By now many of us have become familiar with Msgr. Weiss, the Pastor of St. Rose of Lima, in Newtown. He has truly exemplified the priesthood at its best in the way he and the young priests who serve with him reached out in love to the grieving families in his parish and in the community at large.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Msgr. Weiss comes from a wonderful family. As a matter of fact, he grew up here in Baltimore and promises to come visit me and to take me to his old neighborhood. Msgr. Weiss’ mother was a vivacious lady who took the faith seriously. Monsignor tells the story of how his mother would call her children on Sunday night and ask them point blank if they had attended Mass. That included her son, the priest! He’d protest, “Mom, I’ve been in church all day long!” but she would respond, “I’m just checking!”
‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ as the old saying goes, and so Msgr. Weiss has been sharing not only his own faith but something of his late mother’s deep commitment to the faith with his parishioners – nearly 4,000 families – in Newtown. And Msgr. Weiss’ siblings all practice the faith and are sharing the faith with their children and grandchildren as well.
II. The Role of the Family
I couldn’t think of a better congregation than this one in which to tell that story about Msgr. Weiss’ family. After all, it mainly through families that the faith is handed on from one generation to the next. And it is from faith-filled families such as yours that vocations to the priesthood often come.
Family life, as all of us know, is not always a bed of roses. Within every family there is quarreling and discord, at least from time to time, as well as host of worries pertaining to health, schooling, finances, and many other matters both great and small. Almost every family encounters deep sadness and tragedy at some point and many families find themselves coping with long term problems.
Yet, it is often in crucible of suffering that families really respond to the vocation of love that begins with baptism and blossoms with marriage. It is in the throes of difficulties, uncertainty, and illness that spouses are given the grace to make their lives a total gift to God and to one another – and to help their children also to respond to that vocation to love which comes with the sacrament of Baptism.
When a child is baptized, the priest or deacon says to the parents: “You will be the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith, may you be the best of teachers bearing witness to the faith by what you say & do.” So every parent is to ensure that their children know and practice the faith and that surely involves reinforcing what they learn in religious education and school. Most of all, though, it is the witness of their self-giving love that helps young people to embrace the faith, even if they stray for a time.
III. The Vocation to the Priesthood
I am probably not telling you any secret when I say that there are more than few good Catholic families that are not as open as they should be to the possibility that God might be calling one or more of their sons to the priesthood. This may be a journey you’ve taken or may still be undergoing. It is an understandable journey. After all, in spite of all the wonders surrounding the birth of Jesus, even Mary and Joseph did not fully grasp the unique vocation of their Son and they experienced no little measure of anxiety when, as a lad, he lingered in the temple to engage the teachers of Israel. Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to Mary and Joseph. But God also elicited from Joseph and especially from Mary a profound obedience that would one day lead her to the foot of the Cross.
It is commonly thought that the priesthood means giving up having a family, and, in a sense, that’s true. But in another sense, priests are called to embrace a larger family. It is not for nothing that we address a priest not as “mister” or “doctor” or even “reverend” but as “father”. A priest united with his spouse, the Church, begets and sustains a spiritual family. Like every spouse, the priest is called to make his life a gift to the Church and to all the members of his parish or whatever community he may be serving. He is called to bring forth in them the life of Christ and a harvest of genuine holiness. He is with his family in their ups and downs, amid their sins and sanctity, in their moments of joy and sadness, in their accomplishments and disappointments, and yes, when there is agreement and discord.
Perhaps the tragedy in Newtown brought this home to us so clearly. Last Saturday’s New York Times included an article which noted that all the families in Newtown who lost loves ones opted to have a religious funeral rather than a secular service. I don’t think the writer of that article was entirely pleased that such was the case but he had the intellectual honesty to point out how important ministry and religious faith was to those families in their hour of great sadness. The truth is that that we always need priests and priestly ministry not only to keep our parishes functioning but indeed to bless and sustain our families, whether in time of trouble or in the routine of daily life.
Seeing the parallels between the vocation of marriage and the priest vocation may indeed help us to see how the priesthood, including celibacy, is joyful and fruitful. No, your sons won’t run Microsoft or bring home a cache of adorable grandchildren, but that they will have many spiritual sons and daughters and the more they give themselves to the Lord and to their spiritual family that more you will experience a beautiful spiritual closeness to your sons, for the Lord more than rewards those who leave all behind for the sake of the Kingdom.
I am so happy to be with you on this Holy Family Sunday and I thank you for giving your sons the freedom to respond to a priestly vocation. You need to know that I am very proud of our seminarians, and that my brother bishops, priests, & I are praying and working hard to add to their number, so that the “Archdiocese of Baltimore” may be a joyful and vibrant spiritual family now and in the years ahead.
In this holy Mass let us ask the intercession of the Holy Family that we respond generously to the vocation to love that has been given to each of us!
May God bless you and keep you always in His love.