The Priesthood as the Continued Incarnation of Jesus’ Love, Fifth Thursday of Easter, May 22, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Catherine of Genoa Parish, Somerville, MA
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Tenth Anniversary Mass of Thanksgiving of Fr. Jason Worthley
May 22, 2014
Acts 15:7-21, Ps 96, Jn 15:9-11

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

Remaining in Jesus’ Love and Joy

Today in the Gospel, Jesus says the most important words in the history of the world. They’re important whenever anyone says them, but the fact that he said them in the way that he said them, and then reiterated them into his own body language the following afternoon on the Cross, makes them the most life-changing phrase ever: “I love you,” he tells us. We need to stop and ponder the reality of those words! “I love you!” But then Jesus puts them into a context that ought to astound us even more: “Just as the Father loves me, so I love you.” The Father loves him perfectly. The Father loves him intimately. And Jesus tells us that he loves us in that same way.

Grasping this reality is essential if we’re ever going to make sense out of life. “Man cannot live without love,” St. John Paul II wrote in his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis. “He remains a being who is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” This is true for love in general. We need the love of family, the love of friends, the spousal love of a husband or wife (either human or divine), the total self-giving love of someone who values us that much. Without it, we’re lost. We’re an enigma to ourselves. This sense of being loved and of finding ourselves in the self-giving love toward God and others is essential to unraveling the riddle who is every human person.

Then Jesus gives us the most important command of the Christian life. “Remain in my love.” As much as he loves us, he knows that many of us run away from that love, because that type of burning love can make us uncomfortable since we know we’re not worthy of it. That’s why Jesus gives us the imperative to abide in his love, to rest in it, to let it change us and become the defining characteristic of our life.

He next tells us how to remain in that love. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” All the law and the prophets, Jesus tells us, hang on the two fold commandment of loving God and neighbor and that’s why we can’t remain in his love if we’re violating the love that is contained in the commandments God has given us.

And finally Jesus tells us what remaining in his love leads to: “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” The fruit of love is joy. We see this all the time when people fall in love. Being loved and loving others in return changes people for the better and it’s hard to wipe the smile from their faces. But that type of loving joy we see in human relationships is supposed to be even more evident in our life of faith. Jesus has told us of his undying love for us and of the Father’s love for him so that we might have his joy in us and our joy may be fulfilled. Jesus himself was the most joyful human being who ever lived! He was joyful because he lived in the Father’s love. And Jesus wants us to have that joy! If we experience his love, we will have that joy!

The Priesthood is the Continued Love of Jesus

During the Year for Priests that marked the half-way point of Fr. Jason Worthley’s decade of ministry, Pope Benedict, quoting the Patron of Priests, St. John Vianney, said, “The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” The priesthood is the continued love of Jesus Christ. Just as God the Father who so loved the world sent his Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life, Jesus sent out his priests to continue his work of the salvation of those he loved so much to die for. He told the apostles in the Upper Room at the end of the Easter Octave, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you.” Tonight, we mark and celebrate that love of the Lord that is the essence of the priesthood: the love that continues Jesus’ giving his Body and Blood for us, the love that perpetuates Jesus’ sharing with us his saving mercy, the love that keeps alive Jesus’ preaching, the love that actualizes Jesus’ compassion, the love that prolongs Jesus’ shepherding. As now Cardinal Sean O’Malley said to Jason and his six classmates 3,653 days ago today in his ordination homily, “We live in a world where there is a hunger for forgiveness, hunger for meaning, hunger for communion with God. God has given us a remedy for these great yearnings in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”

The decade of Fr. Jason’s priesthood hasn’t been an easy one. He was ordained the very week the Archdiocese of Boston closed or merged dozens of parishes. He was ordained during a time of the new evangelization. He was ordained in the aftermath of the clergy sex-abuse scandals that have wounded so many and justly damaged the image of the Church and the entire priesthood. It’s an age in which more Churches in our area are being closed than built, in which in many places funerals outpace baptisms, when more priests are retiring than being ordained. Once upon a time everyone knew Going My Way as the name of the 1944 seven-time Oscar winning comedy-drama showing the beauty of the priesthood as depicted by Bing Crosby as Fr. Charles O’Malley. Nowadays “Going My Way” means that many are no longer following Christ the Way but going about as they please, calling themselves “spiritual” rather than “religious,” meaning, fundamentally, that they want a relationship with God but on their own terms rather than God’s.

