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Gift of priesthood a ‘sacred responsibility’

Archbishop Jason Gordon has reminded his brother priests of their sacred role and responsibility in helping to bring the people to God, as he preached the homily at Monday’s Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“We are the men that He (God) has called to be priests in Trinidad & Tobago in this time, for this Church, and for this people of God,” he said, adding that it was not just an “overwhelming privilege” but a “sacred responsibility, and both privilege and responsibility should lead us before God knowing we are unworthy to do this ministry and this mission.”

The special liturgy was being celebrated during Holy Week for the first time since 2019. Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 prevented the Chrism Mass being held during Holy Week.

Beginning his homily, Archbishop Gordon said he usually preached facing the congregation with the clergy seated in the sanctuary behind. He then asked permission of the congregation to face priests instead as he addressed them directly.

He told his brothers that they have been given an “amazing and precious gift” that has been “entrusted into our hands to use in a way for profit of His people”. He said they (priests) were “mere mortals called to stand between God and his people, to be the dispensers of the sacred mysteries that God has given to us to initiate His people into the Kingdom of God”.

“Sometimes I tremble because such a great gift is given and contained in clay pots that are so fragile,” he remarked, adding that this fragility was real as their own journey to Christ was not yet complete.

Archbishop Gordon described the sacred oils being blessed and consecration for use over the next year for “ministry and mission” were “sacred tools that you and I use to bring the people of God into God’s presence, to make them into children of God through baptism, anointing them with Chrism to know their sacred purpose; the Oil of the Sick… so that they can be healed again and restored by God.”

He said, “These sacred oils are the workbench, the tools, the tool kit that we use, and we should be eager to use them, always looking for opportunities to use them over and over again.”

The Archbishop then explained what each letter in the word ‘oil’ meant for him. ‘O’ is for Otherness, he said, meaning the other in need of healing, reconciliation, and being “restored into grace”. The oil was needed for the people to continue their journey to make their way to God.

Reflecting on the pandemic, he said while it was a terrible time that left many traumatised and afraid, “amongst us there were great examples”, citing a few priests who saw this otherness and extended themselves.
“You were great example to each other, and we strive to do even better than we have done so far.”

He said ‘I’ was for Intermediary, and asked the priests, “how often have we been gatekeepers instead of intermediaries, stopping others from receiving the graces that they need so deeply?” Still, there were great examples of that witness of being an intermediary.

He said, “our laity want to know their faith” and people want to “drink deeply from the well of salvation, from the well of knowledge, from the well of scripture and tradition”.

He continued, “We need an educated laity, a laity not seen as a separate class or lower class but as ministers of the gospel and of the Kingdom. To stand with us in a different ministry as ours. Their ministry seen as no less valuable, no less important, no less equal.”

Archbishop Gordon told the priests that to be an intermediary is to be like Moses “with ears to the people, interceding on their behalf”.

Finally, ‘L’ is for Love. He said the Church is founded on love. “Simply being a priest is not enough. You have to desire to be a holy priest, to be a priest of love…Pray as we renew our promises that God may make us holy priests, holy men, holy ministers of His sacred duties.”

He asked his brother priests to pray for him as well, in his imperfection. “As I ask God’s mercy today that He transform us, bishop and priests, into a holy priesthood, a people of deep service, to give everything necessary to the people and give them generously so all the needs of the people of God may be fulfilled.”

After the homily, priest renewed their vows, and the rite to consecrate the Oil of Chrism and bless the Oil of Catechumen and the Oil of the Sick were conducted. Representatives from parishes, religious orders and congregations, ecclesial communities and schools later collected bottles of each oil.

At the beginning of the liturgy, Fr Cornelius Phillip, formerly a member of the Sons of Mary Immaculate (FMI) order, was welcomed to the Archdiocese as a diocesan priest.

Archbishop Gordon said after a two-year period of discernment and retreat, Fr Phillip was being invited to join. He was escorted to the sanctuary by Vicar General Fr Martin Sirju and Fr David Khan, chair for diocesan priests. —RS