Sunday, June 21, 2009

Homily for the Beginning of the "Year of the Priest"

First, a video of the Mass (Extraordinary Form - 3rd Sunday after Pentecost):



My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

I will ask your forgiveness to indulge me, as I take the opportunity this weekend to reflect upon something near and dear to my heart. This weekend, at the prompting of our Holy Father Pope Benedict, we begin a one year observance marking the priesthood. This year is dedicated, in a special way, to the great Saint John Vianney: the patron of parish priests. I am fortunate to have been given his relic several years ago now, which I have with me for this Mass today. In this coming year, Mother Church will reflect upon one of the great gifts that Jesus her Lord has left us, in that he chooses sinful and frail men, and empowers them to bring His presence to the world. Our understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is one of those things that sets us apart as Catholics. Through this sacrament, Jesus is mysteriously still at work within His Church, for it is through the hands of a priest that He offers Himself to us through the Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments. These two sacraments - the priesthood and the Eucharist - are inseparably intertwined. For as Pope Benedict reminds us in his letter marking the beginning of this "Year of the Priest:" there would be no Eucharist without the priesthood. The Eucharist: in particular the aspect of Jesus' radical giving of self which we are reminded of there - is the model of the priest's life. In a world that seems to be all about self-gratification, the life of the priest is called to be a reminder that there is something more than just the here and now. The priest's life, the Church has reminded us, is a life that is meant to be touched in some way by sacrifice. Jesus reminds us, however, that it is in giving that we receive.

The Eucharist is also the model for what occurs through ordination. For just as in the Eucharist mere bread and wine are transformed into the very body and blood of the Lord, so too, through ordination, a frail and sinful human being is transformed in some mysterious way, into an icon of Jesus. When he sits in the confessional and says the words: "I absolve you of your sins" it is not he who speaks, but Jesus. When a priest walks into your hospital room when you are sick and dying, is it not Jesus Himself who enters that room to console and bless? This, for the priest, is the most humbling of realizations: that he ministers in the name and person of Christ.

Each of us, I would imagine, have a priest or two whom we think of often, who may have touched our lives in some special way. Perhaps he was there in some time of need or during some tragedy in our life. Perhaps he served as a role model or in some way inspired us to become who we are today. Pray for that priest. Pray that God may preserve him in his ministry and give him confidence and courage to proclaim the gospel in a world that so often doesn't want to hear it. If he is deceased, pray that God might overlook his failures and give him the reward of his goodness in this life.

We have traditionally spoken of the priest as "alter Christus" - "another Christ." This understanding, I believe, is essential for us to reinforce in the Church and world today. In a world where, sadly as a result of our own tragic failures, the priesthood has been so badly tarnished, we need to remind ourselves of the holiness that is called for in the priest, as well as in the Church. This isn't a false holiness - some sort of plastic piety. No, it is an authentic joy and love for God and the Church. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what a priest is called to witness to: the love of God in Christ Jesus. For it is out of love for God that a priest is called to do everything that he does. It is the reason he is able to answer the phone call to rush to the hospital at 3 in the morning. It is the reason he can accept the obligations of prayer, obedience, and celibacy: out of love for God in Christ Jesus, whose life he tries to imitate in a special way. It is the reason he is able to stand at this altar and say the words: "this is my body... this is my blood" - precisely because his life is meant to be so closely linked to that of Jesus Himself. As Jesus gave His very life for us, the priest tries to give his life for you.

So as we begin this "Year of the Priest" pray for your priest. Pray that he may be given the ability to live up to the ideal of Jesus' life, which he is called to. As a man, he is beset by weakness. Pray that his human weaknesses might be overshadowed by the mercy of God. Pray as well for those who are called by God to serve as priests and religious. In a world which often mocks them, pray that they will be given the support of family and friends, that Christ may continue His priestly ministry through them.

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Matt1618 said...

Well done Father. I'll pray for YOU.

"Pray that God may preserve [you] in [your] ministry and give [you] confidence and courage to proclaim the gospel in a world that so often doesn't want to hear it... that [you] may be given the ability to live up to the ideal of Jesus' life, which [you are] called to. As a man, [we are] beset by weakness. [I'll] Pray that [your] human weaknesses might be overshadowed by the mercy of God."

"Pray for [me] as well [who am] called by God to serve as priests and religious...pray that [I] will be given the support of family and friends, that Christ may continue His priestly ministry through [me]."