But while these external indicators might seem to indicate that it’s a tough and depressing time to be a priest, it’s actually the opposite that is true! It’s a great time to be a priest, because in response to the multiple challenges a priest faces today, the graces of the Lord superabound. Jesus loves us too much not to respond when people have distanced themselves from the way he enfleshes that love in the Church. The crisis of faith in which a priest is now serving means — as it has always meant in Church history — that it is a crisis of saints.

Holy Priests

Just as we’ve seen many times throughout the centuries, when the Church has suffered through scandals, through widespread secularization and loss of faith, God has already responded with a superabundance of grace to make great saints. We saw it in the 1200s when so many dioceses and abbeys were run by noble families whose moral behavior was anything but noble. We saw it in the late 1400s and early 1500s, when the papacy itself was corrupt and there was the loss of many scandalized Christians through the Protestant Reformation. In those days, the Lord raised up people we now know as Saints Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Dominic of Guzman, Ignatius of Loyola, Philip Neri, Charles Borromeo, Teresa of Avila and so many others. Now is one of those times of grace for the entire Church.

As Fr. Jason lay on the floor of the Cathedral with his six classmates 3,653 days ago, the entire Church sang the Litany of the Saints, begging that they would intercede for them not just so that their ministry would be fruitful, but so that their ministry would help them to become saints themselves capable of being God’s instruments to sanctity his holy people. These saints continue to pray that every priest be one in which others can see the Gospel lived. In an increasingly secularized world, a holy priest can stand out all the more for Christ and his Gospel of salvation. The more confused the world, the more people are looking for those who can guide them to a life and the priest as an icon of Jesus in the world is called and assisted from above to be that type of authentic witness.

One area in which we’ve seen those graces of holiness and witness has been in the papacy. A month ago, we had the canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II. We’ve recently had the news of the beatification of Pope Paul VI. We’ve already and the beatification of Pius IX and canonization of Pius X. The causes for canonization of Leo XIII, Pius XII and John Paul I are all advancing.  The last century and a half has been, in short, an epoch of tremendously holy popes that the Church hasn’t seen since the first few centuries of Christianity, when most of the first three dozen popes were declared saints because most of them were martyred for our faith. And these popes have set about a thorough reform of the priesthood, all reminding us by their words and example, that just as the Harvest Master doesn’t merely summon “bodies” but diligent “laborers” for his Harvest, so he doesn’t call men merely to be priests but calls them to be “holy priests.”

Little would Fr. Jason have thought, as he knelt before Archbishop Sean O’Malley on the day of his three-hour ordination Mass, that in his first ten years as a priest he would have seen the Pope whose name he invoked in his first Mass now invoked as a saint; that that pope’s right hand man, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the greatest theologian in the history of the Church to assume the chair of St. Peter, would have succeeded him and then become the first pope in 600 years to resign; and that he would be succeeded by the first Pope in Church history from the Americas. And each of these Popes has grasped that in order to lead the Church to what she’s supposed to become, the priesthood, and in particular, an ever-reformed, ever-holy priesthood, is absolutely essential.

What I’d like to do tonight, on Fr. Jason’s tenth anniversary, is present ten of the images from these three popes of Fr. Jason’s priestly life until now of what the priesthood is and who the priest is called to be. These images point to what the grace of God seeks to do in the heart of every man who steps forward to say “present” and be counted when his name is called at ordination. They show what the people of God need to pray insistently for Fr. Jason and all priests to become. So let us listen to them as if Popes John Paul II, Benedict and Francis were all here tonight celebrating with us the Jesus’ continued love of us in the priesthood.

The priest is, first, a man of mystery

In November of 1996, during my seminary years in Rome, there was a great celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica that I had the privilege to attend. Thousands of priests celebrating their 50th anniversaries had come to Rome to celebrate the priesthood with the most famous member of their ordination class, Pope John Paul II. For the occasion, at the request of countless faithful and priests throughout the world, the Pope agreed to write a book describing his five decades of priestly ministry, the joys, the hardships, and the meaning of the priesthood. The book turned out to be one-hundred pages long, but the theme of every one of those pages, he told us early in the reflections, was captured concisely and appropriately in the title of the book: Gift and Mystery. The priesthood is a gift and a mystery.

