Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood: Homily by Archbishop John Wilson

Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood 

Rev Michael Etuka, Rev Joseph Gulliford & Rev Alan MacDonald

16 July 2021 - Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel,

St George’s Cathedral, Southwark.


Dear Michael, dear Joseph, dear Alan

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

Dear friends

My three sons, my three brothers, with all the talk about heatwaves, I have prayed that today you will be on fire. Not literally, of course. But on fire in the most intensely spiritual way possible. On fire with the Father’s love. On fire with the Heart of the Lord Jesus. On fire with tongues of the Holy Spirit.  

St Bonaventure proposes that we look ‘to the raging fire that, with intense fervour and glowing love, carries the soul to God.’ That raging fire, says Bonaventure, is Christ ‘in the ardour of his loving passion.’[1] From today onwards, in a new way, we, in the Church, need your priestly heart to be ablaze; on fire with the inextinguishable love of the Sacred Heart, so that you are consumed completely in Him.

‘Faith,’ wrote Pope Benedict XVI ‘must become in us the flame of love, a flame that truly ignites [our] being, [that] becomes the great passion of [our] being and so ignites [our] neighbour. This is the way of evangelisation.’[2] Your priestly heart must be alight and aglow because others need from you the warmth of Christ. A danger for every disciple, and especially for a priest, is to say a ‘tepid,’ ‘lukewarm’ yes to the Lord.[3] Today, my brothers, your ‘yes’ is vibrant and full-hearted. Yes to priesthood lived in the crucible of God’s love. Yes to the beauty and truth of faith. Yes to the fire of active charity. Yes to the yearning and flicker of holiness.

Since I became your bishop, I have gained some insight into the pathways by which God has called you to the priesthood. It goes without saying that you are three very different personalities. Others here know this better than I do. You have distinctive characteristics and particular gifts. Only ever compare yourself to the person Christ is calling you to be. He calls you, knowing you and loving you.

In all your variety, today you receive a new shared identity as servants on whom the priesthood is bestowed. Ordinatio means ‘incorporation into an ordo,’ the ordo presbyterorum, the order of priests. This ordination, this incorporation, says the Catechism‘is also called consecration, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his Church.’[4] By prayer and the laying on of hands you are consecrated for your sacred duties, configured to Christ the High Priest, by a special grace of the Holy Spirit which marks your soul for ever.[5]  

If you’re feeling somewhat overwhelmed at this moment, then good. Priestly ordination should be overwhelming; but also fundamentally enlivening and enabling. Be sure that you are exactly where God wants you to be. Even though you will be conscious of the limitations of your weakness, God consecrates you and God appoints you, through the Church. God desires you to be here right now.

The Prophet Jeremiah felt childish and inadequate. He was insecure and lacked confidence, not knowing what to say or how to speak. But God was his strength, just as God is your strength. The Lord God stretched His hand over Jeremiah, freeing his lips to proclaim His word. My brothers, do not be fearful. Banish any doubts. God is, and will be, your light and your help, often when you expect it least, but need it most. His hand is upon you. In Christ He claims you for his own as His priest.

Be reassured that from today you will not be called St Michael, St Joseph or St Alan, even though you really are called to be saints. Rather, you will be called Father Michael, Father Joseph, and Father Alan. While remaining a beloved son in the Sonship of Christ, you must also now become a father. No longer infants, you are to be priestly fathers whose fatherhood makes sense through selfless service. In Pope Francis’ words, spiritual and pastoral fatherhood ‘means giving life to others.’ It requires you, in love, to give yourself away.[6] Priestly ordination makes servant fatherhood your way of life, centred on the astonishing Eucharistic entrustment by which you act in Christ’s person to nourish his people with the food and drink of eternity.

Dear brothers, the priesthood is not a right. Mediated by His Church, it comes from Christ as gift, and always remains a gift, bound to apostolic, faithful communion with me as your bishop. No one is ordained to stockpile status or cling to privilege. We are ordained to pour ourselves out, to give ourselves away, not counting the cost.

The apostles were slow learners when it came to understanding priestly service. To their bickering about who was the greatest, the Lord Jesus gave a loving reproach: the greatest are those who serve. Take this truth to heart. Whether in your sacramental ministry, in your care for the sick and dying, or those in special need, in your catechesis or in your preaching, seek greatness through service. The greatest are those who serve. Let this underpin your priestly fatherhood.

You will soon celebrate Holy Mass for the first time. The daily Eucharist is indispensable for your priesthood. I remember celebrating Mass in the days following my own ordination and being overawed that the Eucharist was actually being confected through my unworthy hands. We will never appreciate fully the magnitude of this mystery of faith entrusted to us. And yet, so vital is the Eucharist that we can say with St Irenaeus: ‘Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist…confirms our way of thinking.’[7] As priests, we have a Eucharistic mind and heart; or we have nothing.

You will also begin to experience what it means to impart the Lord’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is an awesome responsibility. Approach your ministry as confessor with the utmost respect, humility, and gentleness. If anyone ever leaves confession feeling worse than when they arrived, we have failed miserably as minsters of God’s mercy. It is possible to hear just one person’s confession and know our entire priesthood has been worthwhile. How blessed we are to share the joy of the Good Shepherd in welcoming back those who are lost. How breath-taking is our priestly fatherhood in receiving home a prodigal daughter or son.

You are ordained priests on this beautiful Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Situated in northern Israel, the mountain’s name means ‘garden-land’ or ‘vineyard of God,’ fitting images for the fruitfulness of your ministry. The Scriptures tell us the Prophet Elijah lived on Mount Carmel. There he built an altar and worshipped the true God against the prophets of Baal. Later, towards the end of the twelfth century, a group of Christian hermits settled on Mount Carmel, known ever since as Carmelites. They too built an altar, to Our Lady, and placed themselves under her protection.

My brothers, may your priesthood find inspiration in Elijah’s dedication to the true God and to the altar of Sacrifice, for us the God and altar of Jesus Christ. Teach and preach the truths of Catholic faith, leading people away from falsehood and disbelief. Ask Our Blessed Lady to be the patroness of your priesthood.

The Second Book of Kings tells how, at the end of his life, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire in the midst of a whirlwind. For the Venerable Bede this prefigured Christ’s glorious ascension. In the fiery chariot and horses Bede saw represented those who minister on God’s behalf, recalling the psalmist’s words: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul…you make flames of fire your servants.’ (104: 1; 4)[8]

Michael, Joseph and Alan, today you become priests forever, spiritual fathers in Christ’s Church, servants of God’s people. May your priestly heart be on fire. May it burn with Christ’s love, glow with Christ’s hope, and blaze with Christ’s joy. May all you are, and all you do, be to God’s glory and the sanctification of His people. Amen.

Archbishop John Wilson

Archbishop of Southwark and Metropolitan


1] Office of Readings, Memoria of St Bonaventure, 15 July – ‘From the Journey of the Mind to God.’

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Meditation During the First General Congregation, XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 8 October 2012.

[3] Ibid.

[4] CCC 1538.

[5] See CCC 1581 & 1583.

[6] Pope Francis, Homily, Sancta Martha, 26 June 2013.

[7] CCC 1327.

[8] See Marco Conti (ed), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture – Old Testament V, IVP,  Illinois, 2008, 144-145.