Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Priests’ Convocation; Mass of the Holy Spirit

Priests’ Convocation
Mass of the Holy Spirit
Liberty Mountain Resort
Fairfield, PA
October 12, 2022


Dear brothers in the Lord, some of you may remember that today’s readings are the same ones that were proclaimed at a convocation several years ago. On that occasion, I asked Bishop Madden if he had done any of the bad stuff that Paul mentions in the reading from Galatians. Denis replied, “only sorcery.”

Perhaps our having the same readings is just a coincidence, or perhaps the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something, both as individuals and as a presbyterate, possibly something like this: What is the happiness, the joy, the contentment that we, as priests, seek? What gets up in the morning? What makes it all seem worthwhile? As Msgr. Rossetti spoke to us, one of you asked about the definition of happiness. For us as unique individuals, the answer to that question tends to be subjective. But as members of our Baltimore presbyterate, as part of a collegium of priests called to be one in proclaiming the kerygma, we cannot answer the happiness question apart from the Holy Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit telling us about happiness? Where to we find it? And how can we squander it?

The Trouble with Sarx

In the opening lines of today’s reading from Galatians, St. Paul enumerates “the works of the flesh” – and they are cringeworthy: “Immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like” … leaving one to wonder what if anything Paul left off this list. Actually, Paul’s list is not entirely complete, I’m sorry to say. To round out his list, we should include the self-righteous attitudes of the Scribes and Pharisees that Jesus condemns in the Gospel. Even though the Scribes and Pharisees were not priests, today we might label their smugness as a form of clericalism, or to use Pope Francis’ phrase, “a spiritual worldliness.”

As priests, we are not insulated from these works of the flesh. For starters, we encounter them in the confessional and pastoral counseling. For another, we sometimes encounter these things in ourselves and among ourselves, and we are continually bedeviled, you and I, by the moral darkness of the past. For all the steps that have been taken to address the abuse crisis, it continues to haunt us, like some recurring nightmare. That we are as happy and content as we are, is something of a miracle of grace.

As for all the works of the flesh, let me state the obvious. We know only too well that they promise happiness but deliver misery. They masquerade as a form of self-love but quickly turn into self-loathing. They promise freedom and fulfillment but instead enslave and consume, and in the process, inflict grave harm on others. Indeed, the works of the flesh are the mirror opposite of the self-giving love which prompts us to greet each new day with hope and joy.

The Fruits of the Spirit

Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And how beautiful and life-giving they are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Taken together, the fruits of the Holy Spirit constitute a definition of happiness that we, as a presbyterate, can unite in embracing. It is our collective definition of happiness, of that foundational joy that perdures even when things on the surface are difficult, irksome, and sometimes tragic. And when our priestly lives are bearing these good fruits of the Spirit, then it is that we are credible witnesses to Gospel we are charged to proclaim.

In one sense, these fruits are virtues to be acquired by repeated effort. In another sense, they are the outgrowth of our life in the Spirit: our daily prayer, our searching the Scriptures, our intimacy with the Eucharistic Lord, our ministries of priestly service and their never-ending demands on our time and energy. In a most profound sense, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are a gift. Here I’m not confusing the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit! I am only saying that the joy, peace, patience, and big-heartedness that we want to characterize our priestly lives – are the result of grace, the grace of the Holy Spirit coursing through the soul of our presbyterate.

What blocks the flow of the Spirit through our collective arteries? When a critical mass of our number embraces the works of the flesh, then the witness of every priest is dimmed in eyes of our people, as these past decades have demonstrated so painfully. Yet, there are more subtle ways to congest our collective arteries. These include a tendency to domesticate the Holy Spirit, to reduce the work of the Holy Spirit to making of us “better persons”. But the Spirit is a consuming fire that seeks to burn away whatever in us is contrary to the Gospel, including the “sarxy” compromises we make, so that our hearts can be ablaze with the glory of God shining on the face of Christ.

While the work of the Spirit takes place in each of our hearts, the Spirit seems to work best when we welcome him collectively into our midst. This means being together, being able to converse with one another honestly, this means praying together, and it means bearing patiently with one another, recognizing that we are and shall always be a work in progress, until we are heaven. The witness that we give before the world is not a smug holiness. We are instead, as a presbyterate, on our way, invested in what we preach, continually undergoing conversion, continually ready to begin anew. When we give this kind of collective witness, we are trustworthy, credible.

It Can Be Done

If all this seems to be unrealistic, unreachable, hovering at 30,000 feet, perhaps you and I have only to recall brother priests of Baltimore who have been “bright lights”, beacons of the Spirit, in our midst. The one who comes most readily to mind is Art Valenzano with whom I was privileged to live for three years, and whom I dearly miss. But I also think of a good priest like Henry Kunkle whose self-effacing ministry bore great fruit in the lives of his parishioners, and, of course, Joe Luca, whom we just commended to the Lord. Each of you can name many more such priests.

So let us join in this Eucharist, asking for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. May the Spirit unite us in charity here at the table of the Lord and in the joys and challenges of the ministry to which we’ve dedicated our lives. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.