He said that the priesthood is first a gift and a mystery that a man receives. With the appreciation and the wonder of 50 years, John Paul wrote: “At its deepest level, every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery; it is a gift which infinitely transcends the individual. Every priest experiences this clearly throughout the course of his life. Faced with the greatness of the gift, we sense our own inadequacy. A vocation is a mystery of divine election: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’ … ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ These inspired words cannot fail to move deeply the heart of every priest. … Human words are insufficient to do justice to the mystery which the priesthood involves.” The Holy Father said it was “essential” to state this at the outset, so that what he wrote about his own path to the priesthood could be properly understood. It is likewise essential to state it tonight on the tenth anniversary of Fr. Jason’s priestly life.

The priesthood is at the same time a gift and mystery a man becomes. Once ordained a priest is able to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!” In the mystery priests are privileged to celebrate at the altar, the Lord takes simple bread and wine and transubstantiates them into His Body and Blood. At ordination, we can say to some degree the Lord takes a man and “transubstantiates” him so that he can act in persona Christi and be His presence among us in the sacraments.

The priesthood is finally a gift and mystery that the priest is called generously to share. What a man has freely received, the Lord calls him freely to give. The Lord calls one to the priesthood only to send him out for the salvation of the world, as Pope Francis has been stressing. We can paraphrase what St. Teresa of Avila once said to priests: The Lord has no feet on earth now but yours to go hunt down his lost sheep and bring them back to the fold. He has no hands on earth now but to anoint people and send them to God. He has no voice on earth but yours to proclaim his Gospel, to whisper those words “your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.” The priesthood is about “going out”, “going out to all the world,” going out to a whole Archdiocese, going out to the outskirts of whatever parish a priest is assigned to and “proclaiming the good news.”

John Paul II wrote, that as a steward of the mysteries of God, the priest must remember that he’s not their owner, but must manage these mysteries justly and responsibly. “In exactly the same way,” he said, “the priest receives from Christ the treasures of salvation, in order duly to distribute them among the people to whom he is sent. These treasures of those of faith. … No one may consider himself the owner of these treasures; they are meant for us all. But, by reason of what Christ laid down, the priest has the task of administering them.”

The mystery of the priesthood was something that has filled Fr. Jason with wonder since the first moments of his priesthood. When he asked by reporter Donis Tracy of The Pilot at the end of his ordination to describe what he was experiencing, with elation he replied, “Words cannot describe how I feel right now. There is such a wide range of emotions right now, but all of them are good.” We pray that as you look back over the last ten years, Fr. Jason, you look back with a range of emotions over the gift and mystery into Christ has ordained you and find all of them “very good!”

The priest is, second, a man of prayer

Archbishop O’Malley in his rich ordination homily of a decade ago stressed that a priest is called to “a deep life of prayer,” saying that it is only through a rich prayer life “that a priest can understand the depth of what he is called to.” A priest can’t understand himself or his priestly mission unless his life in drenched in an intense life of prayer.

This has been the message of the three popes of Fr. Jason’s priestly life.

Pope Benedict throughout his papacy called on priests to be models, masters and teachers of prayer. When he met with Polish priests in 2006, he summarized the importance of prayer in the life of priests saying, “The faithful expect only one thing from priests: that they be specialists in promoting the encounter between man and God. The priest is not asked to be an expert in economics, construction or politics. He is expected to be an expert in the spiritual life. …  In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revealed word.”

Saint John Paul II in his fiftieth priestly anniversary reflections indicated, “Before all else, the priest must indeed be a man of prayer, convinced that time devoted to personal encounter with God is always spent in the best way possible. This not only benefits him; it also benefits his apostolic work.”

And Pope Francis in a book length pre-papal book length interview talked about how essential it is for future priests to be trained in the art of persevering prayer. “The selection [of seminarians] has to be rigorous not only on the human level but the spiritual level as well,” he said. “We have to insist on a life of serious prayer — I always ask the seminarians how they pray — and a deep devotion to God and to others.”

