Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
August 22, 2020
Amid the uncertainties of these days, the Lord’s love is our sure support. As we continue to cope with a pandemic, grapple with the sin of racism, and contend with human weakness, even within the ranks of the Church, the Lord lifts us up, reconciles us to himself and to one another, and sends us forth as messengers and ambassadors of his Gospel of truth and life.
Indeed, the care of our Good Shepherd for the Church of Baltimore is evident in the five young men who are being ordained today to the holy priesthood: Deacon Zach Crowley; Deacon Brendan Fitzgerald; Deacon Justin Gough; Deacon Evan Ponton; and Deacon Jeremey Smith. The Lord has shown his love and care for all of us by calling them to the priesthood, and by putting in their pathways those who would nurture their vocation and form them… humanly, intellectually, spiritually, and pastorally … for the work of ministry. I give thanks to the Lord for all of you who had a hand in their formation – family members, parish priests, seminary faculty members, the vocations office, classmates, and friends – thank you!
Now, dear brothers, we come to the moment of your priestly ordination. In preparation for this moment, so important for yourselves and for the Church, you have chosen Scripture readings that reflect the holy aspirations of your hearts, readings that speak of your readiness to imitate Christ’s sacrificial, self-giving love, readings that speak of your readiness to bring the Gospel to the margins of society, passages that speak of your role as ministers of the Lord’s reconciling love. Let us prayerfully reflect on what it is the Holy Spirit is saying to us in these readings, beginning with the very familiar words of Isaiah the prophet.
These words are familiar to us because they are read at every Chrism Mass and because Jesus repeated Isaiah’s words in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. Here, Jesus proclaimed that he was anointed by the Holy Spirit (as indeed he was at his Baptism in the Jordan River) and sent to proclaim the Good News to the poor and the downtrodden. In Jesus, Isaiah’s prophecy was more than fulfilled.
Now, Isaiah’s words are about to be fulfilled in you, dear brothers. For through the imposition of my hands and the anointing with Chrism, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, just as he descended upon Christ in the Jordan. Acting in and through my ministry, the Holy Spirit will fashion in your soul the living image of Christ the high priest, sent forth by the Father to preach the Good News and to lay down his life in sacrificial love for the forgiveness of our sins.
Henceforth, ‘the love of Christ will impel you’. Filled with the Holy Spirit you will go forth as did Jesus “to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to prisoners.” Dear brothers, you chose this reading because you are rightly convinced that the Lord is sending you “to the poor, the weak, and the downtrodden, to those forgotten by society” … to those who are on the margins. In your daily prayer and ministry, nurture your love for those in need. Always be those priests who reach out in love to those who mourn the loss of loved ones, to those who are held captive by injustice, to those who are incarcerated or imprisoned by poverty, addiction, or fear. Open for them the door of faith; help them to encounter the God who loves them; and accompany them, through thick and thin, toward a future full of joy and hope. In loving the poor, you are loving Christ. In serving the poor, you are proclaiming Christ.
Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 10.
The psalm response you chose, Psalm 96, takes up where Isaiah left off: “Go out to the world and teach all nations.” The Father sent Jesus into the world to proclaim glad tidings to the poor. So too Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is sending you into the world and your mandate is nothing less than to “teach all nations”. As you settle into your first parish, that mandate may seem overly broad, but if we pay attention to Pope Francis, we can see how it applies to you and me.
Pope Francis continually speaks of the joy of the Gospel just as Psalm 96 urges us to “sing to the Lord a new song!” Our Holy Father speaks about announcing the Gospel boldly, and Psalm 96 commands, “announce his salvation day after day!” The Pope speaks about bringing the Gospel beyond our comfort zone, and Psalm 96 presses us to proclaim the name of the Lord “among the nations” – that is to say, among those who are neither in our pews nor of our Faith, nor particularly well-disposed to the message we are commissioned to share.
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
As priests, you will encounter people in need and accompany them along life’s journey, but you will also lead them, with the love of the Good Shepherd … you will lead them towards the sacramental life of the Church – to Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation. For it is in and through these sacraments (of which you will be the ministers), that the words of St. Paul in our reading from 2 Corinthians have their effect. St. Paul proclaims that Christ died to save all of us through his Death and Resurrection, that is, the Paschal Mystery. The Apostle further proclaims that we are called to share a death like that of Christ, which is to say, we are to share in the victory our Redeemer won over sin and death … What’s more, sharing this victory, we are to live differently, no longer for ourselves but for Christ and for our neighbor. Here St. Paul gives us a thumbnail sketch of the Christian life, that “newness of life” you will seek to inculcate in yourselves and others.
As priests, you will bring Christ to people and people to Christ. In the celebration of the Mass and the Sacraments, you will, as it were, apply the power of Christ’s Resurrection to people’s lives, inserting them into the Paschal Mystery through Baptism; nurturing them spiritually by providing the Eucharist, the Banquet of Christ’s Sacrifice. As confessors, you will be ambassadors and agents of Christ’s reconciling love, bringing healing, hope, and renewed joy to those whose sins you shall forgive in the Person of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In a word, you are to be ministers, representatives, and agents of Jesus Christ, “the only name in heaven or on earth by which we are saved”.
And how appropriate that you chose as today’s Gospel Jesus’ words: “I AM the Good Shepherd…who lays down his life for the sheep… the Good Shepherd who works not for pay but out of love… the Good Shepherd who knows and loves us better than we know and love ourselves. For your ministry of Word and Sacrament is also a ministry of pastoral charity. You are called, not only to proclaim Christ’s sacrificial love, and not only to re-present his love in the celebration of the liturgy, but indeed you are called to manifest the love of the Good Shepherd in the rough and tumble of daily ministry … You may not have to lay down your life physically for the sake of those you serve, but you will find, as every good and generous priest does, that each day you will spend yourself utterly for the people you serve – praying for them earnestly before the Blessed Sacrament, serving your parish family as wise, loving, and gentle confessors, leading a life of simplicity and single-hearted love, bearing their burdens as if they were you own, and dealing patiently and lovingly with them, in wisdom and holiness, just as the Lord, the Good Shepherd deals with us.
Mary Our Queen
Dear brothers, in this moment of intense grace and joy, I entrust you and your priestly ministry to Mary our Queen. You are ordained on the patronal feast of this great Cathedral Church of Baltimore and I am confident that through the intercession of Mary Our Queen, you and the people you will serve will so share in the saving death of her Son that one day you and they will reign with Christ and with Mary in heaven.
And may God bless you and keep you always in his love!