‘Nowadays [within the Church] everything is upside-down, everything is topsy-turvy.’ This is a quotation and it sounds like something you might find in one of our papers, but it actually comes from a man called Hugh of St. Cher, and he wrote it in the year 1224. The Church was a mess back then too!
Moving on always makes me think about what my life as a priest is about. What exactly is it that I am supposed to be doing and indeed why be a Catholic at all? So today I would just like to tell you why I am a Catholic and why I am a priest.
People often criticise us as Catholics, saying that we are hypocrites. We are no better than anyone else. They are right in that we are not obviously better than anyone else, but that’s not what it’s about. Indeed you will often come across people who are not at all religious, but who are very saintly. But we are different from other people because of what we believe, and because we have a different vision of life.
So why am I a Catholic? Because I believe that what we say we believe is really true. I believe that the Lord made himself known to Abraham several thousand years ago, and to people all down through the ages right up to our own time. He is continually making himself known to us, to whoever will listen. And He will invite us into a more and more intimate relationship with him, depending only on how open we are as individuals. I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus is real, and I believe that Jesus is really present with us in the Eucharist, not just as a symbol, or a reminder, or some kind of holy bread, but really and truly present in his Body and Blood. Not only do I believe it, but I literally bet my life on it.
What about the Church, the Pope, bishops, priests and all of us? Surely there are plenty of good reasons not to be a Catholic when you see so much of what goes on? It is true that we are far from perfect and we never will be perfect, but in spite of the way we are (and always have been, don’t forget), God is still in our midst. We follow this way of life because it is a way that God has made known to us through the person of Jesus and continues to make known to us. So we try to live it, and often don’t do so well, but that’s not what’s important. If the Lord God wanted people who would live it perfectly He would have come to someone else, not to us. But Jesus (God made man) came to the sinners, the prostitutes, the corrupt, those who exploit others and all those who were more than obviously not living a good life. He didn’t come to the perfect and say, ‘Follow me.’ We must not forget that. He came to and still comes to ordinary people and said, ‘Repent’, ‘Change the direction in which you are looking for happiness’; ‘Realise that God is in your midst and cares for you in a way that is beyond your understanding.’
I like this first reading, which shows a very human side of one of the prophets. Queen Jezebel was out to kill Elijah and he was on the run and he sits down and says ‘I wish I was dead; I’ve had enough.’ And many times we read of the prophets saying, ‘Look, I am just an ordinary man, but the Lord called me and sent me to you and so that’s what I am doing.’ In many ways I feel the same. I wasn’t a shepherd, but I was pretty ordinary by all accounts. But I believe that the Lord called me and sent me to speak to you and He is now sending me to speak to other people. It is a great privilege for me to do this, though it often can be difficult. The temptation is always to try and say what I think people want to hear, so that I will be loved, or popular, but that’s not what the Lord asks me to do. He asks me to speak about him and his message, because his message is worth listening to.
This year I am 17 years a priest, thank God. They have been difficult years in many ways, but I have to tell you that I wouldn’t swap the privilege for anything anyone could offer me. Thank God I can say that.
So I am a Catholic and a priest, because I believe that our faith is real, that God is among us and that gives me a reason to live. It is what makes sense of what our life is about more than anything else and to me it is the greatest privilege of my life that God has asked me to serve as a priest.
 Hugh of St Cher, Expositio super Cantica Canticorum, Chapter 1 (Venezia 1703) p.110.