We give God thanks, Fr. Jason, that he has placed in you this hunger for a life of serious prayer and of deep devotion to God and others. And we thank you for dedicating yourself to become a teacher of prayer to others.

Third, the priest is a man of God’s word

Archbishop O’Malley exhorted you at your ordination: “Devour this Word [of God] so you can proclaim it with your whole heart. Preach the word in season and out of season, when convenient and not convenient [because] when the priest is preaching the Word of God, the power of the Word is unleashed.”

Saint John Paul II said, “People today look to priests for the ‘lived’ word before they look to them for the ‘proclaimed’ word. The priest must ‘live by the word.’

Pope Benedict wrote an apostolic exhortation on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” In it he spoke specifically to priests: “The word of God is indispensable in forming the heart of a good shepherd and minister of the word. Bishops, priests, and deacons can hardly think that they are living out their vocation and mission apart from a decisive and renewed commitment to sanctification, one of whose pillars is contact with God’s word. … The priest is first of all a minister of the word of God, consecrated and sent to announce the Good News of the Kingdom to all, calling every person to the obedience of faith and leading believers to an ever increasing knowledge of and communion in the mystery of God, as revealed and communicated to us in Christ. For this reason the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. … His words, his choices and his behavior must increasingly become a reflection, proclamation and witness of the Gospel; only if he ‘abides’ in the word will the priest become a perfect disciple of the Lord. Only then will he know the truth and be set truly free.”

Pope Francis, when he went to Assisi last October 4, told priests, “The first thing [we need to do] is to listen to God’s Word. … The Church is … the community that listens with faith and love to the Lord who speaks. … I think we can all improve a bit in this respect: by becoming better listeners of the Word of God, in order to be less rich on our own words and richer in his words. I think of the priest who has the task of preaching. How can he preach if he has not first opened his heart, not listened in silence to the Word of God? … It is not enough just to read the Sacred Scriptures, we need to listen to Jesus who speaks in them: it is Jesus himself who speaks in the Scriptures. … We need to be receiving antennas that are tuned into the Word of God, in order to become broadcasting antennas! One receives and transmits.”

The priest is, fourth, a man of mercy

Pope Francis in a lengthy interview last September with Jesuit publications said, “The ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.” Throughout his priesthood, whenever priests have asked him for advice, he noted in El Jesuita, his answer is always, “Be merciful.” His motto Miserando atque Eligendo highlights that his own priestly vocation was born in an experience of God’s mercy, when as 16-year old boy he went to confession on the feast of the St. Matthew, the great convert. Every priestly vocation is born in God’s mercy, since none of us is chosen by merit. Each one of us can echo what St. Peter first said when the Lord was calling him from his boats to follow him: “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But the Lord mercifully chooses repentant sinners, not angels, to be his fishers of men. Because they’ve experienced their need for God’s mercy, they can then dedicate themselves so much more to sharing that mercy. Pope Francis’ reminder in his first Angelus address as Pope that God never tires of forgiving us is a clear call to priests never to tire in faithfully dispensing that mercy!

In a 1986 letter to priests on the bicentennial of the Curé of Ars’s birth, Saint John Paul said that the state of the world requires that all priests should imitate St. John Vianney in making themselves “very available” for the Sacrament of Penance. He asked them to give it “priority over other activities” so that the faithful will realize the value attached to this “most difficult, the most delicate, the most taxing and the most demanding [priestly ministry] of all — especially when priests are in short supply.” In an age of pastoral planning, in other words, when priests are asked to do what several priest brothers once did, St. John Paul was saying that a priest must proportionately spend more time in the confessional not less, never tiring of what God never ceases to give.

Sometimes it can be discouraging for a priest to be a minister of mercy in situations in which people don’t adequately appreciate their need for God’s mercy or tire in coming to ask for it. Pope Benedict responded to this discouragement powerfully in the letter he wrote to the priests of the world at the beginning of the Year of Priests, “Priests,” he said, “ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this Sacrament. In France, at the time of the Cure of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a ‘virtuous’ circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become “a great hospital of souls.” Priests are called to open up once again that great emergency room, that great field hospital for those who are wounded by others’ sins or their own.

