Ordination of Robert Katafiasz
Basilica of the Assumption
Dec. 14, 2018
In a roundabout way, the Gospel just proclaimed reminds us of Peter’s three-fold betrayal of Christ. Peter boasted that he would defend Christ even unto death, but when the time came, his fear and weakness got the better of him. As Lord was sentenced to death, Peter swore three times that he was not his follower, indeed, that he did not know who Jesus was. Then as now, Jesus was no stranger to fear, weakness, and betrayal even among those whom he appoints to lead and guide his Church. We who are shepherds must be the first to seek his forgiveness.
It was the Risen Lord, betrayed three times by Peter, who asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” The symmetry of his three-fold denial and Jesus’ three-fold question was not lost on Peter. When Jesus asked a third time, “Do you love me?” Peter grew agitated. “You know everything, Lord, you know that I love you!” Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.”
If we were to quiet our souls even for a brief time, we too would hear Jesus’ question and Peter’s answer. We may even feel Peter’s agitation as Jesus persists in asking us, “Do you love me?” We too would protest, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!” Yet, as St. John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, famously said, “In the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.”
Tend My Sheep
Robert, let us regard this joyous day of priestly ordination not as the evening of your life but rather the dawn of a life of priestly service. The reason you requested that this particular Gospel be read at your ordination was precisely because your desire to tend the Lord’s flock, the People of God, to nourish them with the Word of God and to sustain them with the Lord’s Body and Blood. Therefore, let us pay close attention to what the Lord said Peter. For the way Peter was to make reparation for his previous betrayals and to demonstrate his abiding love for the Savior was to “feed [his] lambs”, to “tend [his] sheep”, to “feed [his] sheep.”
Peter himself seems to reflect on this encounter with the Risen Lord, when, in our second reading, he says to you, Rob, and to all of us who would serve the Church in ordained ministry: “Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing it not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, and not for shameful profit but eagerly.”
Reflecting on these words, Robert, we begin to get some idea of what it means to love and to nurture the People of God whom you will be privileged to serve. It is a task to be taken up not grudgingly but generously, including those aspects of ministry that are less appealing and those which jolt us “out of our comfort zone”, as Pope Francis would say. Generous service often means taking on assignments that are not of our choosing. It means continuing to bear humble witness to the Lord, to evangelize, even when it is inconvenient and unwelcome, as often it is these days. The priestly ministry, if embraced generously, will push us to our limits.
Peter also reminds you, Robert, that such generosity of spirit extends to the very motives for undertaking priestly ministry in the first place. He rules out those ulterior motives that can so easily lurk beneath the surface, motives that have to do more with our own comfort, prestige, and wellbeing than with the good of God’s People, the flock we are to serve. This morning, before me and before the Church, you will today pledge obedience, celibate chastity, as also a style of life in keeping with the Gospel. See this not as a mere requirement for ordination but as a pledge to live the priesthood solely for God’s glory and the salvation of souls. See this pledge as a response to the Lord’s haunting question, “Do you love me!”
As usual, it is St. Augustine who sets the Lord’s words in sharpest relief. “Do you love me? Tend my sheep. Surely this means, [Augustine says] “If you love me, your thoughts must focus on taking care of my sheep, not taking care of yourself.” It is as if the Lord himself were to say to you, Robert: “Tend them as mine, not yours; seek in them my glory, not yours; my sovereign rights, not yours; my gain, not yours.” Thus, day by day, will prove your love for the Savior.
How To Tend the Flock of God
But how is it that you will tend the flock of God? What does it mean for you, in the power of the Spirit and in the very Person of Christ, to serve God’s People with wholehearted sincerity and generosity of spirit? Did not the Lord answer that question as he stood in the synagogue of Nazareth to deliver an inaugural homily rooted in the words of Isaiah the prophet?
If you would tend the flock of God, lovingly and generously, you must allow the Spirit of God to take possession of your very life. By ordination, you are sacramentally anointed by the Spirit to preach God’s Word: let the Spirit infuse his Word in your heart, place it upon your lips, and send you forth to deliver this Word to the brokenhearted – to those who are disillusioned, to those coping with personal tragedy, to those who are wounded – physically, psychologically, spiritually.
Ask the Holy Spirit daily to send you out each day to proclaim liberty to captives – to those held captive by sinful patterns of behavior, by addictions, by doubt. Bring to them in the Spirit & in the Person of Christ ‘the truth that will set them free.’ And to those held captive, that is, those incarcerated in our jails, but also incarcerated by violence, poverty, and injustice may you bring release. May you bring many to that freedom, relief, and hope found only in the Lord when you preach words of ‘spirit and life’, when you baptize and forgive sins, when you minister to the sick and dying, when you prepare couples for marriage or help families stay together.
And in nurturing the people you will serve with the rich fare of God’s Word, you will also lead them to the table of the Lord, the banquet of his Sacrifice where they will receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. Ultimately this is how you will feed the Lord’s flock in love and this is also how you will be fed as a member of the Lord’s flock.
How we should rejoice, dear friends, on this eve of Gaudete Sunday. The Lord is near and we are ordaining a man who will bring the Lord near to us! If most of us priests, Rob, could pick a day on which to say our First Mass, it might well have been Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, in which we rejoice in the nearness of the Lord. May the entirety of your priesthood, the good days, bad days, and in-between days, be filled with joy of the Newborn Savior and the Holy Spirit, ad multos annos – and may God bless us and keep us always in his love!