Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
This homily was given at the First Mass of David Goodill OP on Sunday 13 July 2003
Visiting Caldey Island recently I spent some time in the weaver's shop. It was the first time I had been so close to the process and had it explained to me. And because I was also thinking about this homily, I found myself thinking about the work of the priest as a kind of weaving. His task is to draw in the threads, to gather the community, in that way to work at building up the Church. The people are the threads, each one of us a different hue, a different strength too perhaps, but together they are to make a pattern. The priest must attend to each of us and to all of us, whether we are weeping or laughing, he must be with us encouraging and challenging.
Of course priests are only assistants, servants, to the real Weaver. Even to call us priests is only possible insofar as we represent Christ who is the only true Priest. We have not taken this ministry on ourselves, Paul says, but have received it from Christ. Just like Amos, Jeremiah and so many of the prophets, there are probably times in every priest's life when he finds himself longing for what will seem like a simpler job: minding sheep, tending trees, weaving cloth. But we believe we have been called, through the Church, to serve God whose hidden plan is to bring everything together under Christ as Head.
The pattern for our work is provided by Christ. The one sentence that still rings in my ears twenty five years after my own ordination is the one spoken to the newly ordained by the bishop as he hands them the bread and the cup: 'model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross'. His death and resurrection is the pattern, the hidden plan, by which we live and by which we try to help others to live. Sometimes the dying side of that pattern is more prominent in our experience, its darkness and loss, and the consequences of sin. Sometimes the rising to new life side of that pattern is more prominent in our experience, its light and joy, and the fruit of God's love. We are 'God's work of art' being shaped according to this pattern, 'becoming like him in his death if somehow we may attain the resurrection from the dead'.
Christ provides not just the pattern but the tools for our work as priests. He speaks of them in the gospel reading of today. Priests are to preach the Word which leads to the celebration of the Eucharist and to the celebration of the other sacraments, especially those of anointing and reconciliation, the sacraments of healing. This is how Christ forms and moulds us to the pattern of His love - by the Word of His teaching and the nourishment of His body and blood. And he forms and moulds us also by His healing presence. When the thread snaps the shuttle stops, the weaving is suspended. But he is the Servant of the Lord who does not break the bruised reed or quench the wavering flame. Instead he attends to it and takes care particularly of what is fragile, vulnerable and weak.
The priest has many responsibilities in his service of Christ but he has great joys also. Above all he experiences the joy of leading the people in praising the glory of God's grace, in celebrating God's free gift to us in the Beloved. The beauty of the pattern may remain hidden for now. To a large extent it is. And even though we do catch glimpses of it, we must wait to see its full beauty, to see the full meaning of what we do. So much priestly work is quiet and hidden - but we believe it will be made known someday in the kingdom of truth and freedom where Christ will be all in all.