Homily for Mass of Thursday of the 4th Week of Advent on the occasion of the 65th Ordination Anniversary of Fr Claude Borg MSSP at St Francis of Assisi Chapel, Blacktown 22 December 2016
It is a great honour for me to be here and to celebrate this magnificent milestone, the 65th anniversary of priestly ordination of Fr Claude. We join with his relatives, friends, religious family and parishioners in giving thanks to God for the many years of ministerial service and faithful witness that he has been able to render to the Church.
It is fitting for us to use the words of The Magnificat attribute to God the gift of longevity and fidelity which he has bestowed on the indomitable Fr Claude: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly servant.”
The priesthood flows in and out from Christ. He is the centre, he is the beginning and the end, he encompasses us. St Paul says that we are earthenware vessels who contain the uncontenable treasure that is Christ. As earthenware vessels, we need your support in our weakness and vulnerability so that we can manifest Christ to you and to others. It is the prayers, support, generosity and sacrifice of our family, friends, benefactors and others which sustain us in our priestly service and witness.
I am sure Fr Claude would affirm the notion that we priests need to be ministered to as much as we minister to others.
In the first reading, we hear how Samuel was carefully nurtured in his mother’s womb and upon his birth was consecrated to the Lord in the temple. Both the womb and the temple can be understood as the metaphor for the nurturing community. The priest must allow himself to be formed, nurtured and shaped by the faith of the community. Without this, he runs the risk of contracting one of the ailments of clericalism which Pope Francis often speaks about. It is the messiah complex, the sickness of considering oneself indispensable. It betrays Jesus’ path of an antihero, a humble suffering servant.
Pope Francis also challenges us not to cling to our security. We are told to abandon our culture of comfort and go to the periphery in imitation of the Good Shepherd who went in search of the lost sheep. In the 65 years of priestly ministry, the constant feature of Fr Claude’s life has been his willingness to go wherever he was sent. Soon after ordination, he went to the Oratory in Birkirkara. Then in 1956, he embarked on a journey to Australia, working as a parish priest in Horsley Park among other things. For some years, he travelled between Australia, Peru and Gozo. Fr Claude is a true missionary who is never afraid to go to far away and unfamiliar places.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter Mary as a model missionary, one who followed the footsteps of her Son in giving her life in service of others. She did not hold back in fear; she did not stay in her comfortable environment. Rather, it was a constant journey into the unknown, a courageous confrontation with life’s many uncertainties. The flight into Egypt, the years of living in exile, the constant uprooting and replanting, the journey to Jerusalem, the agony at the foot of the cross…. Mary knew the rough and tumble of motherhood and more.
The Magnificat is Mary’s song of praise to God. It is also a window into her life of faithful and courageous discipleship. Mary was anything but a withdrawn, uncommitted, indifferent person. The God she served was one who filled the poor with good things and sent the rich empty away. In other words, Mary was committed to justice, to compassion, to raising up the fallen, caring for the uncared for, loving the unloved.
Today is a celebration of God’s providential care and an expression of deep gratitude. It is a story richly textured with daring faith, generous love and unbounded hope. Even now in retirement, Fr Claude continues to be an example of faithfulness and commitment. He might be physically declining but his spiritual fruitfulness is far from finished. The words of St Paul may best describe his never-ending missionary zest: “Death is at work in us but life in you”. In the twilight of his years, the gift of faithful love, age-old wisdom and virtuous life continues to influence others.
Thank you for your example of priestly dedication and fidelity. Your priesthood is a sign of hope and renewal of God’s everlasting love to his people. We pray that Christ’s self-sacrificial love which you have sought to emulate, will be the source of nourishment and inspiration for many. We pray that the inestimable treasure kept in the earthen vessel that is you may reveal to all the God whose power is in weakness, whose wisdom is in foolishness, whose victory is in the cross and whose love is in self-sacrifice. Ad multos annos!
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