Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
From the earliest times of the Christian Church, these two great apostles, Peter and Paul, have always been linked both in Liturgy and in art. For both of them, their mission of witness to Jesus Christ, in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the building up of the Church and her unity, ends in Rome, where they are united in martyrdom and buried in two of the Major Basilicas, one inside and one outside the city walls.
Yet, Peter and Paul were very different characters and it is these very different characteristics that are used by God in their very different vocations.
First, Peter. At the centre of today’s Gospel is his reply to the Lord’s question: Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ, he replies, Son of the Living God. Peter’s reply earns him the title of The Rock. On that rock, says, Jesus, the Church is to be built.
Peter is impetuous and excitable. God calls upon him to give stability to the Church. He is to unite and to strengthen and to guide the friends of Jesus into the one Church. To the very man who swears to lay down his life for him and then turns his back on him and denies his friendship with him, the Lord gives the vocation of forming and strengthening that friendship in others.
Paul is such a different person. By nature, he is conservative and cautious. So God calls him to mission, adventure and proclamation of the Gospel – taking the saving friendship of the Lord to others. He treads the known world in the Lord’s service. No trial – and there were many in his life – can separate him from the love of Jesus Christ. He proclaims Jesus everywhere, in season and out of season – even while he is in prison, awaiting execution.
The order of Peter and the mission of Paul – united in the successor of Peter, our Holy Father, Pope Francis – are to be united in the life of every member of the Church.
Like Peter and Paul, we all have many different strengths and weaknesses which together make us who we are. And yet, Our Lord uses not just what we are good at but also those parts of us that we think are not very good at all. He uses everything in our lives – whether we think it useful or not – for all is used for the harvest.
As members of the Church, we share in the vocation of Peter. Each of us is called upon to build up the Church in unity and love – through our communion with the Holy Father, with our local bishop and with each other; through lives lived in conformity and faithfulness to the Gospel and to the teaching of the Church.
As members of the Church we also share in the vocation of Paul – to share in the same mission Jesus Christ entrusted to his apostles and to his Church. We were given this vocation at our Baptism. It was confirmed when we received the gift of the Holy Spirit at our Confirmation.
Each of us is sent out by Christ filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to share our faith with everyone and especially those who enter our lives in any way. If we take our vocation to mission seriously then the Holy Spirit will indeed bless the Church with increase and growth.
Next Saturday, in the Cathedral, five men will be ordained to the sacred priesthood of the Church. We thank God for this wonderful gift. Their Ordinations are a significant and joyful moment in the life of our Diocese. I hope many of you will be able to be with them, to encourage them with your prayerful presence.
In their special vocation, Jesus Christ has called them out of the People of God to serve him and his people. They too are called to build up the unity of the Church and to proclaim the Gospel of God’s love to all. Through their ministry, Jesus Christ enables the continuing work of his visible Presence among us. Through their pastoral care, and especially through their preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, Jesus touches our lives today in our times of trouble or sorrow, our times of joy and celebration.
The priest’s ministry is irreplaceable. No Christian community can be without a priest. If there is no priest something vital is missing, for the Mass, which is the source and summit of all we do and are as the Church, can no longer be at the centre of our lives.
That is why we need more men to hear God’s call and to respond with the same generosity and sacrificial love displayed by these men and all the priests of our Diocese.
Perhaps someone here today is or should be asking themselves: Is Jesus calling me to be a priest? Am I willing to let Jesus take my life and work through me to bring his love to his people?
If your answer is Yes, then talk it through with your parish priest, or the Diocesan Vocations Director or another priest you may know. I can assure you that they will take you seriously for there is no more fulfilling way to spend your life than in the service of the Lord and his people!
None of us is worthy to be a priest. But God calls us all the same. It is in our weakness that the Lord is our strength! Look at the apostles – Peter and Paul.
Peter and Paul, very different characters, yet, together, they worked for one thing: to make known to the world the love of God, shown in the face of Jesus Christ, in whom alone is our salvation and our peace. May this too be the one goal for every member of the Church.
Please pray fervently for those to be ordained this week, for all our priests and for more priestly vocations for the Diocese.
Please be assured of my prayers and good wishes for you all,
Yours devotedly in Christ,
The Right Revd Alan S Hopes
Bishop of East Anglia