Fr. Senan Furlong O.S.B.

On the occasion of the first Mass of Fr Jarosław Kurek O.S.B.

Throughout the long sweep of Christian history, today, the Sunday that concludes the great Octave of Easter, has been known by many names.  It is Low Sunday: ‘low’ perhaps being in contrast to the ‘high’ feast of Easter Day, but more likely coming from Laudes, the first word of a sequence sung on this day, Laudes Salvatori: Let us sing praises to the Saviour.  It is also White Sunday, Dominica in albis, because on this day those who had been baptised during the Easter Vigil put aside their white baptismal robes which they had worn for the entire Octave.  In the Middle Ages it was known as Quasimodo Sunday on account of the opening words of the entrance chant that we sang earlier: Like new-born babes, long for the pure spiritual milk.  Finally, and more recently it has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday, because today marks the conclusion of the Divine Mercy Novena, a devotion originating in Our Lord’s revelations to St. Faustina. Today, Jarek, as we conclude this eight day celebration of Easter — a day whose different names inspire praise, joy for the gift of baptism, new birth, trust in God’s merciful love  —  you offer your first Mass.  You celebrate it in the midst of the assembly of the faithful, with your family, your confreres and your friends, here in this Abbey church of Ss Joseph and Columba at Glenstal where God in his divine mercy has willed that you pitch your tent.

As a priest, Jarek, it is your privilege — for privilege indeed it is — to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist, to lead the people of God in this timeless celebration of the mysteries of Christ.  It is your privilege to preside over the Liturgy of the Word: God’s revelation to his people.  It is your privilege, in the name of the Church, to stand at the altar of God as earth unites with heaven in this great act of thanksgiving and praise.

To understand what all this means we need only think of the scene portrayed in today’s gospel. The disciples are gathered in the upper room, behind closed doors, on the day of resurrection. The Risen Lord, still bearing his wounds, comes and stands among them. He speaks a word of peace, shalom, a word of tender mercy that banishes fear. The disciples see, they can even touch the risen Lord. The same risen Lord comes and stands in the midst of his Church, age to age, even to this day whenever two or three are gathered in his name. Here, now, he stands among us, despite the closed doors of our fears and doubts.  And what we celebrate is the very icon of heaven.  It reveals the face of God to us.

To lead God’s people in prayer, Jarek, you must adopt the attitude of Christ himself: the one who serves, who humbles himself, who bends down and washes the disciples’ feet; something, which as a monk, you also learn from the daily worship of God in choir and from your life in community. As a monk-priest you are called to serve your brethren and all those who draw life from this place, bearing their griefs, carrying their sorrows, sharing their joys. The more you do this, the more perfectly you will be conformed to Christ himself who came to serve, not to be served.

St Benedict, as you know, is somewhat ambivalent about the presence of priests in a monastic community, though not near as harsh as he is about the prior.  Benedict’s reservations spring from the fact that priests sometimes get notions about themselves. But it is also clear that Benedict has a tremendous respect for the priesthood. For like all the sacraments, the priesthood is one of God’s great gifts to his people, a treasure contained in frail earthenware vessels.  Echoing St Cyprian’s admonition to the confessors of his day who in time of persecution showed great courage but in time of peace were proving difficult, Benedict urges the ‘frail vessel’, the monk chosen to exercise the priesthood, to “make more and more progress toward God”. His words resonate with those spoken by the archbishop when he presented you, Jarek, with the bread and wine brought to the altar by Witek and Mirka: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him.  Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

When the Risen Lord appeared to the disciples in the closed room he breathed on them the breath of God, the Spiritus Sanctus, the Holy Spirit that enlivens the whole world. Jesus has breathed into each of us the Holy Spirit that we might become to the world we live in a bearer of mercy.  That is the vocation of all the baptised. That is the heart of being a priest.  To paraphrase the core of St Faustina’s message and mission: Breathe into your world what the risen Christ has breathed into you, which is divine mercy. May this message and mission resound and reside in your heart, Jarek, and may you become like Christ, your master, a living spring of mercy, flowing out into an arid world, a world hungering and thirsting for God.  Ad multos annos.





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