The homily given by Bishop Tim Costelloe on the ordination of Fr. Martin Tanti was amazing to listen to. Upon a few requests from SNAP readers, the bishop has kindly provided for those who would like to reflect on again, or for those who missed out the ordination Mass. Here it is… [Snap Master]
When Martin made his final vows as a Salesian he was presented with a cross bearing the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. As he received that cross he was encouraged to let it be for him a reminder of his constant pastoral commitment to share in Christ’s paschal mystery and to work for the salvation of God’s people.
On the back of that same cross, which Martin has often worn in the years since, some words of Don Bosco are inscribed in Italian. They might be translated in this way: strive to make yourself loved.
It seems to me to be no accident, and certainly no surprise, that the Salesian Congregation, in seeking to understand the pastoral heart of Don Bosco, should look to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Don Bosco must surely have thought of himself in this way. Nor is it accidental that at the centre of this understanding should be the idea that, precisely as Salesians, the members of the Congregation should consider themselves as called to share in the paschal mystery of Christ. Nor again is it accidental that the words of Don Bosco – strive to make yourself loved – should be offered to all Salesians as a key to understanding their own unique vocation in the Church. And of course, because this is true of all Salesians, it is equally, and perhaps especially, true for Martin on this most important day in his life.
Martin, this afternoon, as you prepare for the profound transformation that God will bring about in you thorough your priestly ordination, these three themes, the themes of shepherding, of sharing in the paschal mystery, and of making yourself loved, can all come together to help you, and all of us, understand just what it is that God is doing in you and for you. You are, in a whole new way, becoming a gift of God for us and to us – it is important that we understand just how wonderful this gift is.
At your final profession you were asked to share in Christ’s paschal mystery: this is your call and the Lord’s invitation to you. Later in this ordination ceremony I will say the same thing to you in other words. As I hand you the gifts for the Eucharist I will say to you: Know what you are doing, imitate the mystery you celebrate, and model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.
There is a profound connection of course between Jesus’ cross and his own understanding of himself as the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, Jesus tells us, is the one who knows his own and whose own know him. The Good Shepherd is the one who goes out in search of those who get lost or go astray. The Good Shepherd, if he has to, is even prepared to lay down his life for his sheep. Nowhere, in fact, is Jesus more the Good Shepherd than when he gives up his life on the cross. But that giving up of his life, at the end of his life, is simply the final act in the drama of his whole life, which was always one of giving himself away for the sake of others. The gospels constantly present Jesus to us as a man who gives himself away. He is tireless in his preaching, selfless in his healing ministry, endlessly patient in his forming of his stubborn disciples, constant in his compassion for those who are suffering, extraordinary in his forgiveness of those who would destroy him. This is what it means to give up your life for your flock – this is what it means to be a good shepherd – and this is what it means, Martin, to be ordained as a priest.
To be all of this – tireless, constant, endlessly patient, compassionate, forgiving – you will need more than good will although you will obviously need that. You will, much more importantly, need to live out of the depths of your relationship with the Lord who has called you and who today moulds you into his image as the Good Shepherd. You will need to be a man of prayer, as well as a man who says prayers. You will need to be a man who knows Jesus, as well as a man who knows about Jesus. You will need to be a man who loves the Church, as well as a man who is a member of the Church. You will need to be a man who lives the mystery of the Eucharist, as well as a man who celebrates the Eucharist with and for God’s people. Through your ordination the Lord is shaping you so that you can be a living sign that he is still with us as our Shepherd Leader – but you will be this only to the extent that you allow the Lord to shine through you.
If you do all this, and to the extent that you do all this, you will in fact be striving to make yourself loved. It is good to be loved, if we are loved for the right reasons. If, as a priest, you strive to be a living sign of the Lord’s presence among us, you will be loved. If, as a priest, you celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments with dignity, with sincerity and with fidelity, you will be loved. If in your preaching you can help people to discover the Lord’s presence in their daily lives, you will be loved. If you care for the poor, dedicate your energies to the young, make yourself available to those who need you, and are generous and selfless with your time and your talents, you will be loved. If, as a priest, you speak from the heart, and act from the heart, and live from the heart, you will be loved. In other words, if you strive to be a kind of a sacrament, a living sign, of the Lord’s presence with and to his people as their shepherd, you will be loved, and more importantly, Christ will be loved in you.
In the end this is what being a priest is all about: it is all about Jesus Christ. In you, Martin, and through you, he will continue to be the shepherd of his people. In you and through you he will continue to be the source and centre of our communion with God and with each other. In you and through you he will continue to be the one who gives us life and heals our brokenness. In you and through you he will continue to be the one who through the power of his Spirit empowers us and enables us all to be what God is calling us to be: his priestly people, called together to proclaim to the world God’s love, mercy and compassion.
If you are ready to say “yes” to this wonderful but overwhelming invitation from the Lord, then in a few moments I will ask you to step forward with courage and faith to offer your life to the God who has begun this work in you and who will bring it to its fulfilment.