Prieshood Ordination Homily: May 22, 2015
Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cheyenne, Wyoming
Deacon Hiep Nguyen & Deacon Augustine Carrillo
My dear friends, welcome to the St. Mary’s Cathedral. Welcome to the Diocese of Cheyenne. I wish to extend a special word of welcome and of thanks to Augustine’s and Hiep’s families who are present with us. Thank you for sharing your sons with us, and helping them to answer the call of Jesus to serve the people of the Diocese of Cheyenne as a priest of God.
I also wish to acknowledge a few other special guests who have joined us. Fr. Bede Cisco and Fr. Julian Peter are Benedictine priests from the Archabbey and School of Theology of St. Meinrad. Sr. Maria Amigo, Sisters For Christian Community is here to represent Conception Seminary in Missouri. We also extend a warm welcome to the seminary companions of Hiep and Augustine who have travelled to be with us, and extend congratulations to those of you who will also soon be ordained to the priesthood.
Finally, to you, Hiep and Augustine, I will address the majority of my remarks. Thank you both for your attentiveness to the Word of God, to the person of Jesus who has called you to this moment. Thank you for your willingness to say “Yes” to him, which is also a “Yes” to the People of God of the Diocese of Cheyenne who will shortly, formally call you to this Office known as Holy Orders.
I wish to draw to your attention the feast we celebrate in the Universal Church today, that of St. Rita of Cascia. During my years as a seminary student in Rome, I would make pilgrimage to her shrine twice a year, during the season of final exams. She is after all the patroness of desperate causes. I’m sure that is no reflection upon your own qualifications to be chosen as priests, but I assure you, in the future, you will experience those ‘desperate moments’ in your own life and ministry. I encourage you to always seek her intercession, and she will hold you close to Christ, and help you find your way in faith, hope, even joy.
With St. Rita as your model, live lives of contemplation and prayer. Her contemplation of Christ in prayer and her service to him in the lives of the poor led to a physical manifestation in her own flesh. She received a wound from a thorn in the crown of Christ as a sign of her own participation in his loving self-sacrifice. Today you promise to be a man of prayer. Make nurturing your life in Christ the first priority of every day, through prayerful fidelity to the Liturgy of Hours and most especially through your daily celebration of the Eucharist. Priests and bishops are empty vessels, dark lamps, if we try to carry out our ministry as Priests of Jesus Christ without doing our best to remain in him. Likewise, we are frauds before those we seek to be spiritual guides if we are not under some form of spiritual guidance ourselves.
Such spiritual guidance is important in the life of every person, and especially in the life of a priest. Fidelity to your promises of obedience, prayer and celibacy will be regularly challenged by the evil one. No one can be their own spiritual director. Such self-guidance leaves one susceptible to the deceptions of the demon. Find someone to be a spiritual companion who is equipped to help you remain faithful to Christ and true to yourself.
Beyond these traditional promises of priesthood, I wish to spend a little time reflecting now on the immediate challenges of today. Obviously, fidelity to our priestly promises is critical, but there are also gifts given by the Lord to everyone he calls and sends into the world in his name. You have been chosen. You are sent. Your selection and commissioning is meant to be fruitful, for some benefit, specifically in the context of today’s needs, both within the Church and in the broader society.
That is why it is so important for priests today to get out of the sacristy and out from behind the desk and get into the lives of your people. First and foremost, particularly while you are young and new to this ministry, develop the habit of a good shepherd who is always mindful of the poor and marginalized. They need the gaze of compassion and the healing touch of human concern, not just a hand out and a quick dismissal. Know their names, not just their needs.
Get to know those who claim they need no formal religion. Understand them, and help the Church to understand how we can better minister to them. Get out of you comfort zone. Follow the exhortation of Pope Francis to go out to the peripheries. I am tasking each of you with the specific work of young adult ministry. Make time for our young church, and do not be content to know only those who presently practice their faith within the Church. Get to know them in their surroundings. Get to know their concerns, the crosses they carry, the questions of their hearts, and be a shepherd to them.
This is a big part of how today’s priests who are anointed by the Spirit are to fulfill their ministry. As the Prophet Isaiah proclaims in the first reading today, it is the Lord and the power of the Spirit that sends you “to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted and to proclaim liberty to the captives.” Such outreach will keep you faithful to your call to make a gift of your life. Such extension of yourself to not only those of the parish, but beyond the walls of the church will keep you from falling into the snare of isolation. Be men of communion by building community wherever you go.
Allow a well ordered ministry be what exhausts you rather than being wearied by chasing the things of this world. Do not be satisfied with ‘just being busy.’ We do not need busy priests. The Church needs priests who are engaged with their people. Do not be content to just assume the roles of what is now in place. Help your pastors, your people, me your bishop, to question what we are presently doing, in order to discover what the Holy Spirit is asking of us. I firmly believe the demon is successfully keeping us busy today about things that in the end do not truly advance the Kingdom of God. This is why we need to wisely discern the spirits that are at work in our life and in the Church.
If we are going to be successful today as Church, we must do a much better job at inviting and empowering the laity to take up their rightful roles of service in the Church. Too much in parish life today still revolves around the priest. Obviously, the Pastor has a legitimate and important role to play, not just sacramentally, but as the shepherd who leads and guides the People of God. But as the second reading today reminds and properly instructs us, every member has a gift which must be equally employed: “we are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us; let us exercise them:” (Romans 4: 5-6)
We have plenty of room to grow in recognizing the gifts of every member of the church, and empowering each member to utilize those gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ. Once again, discernment is needed. The shepherd must know the members of his parish in order to recognize their unique gifts and to call them into service. The priest is not the only one who loves Jesus. He is not the only one sent by the Lord for some purpose which builds up the Body of Christ, the Church.
In the Gospel today, we hear of that wonderful moment when the Risen Christ appears to Peter and the disciples, who are fishing just off the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus invites the disciples ashore for a breakfast of grilled fish. His desire is once again to reassure them that he is truly Risen, in the flesh, and that death has no power over him. Along with this reassurance comes deeper understanding of the Life that He is sharing with them, from which now flows their commission to go into the world to proclaim the Good News.
During this encounter, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Peter, do you love me?” Three times Peter gives his response: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” With each Question of love and with each response of love, Jesus is extending the mercy that heals Peter of his denials of Christ. With each question and answer of love comes a concrete directive of Christ to Peter to put his words into action: “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.”
The lesson for all of us is that when we have offended Christ by our sins, he is always ready to renew his love for us. Hiep and Augustine, from today forward, you will be ministers of this great mercy of God. In order to be authentic as confessors in the person of Christ, you must follow the example of Peter and be regular penitents as well.
Another important lesson from this dialogue of love between Christ and Peter is that our fruitfulness as priests flows from our obedience to Christ. Our fruitfulness as priests demands that we put our love into concrete practice. Love the People of God well, and this will be your best response to Christ: “Lord, you know that I love you.”
Finally, this weekend, the Church will celebrate Pentecost, that moment when Christ pours out the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Augustine and Hiep, desire and beg for the Holy Spirit in your ministry as priests. Pray that our Mother Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit will intercede for you and your priestly ministry. God is clearly doing something ‘new’ in the Church today, and we need only open our hearts, our lives and our ministry to the Holy Spirit for the renewal of the Church. You have been given your own gifts, and they are gifts for the new millennium, gifts for the new evangelization.
Consecrate yourself to our Lady, and she who is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the Church will keep you close to Christ. May your love for Christ always be fruitfully expressed in your love for the Church, which is God’s holy, faithful people.
Christ chose you. Today Christ claims you. Never let him go!
God bless you.