Yesterday, the Church of the Diocese of Cheyenne gathered once again in our Cathedral for the ordination of a new priest. Rev. Louis Shea along with family and friends provided a great follow-up to Tuesday’s celebration in which we ordained sixteen permanent deacons.
Best of luck, Fr. Louis!
Priesthood Ordination, May 16, 2012
As we gather today, so quickly upon the heels of yesterday’s celebration in this very space, in which we ordained sixteen permanent deacons, we cannot help but be aware of God’s goodness and the work and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in this local Church! Today, we gather again, as the one Church and family of the Diocese of Cheyenne to add one more to the Order of Presbyters.
We wish to extend a warm welcome to Fr. Jan de Jong, S.C.J., a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart and President Rector of Sacred Heart Seminary. Fr. Jan, thank you for your presence, and thank you and the work of Sacred Heart in preparing Louis for this day and the life of a priests.
Louis, to you and your family and friends, welcome!
The ordination ceremony of deacons and priests 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.
Every priest is ordained into this Paschal Mystery of Christ, into the reality of Christ’s own ministry, along with His passion, death, and resurrection, which make up the heart of His eternal priesthood. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of God’s eternal plan in sending His only begotten Son for the salvation of the world. The Prophet tells us Jesus is God’s servant (42:1), accompanied by God’s Spirit for the establishment of justice. Every priest is ordained as a servant of God for service of God’s People.
God’s Servant, Jesus, arrived with meekness and humility, not making his own voice heard. (42:2) Indeed, 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 no 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. Just as humbly, 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.
The Prophet continues to instruct us today: “I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations…” Jesus is the New and Eternal Covenant.
Louis, know and understand that the Father has also 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 your greatest strength.
I invite and encourage you to be ever more consciously aware of this presence and action of God in your life, for it is only then that you will be able to sing and pray as the psalmist today: “Praise the Lord, and give glory! The Lord’s love for us is strong; the Lord is faithful forever. Alleluia!” (Psalm 117)
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 such understanding and faith, and his own ministry will appear empty and insincere.
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’ with our eyes; only capable of believing in what is empirically provable. In other words, we lack true ‘faith.’
The Letter to the Galatians speaks to this ‘illness’ of today: “O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? … After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (Galatians 3: 1,3) St. Paul’s argument here is primarily showing how the Galatians are not saved by the law, but rather through Christ, and through their faith in him.
In our world today, many are choosing to reject God. Others, who still believe in God, wish to believe and act in a manner that wishes to keep faith in God a private affair. Many today believe there is no place in the public forum for belief in God and the imposition of God’s 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.
Louis, 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 expression of this faith if your own ministry is to have any credibility in the eyes of God’s People, and any success in the eyes of God.
Pope Benedict insists in much of his preaching and writing 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. 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, 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.
For many today, including those who consider themselves ‘good Catholics’ faith is merely external; just customs and traditions, it lacks what is fundamental, namely, the living person of Jesus Christ. Louis, ‘stirring’ this fervent and active faith to life is at the heart of the Church’s mission and ministry today. I pray it will be at the heart of the priesthood soon to be bestowed upon you.
Our Gospel today encourages us to ‘remain in Jesus, to remain in His love.’ (John 15:9) Recognize that in Baptism, we are incorporated into this life and love of Jesus. All of the sacraments are the means by which Jesus, through the Church, continues to draw each of us into the very life He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This ‘life’ of Jesus is shared in a fresh and new way with you today through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As a priest, you are entrusted with celebrating these sacraments for the sanctification of God’s people.
Jesus instructs us again in this Gospel today regarding the coherent integrity of keeping God’s commandments and remaining in His love. (John 15: 10) He instructs us that our true joy is found in Him, and found in the moral integrity of one’s life. (John 15:11) Live in a manner that you personally continue to discover this joy. Minister in a manner that leads others to such integrity, justice, and joy in Christ.
Through your life as a priest, and the faithful fulfillment of your promises of prayer, celibacy, preaching, governing, and faithfully 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 will require 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 these 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 the same Paschal Mystery. 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. Lead others to Christ. Lead others to His truth. Lead others to His Life, 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!0