The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Giving hope and zest to the life of so many


Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ shared his thoughts on the priesthood at the Mass of Thanksgiving for Fr Olek Stirrat at the Church of the Annunciation, Hectorville, on Sunday March 13. This was the first Mass celebrated by Fr Stirrat after his ordination on March 12.

Comments Print article

Renata and Alex, and Christopher, we are privileged to be able to share with you this moment of family pride and joy, and thank God for the example of faith and love in which you raised Olek.

Fr Olek.  The ordination of a priest always seems to be a moment of great joy for all the People of God.  We saw that at the ordination of you and Anthony yesterday, and the very special feeling of common joy at the Reception last night – a crowded hall, everyone delighted to be there, because of you as their new priest.  The addresses given by Fr Cameron and especially the one from your father because of the closeness as your dad was powerfully moving, heartfelt, and charged with such faith and love – and had good practical advice about your decorum. The video, featuring about half the population of Poland, was also so strong and it was a delight to be able to witness their love for you, and their prayer for you, repeated time and again, that you lead others to God. Everyone here today also, old and young, family and friends, the thick and the thin, is delighted.  That a young man is prepared to allow himself to be consecrated for life as a priest servant of Christ Jesus and all the wider community of God, which includes all the faithful and those not so sure, gives hope and zest to the life of so many, and for this we thank God for you.  As St Paul wrote to Timothy, you have put new heart into the life of the saints.

By their applause yesterday, the People of God endorsed your calling to priesthood, as we do today again by our presence. The People of God rejoice for you, and esteem you, for your preparedness to undertake this step, of having a heart large enough to respond to your holy call.  In an age when esteem and veneration and the image of the Church and priesthood has been greatly impaired through horrendous acts, we all know, it takes great courage for a young man to present himself for priesthood, and the community of the faithful rejoices in you.

The Gospel for today is that of the Transfiguration, and two points can be made about it for today.  The glory of the divinity of Christ shone through, his face and his clothes became as brilliant as lightning. There was the cloud and the voice from heaven, signs of the powerful presence of God the Father Almighty. The disciples were overcome with awe, dazzled, and they wanted to build special shrines because of the occasion. But then the wondrous moment passed, and the disciples looked, and as one of the Gospels says, they saw “only Jesus”.

The Christ of glory had passed, and now there was the ordinary Jesus of daily life, the “Jesus in jeans”, common place, looking like the rest of us – it was the same reality, the divine and the human in one.

The second point is that Jesus did not stay there, on top of a high mountain. It was not his preferred place. He went down the slope, back into the crowds, and his first act was the healing of the possessed boy, freeing him from what was harming and binding him, and giving him back to his father…into the crowds, healing, freeing, restoring.

What do we make of this for your priesthood, Olek?  You may be good but you have not yet been transfigured; don’t get the wrong idea, young man!  That’s still to come, for all of us. But you have in ordination had awesome ministries placed upon your shoulders, despite any human imperfections. You are now to consecrate the Eucharist; you are now to raise your hand in absolution; you are now to anoint the sick and those on their last journey. And you are to do this ‘in persona Christi’, acting in the place of Christ. At the same time, you are to seek the face of Christ in the ordinary, in the humdrum life of those to and among whom you are sent.  That is the ‘only Jesus’, devoid of splendour, whom the apostles saw on the mountain. As Pope Francis has commented, Jesus spent most of his public time with people, in the crowds, even crowds that one week cried, ‘Hosanna, Hosanna’ and the next week, ‘crucify, crucify’. His glory having been revealed, and now once again being ‘only Jesus’, Christ went straight into the crowd to perform his act of healing on the boy and return him to where he should be. You are called likewise, o priest of Christ Jesus.

Fr Brendan Byrne has commented: The priest is ordained to lead people into the mystery of God and to mediate that mystery back into their lives. At the moment of consecration of the Eucharist the priest actually stands in the place of Christ when he says ‘This is my Body, This is the chalice of my Blood’. In Penance he says ‘I absolve…’, taking the place of Christ who alone forgives. And in the anointing it is the priest who confers the healing power of Christ, – ‘may the Lord in his love and mercy help you..’

