On Saturday 10 December 2016 we celebrated at "Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral" the ordination of the priesthood of Wiseman Nkomo. The church was packed to capacity and many priests both from our diocese and from South Africa.
During the homily, starting from a story, I asked him not to forget three things...
“May I tell you a story?” This is how Sean-Patrick Lovett led us for more than an hour last October through Pope Francis and the Vatican. So... may I tell you a story?
"An elderly gent was invited to his old friends' home for dinner one evening. He was impressed by the way his buddy preceded every request to his wife with endearing terms — Honey, My Love, Darling, Sweetheart, Pumpkin, etc.
The couple had been married almost 70 years, and clearly they were still very much in love. While the wife was in the kitchen, the man leaned over and said to his host, "I think it's wonderful that, after all these years, you still call your wife those loving pet names."
The old man hung his head. "I have to tell you the truth," he said, "I forgot her name about 10 years ago.""
There are three things I wish you would never forget. Two of them come from todays' readings:
- The first thing I wish you would never forget is that you are called by God to love in the way He loves us. That is what the Gospel you chose says. This will be the measure of your priesthood. It won't be your homilies. It won't be the devotion with which you celebrate Mass. It won't be your intelectual or catechetical capacities that you certainly have. It will be how much people will be able to experience God's love in you and through you.
You told me the Gospel of John is your favourite book in the whole Bible. Go back to it and check for the challenging images of Jesus' love it presents.
- The second one is that there seems to be a constant “refrain” in today's readings... It seems that every reading is a reminder that what we are celebrating today is God's initiative. Isaiah tells us that God is the one who anoints, sends, tells you who to go to, what to say to them. Paul talks about chosen in Christ... being marked... it is all about someone else and not about him. Could not be clearer in John when Jesus says HE chose them and not the other way round. Never forget it. It is not something of the past. It was yesterday, it is today, it will be tomorrow and every day you will be answering to that call.
- The third one does not come from today's readings but certainly from God's Word. Something I am reflecting about and I found myself repeating frequently...
Never separate the "Jesus" you meet in the Word and the Eucharist you will celebrate from the One who said: "I was hungry, thirsty, sick, foreigner..." or victim of human trafficking, of any type of abuse... I believe it is a serious risk in the lives of priests and bishops. We even do many things for others "in Jesus' name" but we do not really meet Him in them.
Once a year I attend the meeting of St Egidio in Rome. Bishop Ndlovu OSM used to attend them too. The very first day you arrive, you are invited to join them in the evening taking some hot food to the people sleeping on the streets of Rome. You do not just take the food. You spend time with them. You come to know their stories.
On Friday afternoon you are asked to offer a specific service to the poor in Rome. My first year I was asked to be a waiter at a place where the community of St Egidio feeds hundreds of people three times' a week. Bishops became waiters at the table of the poor. It made absolute sense.