God is calling you, Fr. Jason, to be the type of doctor that, as Pope Francis says repeatedly, can “heal the wounds” of a wounded world.

The priest is, fifth, who Good Shepherd who knows the smell of his sheep

In his first Chrism Mass, Pope Francis said that a priest is supposed to be so good a shepherd that he’s supposed to stink like his sheep. “This I ask you,” he said. “Be shepherds, with the ‘odor of the sheep.’”

That means that priests need to draw close to the people they serve. In the same homily he said, “A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof.” The anointing a priest receives is supposed to drip from his hands onto his people. That’s the real measure of the effectiveness of a priest, that the graces he’s received really touch the people God has entrusted to them.

St. John Paul II, in his twenty-fifth anniversary reflections on his election to the papacy (Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way), likewise talked about this nearness of a shepherd after the Good Shepherd’s heart. He wrote, “The good shepherd knows his sheep and they know him. [A priest] should try to ensure that as many as possible of those who, together with him, make up the [parish] can come to know him personally. He for his part will seek to be close to them, to know about their lives, what gives joy to their hearts and what saddens them. Such mutual acquaintance cannot be built through occasional meetings. It comes from a genuine interest in what is happening in their lives.”

This was a nearness St. John Paul always tried to live and to model for his brother bishops and priests. The man who met more people than any other person in human history, added remarkably, “I never felt that I was meeting an excessive number of people!” He never felt he was meeting too many, even when he was celebrating Mass for 5.6 million people in Manila in 1995! The reason why he felt that is because he recognized each person was an inestimable treasure. “I was always concerned,” he declared, “to safeguard the personal quality of each relationship. Every person is a chapter to himself. I always acted with this conviction, but I realize that it is something you can’t learn. … Interest in others begins with the … prayer life. [A priest’s] conversations with Christ who entrusts ‘his own’ to him. Prayer prepares him for the encounter with others. In such meetings, if we are truly open, we can come to know and understand one another, even when there is little time. I simply pray for everyone every day. As soon as I meet people, I pray for them, and this helps me in all my relationships. … I always follow this principle: I welcome everyone as a person sent to me and entrusted to me by Christ.” Every priest should strive to do the same.

Pope Francis praised one priest in Argentina who was such a good shepherd that he not only knew all his parishioners’ names, but all of their pets’ names!

There are a few other attributes the Popes add about the priest’s call to be a good shepherd.

First, a good shepherd goes out for the lost sheep. A priest is a man on a mission. He’s not supposed to sit in the rectory waiting for the door or phone to ring, but to go out to the peripheries in search of those who are lost, those who have abandoned the fold. A good shepherd is zealous after 100 out of 100, leaving the flock behind to go in search of someone who has drifted away.

Second, a good shepherd is willing to sacrifice himself for his sheep. St. John Paul wrote in Arise, “The shepherd leads by giving his life for his sheep. He should be first in sacrifice and in dedication.” We’ve all met priests who say that their hands were made “for chalices not callouses,” who prefer to be served rather than to serve, who smell more like Ralph Lauren Polo aftershave than the body odor of their flock. But these are not the priests that Jesus wants or calls. He wants priests, as John Paul said, who are first in sacrifice and dedication.

And finally, a good shepherd should be willing to warn the sheep of thieves, marauders and wolves. John Paul said in his twenty-fifth anniversary reflections on the papacy, “ A responsibility that certainly forms part of a pastor’s role is admonition.” He quoted St. Gregory the Great who said, “We see around us a world full of priests, but it is very rare to find a laborer in God’s harvest, because we are not doing the work demanded by our priesthood, although we accepted this office… We give up the ministry of preaching, and, to our discredit, as I see it, we are called shepherds but enjoy this honor in name only and not in practice. For the people entrusted to our care are abandoning God and we remain silent.” A priest must love the flock entrusted to him to give them “maternal correction,” so that they may remain in Christ’s fold in an age of many who aim to guide them toward shepherds other than Christ.

The priest, sixth, is a man of courage.

