28 May 2014

Nine years ago today

It seems hard to believe that nine years ago today, the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, then Bishop of Springfield in Illinois and now Archbishop of Omaha, ordained seven men to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ: Fathers B. Thomas Donovan, Michael Haag, T. Joseph Havrilka, Aloysius Ndeanaefo, Jeffrey Stone, Daniel Willenborg, and me. Such a large "class" of new priests (the largest the Diocese saw in more than twenty-five years), he said, provided hope for the local Church:
The altars at which God’s people come seeking the presence of Christ will not be abandoned. God’s people will not be left starving for the Word and the Bread of Life. At the altar, in the pulpit, in the confessional, and on the streets, you will recognize your sons, your brothers, your friends. Our new priests come right from your families and from your towns and your parishes. You have helped them, helped form them in faith, hope and love.
When I composed A Prayer for More Priests through the intercession of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton, I had these words in mind.

In his homily that day (which can be read in full here), Archbishop Lucas reminded us that Pope - now Saint - John Paul II "told us [all of us] that we should become saints," and, "more importantly," he said,
he demonstrated in so many ways that it’s something that can be done. It doesn’t require money or good looks. It does require integrity and courage. Even in the face of great adversity – and especially then – we can follow Jesus, we can grow in holiness, we can change the world, even as we are being transformed ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I do not know if I am holier now than I was when I was ordained, but I hope I am and that, by the grace of God, I may become holier yet and I may help others to grow in holiness.

Archbishop Lucas told the seven of us that answering the Lord's call to be his priests "doesn’t take good looks or money or all the things that seem to add celebrity in our time." What is does take, he said, is integrity and courage:
If you live with integrity and preach the Gospel courageously, people will listen, people will notice. As they did with Pope John Paul, some will certainly object to what you say and to what you do, but you will change the world, even as you are being changed and being conformed more and more to Christ the High Priest.
Over the course of these few years I have found his caveat to be true; not everyone wants to change, not everyone ones to grow in holiness. Nevertheless, he address excellent counsel to us at the beginning of our priestly ministry:

My dear brothers in Christ about to be ordained, I exhort you, as the Lord himself exhorts you: feed the flock of Christ. Care for the people who have shown already and will continue to show such special care for you. Feed them, feed us, with the Word of God and with the rich tradition of Catholic teaching. After your own study and prayer, help us to recognize both the blessings and the challenges of the present age so that we can respond to them in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Nourish God’s people with the Liturgy of the Church. Give special care to your celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy and give special energy to making straight the paths that lead people to the altar. Help us not to be indifferent to this communion with and in the Risen Christ.

Be ready every moment to extend the mercy of God in Jesus to those who suffer the guilt of their own sins, as well as those who have been hurt by the sins of others. Be humble enough to admit that some have been hurt by the sins of bishops and priests. Give special care to anyone who carries a heavy burden or who has become isolated. Jesus has a special affection for them and you should, too.
Please, pray for me and for my brother priests, that we may always feed  and nourish you; that we may help you to respond to the challenges of the present age; that we may make straight the ways to the altar; and that we may extend God's mercy to all who seek it with sincere hearts.

Here in Rome, away from so many of you who have shown me so much love and care over the years, who have helped form me in faith, hope, and love, my heart wells up with humble appreciation. I cannot adequately thank you for all you have done for me or for all the affection you have shown me. Words fail and tears form in my eyes. I can only simply say: Thank you.

As I find myself this evening missing so many of my family and friends with whom I would like to share the joy of this day, it warms my heart to know that in just over a month I will be back home in Quincy and will spend about five weeks in the Diocese, where I hope to see many of you again.

Until then, please know that you will remembered this evening at the altar of the Lord when I offer the Holy Mass in gratitude to God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon me through a sharing in the priesthood of his only Son and our Lord. God bless you all!

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