As I may have shared with some of you previously, I have had the fortune of once being able to visit the island of Malta upon which Paul had been shipwrecked on his way to Rome. I realized on Malta that the texts of Paul’s time there were not simply historical in character but were, in fact, highly elaborate commentaries, not simply on Paul, but on the Church itself for which Paul is presented as a metaphor.
The actual account of Paul’s shipwreck detailed in the chapter 27 of the Acts of the Apostles teaches us this in a very particular way. Taking the peculiarities of the chapter into account this is not just a chapter about Paul’s arrival on Malta. It is not just a story of Paul battling rough seas seeking to reach the shore safely. Much more profoundly, it is actually the story of the early Church at sea and in the midst of storms threatening to shipwreck it, discovering that which is most essential to it – the very mystery of the Eucharist. At the heart of the storm as the text says, “he took bread, gave thanks to God in everybody’s presence, broke it and began to eat. All were encouraged and they ate too.” (Acts 27: 35-36). This is a clear scriptural allusion to the Eucharist and demonstrates what is most central for us. In the midst of the storm of our own moment in history we, too, must not cease to take bread, give thanks, break it and share it. This means that in the midst of all that we face we must come back to the essential Christian act: the act of self-emptying become a self-giving which is what the Eucharistic mystery is about. As the story alludes everything else can be jettisoned overboard. In the very midst of the storm the mystery of the Eucharist, that mystery of Jesus’ self-emptying become a self-giving, is the one thing we must remain true to, that gives meaning to all else, and that holds us together. It is our fidelity to a Eucharistic way of living that will bring about the transformation for which we so desperately long.
Today the Church remembers another journey to Rome, that of Ignatius of Antioch. For him, too, the Eucharist was critically central. He emphasizes this in his Letter to the Romans declaring, “I have no taste for the food that perishes nor for the pleasures of this life. I want the Bread of God which is the Flesh of Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood which is love that cannot be destroyed.”
But not simply is Ignatius committed to the Eucharist as a liturgical sacrifice. He views himself eucharistic-ally. The liturgical sacrifice encapsulates for him the sacrificial love at the heart of discipleship, and in this way, he becomes the fullness of Christ in persona. To the disciples in Rome he writes,
“I am God’s wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ . . . Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God. Do not, then, hand me back to the world. Do not try to tempt me with material things. Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being. Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God. If you have him in your heart, you will understand what I wish. You will sympathize with me because you will know what urges me on . . . My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing. Rather within me is the living water which says deep inside me: ‘Come to the Father.'”
Ignatius’ Eucharistic perspective on life overflows to a deeply ecclesial life. For Ignatius, Eucharist and Ecclesiology can never be thought of apart from each other. It was Ignatius who first used the term ‘catholic’ to describe the whole Church. As he enjoins in his Letter to the Ephesians, “Come together in common, one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man, and the Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break one Bread which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ.” He goes on to say, “Certain it is that your presbytery, which is a credit to its name, is a credit to God; for it harmonizes with the bishop as completely as strings with a harp.” Indeed, in other letters – to the Philadelphians, the Trallians, the Smyrnaeans – and as appropriate for us this morning when we welcome our new Bishop into our midst – Ignatius stresses the importance of our allegiance to the bishop as well as the tradition handed down from the Apostles. His encouragement is reiterated to the Magnesians, “Let there be nothing among you tending to divide you but be united with the bishop and those who preside – serving at once as a pattern and a lesson of incorruptibility.”
In all of this, therefore, Ignatius of Antioch, the apostolic martyr, is a witness to the vital nature of the Eucharist and the Church. He knew the fundamental link in Orders between being persona Christi and persona ecclesiae, both at one and the same time, never one without the other. The ordained minister, according to his particular participation in the Sacrament of Orders, unites both in his own body.
Reflecting on the journey of both Paul at Malta, and of Ignatius on the way to Rome soon after him, sheds a special light on those other personal journeys we celebrate today – the journeys of the ordained ministry of our Jubilarians. Especially today we think of:
- The late Ian Abbot ordained 65 years ago in 1954;
- Bill Aliparandi, ordained 60 years ago in 1959;
- John Hill, Carmelo Sciberras, Jim Tierney, ordained 55 years ago in 1964;
- Bob Crawford and Dave Austin OSA, ordained 50 years ago in 1969;
- Johny Arattukulum OCD, ordained 40 years ago in 1979;
- Colin Blayney, ordained 35 years ago in 1984;
- Boguslaw Loska SDS, Christopher Kowalczyk SDS and Bronek Pietruswicz SDS, ordained 30 years ago in 1989;
- Shaju John OSH and Joy Kunnassery OSH, ordained 25 years ago in 1994;
- Richard Sadowski SDS, Jim McKeon and Stephen Hamilton ordained 20 years ago in 1999;
- Baby Thomas CFIC, Deacon Paul Simmons and the late Deacon Jim Caulfield, ordained 15 years ago in 2004;
- And Fransiskus Yangminta CS, ordained just 5 years ago.
We salute you and we thank you! Each of these have been journeys in which the mystery of the Eucharist and the Church has also discovered its unity. To our jubilarians, as you look back on your years of ordained life may those moments in which this unity became most manifest for you become particularly treasured. Recognise in them your identity in God and receive them as invitations to continue to deepen your love both of the Eucharist and the Church, never one without the other, that unity at which your Orders are completely at service. Today we give thanks to you and to God for your faith-filled ministry, for the signs of eucharistic loving which each of you are. Never forget that as Paul on the shores of Malta and Ignatius on the road to Rome remind us that in this alone is both our meaning and our hope. And may this also, as for them, always be your passion. “Be deaf therefore when anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ . . .” as Ignatius writes so eloquently in his Letter to the Trallians. Then you will continue to show forth the beauty of the Lord to us all for many more years yet to come.
 Letter to the Romans, n. 7.
 Letter to the Romans, n. 4.1-2.
 Letter to the Ephesians, n. 20.
 Letter to the Trallians, n.9.1-2.
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