Priesthood Ordination, June 6, 2015
In his prayer for the disciples at the Last Supper which we heard in our Gospel today, Our Lord was praying for the disciples of all time. What Jesus was asking for the Twelve, He asks the Father today, for Royce, Jonathan, Matthew, and William: Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world.
My sons about to be ordained to the priesthood, today you will be consecrated/sanctified in the truth and you will be sent by Christ into the world and into our diocese. You were already consecrated to the Lord when you were baptized. You were immersed in Him. Today, you are immersed in Him again, but in a new way. You will be consecrated to Christ as priests of the new covenant He established. He is not taking you out of the world, but He is removing you from belonging to the world. Through priestly ordination, you will belong in a new way to God as you are configured to His Son, the Head and Shepherd of the Church. This is the truth of the sacrament you are about to receive, the sacrament of priestly ordination that will touch you in the depth of your being. It is a consecration in the truth. What is this truth? It is the Word of God and, in its deepest sense, the Word made flesh, Christ Himself, the One Priest of the new covenant. With this priestly consecration, you will be given a mission, an awesome mission: to continue Christ’s personal mission as Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd. You will be consecrated for this three-fold mission: to preach the Gospel, to celebrate the sacraments, and to shepherd God’s people. You will equipped for this holy mission by the grace you receive today and every day through the sacrament of Holy Orders. By virtue of this sacrament, you will speak “in the person of Christ”; you will act in His name, represent Him, and continue His saving actions.
During this past year, you have had the experience of preaching the Word of God as deacons. You know how important this ministry is. When you were ordained deacons, the bishop presented you with the Book of the Gospels and said to you: Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach. This instruction is good to recall today since the first duty of the priest is to teach the Word of God. In speaking of this teaching mission of priests, Pope Francis said at an ordination last month: May this be the nourishment of the People of God; may your homilies not be boring; may your homilies touch the heart of the people because they come from your heart, because what you’re telling them is what you carry in your heart. It is in this way that the Word of God is passed on and thus your teaching will be a joy and support to Christ’s faithful; the fragrance of your lives will be your testimony, because examples edify, whereas words without examples are empty, mere ideas that never reach the heart and even do harm: they do no good. You are to bring the truth and joy of the Gospel to people by your preaching and by your example. This happens when you truly love the Word you preach, the Word of God, and when you love the people whom you teach. I pray that your teaching, especially your homilies, and your example of faithful discipleship will inspire our people and help them to grow in Christ.
You are also consecrated today to celebrate the divine mysteries. You will carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest, the office of sanctifying, through your celebration of the sacraments. I would like to speak about three of the seven sacraments that you are empowered to celebrate through priestly ordination.
First, the sacrament of Reconciliation. You will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church. How awesome and humbling it is to act in the person of Christ in this sacrament of mercy! The grace of God’s mercy will flow from you to the penitent when you say: I absolve you from your sins. I urge you to have great care for the souls of those who come to you in confession, making it easier, not harder, for them to meet Jesus in this sacrament. May you always be merciful priests in imitation of the One whom the letter to the Hebrews calls the merciful and compassionate high priest!
You will also celebrate another beautiful sacrament of healing: the Anointing of the Sick. I pray that you will give witness to Our Lord’s kindness toward the sick and the suffering. Think about how much time Jesus devoted to the sick and suffering during His public ministry. How important it is for priests of Jesus Christ to do the same, bringing them Our Lord’s healing, compassion and comfort.
The third sacrament I wish to mention is the summit of priestly life and ministry: the Holy Eucharist. The great miracle of love which is the Holy Eucharist is effected through the hands of the priest. Royce, Jonathan, Matt, and Bill, the high point of your ministry, as every priest here can attest, will be when you say the words of Jesus This is my body which is give up for you…. This is the chalice of my blood which is poured out for you…. I mentioned to you the other day how wonderful it is that you will celebrate your first Masses on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.
Saint John Paul II said that, above all, the priest is the man of the Eucharist, Christ’s servant and minister in this sacrament in which the whole spiritual good of the Church is contained. I encourage you to not just say Mass, but to pray Mass. Let your thoughts and your very being enter into the words which the Church sets before you in the Missal. Try to be inwardly united to the words of prayer so that the faithful will also be led to enter into those words. The Mass is not self-contemplation. It is the contemplation of Christ who offers Himself in love to the Father in the sacrifice of the cross made present on the altar.
After you are ordained, I will present you with the paten and chalice with the bread and wine and say to each of you: Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross. To be men of the Eucharist is not just to celebrate Mass, but to live the Mass, to imitate what you celebrate. How does the priest conform his life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross? Through sacrificial and self-giving love! You’ve finished seminary, but you haven’t finished school. Your school now is the Eucharist, the school of the priestly life. Offering Mass, Jesus’ sacrifice, teaches you and all of us priests to make a total gift of ourselves to our people, to the Church.
To be a man of the Eucharist is to be a good shepherd after the heart of Christ who laid down His life for His sheep. The pastoral office, the third aspect of the priest’s threefold mission, is that of leading or shepherding God’s people. Royce, Jonathan, Matt, and Bill, you are ordained today not for yourselves, but for the Church, for the people you are called to lead to God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Like the Good Shepherd, may you tend God’s people with care! Like the Good Shepherd, go after, seek, the lost sheep! Don’t stay in the rectory or the sacristy! Go out, especially to those who have strayed from the flock and to those who have never even been part of the flock! The Church needs all of us, as Pope Francis says, to be missionary disciples and that includes priests.
Finally, I wish to emphasize that the mission of the priest only bears fruit by the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We must be united in deep friendship with the Lord. My sons, you will only be living icons of the Good Shepherd if you dwell in His love. If you pray every day, you will grow in the joy of friendship with the Lord. Always bring to Him your struggles and your joys, your successes and your failures. He will watch over you and give you strength!
Here in this Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, I ask our Blessed Mother, the patroness of our diocese, to watch over you and to protect your ministry with her love. May Mary, the Mother of priests, help you to be holy priests after the heart of her Son!