Priesthood Ordination Mass
The following is the homily preached by Bishop Rhoades at the Priesthood Ordination Mass at Saint Matthew Cathedral on June 4, 2016:
We gather here in Saint Matthew Cathedral today to celebrate a great gift from God to the Church – the gift of the sacrament of priestly ordination.
The priesthood is a gift: no human being is able to make himself a priest, a mediator for God. As the letter to the Hebrews says: “no one takes this honor upon himself, but only when called by God.” God has called our brothers Craig, Bob, and David to the priesthood, the priesthood of His Son. And for this gift, we give thanks to God today.
God will enter the life of these three men in a new way through ordination. The Lord will consecrate them so that they will be able to speak and act in the name of His Son. Through this consecration, they will be inserted into the life and mission of Christ, the great High Priest and Good Shepherd, in order to extend His saving mission. They will do things that no men can do by their own power. In Christ’s name, they will speak the words which absolve us of our sins. Over the offerings of bread and wine, they will speak Christ’s words that make His Body and Blood present as food for His people. How close God is to us, His beloved people, in the gifts He gives us through the ministry of the priests of His Son!
Craig, Bob, and David, 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. Through priestly ordination, you will belong to God in a new way 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. With this priestly consecration, you will receive an awesome mission: to be, in and for the Church, a humble but real sign of the one eternal Priest who is Jesus.
In contemplating the immensity of this mission, you may feel a bit like Jeremiah when the Lord called him to be His prophet. He was afraid: “Ah, Lord God, I know not how to speak; I am too young.” Jeremiah knew his limitations and felt that he was not up to the task that God entrusted to him. God answered Jeremiah. He told him to have no fear. God was sending him on his mission and assured Jeremiah that He would be with him. He touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said: “See, I place my words in your mouth!” God gave Jeremiah a heavy responsibility, but He gave him the grace to fulfill it. The Lord does the same through priestly ordination. Deacons Craig, Bob, and David, like Jeremiah, know their limitations and unworthiness. They say “yes” to the priestly mission with trust that the Lord will be with them, that His grace will sustain them. They believe in Jesus’ promise of the help of the Holy Spirit in their ministry. And, yes, God will place His words in their mouth – words like “This is my body which is given up for you” and “This is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you.”
These, our brothers, are being ordained during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. This has special meaning. Pope Francis wants this to be a year “steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God.” He speaks of mercy as “the beating heart of the Gospel” and “the very foundation of the Church’s life.” This has particular relevance for priests since they are called to be living signs of God the Father’s mercy in all they say and do, and most intensely in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Saint Paul spoke of his ministry as one of reconciliation. He wrote to the Corinthians: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation … So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.”
Like the apostle and priest, Saint Paul, Deacons Craig, Bob, and David will share in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and serve as His ambassadors. In receiving priestly ordination today, they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins. In the confessional, they will act as ambassadors of Christ, instruments of God’s merciful love and forgiveness. They will say the powerful words of absolution by means of which God reconciles sinners with Himself and with the Church.
Craig, Bob, and David, you will share in the priestly mission of Jesus to pardon and save sinners. As priests ordained during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, may you always be faithful servants and living signs of God the Father’s mercy! I encourage you to be generous with your time and make yourselves readily available for hearing confessions. I pray that as confessors, you will reveal the heart of the Good Shepherd by the manner in which you welcome, listen, counsel, and absolve those who come to you to receive the Lord’s mercy and love.
In the Gospel of this Mass, we hear Jesus ask Peter three times: “do you love me?” Only after Peter’s affirmation of his love did Jesus give him the mission to feed and tend His sheep. Jesus did not ask Peter what his talents, gifts and skills were. He didn’t even ask the one who had denied Him whether from then on he was going to be faithful to Him. Jesus asked Peter the only thing that matters, the one thing that gives his vocation its foundation: “do you love me?” Craig, Bob, and David, that’s the question that Jesus asks you today. He is asking you to love Him. Like Peter, you are answering in your hearts: “Lord, you know that I love you!”
Pastoral ministry must be born of love. Jesus says to you today as He said to Peter: “Tend my sheep.” He is asking you to love His Bride, the Church, to love her as He loves her, and to care for her as He cares for her. Jesus is asking you to bring others to know and love Him. He also says to you today as He said to Peter: “Feed my sheep.” He is giving you the power to consecrate the Eucharist so that His people will be fed with the bread of finest wheat, the medicine of immortality, His sacred Body and Blood. He is entrusting into your hands the sacrament of His love, the Holy Eucharist, the greatest treasure He has given to the Church.
The Eucharistic Sacrifice is the center of the Church’s life and also of the life of the priest. It is from this sacrament of Christ’s self-giving love that our brothers about to be ordained will receive the spiritual strength to serve God’s people and to fulfill their responsibilities with genuine pastoral charity. The Eucharist is truly the culmination of all the tasks and activities of the priest. Craig, Bob, and David, the Church will be built up in love every time you celebrate the Eucharist. May you celebrate Holy Mass prayerfully and reverently, and model your lives on the mystery you celebrate!
Dear brothers, we thank you for having the courage to say with Saint Peter: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” and for accepting the beautiful task of being His ambassadors. We pray that throughout your priestly life you will learn to love Christ and His Church more and more. You have a beautiful teacher of this love for Christ and His Church: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today is the Feast of her Immaculate Heart.
As the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes the reality of Jesus’ love, so the Immaculate Heart of Mary symbolizes the reality of Mary’s love. Craig, Bob, and David, as devoted sons of Mary our mother, I pray that you will experience her maternal love ever more deeply in your priestly lives. May you be close to her Immaculate Heart! May she who is the mother of priests watch over you and protect your ministry with her love that you may be holy priests after the heart of her Son!