Canon Richmond Bridge’s Golden Jubilee.  Our Lady of the Angels, New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  January 24, 2021.   

Psalm 106, verse 30 – Then stood up Phineas, and interposed; and so the plague ceased. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

My text today is from Psalm 106, which in the Anglican monthly round for the recitation of the Psalter is said on the 21st evening.  Most priests surely recite this particular verse with relish as it said each month:  Then stood up Phineas, and interposed; and so the plague ceased.  The children of Israel during the Exodus are doing their usual excellent job of rebelling and murmuring and generally messing up.  As a result, a plague has struck them in the desert.  Then Phineas, the priest, stands forth and interposes and stops the plague.  Priests, despite their own – or I should say despite our own – weaknesses, negligences, ignorances, and sins, are called by God to offer absolution, to offer the Blessed Sacrament, to anoint the sick, to counsel, to warn, to admonish, to teach, to preach, and to show kindness and forbearance, and to do our best to offer a wholesome example of life and Christian conduct.  The purpose of this all is, as it were, to cause the plague to cease:  to help and to heal a world that is afflicted with plague.  

What is this plague that priests are to stop or at least to hold back?  It was said by Henry Hammond in the 1650s, after the defeat of the Anglican party and the execution of Charles I in the English Civil Wars, that men seemed to march out of their opinions as they marched out of their castles.  But might and fashion do not make truth.  It is easy to modify our views when they cease to be popular.  It is easy for priests to preach, as the prophet says, ‘smooth things’, things agreeable to the age and pleasant to the hearers to hear.  In the fifty years since Canon Bridge was ordained theological ambiguity and moral relativism have become common plagues that afflict our world.  But a priest must interpose so that the truth of yesterday is still taught as the truth today, as it will be the truth tomorrow. 

Many priests are busy about many things, but priests surely most of all should devote themselves to the things that they alone can do.  The most basic work of the priesthood is the sanctification of time through the recitation of the Daily Offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.  This is our most basic work, because it is the foundation on which all else is built.  The most important work of the priesthood is the celebration of the Mass, which is the deification of our world through the consecration by God through his priest of elements taken from our world and then given back, again by a priest, to men and women in holy communion.  Through this priestly offering up to God, and giving over to us, we are transformed and assimilated to God:  ‘that [God] may dwell in us, and we in him’.  At a Golden Jubilee of ordination we recall with thanksgiving a life given over to these works of prayer and sacrament.

In the end God only can accurately judge our lives and our works.  But surely many plagues have been averted by Canon Bridge’s ministry of prayer and sacrament.  In particular I know many young priests who were influenced by Canon Bridge when they were students in Nova Scotia.  If one priest can do much good, how much more good can be done through the education and inspiration of young men entering the priesthood.  When priests fail – as we all do – very grave harm can be done, known and unknown.  But likewise, good ripples out from fidelity and patience and kindness and diligence.  Here too we cannot know what souls have heard far more from a sermon or words of counsel than was intended and what souls have turned from great evil because of a grace bestowed through our unworthy and very imperfect ministries.  Phineas interposed, and so the plague ceased.  In that case Phineas obeyed and intended the good result of his act.  Surely on other occasions other plagues never begin because someone was taught well or others were warned or a priest interposed his influence from the outset. 

The priesthood is the continuing, abiding instrument through which God normally acts in human time and in human society.  It is through the priesthood that God normally preaches his word, normally bestows his Spirit, normally gives his sacraments, and normally opens the channels his grace.  Of course, God can give his grace however he pleases, with or without priest or sacrament.  We can never say for certain where God is not.  But as my predecessor, Brother John-Charles, used to say:  ‘Normally God behaves normally.’  And normally God wills to give grace to our world through the sacraments and through the apostolic succession of bishops and priests as the custodians of those sacraments. 

Some years ago, Canon Bridge, I consecrated a new bishop in California.  The new bishop’s parish is a flourishing congregation filled with folk of all ages, including a large contingent of young singles and families and several young priests and more even younger aspirants for holy orders.  The night before the consecration I was invited to a dinner for many of these clergy along with your friend, Father David Kennedy, who is just a few years ahead of you in his jubilee.  Father Kennedy and I were very touched when the new bishop, speaking for his young priests, thanked us:  thanked us for holding on, for not abandoning the glories of our Anglican tradition for a contemporary mess of pottage.  By faithful, patient persistence in a sound faith, there is something for younger folk to embrace when they wake up, when they seek to find the old ways. 

Our world my friends, is not – as many imagine – post-Christian.  Our world is pre-Christian.  The world is filled with people who, whether they know it or not, are dying in a dead-end culture of narcissism and nihilism.  But when people wake up and begin to look around for something to fill the God-shaped holes in their hearts, they need to find something to help provide the answers.  I am grateful to Canon Bridge on this day in particular for his own fidelity over many years and for his ministry particularly in the training of a younger generation of priests who cherish his example and teaching.    

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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