Priesthood Ordination

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Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of a great missionary priest and bishop from the 8th century, Saint Boniface, known in history as “the Apostle of the Germans.” Saint Boniface established many dioceses in Germany, including the diocese of Freising which eventually became the archdiocese of Munich and Freising. As you may know, the future Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was Archbishop there before being called to serve in Rome by Pope Saint John Paul II. In his first year as Archbishop, Cardinal Ratzinger said the following at the ordination of new priests in the diocese established by Saint Boniface, words that resonate with me today at this Ordination Mass:   

“The day of priestly ordinations is the harvest day of a diocese, one of the high points in its life. For this day demonstrates how much faith is alive in a local Church, how much hope-filled courage that can give young men the strength and the joy to entrust themselves to the Lord’s service in the knowledge that the common faith of the Church will support them in it. At the same time, it is a day that decides the life, growth, or withering of a diocese.  For if the Eucharist were no longer the living center of a local Church, then everything else in her would slowly and inevitably dry up, too.” 

Brothers and sisters, today is the harvest day of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. It shows the vitality of the Church in our diocese. This is the largest ordination class in our diocese since 1962. That’s 59 years. The Lord has willed to call seven young men who stand before the altar of the Lord today, who have responded to His call to teach, sanctify, and shepherd God’s people here in our diocese:  Michael, Paolo, Daniel, Benjamin, Keeton, Augustine, and Logan. Through the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination, they will be consecrated to the Lord and share in His mission as High Priest and Shepherd of the Church. We pray that their life and ministry will help build up the Church in our diocese, that, through them, the Holy Spirit will lead many souls to eternal life. 

Saint Boniface was passionate about the Word of God, a Word that he lived, preached, and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. Like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, he laid down his life for the sheep. We ask for Saint Boniface’s intercession for the seven young men who are ordained to the priesthood today, that they will be filled with Saint Boniface’s ardent faith and zeal for the Gospel. 

Celebrating this ordination on the memorial of a priest and bishop who was tireless in his apostolic activity reminds us that, by its very nature, the priesthood has a missionary nature. By the laying on of hands and prayer of ordination, these young men are consecrated today to share in the mission entrusted by Christ to the apostles. They are anointed today to lead God’s people in love, to nourish them with His word, and to strengthen them with the sacraments. 

My sons, I pray that you will have a profound missionary spirit. The Holy Spirit anoints you today, as we heard in the reading from the prophet Isaiah, “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.” These words of the prophet were fulfilled in Jesus. Today, through the sacrament of Holy Orders, you will share in Jesus’ anointing. You will be sacramentally united to Him in the ministerial priesthood. The Spirit of the Lord will be upon you. You will be equipped to be living instruments of Christ the Good Shepherd and eternal High Priest, empowered to act in His name and in His person. Your consecration, your being set apart, is a consecration for mission. You are consecrated not to be separate from people, but to be close to people. You are celibate not to be removed from people, but to be available to people. 

In praying for His disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus said to the Father: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I send them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.” My sons, you are consecrated in the truth today and sent by Jesus as His ambassadors in the world. You are to press forward in the world toward the city of God. As priests, you will do so by announcing the death and resurrection of the Lord in your preaching, celebrating the Paschal Mystery in the sacraments, and living this mystery by laying down your lives for God’s people. 

Michael, Paolo, Daniel, Benjamin, Keeton, Augustine, Logan:  you are called to represent Jesus the High Priest and Good Shepherd not only externally in word and gesture, but also from within, by giving yourselves over to the Lord, living the Gospel you preach, and conforming your lives to the mystery of the Eucharist you will celebrate. You are called to take on the mind and heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd.  This is where your prayer life will be so important, beginning with your daily meditation on the Word of God. As I said to you last year when I presented you with the Book of the Gospels at your diaconate ordination: “Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” Your Eucharistic devotion is also vitally important so that when you celebrate Mass you are not just performing a ritual. Your really praying the Mass and spending time before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament helps make the Eucharist truly the innermost center of your whole life. Today, when I present you with the bread and the wine, I will say to you: “Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” 

Practicing what you teach and imitating what you celebrate is entering existentially and subjectively into your identity as ordained priests, entering into deeper friendship with the Lord and embracing His program of life, the Beatitudes.  This entails growing in discipleship. It’s important that you be intentional disciples of Jesus and that you become intentional priests of Jesus. I like to think of it this way:  I am on an interior journey with the Lord as His disciple. And since my ordination as a priest, I am also on an interior journey with the Lord as His apostle. As disciples, we strive to be faithful to our baptismal promises and we renew them every year. As apostles, we strive to be faithful to our ordination promises and we renew them every year. 

My sons, in just a few moments, I will ask you five questions. They are called the Promise of the Elect. These questions begin with the words: “Do you resolve?” These questions are about your willingness, your resolve, to care for the Lord’s flock, to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, to celebrate the sacraments reverently and faithfully, to pray ceaselessly, and to be united daily to Christ the Priest and His Sacrifice. To be an intentional priest means that you consciously strive to live these resolutions, to live the “I do” that you will say in reply to each question. I invite you to write down these questions and put them in your breviaries. When you pray, now and then look at these questions and renew your “I do.” The Church needs not just priests but intentional priests who strive every day to embrace these promises connected to our identity as apostles. The Church needs resolute priests, priests who are intentional every day in their mission and purpose, like Jesus was resolute in His mission and purpose to do the will of the Father, to be the Good Shepherd of the people and to give His life for them. In our lives, such intentionality and resoluteness is not only inspirational to our people, it allows the Lord’s grace to cause our ministry to bear much good fruit. 

Our brothers are being ordained priests during this special Year of Saint Joseph. One of the great virtues of Saint Joseph was his fidelity.  In his pilgrimage of faith and life, Joseph, like Mary, remained faithful to God’s call until the end. He was not passively resigned to his vocation. He courageously and firmly embraced it every day, living entirely for Jesus and Mary and lovingly caring for them, giving of himself for them. He was diligent in his humble work and quietly, without fanfare, performed the work of a humble carpenter. His daily fidelity to his vocation brought joy to his life. My sons, inspired by the example of Saint Joseph and assisted by his prayers, may you persevere in your vocation and find joy in your love and service of the Lord and His Church! May your vocation mature through daily fidelity! And may the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Church and Mother of Priests, accompany you every day of your priestly life and ministry!