May 31, 2014
St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton
May 31, 2014
The most important and the most humbling title for the bishop is “successor of the apostles.” And certainly one of the most important and most humbling responsibilities for the bishop is to ordain new priests. And so we gather in our Cathedral, Mother Church of the Diocese, bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, consecrated religious, members of the faithful to pray for these six men and to witness their ordination as priests of the Diocese of Trenton on this glorious day.
This occasion is certainly one of great joy for them and for their parents, families and friends. It is also a moment of gratitude! Those of us who are priests cannot help but think back on our own ordinations, when we sat as they do now with all the hopes and dreams that lay before us. We want to whisper in their ears the words of Christ, “be not afraid” … “put all your trust and confidence in Him.
But this profound moment of sacramental celebration is not simply for us priests, new or old or in-between or about to be. No, ordination to the priesthood is significant for the entire Church, for the whole community of faith, for all of you. Through the laying on of my hands, at Christ’s command, and the offering of the consecratory prayer, at the Church’s direction, these six men will become the “laborers for the harvest” prayed for in the Gospel today. Matthew tells us that when Jesus looked around at the crowd “his heart was moved with pity … for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Today the Church in the Diocese of Trenton witnesses the fulfillment of the God’s promise contained in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart who shall feed you with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3: 15).” St. John Vianney, patron of diocesan priests, reminds us that “the priesthood is nothing more than the heart of Jesus Christ,” beating loudly and ceaselessly among and for the people of God so that they are no longer “like sheep without a shepherd.”
I told these newest shepherds of the flock last week as I was privileged to give them their ordination retreat, today you are seminarians and everyone loves you and encourages you and gives you a hearty pat on the back and a loving pinch on the cheek. Next week, after your ordination, people in the Church will expect you to know everything! But, guess what? You won’t! You still have much to learn. And who will teach you? Don’t worry. They will.
In his homily at this year’s Chrism Mass in Rome, Pope Francis told the priests gathered there:
… priestly joy is deeply bound up with God’s holy and faithful people, for it is an eminently missionary joy. Our anointing is meant for anointing God’s holy and faithful people …And since this joy is one which only springs up when the shepherd is in the midst of his flock --- for even in the silence of his prayer, the shepherd who worships the Father is with his sheep --- , it is a “guarded joy”, watched over by the flock itself. … they are able to protect you, to embrace you and to help you open your heart to find renewed joy (Pope Francis, Chrism Mass Homily, April 17, 2014).
My sons, my brothers, The Letter to the Hebrews in our second reading tells today that, like Christ, you have been “taken from among men and made their representative before God to make offer gifts” --- whose gifts? Their gifts and your own as well! “To offer sacrifice for sin”--- whose sin? Their sins and your own as well! So, “deal patiently with the ignorant and those who err, for the priest himself is weak.” The priesthood will be yours but not for you alone. Offer “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” Be “heard because of your reverence.” “Learn obedience through what you suffer” --- and you will suffer as you become the “source of eternal salvation.”
But what does that mean? Our first reading from the Book of Isaiah, quoted much later by the Lord Jesus himself when he returned home to the synagogue in Nazareth, tells us that the Spirit of the Lord is upon you. He has anointed you “to bring glad tidings, good news to the poor” --- preach well and carefully and with joy. “Heal the broken hearted” --- forgive sins with gentleness and mercy and wise counsel. “Proclaim liberty and release to the prisoners” --- speak truth to those who are enslaved by relativism and doubt and ambiguity and held captive by this world and its attachment to falsehood and vanity and violence. “Place a crown of jewels on the heads of God’s people” instead of the thorns of shame and guilt and worthlessness that this world proposes. Give to those who are listless or marginalized or burdened “the oil of gladness” and joy that Christ alone, “whose heart was moved with pity,” the Christ alone can give.
This message, this mission, this ministry is for you who are about to be ordained on this day when our Blessed Mother was visited by the Angel, as it is for all of us who are and have been priests, shepherds after Christ’s own given to God’s holy people. Now, listen, as the Church, “ever ancient, ever new,” tells you how.