22 May 2014

UPDATED: Bishop Silva ordains a priest on the 150 anniversary of the ordination of Saint Damien de Veuster

On the twenty-first day of May in the year 1864, "Christians came from all over the Islands" of Hawaii "to see their young spiritual Fathers who must protect them from ravening wolves," so wrote one of three priests ordained that day. Together they entered the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu as Brothers of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and left as Priests of Jesus Christ. They were Fathers Clement, Lievin, and Damien, our author. The three of them had arrived at Honolulu only a few weeks earlier, on March 19, 1964.

As a means of commemorating that happy day in the history of the Church in Hawaii and of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, His Excellency the Most Reverend Clarence "Larry" Silva, Bishop of Honolulu, hoped to ordain a priest in the same cathedral 150 years later. Since the Diocese of Honolulu does not have a man ready for ordination this year, he turned to the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts who had a Brother, Ajit Baliar Singh, preparing for ordination in India:
Father Ajit Baliar Singh, SS.CC.
According to Father Johnathan Hurrell, superior of the Sacred Hearts Congregation’s U.S. province, the idea to honor the 150th anniversary of St. Damien’s ordination with another ordination came from Bishop Larry Silva.

Father Hurrell initially told the bishop there was a candidate in India, but that “it was not really feasible for us to send him here.”

“However,” Father Hurrell said, “it came to light that, in his village, for political and religious reasons, it was too dangerous for him to be ordained there” [more].
If you know about the many years of persecution against Christians in the Orissa Province of India, you will understand why it was too dangerous to ordain Father Ajit at home.

Preparations were then made for then Brother Ajit to be ordained by Bishop Silva through imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the 150th anniversary of the ordination of Father Damien - a date which is also the memorial of Saint Rita of Cascia - in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu.

Bishop Silva preached an excellent homily, which I hope will soon be posted online. He began, naturally enough, reflecting on the ordination and life of Father Damien:
One month shy of his 25th anniversary as a priest, Father Damien was fatally consumed by the deadly disease of leprosy. Mother Marianne Cope and Joseph Dutton, and others, prepared his body to lie in state in his beloved St. Philomena Church. As his flock filed by to view his body for the last time and to bless him with their prayers, it was almost as if he were crying out to them, "This is my body, which was given up for you."
150 years ago today, in this very same Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, young Damien de Veuster, who had recently arrived in Hawai'i from Belgium, lay on the floor as the Saints were asked to file by him one by one in that litany ever ancient and ever new and to bless him with their prayers.
His heart was bursting with that same prayer that guided their lives as he said to the Lord, "This is my body, which is given up for." He offered himself to feed the lambs of the Lamb of God, and little did he know that he himself would be consumed.
That is not a bad beginning to any homily for the ordination of priests, especially as Bishop Silva invited then Brother Ajit to make the same gift of himself to the Lord and to the Lord's flock.

As I watched the ordination of Father Ajit online (which you can also watch here), I was struck by two particular moments within the liturgy. The first was the prostration of Brother Ajit during the Litany of the Saints as the servers brought out a tapa cloth for the Deacon to lay upon as the Saints filed by blessed him:

Even at this angle you can see the beauty of the cloth made from bark of mulberry or breadfruit trees in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. The use of tapa has a long and venerable history in the Hawaiian islands and this seemed an excellent and proper method of inculturation.

The second moment happened during the Prayer of Ordination, when Bishop Silva invited the soon-to-be Father Ajit to hold the relic of Father Damien as His Excellency invoked the Holy Spirit.

In my room here in Rome, I could not begin to imagine the thoughts and emotions he experienced as he held the relic of the saintly Leper Priest as he was ordained a priest himself!

After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Damien wrote, "In spite of the hardness of my heart, it seemed to me that it would melt like wax the first time I distributed the Bread of Life." Looking back over his life, it is clear that his heart did indeed so melt before the Lord. Let us pray that the heart of Father Ajit, and the heart of every priest ordained this year, will do the same, through the intercession of Father Damien.


UPDATE: The full text of Bishop Silva's homily has been posted here.

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