02 June 2010

"This day isn't about any of us"

This past Saturday His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, ordained Paul Kala and Stephen Thompson to the priesthood in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.
Cardinal George asked the Reverend Monsignor Carl A. Kemme, Diocesan Administrator, to preach at the ordination. His homily was quite good and the text of it follows, with my emphases:

When Cardinal George called to ask if I would deliver the homily at this ordination Mass, I experienced a few moments of understandable apprehension; after all, preaching before a Cardinal, an Archbishop and of course all our priests makes a simple priest like myself pause, but fairly soon I agreed and I did so mostly because I knew that I could begin these thoughts this morning in any better way than by extending to your Eminence our profound thanks for many blessings you bring to us: For your extraordinary leadership in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, for leading so ably in the Province of Chicago, and in particular for your care and concern for us in the Diocese of Springfield over these past months as we have waited and prepared for our new bishop. His Eminence will not remember this, but many years ago, when I was a young student at St. Henry’s Prep Seminary in Belleville, one day a buzz if you will was all through the seminary, for on that day, a younger, Fr. Francis George was coming from Rome to visit the Oblate Community. I recall seeing you, your Eminence in the little chapel on the seminary grounds and quite frankly mused to myself: what the buzz was all about. Now I know, for there is a buzz today in this Diocese as you come here to graciously ordain our brothers to the Sacred Priesthood. So for all of that and for your personal kindness to me and to this Diocese, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

But having said all of this, we know full well, that today is not about a Cardinal or Bishop. This day isn’t about any of us, who are priests, not even about you Stephen and Paul, although you are at the center of why we gather in this Cathedral this morning. No. This day, as is every ordination, be it of deacons, or priests, or bishops, is about Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and man, the Priest, the only priest, who since the night before he died for us, has called rather ordinary men to an extraordinary life and mission, to be his hands, his mind, his heart, to share, as unworthy as we know we are, in the mission of Jesus, as teacher, shepherd, and priest.

As we know, in a few weeks, the universal Church will conclude the Year for Priests, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. It has been a deeply reflective, prayerful and yes even challenging year for priests around the world. All throughout this year of grace, as we have led our people and ourselves to deeper understanding of the life and ministry of the ordained priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI has held up for us again and again, the model of priestly life and virtue, that of St. John Vianney; I am proud to pastor the parish in this diocese under his patronage and intercession, although I fall miserably short of the high standards his priestly life and ministry exemplified. Not unlike our own times, Jean Vianney lived his priesthood at a time when the Church was seen by most as irrelevant. But it was in such a context that John Vianney stepped onto the scene, rolled up his sleeves and won soul after soul, for Christ. He did it first of all by conforming his own life in every detail to the person of Jesus, with intense prayer, fasting, unswerving preaching, and a daily Sacramental life that gave him the legendary strength he needed to be a priest’s priest. In short, he imitated all that he celebrated, which is what the Church invites each of us to do on the day of our ordination.

My brothers, Stephen and Paul, today you stand at the beginning of your priestly life and ministry. You have heard the call of the Good Shepherd, “Come follow me” and you have responded selflessly and generously by entrusting the remainder of your life to him and to his mission. In the ancient gesture of prostration to be done in a few moments, you will lay down your lives for Christ and his flock as he laid down his life for us. Again and again, you will be asked to surrender your will, with all your hopes and dreams, plans and desires, to his. I pray that you will rarely utter the words: NO I WON’T, as the Church asks whatever it needs from you, unless what is asked of you is beyond your human strength or God forbid some cooperation with evil, for only in surrendering your will, will you know a more perfect joy and satisfaction, a mysterious and powerful freedom, that comes from putting your hand to the plow with Christ and never looking back. Let John Vianney teach and inspire you to daily offer yourselves with Christ on the altar of your mass; to remove any semblance of your person, allowing Christ to hear and respond through you in the confessional, to resist all manner of pride and honor, giving to God all the glory that comes through your ministry, as you preach, teach, and sanctify God’s holy people.

To my brother priests in this presbyter ate I want and need to invite something very important from us. These men to be ordained are a gift to us, gifts not to be taken for granted, but cherished and honored. It behooves us to offer them and those who come after them, in union with our bishop and his successors, a presbyterate that is healthy, supportive and joyful. To that end, I would humbly submit that we have work to do. We cannot afford to allow them or any of us, to be subject to the destructive forces strong in our world today, which have gripped far too many priests in our church, the evil that is isolation, the inclination to cynicism, or the abandonment of the hopes and dreams of the Church for us, in exchange for spiritual apathy and moral indifference. Rather, with courage and love we must invite them and ourselves to stand firm in the faith, to unite in a stronger bond of prayerful and priestly fraternity and to together become saints for nothing less is expected of us as priests after the mind and heart of the Good Shepherd.

We gather today in this beautiful Cathedral dedicated to Mary, the Immaculate Conception. No one rejoices more in heaven and on earth when new priests are born in the Church than our Blessed Mother. We hear the words of the Lord uttered from the cross millennia ago, Behold your Mother, for she truly is Mother of God and Mother of Priests and just as we would want to please our earthly mothers, so we should always desire to please her and in pleasing her, to please Christ. May these men to be ordained this day and all of us with whom they are joined in this presbyterate, receive Mary’s Mantle of loving protection, as we continue to lay down our lives in union with her Son, Jesus Christ, who is teacher, shepherd and priest.

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