Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice. According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. “No longer servants, but friends”: at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way. In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God’s family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend.
I have a little prayer book filled with prayers for priests, but, alas, I have left that at Oscott, but one of my favourite prayers is well-known, penned by the Little Flower:
O Jesus, eternal Priest, keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart, where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands, which daily touch Your Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied their lips, daily purpled with your Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unearthly their hearts, sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let Your holy love surround them and shield them from the world's contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit and may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here and in heaven their beautiful and everlasting crown. Amen.