Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ordination does not bestow superiority, says Cardinal Nichols at conference for priests

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has spoken of the example that murdered priest Fr Jacques Hamel set for priests, moved by a visit to the church where he was killed by Islamic State terrorists in July.

In a speech at the Birmingham Day for Priests he described driving into the small, quiet town of Sainte Etienne-du-Rouvray, south of Rouen, to find the church still closed. 

“It was surrounded by barricades. There was a small, moving and tired-looking array of flowers, cards, mementos and tributes,” he said.

Speaking to the priests, he reflected on the significance of Fr Hamel’s reported last words, “Go away Satan”. 

Mainstream media said that the words were directed at his killers, but Cardinal Nichols said: “His ‘Satan’ could have been the fear gripping his heart, or a despair that all was about to be lost. His ‘Satan’ may well have been anything that could have made him lose trust in Jesus at this hour of his death.”

He recalled that Fr Hamel had lived a life of peace and said that the witness of his daily life as a priest was summed up in the manner of his death, “on his knees, before the altar, the very position he had taken when he was ordained”.

He told priests they were “missioners and successors of the martyrs, men who lived by an unshakeable hope in the promises of the Lord and in the work of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives,” adding that this was his favourite dimension of priesthood.

Elsewhere in the speech Cardinal Nichols said that some priests mistakenly thought their ordination bestowed a gift of personal superiority or privilege. “How wrong that is,” he said, “yet how beguiling”.

He praised priests’ independence and self-determination, something he said was part of the DNA of priesthood in England, born out of the isolation many experienced following the Acts of Supremacy in the 16th century.

But he said that contemporary priests needed to get together and nurture fraternity. 

One indicator of this, he said, was priests’ attendance at each other's funerals. 

“We do not go to a priest’s funeral because he was a friend, or because he shared our views,” he said. “We go because he is a brother.”

He concluded by saying that the Church had focused its efforts on the existing Catholic community at the expense of direct evangelisation. 

The Church, a minority, should “find a confident voice at every level,” he said. 

To do that, priests and diocese must foster networks of interdependency. 

“It is a sobering yet crucial thought that no true renewal in the history of the Church in England and Wales has come about through centralised, overarching plans or declarations,” he said. 

“We have to be and to be seen as one body, coherent in vision.”

Read the full speech by Cardinal Vincent Nichols

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