The courage of lay people standing up to their priests for the good of the priest and his ministry was one of the themes Auckland Bishop Stephen Lowe drew from the readings at the Auckland Clergy Jubilee Mass 2022.
At the Mass celebrated at Immaculate Conception church in Ellerslie on October 5, the following jubilarians were present – Fr Line Folaumoeloa (50 years), Fr Maurice Ford (25 years), Bishop Denis Browne (60 years), Msgr Paul Farmer (50 years), Fr Boniface Kujur, OFM Cap (25 years).
Bishop Lowe noted that Bishop Michael Gielen, who “escaped the diocese of Auckland”, is also celebrating his 25th jubilee of priestly ordination this year. The passing of Msgr Terry Leslie the previous day was mentioned too.
In his homily, Bishop Lowe noted that the readings for the day were most apt for this celebration.
In St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, an account is given of St Paul remonstrating with St Peter over the issue of eating with Gentiles. St Paul stated that St Peter was “manifestly wrong” in eating only with Jewish Christians.
“We hear in the reading of Paul standing up to Peter and telling him how manifestly wrong he was,” Bishop Lowe said.
“And we think of all the lay people who have said that to us, how manifestly wrong we are, but who have been the people who have had the courage to stand up to us and shame us into being better priests,” he said.
“That is what the Lord asks us to be – to be better priests.” This means being priests with the heart of Jesus, Bishop Lowe said.
The bishop drew other themes from the reading, such as the fraternity of the priesthood, the call to a priestly vocation, and the interactions between priests and bishops.
The Gospel reading had Jesus responding to a request to be taught how to pray by giving the Lord’s Prayer.
Teach us to pray – isn’t that our prayer too? Bishop Lowe asked the clergy present.
“Each of us always I think has this sense – my prayer life could be better. We want to deepen our intimacy with the Lord. Each of us is invited to a deep intimacy with our God.”
Bishop Lowe said that the title “Father” for priests “is not about status, of being better or above the people we serve. It is a title of intimacy and closeness”.
The bishop recalled once seeing a young boy running through a market in old Jerusalem calling “Abba, Abba” to his father. There was something the boy desperately needed to tell his father.
“So often people come to us,” Bishop Lowe said, wanting to tell us things like: “Father, will you pray for me; Father, the words you said today really touched me; Father, I’m dying; Father, I don’t know what to do.”
Priests touch the very intimacy of the lives of people and through the priests, Christ touches the people, the bishop added.
Bishop Lowe said that this day was one on which thanks were given to God for all he has done for the jubilarians. The bishop thanked the jubilarians for the gift of their priesthood and asked God to continue to bless them in the years until their next jubilees.