dear Brother Bishops, my dear Fathers, Religious Sisters, Brothers and Sisters in Jesus and very specially my dear deacons Savio, Oscar, Robinson, John and Simon.
Today is a very special day for each one of us. This ceremony will be etched in your memory and you will remember it all your life. Today is a special day for our Seminary because it crowns the efforts of the St. Pius family to form our future priests. Today is a special day for the Presbyterium of the Archdiocese of Bombay because five new, young, energetic, enthusiastic priests are being incorporated into our Presbyterium. Today is a special day for this Archdiocese because our new priests will bring new energy, new confidence, and new enthusiasm as we plant God’s Kingdom in this Archdiocese.
Today’s Gospel narrates the raising of Lazarus: for Jesus it was also a very special moment: He decidedly went late to the house of Lazarus so that he could raise Lazarus from the dead; he overruled the objections of his disciples who said it was dangerous to go to Bethany, so close to Jerusalem, when they sought to kill him; and de facto this is the last major miracle reported before our Lord’s Passion-Death-Resurrection. Seeing that he had raised Lazarus from the dead, his enemies decided that he should be killed.
But he was fulfilling the Mission given to him by the Father: to infuse life, to bring the dead to life, to heal the sick, to give liberty to captives, to set the downtrodden free, to reconcile man and woman to God: to make his own life a bridge, a means to go to the Father. Tomorrow with your First Masses my dear Brothers, you will inaugurate your ministry: to do what Jesus did, to give life, to build the Kingdom of God, to be reconcilers, to transform society as true disciples of Jesus.
You will be appointed to parishes: and your task, with the team to which you belong, is to build up the parish community. In the Archdiocese of Bombay, in India and in Asia, we have discerned that the new way of being Church presently is through the Small Christian Communities. I want to pay public tribute to Bishop Bosco Penha, who strove tirelessly to make this operative in this Archdiocese and beyond. It has served us immensely in the revitalization of our parishes. Now it is time to review the past, see what midterm changes may have to be made and to renew the system, where necessary. This we have done in Asia with ASIPA and for every living organism we must continuously examine, review and revitalize if the organism has to grow.
The family has been the focus of pastoral attention at the world level, the Asian level and the Indian level. Both the FABC and the CCBI had taken the family as the theme for our discussions at our Plenary Assembly last December and in February. Many plans have been drawn up. Following the call of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, his post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, these programmes have to be realized at the local level. In our Archdiocese, we have an excellent, much appreciated, and a well-organized Family Service Centre. But more important and urgent is an effective Family Apostolate in our parishes: our parish family cells, strengthening of family associations, preparing couples to accompany the newly married. Our task is to make good families better, holy families holier, and giving assistance to families in difficult situations. This needs to be a priority in the coming years.
As the family was the theme of the last Synod of Bishops, the youth is the theme for our Synod next year. So the youth apostolate is something that you should focus on. You will be in your teams the youngest, are probably the most energetic member. And without wanting to interfere with the prerogative of the Parish Priests who decide who takes which portfolio, I would think that it is likely that you will be given charge of the youth. In the Seminary during your pastoral experience training you have studied the youth apostolate. We have a well-organized Archdiocesan Youth Centre; but again this has to be localized in our parishes. Our youth, we frequently say is our future and our present. And this is very true. Our youth have many questions. You have to assist them to search and find answers. They have questions of faith, questions of life, and questions regarding the future. Through your own experiences and learning, you should be able to assist them. Do so, accompanying them but do not think that because you are fresh from the Seminary, you have all the right answers. The Holy Spirit speaks through them and to them as well. Hence accompany them as they search.
Pope Francis has been repeatedly calling the Church to be islands of mercy and compassion. We have just completed the Year of Mercy. This year our focus, responding to the Holy Father’s call, is “promoting a culture of mercy.” In the Archdiocese of Bombay, we have Community Centers, we have the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we have a number of associations and groups caring for the poor and the marginalized. As I said about the Small Christian Communities so too I say about the Community Centers: we need to examine, evaluate and make any midterm corrections, if necessary. This we know is needed for the revitalization of any living organism.
I have referred to different areas of the apostolate that you will have in the parishes you will go to. I would recommend that in the 60 days you have before you take up your first assignment, you should reflect on these areas of the apostolate, your own experiences, your ideas, your difficulties; read up, discuss and prepare yourself as you launch into the ministry.
The areas mentioned and others are very challenging. So was it for Our Lord. His call was “Lazarus, come forth”. Lazarus come forth from death to life. Jesus gave life to Lazarus. But he also took the help of his disciples. Before he called Lazarus, he told them to roll back the stone. After raising Lazarus, he told them to unbind him and set him free. He could have done all this by himself, with a word; but he sought to work with a team. So my dear Brothers, must you. Jesus knew exactly what he intended when he went to Bethany. He told his disciples to accompany him and got them to help Lazarus and so must you. Go ahead with clear objectives, a clear strategy, and clear steps, unhesitatingly with full confidence.
Your call, my dearest brothers, in the midst of all these activities is to be an integrated priest: the areas of the apostolate I have spoken of are in no way meant to be an exhaustive list. But all your ministry must be expressions of your inner integration, of a priesthood founded on discipleship of the Lord. It should be an outpouring of your pastoral enthusiasm, of your discipleship. Your integration will come from your spirituality, from your faith in the Passion-Death-Resurrection of the Lord.
All of you have shared with me how much your prayer during your pre Ordination Retreat and how you experienced the presence of the Lord. You cannot rest of this. You have to build on it, strengthening your prayer life. Never, never, never give up your prayer life. This is the basis of your integration as a priest. This was the secret of Jesus, the secret of Mary, of the Saints and this is the secret of all our dedicated Parish Priests who work so hard for our people.
My dear brothers, our people are good: kind, understanding, patient, encouraging and supportive. And they expect little from our priests: Availability, not a 9 - 5 priest who says please come during my office hours or today is not my duty day. They expect kindness. They do not expect you to always says ‘yes’, but they easily sense a kind heart that seeks to help them. They expect a spiritual man who seeks to bring God to them by his life, his attitudes and his words. Survey after survey in India and in our Archdiocese have shown that faith-formation is the big need of our people. So they want good, substantial, well prepared homilies. Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, speaks extensively about the preparation of the homily. If you have not read this section, please do so. It is very practical, down to earth and helpful.
This then is your calling. You have the example of Jesus in today’s Gospel. You have to say like Him ‘Lazarus come forth’. As you go away after your ordination, you have the whole world before you to conquer. The Seminary has toiled hard for you, preparing you for your ministry in the very best way it could. And I want to thank the Rector and the Staff during this ceremony publicly for their great efforts. Thank you very much! My brothers, now is the time for you to put into practice what you have learnt, to build what you are prepared for, to make a reality of what you planned for. Go out with generosity, with commitment but above all with the spirit of humility and with a spirit of prayer. I need not remind you that you are first, foremost spiritual leaders, not managers.
I said the task ahead is very challenging but remember that with Jesus no stone is too big to be rolled away. The first reading from Ezekiel speaks of the dry bones. With Jesus, no bones are too dry to have flesh put on them. Your faith is in Jesus who says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” You have to walk in his footsteps, with his strength and according to his call. You will be a great blessing for and a great gift to the Archdiocese of Bombay. You must work dedicatedly, committedly and generously. This you must do. This you can do. This, I know, you will do. God bless you. Ad multos annos!
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