Around this time of the year we often receive news of ordinations that have just happened or are about to happen. It’s an appropriate time. The Feast of Ss Peter and Paul is close by and the link to the apostles is strong. Through the laying on of bishops’ hands the sacramental ministry of the Church is ensured. That which was started in the Upper Room at that Last Supper is continued. Comfort and healing for the penitent is made available. The strengthening power of the Paraclete is renewed. Food and solace for the long journey to the new life if offered to all who call on the Lord’s name. Another sap bearing twig is added to that tree whose roots extend back to Our Lord himself.
For those receiving orders, the new ‘fishers of men’, it is a day of profound experiences. The memories of this day will form a large part of what holds them to that call of the Lord to follow him in this particular way. Yet we know there are those who do not persevere. This was certainly the experience of the Early Christians and we hear it recalled in the agricultural parable of the ploughman looking back. Those in Holy Orders never leave the ministry without considerable sacrifice. They know that once the step as been taken never again will they be permitted to as much read a lesson during Mass.
When this happens we should be reticent to condemn them. Certainly the pressures of the current times, the attacks of the evil one, certainly impair judgement on the part of many. We must pray for them. We can never fully understand what brings somebody to this point nor can we perceive, in this life, what part this sadness may play in God’s larger plan for the world. Listen to these words from Our Lord. Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God. To turn back is serious and the consequences dire just like the state of sin that we all fall into. But the grace of the Lord is also revealed if we listen carefully; is fit. It does not exclude the possibility that again, by the grace of God, the person may become fit for the Kingdom of God.
Let us pray that God will act in the hearts of those who have taken their hand from the plough and looked back. Let us pray that His grace may abound now and at the hour of our deaths.