On this 20th of December, my predecessor, Archbishop Emeritus Roger Schwietz, OMI celebrates his 50th anniversary of ordination as a priest. We had a Mass this evening at Our Lady of Guadalupe to mark the occasion. Bishop Andrew Belissario of Juneau was present, along with a good number of priests, deacons, religious and many of the lay faithful. Archbishop Schwietz presided and I preached.
Archbishop Schwietz insisted that I preside and preach, but it seemed only appropriate that he preside for his anniversary. He also requested that the homily not be so much about him as a reflection upon the priesthood. I was pleased to honor that request. The homily is below.
Our Gospel in these days before Christmas recalls the moment the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she is to conceive and bear a son who is to be called Jesus. (Luke 1:26-38)
Gabriel in this moment of Annuciation is the voice of God to Mary – he is a messenger. Clearly, as always, God is taking the initiative. This is a moment of encounter for Mary – an encounter of conversation with God – evoking a moment of discernment – of decision – and ultimately of profound integration into the Divine Life itself.
This is a model for every Christian life – but especially for priesthood.
This encounter for Mary was life-changing; not only for her, but for the entire world.
This encounter was not a singular event – but launched a life-long journey of literally conceiving – giving birth to, and accompanying Christ the rest of her days.
Likewise, the ‘Yes’ of Mary given in this specific moment of time was renewed over and over again throughout her life – each time giving herself over to a greater reality than her own – opening herself to the fullest potential of her God-given vocation – each time giving birth to new possibilities and new life, which can only flow from and is always the fruit of a life lived for the One for whom nothing is impossible.
Mary holds the sole distinction of being the Mother of God, while simultaneously becoming the first disciple of Jesus Christ.
So, what does all this have to do with priesthood?!
50 years ago, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, there was another encounter, probably not involving the appearance of an angel! There was another conversation with God, another discernment. Another ‘call’ was heard; another decision made, another ‘Yes’ was given which would change another life and impact the lives of many others. God took the initiative with one more person, a young Roger Schwietz.
I would propose that Mary offers us a model of priesthood, because every priest is to Embody the Word. Every priest is to Preach the Word. Every priest is to Live the Word.
EMBODY THE WORD:
Every priest must be found in the WORD, and God’s WORD must be found living in each priest.
This is accomplished through prayer, by a daily encounter with Christ – gazing into the eyes of the One who loves us and informs us of our deepest identity, especially our identity as a priest.
The priest embodies Christ through the daily celebration of the Eucharist, that moment when he experiences his greatest dignity in the person of Christ, making present once again the Body and Blood of the Lord, bringing Christ to others and others to Christ.
In daily prayer, both personal and within the Liturgy of Hours, the priest brings those entrusted to his pastoral care to the Lord. He meditates upon God’s WORD, he contemplates the face of the LORD, and loses himself more and more in the person of Christ.
Through this pattern of prayer in the life of the priest, he eventually develops the eye of Christ and the heart of Christ within himself, so that he sees the world through Him, with Him and in Him, and loves more perfectly the people of God with the love of Christ.
PREACH THE WORD:
The embodiment of Christ is what makes each priest a credible preacher of God’s WORD – both in his preaching and in life.
LIVE THE WORD:
With each new assignment in the life of a priest his ‘Yes’ is renewed as he takes on greater responsibility – he renews his trust in God and opens himself to a realm of greater possibilities – tapping resources he did not yet know he possessed – but mostly discovers once again the great things God can do in and through those who make a gift of themselves – to God and to others. These are the moments that allow the priest to say with Mary: “God has done great things for me.”
Where our priestly model in Mary ‘limps’ is this; Mary was without sin! All the rest of us bring our sins and our weaknesses to our encounter with Christ and his call.
Shortly after he was elected, Pope Francis shared this story in one of his daily homilies (May 17, 2013):
I once knew of a priest, a good parish pastor who worked well. He was appointed bishop, and he was ashamed because he did not feel worthy, he had a spiritual torment. And he went to the confessor. The confessor heard him and said, “But do not worry. If after the mess Peter made of things, they made him Pope, then you go ahead!” The point is that this is how the Lord is. That’s the way He is. The Lord makes us mature with many meetings with Him, even with our weaknesses, when we recognize them, with our sins. That is how he is, and the story of Peter who let himself be shaped – I think that is how you say it – by his many encounters with Jesus, is for all of us, because we are on the same road behind Jesus to practice the Gospel.
This weakness of every priest makes him human – real – giving him a dignified humility, and a humble dignity.
Finally, as Mary was the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, so each priest is anointed that he too may be filled with the same Spirit, for the purposes of manifesting Christ to the world. I would like to share with you this prayer, which has proven to be quite fruitful in my own life, and my own desire to be more intimately sensitive to the Holy Spirit in my life as a priest and bishop:
Holy Spirit, receive the perfect and total consecration of my entire being. From now deign to be in every instant of my life and in my every action my Director, my Light, my Guide, my Strength and all the Love of my heart.
I abandon myself without reserve to your divine actions and want to be ever docile to your inspirations.
Holy Spirit, transform me with Mary and in Mary into Jesus Christ for the glory of the Father and the salvation of the world. Amen.
Archbishop Schwietz, may your encounters with Christ continue and may you continue to share with us your priesthood. Please know of our profound gratitude for your ministry, and our respect for your humble service.