There are few things more joyful than an Ordination celebration, and today proved to be particularly life-giving as we ordained two new priests for the Archdiocese of Seattle.  St. James Cathedral was filled with family and friends of our ordinands along with many of our Archdiocesan and visiting priests and many other members of the local church.

We give thanks to God for his goodness and faithfulness and trust the Lord will continue to bless us with all the gifts we need to renew this local church at every level. We are especially grateful today for the “Yes” of our two new priests, Rev. Sylvester Chanda and Rev. John Paul Tomassi.

The video from today’s celebration is below – the homily begins around the 44 minute mark. The homily is also printed below.

Good morning! And welcome to all for this priesthood ordination ceremony. In a special way we welcome the two men being ordained, Deacons John Paul Tomassi and Sylvester Chanda. We want to give a warm welcome to each of your families and all your friends who have joined us.

First, I want to recognize your parents and family:

Tim and Kathleen Tomassi, thank you for the gift of your son, John Paul, and for all the love and formation he received from you in your family and home.

Sylvester, on this day it is also very appropriate to call to mind your parents, Bernard and Margaret, who have already passed on from this life, but whose love brought you into life. We welcome in a warm way each member of your family who traveled from Zambia and other places to join us today!

We wish to thank all those who have been a part of your priestly formation in these recent years, and we welcome a few representatives of the seminaries; Fr. Odo from Mt. Angel, and Fr. Arturo Felix from Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.

In the John’s Gospel chosen for today’s ordination celebration, Jesus is with his disciples at the Last Supper.  More specifically, this passage comes from the 15th Chapter, which is a part of the three chapters of John known as the Priestly Prayer of Jesus, for it was at this time, following the Washing of the Feet that Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Priesthood along with the Eucharist.

The first instruction for us regarding priesthood today is intuitive – Jesus is with his disciples. These are the twelve he has chosen to be his intimate friends during his earthly ministry. Jesus walked with them and took them close by his side. This is the origin of every priest’s calling and remains at the core of priestly identity – being intimately associated with Jesus, remaining close by his side.

There is only one priesthood; the priesthood of Jesus Christ, thus every priest looks to Jesus as the Master, just as did the apostles. Similarly, there is only one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, established by Christ, and the priesthood is always at the service of the one, holy, faithful people of God.

Also instructive in this Priestly Prayer of Jesus, is that he speaks of love repeatedly.

  • I love you as the Father loves me.
  • If you love me you will keep my commandments.
  • Remain in my love.
  • Love one another as I have loved you.
  • Jesus desires that the love with which he is loved by the Father may be in the disciples, and that he himself will be in them.

After three years at Jesus’ side, the apostles only think they know the love Jesus is speaking of. But he is only hours away of showing them the depths of that love. Washing their feet is one thing, laying down his life for them is quite another. Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection is the standard of all love – this is what he asks of priests – and all of us – to love others AS he has loved us. The nature of Christ’s love is self-sacrificing – self-gift – fruitful – life-giving.

John Paul and Sylvester – I think most of us – whether as young priests on our ordination day – or as young couples on their wedding days – are similar to the apostles who only think they know what love is. It is only in the day to day living out our promises that we truly discover the demands of love and at the same time the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise to remain with us always. None of us can see our futures nor the storms life and love will bring, but that is precisely what the promises are for, to keep us coming back to that original love where we discovered our vocation and allow the love of Christ to renew us once again.

The reality is that on this day you do love the Lord. You do love the people of God. Your promises are earnestly true and good. Always remember when the reality of life and love try to diminish your love or faithfulness to remain in the love of Christ who will always provide. In addition to speaking repeatedly about love, in this priestly discourse of Jesus, he also mentions several times the importance to ask in his name whatever we may need, and the Father will grant it. I can tell you after nearly 64 years of life and 31 years of priestly ministry – that is a rock bottom promise that Christ always keeps.

Every priest in this cathedral today will be more than happy to tell you how demanding this life and ministry is, and it can be very tempting to speak about how busy we are as priests. Lest I diminish the hard work of our priests, I want to express the gratitude of this local church for the dedication and perseverance of our priests – all of them. Jesus himself told his disciples that following him does require sacrifice and entails our share of suffering on behalf of the Gospel. This is necessary for our life to bear the good fruit which Jesus asks of us. But we must be careful about speaking too much about busy-ness, and speak more about fulfillment, joy and the love we have discovered in Christ, his Priesthood, and his people.

Also mentioned towards the end of the priestly prayer of Jesus is his recognition that the disciples whom the Father gave to Jesus are a gift to him. This too is instructive for every priest. As a wise priest who preached my first Mass said: “Some young priests may think that they are God’s gift to his people, but you will soon discover the opposite is true; God’s people are his gift to his priests.” It is amid God’s holy, faithful people that we will experience much love, and it is precisely in their midst, serving their needs that we keep the great commandment to love.

John Paul and Sylvester, that same wise priest, later as a bishop gave the homily when I was ordained a bishop, and he dropped one more pearl of wisdom which I wish to share with you: “Be yourself. Do not try to be something or someone you are not.” Just as each of the twelve Jesus called to his side as apostles were uniquely different, he chose them as they were, for who they were. They were certainly not perfect men, but he recognized their unique gifts that he would use for the purpose of continuing his mission in the world. None of us are a ‘complete package’, but we offer freely what has been given freely to us for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

As Christ called the apostles to his side, so today, through the laying on of hands and conferral of the Sacred Order of Priesthood, he draws you to himself, and invites  – no sends – you into the vineyard as his Partner in the Gospel. There is much work to be done, and all of it must be done in his name, according to the will of God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as a continuation of his mission. This is, has been, and will always be the manner in which the Body of Christ is formed among the people of God.

St. Catherine of Siena knew this love of Christ well, and manifested it in her own way, according to her gifts and calling. I think of her often as I think about being close to the side of Christ as one of his priests and bishops. She instructs us to gaze into the open side of Christ to see this blazing fire of love that is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My brothers, enter into this blazing fire of divine love that is the priestly heart of Jesus, and be generous distributors of this manifold grace. Now that Christ has taken you into his priestly embrace, never let him go!

May Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for each of you and for this Archdiocese today and always. May she always lead all of us closer to her Son, that we may be continually conformed more and more to Christ! May God bless you both, and bless the priestly ministry which is now conferred upon you.