Last Wednesday 24th January, the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, I went over to Sacred Heart Bournemouth Oratory in Formation to ordain Brother Francisco Hintikka to the priesthood. It was a beautiful celebration of the Mass with a lot of priests and people present, followed by a reception in the newly refurbished hall beneath the church. Three priests from Finland concelebrated and Fr. Francisco is only the eleventh native Finn since the Reformation to be ordained a Catholic priest. Here is the homily I preached.
A warm welcome to Sacred Heart Bournemouth Oratory-in-Formation for this priestly ordination of Bro. Francisco Hintikka. Welcome to Canon John O’Leary, Rector of Allen Hall, Fr. Keith McMillan from the Jesuits, to Fr. John Saward and to Fr. Richard Biggerstaff of the St. Barnabas Society. Welcome to brother priests, Oratorians and seminarians. Welcome to Joy Smith and to all joining us online. Bro. Francisco tells me he is only the eleventh native Finn since the Reformation to be ordained a Catholic priest and so we’re especially happy tonight to welcome three priests all the way from Finland: Frs. Toumo, Tuomas and Anders. Bro. Francisco’s life story, before and after his conversion, is extraordinary: his home life, his work in Helsinki, his move to London then the amazing grace of coming to faith in Christ, initially as an Anglican but later as a Catholic. He tried his vocation in Parkminster but it was in Oxford he first met the Oratorians. He recalls a blessing with a relic of St. Philip. He considered joining the Oratorians, but he said they seem far too holy and intelligent for me. Yet by God’s grace, here we are tonight: the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new and great adventure. What God had planned from all eternity now at last comes to fruition.
Let me first say a word about the wonderful saint we venerate today. A nobleman from Savoy, a brilliant lawyer with an amazing career ahead of him, St. Francis de Sales renounced everything to become a priest. He became a great pastor, a gentle, intelligent, astute preacher, a holy man, and later, after his appointment as Bishop of Geneva, he converted large numbers of Calvinists back to the Catholic faith. With his friend St. Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the Visitation Order but less well known was his admiration for the vision of St. Philip Neri, which led him to found an oratory, of which he was the provost. An outstanding spiritual director, he has left us two classic books: An Introduction to the Devout Life and a Treatise on the Love of God. It’s in this latter book that two centuries later St. John Henry Newman was struck by a luminous passage in which Francis says how our relationship with God is meant to be truly personal and passionate: Eyes speak to eyes he says and heart to heart, and none understand what passes, save the sacred lovers who speak. This phrase cor cordi loquitur Newman adopted/adapted as a motto: cor ad cor loquitur, heart speaks to heart. It reminds us our Catholic faith is not based on the bible, a set of doctrines or a moral code of do’s and don’ts. All these things follow on – because first and foremost, our faith is based on a Person, on Jesus Christ, on God the Son made man and on a personal friendship with Him, within His Body the Church.
Bro. Francisco, that’s the first thing tonight. Along with St. Philip, you have another wonderful patron in St. Francis de Sales, a brilliant example of priestly ministry, an eloquent teacher and guide, his writings a fount of spiritual nourishment. As a priest and a member of this community, you can do no better than frequently to invoke his prayers and example. In this Oratory, under the patronage of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, strive every day to keep your spiritual life vibrant and to grow in a personal friendship with the Lord, within His Body the Church. Let His heart speak constantly to your Heart, and your Heart to His.
May I add one more point?
In the First Reading, God said to Jeremiah Before I formed you in the womb, before you came to birth I consecrated you. I have appointed you as prophet to the nations. Jeremiah recoiled: Ah Lord look: I don’t know how to speak; I am only a child. But then the Lord said: Don’t say that. And He touched his mouth and said: There! I am putting my words into your mouth.
Bro. Francisco, those words are being fulfilled for you now. In this Sacrament of Ordination, God is touching your soul to enable you as a priest to share sacramentally in Christ’s three-fold ministry of sanctifying, teaching and shepherding. Each of these tasks will cost you everything, because in Christ, to be a priest means to be a victim: what we offer on the altar is ourselves. Yet nowadays each one of those tasks is crucial. Here in Bournemouth, you’ll find all sorts of poverty, in the parish community, in the university and among passers-by. But the greatest poverty you will find is the absence of God, the emptiness within, the fact that so many appear to lack a relationship with their Father and Creator. This is why that three-fold ministry is crucial: the proclamation of the Word in a world where many now say they have no religion; the pastoral care and support of the needy, and not least the task of sanctifying: prayer, helping people to pray, leading them into a life-changing friendship with Jesus Christ, ultimately in the Eucharist. The only way you’ll be able to do this is by being yourself a man of prayer, a man in love with God, a man like St. Philip and St. Francis de Sales who knows God personally and is able to help others find the Way.
We are ambassadors for Christ said St. Paul. And as Jesus said to the Father in the Gospel: As you sent me into the world so I am sending them into the world. In this Mass, we pray for you, Bro Francisco, as you are sent into the world. May you have, all your life long, a deep yearning for God, He Who once rescued you from darkness and brought you into His light. We pray for your family and friends, for your parishioners and for all whom you serve in this place. We ask the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Philip Neri, St. Francisco Marto and St. Francis de Sales that you will be happy as a priest, that you will persevere in your vocation, that every day the power of the Lord’s resurrection will help you to carry the Cross. Indeed, as you show others the Way to heaven, so may you one day reach it yourself, meriting to hear Jesus say to you: Well done, good and faithful servant: come and enter the happiness of your Lord!