With great solemnity and joy last Saturday 16th July, the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Deacon James Lewis was ordained to the sacred priesthood and has become a new priest of our Diocese. Here is the homily I preached at the Mass.
When a man is ordained to priesthood, the whole of his life-story is amassed together, brought to a point. Today, James surely looks back on a lifetime of experiences, family, school, work, // twists and turns in the road that mysteriously God has used to bring him to this point. Many of us here today have been privileged to be part of this, God’s grand design for James from all eternity. This is why we pray, not only for him but for all who have fostered his vocation: his parents, Elizabeth and Howell, his brothers Rob and Tom, other relatives, Ginette the primary teacher who prepared him for his First Holy Communion, contacts from the Missionaries of Charity, friends from his time in Birmingham, from the table tennis club, from the parishes and schools he has served in, parishioners from Sacred Heart Waterlooville, and not least the staff and students of Allen Hall seminary. There are many, many unknown others too who have quietly kept James daily in prayer. All of us have a stake in what’s happening, as James now lays down his life for the Lord and His Church. We thank God for this, praying for him, and for each other…
It’s splendid that this ordination takes place today, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In Old Testament times, Mount Carmel in Palestine, with its forest of verdant vegetation, was deemed a holy mountain. It was a place of God’s presence, the residence of Prophet Elijah, the rocky altar where the prophets of Baal were defeated. In mediaeval times, it was where hermits gathered in its caves, the first members of what later became the great Carmelite Order. Indeed, it was on this day in 1251, that the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Simon Stock giving him the brown Carmelite habit and scapular. If Mount Tabor was associated with Jesus and His Transfiguration, Mount Carmel was linked to the Blessed Virgin. There people gathered to imitate Mary, She Who placed Herself under the Word of God, listened out each day for God’s Word, believed the Word when it came, pondered that Word in Her heart, and put it into practice in Her life. In this way, those who gathered on Mount Carmel saw in Mary the model Christian and model Christian minister.
James, your priestly life is going to be hallmarked by this Carmelite stamp: brown will be your colour! Be like a Carmelite. Or rather, be a man of prayer, who is always listening out for God’s Word. (Be a man of prayer, who is always listening out for God’s Word.) There are many fine examples among the Carmelite saints, men and women who held priests in the highest regard: St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Edith Stein. Each has much to say about the ministry of a priest. St. Theresa of Lisieux, who always wanted to have a priest-brother, made prayer for priests her key intention. On the eve of her final profession, she said she made her religious commitment because I have come to save souls, and especially to pray for priests. These Carmelite saints put themselves under the Word of God; they listened daily for God’s Voice in their situation and went to extraordinary lengths to put His Word into practice. This is the essence of obedience (ob-audire: to listen to) and obedience is central to the spirituality of a diocesan priest. Close to the bishop and close to his people, a diocesan priest listens daily for the Word of God in the situation in which he lives.
Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother exclaimed Jesus in the Gospel. James, as a newly ordained priest, I want to offer a word of advice. So first, be a man of prayer. We’ve been talking about listening for God’s voice. Be a mediator between God and people. Offer Mass every day, even on a day off; spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Don’t model your life on me or on other priests; model your life on Jesus Christ the High Priest, and on those priests the Church has canonised. Keep the wood green; keep up spiritual reading and spiritual direction; always have a theology book, a Church document on the go. Meditate often on the priesthood of Jesus and its three aspects: sanctifying, teaching, shepherding. Above all else be a kind man. Be close to your people; care for them; love them as a true father. Again, be sensible. You’ll find there’s a huge amount to do: so pace yourself carefully. Make sure you mark in your dairy some time to be away, time to relax, time to spend with your friends: you’ll need them. Indeed, I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone here: we promise to look out for you.
In the canticle between the Readings, the Blessed Virgin Mary sang: My soul glorifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour. James, we thank you for what you’re doing. We thank you for obeying God’s Word. We thank you for giving your life to Christ and His Church in this wonderful Diocese of Portsmouth. In Christianity, to be a priest is to be a victim. Christ the Priest is Christ the Victim. Offering includes self-sacrifice, the Cross. This is why the way of life you’ve chosen won’t be easy. It will cost you everything. But it will be amazing. So in this Mass, let’s call on the prayers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. May the Lord bless you. May you be filled with the Holy Spirit. May you persevere in joy. May you abide in the Heart of Christ at every moment. Indeed, may you one day be found worthy to hear the Lord say to you: Well done good and faithful servant; come and enter the happiness of your Lord.