From the Archdiocese of Southwark:
My dear brothers and sisters, as you well know, by virtue of baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we all share in the one priesthood of Christ. United to Christ in the power of the Spirit, God’s holy people constitute a royal priesthood united in Christ, the High Priest and head of his Body, the Church.
It is from the midst of this priestly people, that Christ freely chooses and calls some men to share his priestly ministry in a special and more public way. That call is initiated by Christ himself as we read in St. John’s Gospel: “You did not choose me, no I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” So, for those of you who are called to the ordained priesthood, never forget that it is Christ who has chosen you. It is he who calls you, through his Church, and sends you in his name to proclaim the Gospel, to gather together the flock of God, and to lead them to a life of holiness, to a life of unconditional love and compassion after the example of him who is our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. So, in the words of St. Paul to the elders of the church of Ephesus, “Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood.”
As you will appreciate from your years of ministry in the Church of England, the proclamation of the word of God lies at the heart of your ministry as ordained priests. Therefore at the heart of your priestly ministry must be your prayerful meditation and reflection on God’s word, so that ever more deeply you will “believe what you read, teach what you believe, and put into practice what you teach.” Never ever forget either, that it is God’s word you are called to preach, not your own. In that way you will be a model and example to others of the importance and centrality of the word of God in your lives, both as disciples of Christ and as ordained priests who share in a special way, through the gift of the Spirit and the anointing with Chrism, the one priesthood of Christ.
In presiding over the liturgy of the Church, especially the celebration of the Eucharist, you will gather together God’s people and help them to grow in holiness. You will have the task of leading them effectively, through Christ and in the power of the Spirit, to God the Father. In doing this remember always that you are called, in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd, to serve not to be served. So my dear brothers, take to heart the exhortation given to the elders of the Church by St. Peter: “Be the shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you: watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, because God wants it … Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow.”
It is an awesome responsibility that Christ gives you, but you bring with you all the gifts and talents God has given you, and the years of experience of your pastoral ministry in the Church of England. In fulfilling your vocation to the ordained priesthood in the Catholic Church, remember the entreaty of St. Paul, that you must bear with others charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. But never forget either, that in striving to live that way, you will be dependent, as we all are, on the grace of God working in and through you. It is Christ’s way that you are called to follow; it is Christ’s mission in which you are called to share and which you are ordained to promote. It is God’s Church you are called to serve, not your own self-interest.
In all this you know you will have the companionship and support of the people to whom you have been pastors for many years, as well as the wider community God’s people in the Archdiocese – priests, deacons, religious and laity. Thank God for it every day, because there will be times when that will sustain you through the inevitable difficulties which will come your way. The journey you have followed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to seek full communion with the Catholic Church has cost you and your people a great deal already. But you know well, that like all disciples, you have been called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ – and that is the way of Calvary, the way of the Cross. You know from your own experience that it is not an easy way, but if followed faithfully and generously, it is the way which leads to the resurrection and the fullness of life and love. And it brings you to a deeper communion with the person of Jesus Christ who has called you to feed his sheep and to look after them as good shepherds of God’s flock. In doing that faithfully, you can be sure that he will also give you the gifts of his joy and his peace.
Like Christ, you will be given the gift of the Spirit to fulfil whatever God asks of you in Christ. You will be sent to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight. You will be sent to set the downtrodden free and proclaim the Lord’s favour to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. For the rest, leave it in God’s hands. Trust in God still and trust in Jesus Christ, because what is impossible for us weak and fragile human beings, is never impossible for God.
I pray that your example and way of life as shepherds of the flock will bring those you serve closer to Christ and to a deeper holiness of life. I pray that, like you, they will continue to grow in the love of God and of their neighbour, and become more credible witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.