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Priesthood Ordination

Cathedral of Mary Our Queen

The most humbling task of a bishop, and at the same time a great joy and privilege, is to ordain a priest for service to the Church. It is humbling because it is a moment when the power of Jesus uses a weak human instrument to continue what Jesus did on the night before the died, insuring that his great sacrifice, offered once for all on the Cross on Good Friday, would continue to be with his people.

So many of you here have helped bring these deacons to the altar of ordination today. To parents and other family members, to priests, teachers, seminary professors and schoolmates, to friends and associates, I express the thanks of the Archdiocese for your special role. Later, I shall speak in greater detail. Also, I want to call attention to a step that makes today’s Ordination Mass more like other Masses: there will be a collection, and the ordination class has determined that the collection will be divided into three parts, one-third for the education of future priests, one-third for our inner city schools, and one-third for the needs of the Cathedral Church we are privileged to use today.

Those to be ordained today have chosen the readings from the word of God that give a color, a flavor, a sense of what is to happen here in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. The Church as well, through the extraordinary ministry of Pope John Paul H, to whom the deacons referred in their presentation to me, has made a contribution. As I reflected on the readings, on what this class has said to me about their own devotion to Our Lady, and on the priesthood itself, it struck me that there is an amazing parallel between their suggestions and the new Mysteries of Light proposed by the Holy Father for the recitation of the Rosary, that prayer to Mary which is an extended reflection on the Gospels. These Luminous Mysteries focus on the public life of Jesus, the model for the priestly life of those to be ordained today.

(Isaiah 61:1-3) The ordination class has quoted for me the words of the Holy Father about the Chrism Mass when the oils of the Sacraments are blessed, including the oil with which their hands are to be anointed this morning: "[Jesus] stands at the center of the Liturgy of the Chrism Mass when the oils are blessed that will bring the balm of grace to God’s People. In his anointing, Christ gathers in unity all who share his consecration: the baptized, the confirmed, the ordained. He is united with each one by the anointing in the power of the Spirit, whom He has given us in the Easter Triduum of His sacrifice; in His cross, death and resurrection, when He ‘freed us from our sins and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.’ (Rev 1:5-6)"

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah was quoted by Jesus at the outset of his own preaching. His anointing took place at the Jordan River. It was a crucial moment now remembered in the first of the Mysteries of Light of the Rosary, in the baptism that is the moment when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and then led him into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Jesus faced these various tests and thus gave to his disciples in every age an example of what the power of God’s grace can mean in their, indeed, in our own lives.

Then Jesus moved on to proclaim the Good News through his preaching and teaching, something the priests ordained today are called to do. Even more, they are called to be messengers of light, to heal the broken hearted and to set captives free through the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation and help them to bear the cross of suffering through their pastoral counseling. The Gospel itself is a comforting message for all people, but especially for the poor and the oppressed, who need to hear how much God loves them in the midst of a world with no time or heart for what is of the spirit Their preaching must be an inviting, joyous call to live the virtues of faith, hope and love and to do the works of mercy and of justice.

The second "luminous" mystery takes us to Cana of Galilee, where Jesus worked the first of his miraculous signs at the request of his Mother, changing the water into wine for those invited to the wedding feast. For the very ordinary people at the feast, the Lord did this favor, a symbol also of how human love could be suffused and uplifted by the grace of God’s blessing, of divine love itself. Pope John Paul II reminds us that "the revelation made directly by the Father at the Baptism in the Jordan ... is placed upon Mary’s lips at Cana and it becomes the great maternal counsel which Mary addresses to the Church of every age: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ (Jn. 2:5)" (John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 21, p. 31)

(2 Corinthians 5:14-20) The Third Mystery of Light considers how Jesus proclaimed the presence of the Kingdom of God and invited all to conversion, away from creatures and to the Creator. Thus, we are not surprised to find in the second reading, St. Paul writing to the Corinthians to remind them and us, "The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all ... so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." The Apostle Paul is in fact proclaiming the Kingdom of God and calling all to conversion, "to no longer live for themselves." For the priest this conversion implies a readiness to be and to act in the person of Christ, to put on Christ, as St. Paul exhorts in another place. In the person of Christ, the priest acts in unity with Jesus who suffered, died and rose for us. He acts in unity with his bishop and with his brother priests in service to God’s people. Like Jesus, the priest trusts in the loving Providence of the Father as he becomes a co-worker with bishop and presbyterate in the ongoing mystery of service and reconciliation.

Furthermore, the priest lives the grace of conversion through his humble, faithful prayer before the Lord and through his walking in the way of penance, of the spiritual self-denial that frees up energies for reaching out with the Gospel.

St. Paul speaks with the same fire and conviction as those others in the early Church who, though scattered from Jerusalem by persecution, did not complain about that but rather rejoiced that Jesus was risen - this was the heart of the message they lifted up. It will be the heart of the message preached by those ordained today.

The Fourth Mystery of Light is the Transfiguration, when, in an instant before the Apostles Peter, James and John, Jesus became radiant and splendid, as the Godhead’s glory touched and transformed his humanity. Such is the promise given by the Lord about the power of his grace, that it can have a truly transforming power in our lives. Such is the special role of our priests-to-be, as the Apostle said it in the reading: "So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God."

(Luke 22:14-20) The passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke sets forth the Fifth "Luminous" Mystery, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery. The deacons soon to be ordained priests affirmed to me that "the Eucharist must not only be a celebration of the Lord’s reconciling the world to himself. [but] it must also be lived by the priest on a daily basis."

In a few moments we shall witness the new priests receiving instructions:

  • "Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him." This shows that the priest is called to pray for and with the people.
  • "Know what you are doing." The priest must have a sense of the wonder, the awesome power and responsibility of what he undertakes in calling down and ministering the Living Christ.
  • "Imitate the mystery you celebrate." This is a renewed call to selfless giving.
  • "Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross." With faith the priest accepts the absurdity of the cross and abandons himself to Jesus crucified-who is to rise again and share his risen life with us.

In this Eucharist we unite with Jesus the one High Priest and with our new priests in praying that they may find in these challenges the same great joy that have animated priests in every generation going back to earliest days.