Dear Fathers / Brothers / Sisters and my dear People,
The Lord, in his infinite mercy, has blessed our diocese with nine new priests this year. I will have the joy of ordaining them on the 29th of this month. Let us praise and thank God for this unique blessing which is a clear manifestation of God’s continued presence with us and his paternal care and guidance. As we raise our hearts and voices in thanksgiving to the Lord for this great gift we are also invited to think of our own call to the Priesthood. We must constantly remind ourselves what an incomparable gift priesthood is and how woefully unworthy we are to receive from God such a sublime gift. We can never afford to take priesthood for granted. As we will have ample opportunities during the holy week especially during the Chrism mass and also on Maundy Thursday to reflect on our priesthood, our priestly commitment, and our priestly ministry let us with grateful hearts surrender ourselves to the eternal high priest and deepen our commitment to the Lord and his People.
Mother Teresa once said that the world today needs faithful priests and not successful priests. Let me draw your attention, my dear friends, to the importance of fidelity in the life of priests: Fidelity to the One who has called us and fidelity to the Mission he has entrusted to us. Let us turn to Jesus the high Priest, for inspiration. The letter to the Hebrews testifies that when Christ came into the world he said “I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:7) This text is certainly a testimony to Jesus’ fidelity to the Father. Jesus made it abundantly clear to the People on a number of occasions that he was sent by the Father and that he was always concerned about doing the Father’s will. (Jn 5:19, 30-38). He even emphatically proclaimed “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work”. (Jn 4:34) The Life and ministry of Jesus can be summed up in one simple sentence: Total surrender to the will of the Father.
The gospels give us a clear indication that the mission of Jesus was centered around the ‘reign of God’. The programmatic passage in Luke 4:16-21
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind
to let the oppressed go free
to Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk 4:18-19)
suggests that the mission Jesus received from the Father was a life giving mission, liberating mission, a mission to proclaim and establish God’s reign on earth. As priests sharing in the priesthood of Christ we too are called to be life givers, helping our people to live with human dignity. We share the same mission of Jesus who came that ‘they may have life and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10.) We are called to liberate people from all types of bondage and slavery. We are summoned to build a just, egalitarian and inclusive society. It is fitting, dear fathers, that during these days we reflect seriously whether we have been faithful to the Lord who has called us to be his priests and to the mission he has given us. It is indeed a time to renew our fidelity and commitment.
From the life and ministry of Jesus we understand clearly that priesthood is a ‘call to serve’. As priests we are called to follow the Master who “came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”. (Mt 20:28). This call to service needs to be stressed even more today as the world is slowly consumed in a culture of individualism. People speak more about ambition and achievement rather than service and self sacrifice. We encounter power games everywhere (even within Christian communities) and the poor and the marginalized are brutally victimized. In this context the call to service becomes imperative in our life and ministry. Do we have the courage, like Jesus, to empty ourselves and to become slaves and servants of our brothers and sisters? (Phil 2:6-11) The Holy father, reflecting on the washing of the feet, puts it forcefully, “This is a symbol, it is a sign.... Washing feet means ‘I am at your service’. As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service”. When we wash the feet of our brothers and sisters on Maundy Thursday let us tell the people in word and deed that we are at their service. We are for them and with them. In this connection, I exhort you to follow the directive of the Holy Father given last year and help people understand the symbolism behind the celebration. If we have accepted Jesus as our Master then we must also realize that we cannot be different from the master. If the master has washed the feet of his friends so are we called to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters. (Jn 13:12-15) In a nutshell the washing of the feet must become a way of life for a priest and not just a ritual performed once a year.
Service is inclusive in the sense it embraces everyone. But at the same time, special focus needs to be given to the poor, the oppressed and the usually excluded people in the society. It is only when we reach out to the fringes and the peripheries that we become true priests after the heart of Jesus who embraced the last, least and the lost. Let me conclude by wishing you all a joyful Easter.
God bless you!
+ Most Rev. Dr. A. Neethinathan
Bishop of Chingleput