As priests, who do we really know and love, how many of our people do we know and call by name and whose homes or flats did we visit last week? Those were among the questions Bishop Charles Drennan of Palmerston North put to seminarians and clergy during a homily at the annual Holy Cross Seminary Founder’s Day Mass at Sacred Heart church in Ponsonby on May 8.
Bishop Drennan said questions such as these are not peripheral or secondary ones for priesthood. “They are questions that point to the heart of who we are as ministers, as priests, after the heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd,” he said.
The bishop shared a desire of his own.
“Sometimes as a bishop, deep in my heart, I want to say, or perhaps even cry out ‘No more planning talk, no more meetings, no more chronically fatigued agendas’. “Let’s for just say six months, just have one focus for reflection — in whose homes or places have we been? How did we listen? What did we hear? What did you lay open? Where did you leave them? What changed? What growth and insight was unleashed for them, and for you? Did you warm their hearts with love?”
He went on to share an encounter he had recently in the home of a Palmerston North family, some of whose young adult children suffer from a form of ataxia (a loss of full control of body movements).
“Instead of walking to the [dinner] table, they staggered, aided by another, or grasping at the wall.
“We talk of the cross. They live it. I marvelled though at how the enduring feeling that night for me and for them was a sense of the fullness of life, that the Good Shepherd speaks of.”
“Why?” the bishops asked. “I don’t think that’s the question we need to answer to satisfy our head’s need to make sense of sometimes haunting mystery. But what filled that home was palpable, gutsy, embracing love; the love that binds and holds and calls and knows, and no doubt sometimes weeps uncontrollably, yet every day, faces the cross into an horizon of the possible.”
Bishop Drennan said that “the seminary is a school of the heart and mind, a school of love and knowledge”.
“The heart and love have the upper hand, not because the mind and knowledge are less important, but because only love can render our life, a daily outpouring for those we find alongside us.
“It is this that a priest must know and live.”
Also at the Founder’s Day Mass, four seminarians were installed into the ministry of acolyte. They were Simone Masanga, Trung Van Nguyen, Tang Van Phan (all Palmerson North diocese) and Thomas Park (Auckland diocese).