There is mystery in your vocation, Olek, the presence of the Good Shepherd. All the faithful are baptised as priest, prophet and king, and your special vocation as an ordained person is to serve and strengthen the baptismal priesthood of the laity, to strengthen their ministry, help make it active in the Church, not allow it to remain passive. John Paul said that the ordained priest as shepherd is called to remind and reinforce in the Church the sense of the presence of Jesus amongst us, to prolong that sense of his presence. And Francis told priests he had just ordained that their vocation called them to enable those they serve to feel something they only feel in the presence of Jesus. Words of power, but daunting.

The same Christ of glory in the Transfiguration and the ‘only Jesus’, who went on to endure the Passion. Christ was the most exalted figure who ever walked on the face of the earth, but who became the servant and slave of all, washing away our sins through his death on the cross.  The true priest must hold these two aspects of priesthood together, the sacred and the servant, as modeled in the ministry of Jesus.  The very night before he died, in that most symbolic of actions, Christ went on his knees to wash the feet of others; he associated this act of service with the gift of his body and blood in the Eucharist.  The most exalted figure on earth submitted to being broken on the cross, for us, and you are now a priest in his name. There will be no arrogance of clericalism where this union of the sacred and the servant is bound together in one’s spirituality.

We priests are but empty vessels, earthen ones, that must be filled with the grace of Christ if we are to be effective and true in our ministry.  We say to the newly baptised, ‘receive the light of Christ’, so we must tend that lamp if we are to carry that light and let is shine for others. We do this, fill the vessel of our lives with the grace of Christ, enrich our human weakness and emptiness, through faithfulness and prayer, service and sacrifice, irreplaceable needs for our vocation, the prayerful union with Christ that must be the basis of our ministry.  We are missioned to live in our lives and in our ministries, as St Jean Vianney said, the expressions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, his compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love, merciful healing.

And before our eyes and in our hearts there must always be the people of God to whom we are sent.  Their needs are to be the focus of our lives.  Yesterday you were clothed in priestly vestments, the stole and chasuble.   At his first Mass of the Holy Chrism when he became Pope in 2013, Francis said this to priests about the vesting:

…the priest celebrates by carrying on his shoulders the people entrusted to his care and bearing their name written in his heart.  When we put on our simple chasuble, it might well make us feel, upon our shoulders and in our hearts, the burdens and the faces of our faithful people, our saints and our martyrs…

Their names and burdens and faces written in our hearts…

At the Mass for the same Feast in 2019 Pope Francis told the priests of Rome:

We are not bottled oil. We anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart. When we anoint others, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and affection of our people.  We anoint by dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people.  We anoint by perfuming our hands in touching their faith, their hopes, their fidelity and the unconditional generosity of their self-giving.

May you know always, Fr Olek, the joy of your vocation as priest.  As you mix your life with your people; may you recognise and relish and grow stronger through their love for you, through their pastoral call to you as shepherd, friend and celebrator of the sacred mysteries, through your being with them in the key moments of their lives, in what elates them and what devastates them.  Your vocation as priest will bring you a joy the world cannot give because the One who called you will abide with you, help you live as a Christ-bearer speaking his Word and being his hands of mercy and compassion and blessing.  Keep the channels of your prayerful heart open to receive his grace every day and fill the vessel of your soul.

I conclude with a reflection written by a good person. He wrote:

The heart of a priest is a precious object of the gaze of God.

God sees the heart of a man who stood up in front of a gathering of the People of God, and answered ‘Yes’ to questions that changed his life.  And then he prostrated himself as low as he could, flat on the earth, while the people invoked the Saints to pray for him and guide him.

God sees the heart of a man who wants to live the Beatitudes of Jesus – to be poor in spirit, a sharer of loss, gentle, wanting justice, merciful, pure in heart, willing to endure for the sake of true discipleship.

From my 50th year in the priesthood this year, and I am privileged that you asked me to share these thoughts, to you now about to commence your first, let this be my prayer for you, dear man:

May the joy of the priesthood be for you an abiding sense.

May the love of the people sustain you.

May the grace of Christ always fill your soul, His chosen vessel.

May the closeness of Christ be always the truth of your life.

May the saints of your ordination day – Theresa, Ignatius, Isidore, Philip, Xavier – share always with you their own rich blessedness.

May the witness and courage and holiness of John Paul II be a light to guide your paths.

May Mary, the gentle mother, guard you as her son.

May you live happily and faithfully, a priest-servant of the People of God, according to the heart of Jesus – ad multos annos – for all the years to come.


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More Opinion stories

Loading next article