Mass for Deceased Priests
Lady Chapel, Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Nov. 18, 2019
The Grain of Wheat That Dies
Through the parable of the vine and the branches, Jesus portrayed his closeness to his disciples. Not only did he choose them but he called them friends. So close was his relationship with them that they were joined to him, just as branches are connected to the vine, the vine from which they draw their life. But that relationship of discipleship and friendship was not a private privilege. Rather, Jesus appointed his disciples to go forth and to bear good fruit, “fruit that will remain”, the good fruit of the Gospel. Elsewhere, Jesus speaks of the harvest, the bountiful harvest of the Gospel, a harvest to be ingathered by a relatively few laborers.
The Scripture readings chosen for this Mass tell us how this good fruit, this abundant harvest comes about. Indeed, it is Jesus who sets the pattern for this unceasing spring and harvest. He is the seed, the grain of wheat, who fell to the ground and died as he laid down his life in love for the salvation of the world. Like a seed buried in the earth, the crucified Lord was raised from the dead, and thus became the Source of eternal salvation for one and for all. Jesus, crucified and risen, is the Source of the good fruit we are to produce, that abundant harvest we are called to gather.
The Pattern to be Reproduced in Us
But we can bear good fruit and gather the harvest only to the degree that the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection is reproduced in us. In the Gospel Jesus lays down a bedrock principle of the Christian life: “Whoever loves his life will lose it and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” This is a bedrock principle not only for those of us who are priests but for married people, single people, and people in consecrated life. All are called to lead lives that are shaped and patterned after the Cross, the Cross on which hung the Savior of the world.
St. Paul says as much in his letter to the Romans where he speaks of our being baptized into the death of Jesus and “indeed buried with him through baptism into death . . . so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” This signals a life to be lived, not for oneself and one’s interests, but rather a life to be lived for Jesus and for others, a life that is a continual paschal mystery, a pattern of dying and rising, until we are truly formed in that self-giving love characteristic of the saints.
We who are priests participate in this mystery according to our state in life. We are joined to Christ the priest by a special sacramental bond so that, day after day, we can reproduce the paschal mystery both on the altar and in our daily lives. Indeed, the self-giving and life-giving love of Jesus that we celebrate at the altar must be the unending source of the self-giving love we are called upon to offer the people we are privileged to serve. St. Paul frames this love in terms of a marriage – Christ’s marriage to the Church… the Church, his Bride, whom he loves and for whom he laid down his life (Eph. 5:25).
Pastoral experience teaches us that these are not mere high-sounding words. Like married couples who struggle to make a go of their marriages or like consecrated persons who must search for their place in the community, we priests also know what it means to toil in the Lord’s vineyard, and while the harvest is abundant, we know that often it is not easily gathered, most especially in these days in which we find ourselves. At times we might be tempted to give in to discouragement, when, in fact, the challenges of these days should prompt you and me to seek a deeper union with the crucified and risen Lord and prompt us to ask for the grace to reproduce all the more clearly in our lives and ministries the cruciform pattern of his self-giving love. In a word, we who are shepherds need to be shepherded by the One who walks with us through the dark valley and gives us courage. Indeed, we must allow the Good Shepherd to lead us to personal holiness especially by taking time each day for prayer and by frequenting spiritual direction and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Those Whom We Remember
This evening we remember our brother priests who died in the year just ending, even as we remember in love all our brother priests who have gone home to the Lord in the long, two-hundred and thirty year history of our local Church. We have shared friendship and fraternity with such priests and in so many ways they have encouraged us along the way. We have seen them lay down their lives for Christ and for others, maybe not in a spectacular act of martyrdom but rather day by day, with great fidelity and persevering love. They have died and the seed of their life and priesthood has been buried, not in the barren earth but in the rich soil of the Gospel. Therefore, we have every hope that they share in the very victory that they spent their lives proclaiming, celebrating, and sharing with others. May they rest in peace!
Those Whom We Honor
Later on we will honor brother priests who celebrate significant anniversaries. To tell you the truth, as I grow older, every anniversary is significant but it is good for us to celebrate significant milestones in priestly ministry, not as an endurance contest, but rather as a span of time in which the Lord has blessed and sustained their ministry, imparted to them invaluable pastoral experience, and worked in them and through them for the salvation of his people. And so to you, our “anniversarians” – our thanks, our admiration, our prayers. And may the Lord bless us and keep us always in his love!