Celebrating Fr Harrie 35th Anniversary of priestly ordination
Jer 1 :4-9
Eph 4 :1-7;11-13
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
This weekend we celebrate the 35th anniversary of Fr Harrie’s ordination to the priesthood and the readings have been selected specifically for this wonderful occasion.
Before we look at the readings, I think it might be a good idea to reflect for a few minutes on priesthood itself. Most of us are aware of the shortage of priests and the dwindling numbers of young men studying for the priesthood but I don’t think we talk often enough about the essential role that the priest plays in our relationship with God and we don’t talk often enough about our responsibility to encourage and promote vocations to the priesthood in our families and community. This is a serious omission in our Christian duty.
Serious because without priests, there is no Church.
Going back to the early history of Israel in the Old Testament, the priests acted as mediators between the people and God; they offered God the people’s worship, they invoked his help and begged his mercy for the people’s sins; and they did this in a distinctive way. They offered sacrifices of goats and sheep, of bread and wine, of wheat, barley, and oats, and the first fruits. That’s what a priest is: someone who offers sacrifice to God on behalf of the people.
In the new covenant between God and his people, in reconciling mankind to himself after being rejected, God became man in the person of Jesus and offered himself as a perfect sacrifice of reconciliation. Being God, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross isn’t limited to space and time – his sacrifice is eternal. Jesus made his physical presence a reality in the world after the Cross and his Resurrection through the sacrament of the Eucharist that he gave to the apostles at the Last Supper. The Mass makes that holy and perfect sacrifice of love a present and living reality to us in this exact space and time.
Throughout the world, every hour of every day on thousands of altars in many hundreds of languages, the Holy Sacrifice of our Redemption is being offered in the Mass by priests on our behalf. Jesus is present in the Priest at the Mass. Without priests, there is no Eucharist and we are deprived of the real presence of Christ in our lives and in the Church. Without the priesthood Christianity would be a memory but no longer a reality.
In the first reading, Jeremiah is responding to God’s call to him to be a prophet. A prophet was a messenger of and spokesperson for God. The message was most times unpopular denouncing the lifestyle of the people; condemning their immoral behaviour, their disregard for God’s laws, their unfaithfulness to the covenant. The Church today has that prophetic responsibility in society.
Jeremiah knows that this was a responsibility that guaranteed trouble. And he was right; throughout his life as a prophet he suffered great humiliation and physical injury. Legend has it that he was eventually stoned to death by his own people.
Jeremiah responds to God’s call and tries to get out of it saying “Ah, Lord, I do not know how to speak; I’m too young.” But God doesn’t let him get away and Jeremiah’s only comfort is God’s promise “I am with you to protect you” and he touches Jeremiah’s mouth saying “There! I am putting my words into your mouth.”
Each one of us in baptism has been anointed with the prophetic duty to make known to the world the reality of Jesus Christ. We are a prophetic people.
Paul says in the second reading that we have each been given our own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. ‘I implore you,’ he says “to lead a life worthy of your vocation.”
We each have a vocation to know, love and serve God in one way or another; some as teachers, some as parents, scientists, builders, politicians, artists, hairdressers, business-people ….and some as priests. I wonder how many of us react as Jeremiah did when faced with our calling, with our true vocation? While we might recognize the grace of our calling with our minds, it comes to nothing until we respond with our wills.
I have no doubt that we have men, young and older, in our parish and in our wider community who have or who are being called to the priesthood but have chosen instead to follow another path. Perhaps they have been discouraged by the appalling betrayal of the priesthood by some deviant priests; perhaps they have been dissuaded by their own families and friends; perhaps the allure of material wealth is irresistible. By our example and through our encouragement and prayers those who are being called to serve in the priesthood will find the courage to become priests. If we are not people of good faith and passionate conviction, we will not have priests.
“Simon son of John, do you love me ? …… Feed my lambs, look after my sheep …feed my sheep.” That feed is the food we receive in the Most Holy Eucharist. Just as Jesus called on Simon Peter of Galilee so is he calling the Simon Peters in Rondebosch and Cape Town and throughout the world to feed and look after those who follow him. We pray that many will have the courage to say “Yes, Lord, you know I love you and I will be your priest.”
35 years ago a young man called Harrie Hovers answered that call and has remained faithful and dedicated to his vocation. We give grateful thanks for that today. We thank him for making real to us the miracle of the Eucharist in the Mass. And we thank him for bringing into our lives the healing that is available only through the grace of the priesthood in the sacraments of reconciliation and the anointing of the sick. Over the last 35 years Fr Harrie has played a vital and indispensable role in the relationship between God and the lives of many thousands of Christian pilgrims. We thank God for the gift of the priesthood and his faithful priest, Fr Harrie; a priest for ever, a priest like Melchizedek of old.