Priesthood Ordination Homily, June 23, 2017:
Solemnity Of The Most Sacred Heart Of Jesus; Co-Cathedral, Anchorage
Robert, to you and your family and friends, welcome! On behalf of this local Church, I express a profound sense of gratitude to your parents, Kerry & Randy, and family for the love and formation you received first from them – and for the gift they too make today in sharing you with God’s family, that you may serve the broader Church as a priest.
The ordination ceremony of a priest is indeed a blessed moment in the life of the Church. Blessed, because it reveals to us the Providential care of God for His people. Blessed, because it gives us another glimpse into the reality of the Paschal Mystery, indeed, on this day, a glimpse into the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Every priest is ordained into this Paschal Mystery of Christ, into the reality of Christ’s own ministry, into the very heart of Jesus’ one, eternal priesthood. Robert, on this day, the Church prays that your priestly ministry will further reveal the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Jesus came into the world to make visible the invisible God – to live the love of God – in the flesh – in and among God’s holy, faithful people. Jesus, through whom all things exist, humbled himself and became a servant of all. Every priest is ordained as a humble servant of God for service of God’s People, to manifest the love of God – in the flesh – in and with the People of God.
Moses in the first reading reminds the people: “You are a people sacred to the Lord, your God; he has chosen you – the Lord set his heart on you and chose you – because the Lord loved you.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-11)
Robert, always remember that the people entrusted to your care as a priest already belong to God, already enjoy God’s faithful, infinite love. Thus, St. John tells us in the second reading today: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if ‘God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11)
Indeed, the People of God are God’s gift to his priests, and because the priest shares in the one, eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, our love for God’s people must be the very love of his Most Sacred Heart.
Jesus is the eternal WORD of the Father. His entire ‘being’ is the incarnate expression and presence of the Father. This is true for every priest. It is not so much the priest’s voice that is to be heard – but through the priest – the Living WORD of God seeks to find a voice. With equal humility, it is not so much the priest’s personal plans and agenda that are important, but rather the urgency of God’s plan as made known through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
As we know from John’s Gospel, Jesus could do only what he saw the Father doing. He spoke only the WORD of the Father. His own will was the will of the Father. In Jesus, in His obedience, we learn what true justice entails, namely, the fulfillment of the Father’s will. This is how Jesus taught His own disciples to pray, how He teaches us to pray…Thy will be done…
Jesus is the model for Priesthood, for the priesthood we exercise is His Priesthood. Thus, the lesson for us is to follow Jesus’ example of meekness and humility, in complete obedience to the Father’s will.
Robert, know and understand that the Father loves you, and has called and formed you. Yes, you have also undergone a formal priestly formation in the most recent years of your life, but it is ultimately the formation of God throughout your life that is and will be your greatest strength.
I invite and encourage you to be ever more consciously aware of this presence and action of God in your life.
This type of self-awareness and knowledge of the accompanying presence of God in one’s own life is imperative for every priest, otherwise, he will be unable to truly lead others to faith, and his own ministry will appear empty and insincere. The people have many expectations of their priests, but the one thing they must know is that their priest knows the Lord. Once they know that, they can relax.
To be able to be ‘in touch’ with this accompanying presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ is critical, not only for the priest, but for all those who would call themselves Christian, for all who are Catholic. Part of the handicap of today’s society is that we are only capable of seeing what is tangible; only capable of believing in what is empirically provable. In other words, we lack true ‘faith.’ People today are losing their sense of wonder for ‘mystery’ – the ‘mystery’ of God – and the ‘mystery’ of the human person.
In our world today, many are choosing to reject God. Others, who do believe in God, wish to believe and act in a manner that would keep faith in God a private affair. Many today believe there is no place in the public forum for belief in God, objective truth or moral law. We, on the other hand, believe there can be no separation of faith from any aspect of our life, private or public. If our faith makes it no further than these walls of worship, it is not faith. If faith makes no progress beyond my private prayer, it is useless. If personal faith is not incarnate in visible acts of charity, it is empty.
Robert, today you are being consecrated with the Oil of Chrism, ordained a priest for the proclamation of Good News. You are sent today, in the person of Christ to this local portion of the Family of God, to teach and lead them in the faith. Your own life must be a coherent and integrated expression of faith if your own ministry is to have any credibility in the eyes of God’s People, and any success on behalf of God.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI insisted that the fundamental question for the human person today is a question of God. This ‘act of faith’ in God and in Jesus Christ is what changes the life of a person. In continuation of the same thought, Pope Francis insists on the need for a genuine encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, and especially that others encounter Christ in every Christian.
We see this ‘encounter’ which individuals have with Jesus over and over again in the Gospels, beginning with the call of his disciples and continuing with many others who are longing for truth, hope, healing, forgiveness, meaning and purpose.
These are the same fundamental things every human person longs and searches for today, and they are ultimately found in Christ. If one’s faith is not at the heart and center of one’s person and identity, this ‘conversion’, this ‘fullness of life’ is not possible. And if our people do not live a full and integrated faith-life, then the Kingdom of God fails to advance in our world.
For many people today, including those who consider themselves ‘good Catholics, faith lacks the flesh of our humanity. Faith seems constrained to customs and traditions, it lacks what is fundamental, namely, the living person of Jesus Christ. Robert, ‘stirring’ our people to a fervent and active faith-life is at the heart of the Church’s mission and priestly ministry today. I pray this mission is at the heart of your priestly ministry.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites all who labor and are burdened: “Come to me, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
Robert, for us as priests, we must be the first to hear these words of Jesus: “Come to me.” We must be the first to take his yoke, and learn the lessons of the cross. Listen to the words of Pope Francis to the young men he ordained priests last month:
“A presbyter who has perhaps studied much theology and has achieved one or two or three advanced degrees, but has not learned to carry the Cross of Christ, is useless: he will be a good academic, a good professor, but not a priest.”
Holy Orders unites the priest to Jesus Christ and his cross in a profound manner. The life-goal of every priest is to be transformed into Christ. I encourage you today: consecrate yourself to the Holy Spirit, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, asking the Holy Spirit to be your Guide, your Light, Your Inspiration, the very Love of your heart, that you may be transformed into Jesus Christ. Do not shy away from the cross – for it is the classroom of the Master Teacher.
Jesus instructs us that our true joy is found in Him, and found in the moral integrity of one’s life. (John 15:11) Robert, live in a manner that you personally to discover this joy. Minister in a manner that leads others to discover their joy in Jesus Christ.
During your life as a priest, in the faithful fulfillment of your promises of prayer, celibacy, preaching, governing, and celebrating the sacraments of the Church, you will have great need to remain in Jesus, to remain in His love. I and every priest in this church today will tell you that priesthood requires great love and generosity of heart. We can tell you that there will be failures as well. But what is most important is a continual trust in the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to accomplish whatever the Lord will ask of you in the years ahead.
As you place your hands in mine in a few short moments, realize this gesture symbolizes placing your hands in the hands of Christ. Always ‘remain in the hands of Christ.’ As Jesus placed himself into the hands of the Father, priesthood places you squarely in the heart of the Paschal Mystery, for it is only from the heart of this mystery that you will be capable of leading others to Christ. This is truly the life of the priest! Only Christ who has conquered death and risen to die no more is capable of granting us true freedom, true life, true hope and joy.
Robert, lead others to Christ. Lead others to His truth. Lead others to discover the Love of His Most Sacred Heart, and your own life will indeed bear much fruit, fruit that will remain.
Now that Christ has laid hold of you, never let Him go!4