This homily was given by Bishop Thomas McMahon in Brentwood Cathedral at the ordination of priests for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham:
I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them – and so fasting and prayer they laid hands on them and sent them off. Acts 11.
I am delighted that you are being ordained priest on this feast of the Apostle Barnabas. Allow me to choose a number of words associated with this feast. Let us start with those words in Acts 11 “I want Barnabas and Saul set apart”. Paul certainly had a great sense of being “set apart”. We read it in Gal. 1. “He who has set me apart from the day of my birth and called me by his grace saw fit to make his son known to me so that I could preach his Gospel to the Gentiles”.
This morning I am sure that all seven of you feel in some special way “set apart‟, “chosen”, called by the Lord in circumstances you would not have imagined. Like Newman you may be led to ponder what he called “strange Providence” in his life. It was something he was very conscious of. I‟m sure you can resonate with his words
when he wrote in his journal: “The Providence of God has been wonderful with me all through my life”. It was the philosopher Kierkergaard who said: “Life is lived forwards but understood backwards”. Today many memories and events must come flooding back as you reflect on “strange providence‟.
The words from Acts “laid hands on them and sent them off”. As you know the word “Apostle” means “sent”– sent forth to bear the name of Christ to the world. Jesus himself was very aware of “being sent”, so am I sending you. Those early disciples were “sent forth” in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to a hostile world. We all need that same gift of the Spirit as we go forth afresh to preach the Good News to our secular society. The Scripture Lesson reminded us that “It was there at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians” and no doubt proud to bear the name and suffer for it.
We learn also in Acts that Barnabas was “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith” – in imitation of his Master who, the Scriptures tell us: “went around doing good”. How nice it would be as priests if people could so describe us: “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith”. One last word – Barnabas is known as “the son of encouragement”. In the Gospels he is never front stage but there quietly in the background playing a supportive role. He wrote no Gospels or letters of exhortation, his ministry was one of encouragement, being alongside; drawing out the best; supporting.
I believe that in some Eastern rites in the Prayer of Ordination the principal spirit to pray for is the spirit of encouragement. Certainly as priests we are blest to see the action of God and his grace at work in the lives of those whom we serve. This becomes a source of great encouragement for us and so we minister to and encourage on another. I hope all of you have felt a new and personal encouragement in the journey that you and many of your people have recently undertaken. May that same encouragement be a hallmark of your ministry to come.
It is so right that today the Ordination prayer has some additional words affirming that your previous ministry to which you were sent bore much fruit. We give thanks for the contribution that priests and people have made to the life of the Church of England and appreciate the new life and gifts you will bring to us. We are deeply grateful for the depth of the relationship which exists in this diocese and indeed in this country between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. As Bishop Stephen and myself wrote in our joint letter earlier in the year: “The setting up of the Ordinariate does not in any way deter us from the ultimate goal of that visible unity within the Church that is Christ‟s prayer and which is shared by all Christian people.”
Now you are being “sent out” in a new way and may your ministry express that same faith, goodness and power of the Spirit that Barnabas showed.
This Cathedral and diocese are dedicated to Our Lady and you have the special dedication of Our Lady of Walsingham. As this Ordinariate, her Ordinariate, enters a new phase so may we entrust to her the work of bringing it to fulfilment.