This is the homily of Bishop Denis Nulty, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, at the ordination of Joseph Yang Shuai to the priesthood for missionary service with the Divine Word Missionaries in St Peter and Paul’s Church, Portlaosie.
During his introduction Bishop Denis said, “It is no accident that the Church of Portlaoise is dedicated to the great missionary apostles – Peter and Paul, one to the Jews, the other to the Gentiles. We are back in this Church one year to the day since Joseph’s ordination to the diaconate.
“I warmly welcome Joseph and his family. His father and brother who have come from China and are here with us for today’s celebration: Yang Zihau and Yang Shuai Yu. His mother and sister who sadly can’t be with us but are hopefully joining us through the webcam: Zhao Jing Yun and Yang Shuai Xia; his brother-in-law Shaw Ping; his sister-in-law Yang Meng and his nephew Yang Yang. To the many members of the Chinese community in Ireland gathered here with their chaplain Fr. Anthony, I say today Huan Yang – Greetings and Welcome!
“Portlaoise Parish has been a great support and companion to Joseph on his road to priesthood. I thank Mgr. John Byrne and the team here for their welcome today, their support for Joseph and their hospitality later. In the past year Joseph has spent his pastoral year in Leixlip Parish, I warmly welcome Fr. John McNamara and his team here today. Both Portlaoise and Leixlip parishes have rooted this man soon to be ordained a priest in the most essential pastoral experience of living the gospel and unpacking it in the lives of ordinary people. I welcome the many people who have taken Joseph to their hearts and who have prayed for him on his vocation journey.
“Joseph will be ordained a priest for service with the SVD order. I very warmly welcome the Irish Provincial Fr. Timothy Lehane SVD, the rector of the Maynooth Community where Joseph has lived, Fr. George Millar SVD and the many other SVD priests who gather with us today. St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth has had a huge role in Josephs formation, I thank Fr. Michael Mullaney and those involved in Joseph’s formation at Maynooth and warmly welcome Fr. Noel O’Sullivan who represents the College here today.
“We are, all of us, the better for knowing Joseph and we know that wherever he ministers, Argentina or elsewhere, he will by his authenticity and sincerity be an Alter Christus to all he meets…”
“Bless this chosen man
Bless this chosen man and make him holy
Bless this chosen man, make him holy and consecrate him for his sacred duties”
We will hear these words intoned by the cantor very shortly, they are an essential part of the narrative of Priestly Ordination. A year ago, I asked that the period of Joseph’s diaconate, the period of any diaconate be used well and not rushed, giving the deacon time to linger with those whose bruises needed bandaging and hearts needed healing. I said then that a deacon shouldn’t be in a rush; he needs to develop a real sense of ‘lingering’.
That year has passed by very quickly and we know by the public testimony of Fr. Millar that Joseph has been found worthy of ordination as a priest. In simple terms the past year has been used to great effect; he has had time to linger in Leixlip and occasionally here in Portlaoise, while still honing his studies in the company of classmates, mentors and friends at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
“Bless this chosen man …”.
Vocations don’t grow out of thin air. On a day of Ordination we become acutely aware that there are people still chosen from amongst us today to witness to Christ in a very special calling. The call to priesthood in no way diminishes but in fact enhances the call of all the baptised to witness to Christ. St. Arnold Janssen, a diocesan priest founded the SVD’s in Holland in 1875. In the earliest month’s he saw the need for a printing press to encourage vocations. Many people thought the time was not right for a new religious order, to which Janssen replied: “the Lord challenges our faith to do something new, precisely when so many things are collapsing in the Church”. Perhaps we need a new Janssen today, maybe it is you Joseph, soon to be ordained who will be that new Arnold Janssen, like St. Francis of Assisi we are all indeed being asked and challenged to rebuild His Church today. The ordination of Joseph Yang Shuai is a response, a very real response to this radical call to discipleship.
“Bless this chosen man and make him holy …”
None of us are worthy to become priests. And that’s a challenging thing to say on Ordination Day, particularly when the one being ordained is a humble, sincere young man who is giving his life entirely and generously to the Lord. St. Peter is the best example of someone who was indeed unworthy not only to be a priest, but to be the first Pope at that. He had many good starts in faith and professed those moments well. But he equally had moments that suggested this Peter guy can’t be depended upon! At that most needed moment Peter would let Jesus down. Despite his weaknesses, Jesus chose him to head the Church, to rally the faith community and bring many more to experience God’s love and mercy. The three affirmations of faith in John’s gospel today seem to cancel out the denials at Calvary.
“Bless this chosen man, make him holy and consecrate him for his sacred duties.”
The greatest gift a priest can be in a parish is to be present. To be a constant presence sometimes when it’s challenging to be present. I think of the inexplicable tragic death of an eighth month old baby in my early months in St. Mary’s, Drogheda. It was like all tragedies, too difficult and too complex to put words on, the best thing I could be was to be present. Offer an occasional word of comfort, know when it was time to give the family space and time and equally know when I must be present. As a priest, it’s often not what you say, but simply being there, that’s most important. Didn’t St. Francis of Assisi say: “preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words”. I am not in any way demeaning what a priest might say, but sometimes we can get hot and bothered about the words we say, and often being present is more noted and appreciated. “Father was here” … “I don’t know how we could have coped without his reassuring presence” … “Father, you’re still here?” The deacon lingers, the priest is present.
And what about the sacred duties? Gathering others into the people of God through baptism; forgiving and healing others in the sacrament of Penance; celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass knowing that He promised to remain with us “until the end of time”; comforting the sick with holy oil; praying the different hours of the day, knowing that others around the world are praying them with you; walking with those who feel bruised and battered by life and have had their faith too often dented and accompanying those on that tender moment between life and death. Know when to be present and realise so often it’s not about you, but about who you represent, Christ.
“Bless this chosen man; bless this chosen man and make him holy
bless this chosen man, make him holy and consecrate him for his sacred duties” – Living out this calling in Argentina:
Ireland is four hours ahead of Buenos Aires in Argentina! 11,504 kilometers is the distance between Dublin and Buenos Aires! The temperature yesterday was 14℃ in Argentina; 20℃ in Leixlip and 19℃ in Portlaoise! I’m reliably told wifi coverage is very good in Argentina, that has to beat Portlaoise and Leixlip. Being ordained a Missionary Priest is a reminder that like Peter you will have to dig deep so often to answer the most profound question: “do you love me?”. A question articulately expressed in a mission post in Argentina, at a meeting in the parish centre here in Portlaoise or visiting a housing estate in Leixlip. It doesn’t matter where we minister, it is what we are ministering, who we are witnessing to, where we are called to be present in the here and now.
The first SVD missionaries arrived to Argentina in 1889. There were two in that early group – Fr. Becher and Fr. Locken. The need discerned with the help of the local Bishop then was to minister amongst the German immigrants. As a Divine Word Missionary, again the words in today’s Ordination Rite will resonate strongly with you and your confreres: “are you resolved to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?”. It is very interesting that Fr. Janssen accepted Argentina as the second Mission territory for the SVD Order. He saw Argentina as an alternative mission for some of his priests whom he thought would not do well in China, but could do well in Argentina. And here we are 128 years later sending a Chinese priest, formed in Ireland and going on mission to Argentina!
With St. Arnold Janssen we pray:
“O God, eternal truth, I believe in you
O God, our strength and salvation, I trust in you
O God, infinite goodness, I love you with my whole heart
 Mt. 28:20
 Jn. 21:16