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 pri