‘All of us Rejoice in the Gift of Your Ordination’

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Bishop Rhoades delivered the following homily at Mass with Ordination of Priests on Saturday, June 3, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne:

“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” 

It was Holy Thursday night when Jesus said these words. He had already instructed Peter and John where the Last Supper was to take place and to make the preparations. Jesus was very intentional in the planning because He was about to celebrate with His disciples a Passover meal unlike any other. He was keenly aware of the suffering and death that awaited Him the next day. He was about to accomplish His mission, the mission He had received from the Father: the salvation of the world. Jesus was ready to give His life for the life of the world. He was about to bring the Jewish Passover to fulfillment as He would “pass over” from death to life and bring humanity to true freedom in the promised land, eternal life in heaven. 

At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated the sacrifice He was to offer the next day on Calvary. He transformed it into a gift of love. He made this gift present in advance in the bread broken which became His body, and in the wine poured out which became His blood. Full of love for His disciples, Jesus wanted to give them as a parting gift the gift of His very self: His flesh as real food and His blood as real drink. That’s why He eagerly desired to eat the Passover with His apostles — out of His love for them and for His disciples throughout the ages, He instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Our Lord wanted to have this feast with them in which He would transform the gifts of creation and become one with them. This is God’s desire: to share His life with us, to bring us into communion with Him, truly Holy Communion. 

Not only did Jesus institute the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, He also instituted the ministerial priesthood. As Our Lord established the new covenant in His blood, He made His apostles the bearers and ministers of that covenant. He made them His priests, empowering them to speak and act in His very person. He did so when He issued the command: “Do this in memory of me.” Jesus commissioned them to perform the same rite He had just done. He made them the instruments through which His Paschal Mystery would be made present throughout history. 

Today, the Lord will make Sam, Brian, Bobby, Zane, David, Jacob, and Ryan, His instruments through which His Paschal Mystery will be made present in the midst of God’s faithful people here in our diocese and beyond. Through the laying on of my hands and the prayer of ordination, God will consecrate them so that they will be able to speak and act in the person of His Son. In a new and radical way, they will be united to Christ. A new seal will be imprinted on their very being when the Holy Spirit descends upon them, configuring them to Christ the High Priest, the Head and Shepherd of the Church. These men, our brothers, will become sacramentally identified with Jesus, the eternal High Priest. Jesus will act through them every time they stand at the altar and celebrate the Eucharist. 

My sons, as you will celebrate the Eucharist which makes present the sacrifice of the cross, the full gift of Christ to the Church, so also it is from the Eucharist that you will receive the grace and the obligation to lay down your lives in generous sacrifice for the people you are being ordained to serve. You are called to live the mystery that is placed in your hands, the mystery of Christ’s love unto the end, of which the Eucharist is the sacrament. 

In the Gospel, we heard that the apostles really didn’t understand the significance of what Jesus had said when He instituted the Eucharist since they immediately began to argue among themselves about who was the greatest among them. So, Jesus exhorted them: “let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.” And He made the startling pronouncement: “I am among you as the One who serves.” There is no greater act of service than to give up one’s life, which Jesus was about to do. At priestly ordination, when the bishop presents the paten and chalice to the newly ordained, he specifically says to them that they are to imitate the Eucharistic mystery they will celebrate and to conform their lives to the mystery of the Lord’s cross. They are to imitate the life of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep. The priest’s pastoral charity flows from the Eucharist and, from the Eucharist, the priest receives the grace and obligation to give his life in humble service to the Church. My sons, this will be your path to holiness as priests — living the Eucharist that you celebrate! 

With your ordination today, you will also receive the sacred power to absolve sins and to anoint the sick. The overcoming of evil by forgiveness was central to the mission and ministry of Jesus. So it must be for you who will share in His priesthood. This ministry of reconciling Christians with the Lord through the sacrament of penance is a beautiful gift to the Church. Jesus is giving you the key to reopen the door to the Father’s house for sinners. I pray that you will carry that key with you and use it often, being readily available to administer this sacrament to the faithful. Never forget that you are to be images of the Good Shepherd who went in search of the lost sheep. Of course, it is essential that you yourselves have recourse to this sacrament. We priests must be the first to recognize that we are sinners and to believe in the divine pardon expressed in sacramental absolution. Only then can we be good confessors. 

Also prominent throughout Jesus’ public ministry was His great compassion for the sick and suffering. He healed many. He has given to the Church the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick for those in serious illness and has entrusted to priests this ministry to bring healing to their souls and sometimes even healing of their bodies. I especially exhort you to always be ready to bring this sacrament to those who are dying, even if you are called in the middle of the night. May it never happen that a person is not fortified for their final journey due to your lack of availability or neglect. 

My sons, you have already been exercising the ministry of the word in your ministry as deacons. As priests, you will continue to be heralds of the Gospel of Christ. As you make present, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist, you are also empowered by the Spirit to make the light of God’s word, the light that is Christ Himself, present in the world. You are to teach in Christ’s name the truth of the faith. This is so greatly needed in the midst of the rampant relativism in today’s culture. In this context, we may sometimes feel that ours is a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, but we must not be discouraged in our prophetic office, knowing that we are proclaiming the truth that saves and that serves the true good of souls. I encourage you to carefully prepare your Sunday homilies and not to neglect weekday homilies, and to be involved in imparting catechetical formation in our schools and parishes. May you joyfully obey the missionary mandate of Jesus: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” 

Finally, I encourage you always to be men of prayer, to cultivate and grow in your relationship with the Lord each day not only by celebrating the Eucharist with prayerful devotion, but also by spending time with Jesus in heart-to-heart conversation, in meditating on His word in Sacred Scripture, and in praying the Liturgy of the Hours with and for the Church throughout the day. Eucharistic adoration and regular confession should also be staples of your spiritual life. And never tire of invoking our Blessed Mother and meditating with the holy rosary. Without prayer, you will not have the strength and zeal you will need to give of yourselves in love to God’s people. I know how committed you all are to prayer. May that commitment endure so that you do not fall into spiritual mediocrity, worldly comfort, and superficiality in your priestly life! 

All of us rejoice today in the gift of your ordination, a gift from the heart of Christ, a gift for the Church and for the world. And for you, it is a sacred responsibility and a path to sanctity. May Mary Most Holy, the Immaculate Conception, always be with you with her love and protection! May she watch over you and intercede for you that you will be holy priests after the heart of her Son!