Today, when the priesthood is so criticized by our secularist culture, especially after the terrible legacy of the scandals, priests need a double-portion of courage. Hardships are always part of a Christian’s life but today priests need courage not only to face the challenges that come in priestly life, but to set an example of audacity and perseverance for all the faithful whose faith is likewise being put to the test.

John Paul II spoke about priestly sufferings in the 1994 book length interview Crossing the Threshold of Hope. A priest, he stated, must know “he will become ‘a sign that will be contradicted.’ What remains for such a man? Only the words that Jesus Himself addressed to the apostles: ‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’”

A decade later he added in his 25th papal anniversary reflections, of the courage needed to proclaim the Gospel out of season. “There can be no turning one’s back upon the truth,” he insisted, “ceasing to proclaim it, hiding it, even if it is a hard truth, that can only be revealed at the cost of great suffering. ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free’: this is our duty and our source of strength!. Here there is no room for compromise nor for an opportunistic recourse to human diplomacy. We have to bear witness to the truth, even at the cost of persecutions, even to the shedding of our blood, like Christ Himself. … We will certainly encounter trials. There is nothing extraordinary about this. It is part of the life of faith. At times our trials will be light, at times they will be very difficult, or even dramatic. In our trials, we may feel alone, but God’s grace, the grace of a victorious faith, will never abandon us. Therefore we can expect to triumph over every trial, even the hardest.”

He added personally, “I never put on my episcopal pectoral Cross carelessly; I always accompany this gesture with a prayer. It has been resting on my chest, beside my heart, for more than forty-five years. To love the Cross is to love sacrifice.”

On the day of your ordination, Fr. Jason, Archbishop O’Malley told you to model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, and that will require the courage to embrace suffering until the end, knowing that as you embrace the Cross, the Lord is embracing you.

Seventh, the priest is a man of fatherly love

Saint John Paul II always stressed that the priestly vocation is a vocation of love and  that priestly celibate chastity, rather than suppressing love as many in the world falsely charge, is what unleashes love all the more.

Pondering Jesus’ words from today’s Gospel about remaining in his love, John Paul wrote in Gift and Mystery: “Remain in my love… Is not the mysterium caritas [the mystery of love] of our vocation contained in these sayings? These words of Christ … are at the root of every vocation in the Church. From them flows the life-giving sap that nourishes every vocation: those of the Apostles and their successors, but also every other vocation.”

The priesthood flows with this sap of the one who says, “Just as the Father loves me, so I love you.”

But priestly love is particularly paternal.

John Paul wrote in his twenty-fifth papal anniversary reflections about what all priests can learn from St. Joseph in terms of chaste fatherly love: “For St. Joseph, life with Jesus was a continuous discover of his own vocation as father. He became a father in an extraordinary way, without beginning his son in the flesh. Isn’t this, perhaps, an example of the type of fatherhood that is proposed to us, priests and bishops, as a model? Everything I did in the course of my ministry I saw as an expression of this kind of fatherhood — baptizing, hearing confessions, celebrating the Eucharist, preaching, admonishing, encouraging. For me these things were always a way of living out that fatherhood.”

And he said Mary’s most chaste spouse shows every priest how to treasure our celibate chastity and live it joyfully. “We should think particularly of the home St. Joseph built for the Son of God when we touch upon the subject of priestly … celibacy,” John Paul II wrote in Arise. “Celibacy, in fact, provides the fullest opportunity to live out this type of fatherhood: chaste and totally dedicated to Christ and his Virgin Mother. Unconstrained by any personal solicitude for a family, a priest can dedicated himself with his whole heart to his pastoral responsibilities. One can therefore understand the tenacity with which the Latin Church has defended the tradition of celibacy for its priests, resisting the pressures that have arisen from time to time throughout history. This tradition is clearly demanding, but it has yielded particularly rich spiritual fruit.”

The most chaste is, the more spiritual fruit he will bear, the more purely he will be able to transmit in his own life Jesus’ words, “Just as the Father loves me, just as Jesus loves me, so I love you!”

Eighth, the priest is a man of universal charity.

Pope Francis, in his September interview with Jesuit magazines, said: “The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. … The structural and organizational reforms are secondary — that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.”

Pope Francis has been calling on the entire Church to become Good Samaritans who cross the road to help people, who overcome the sin of those who say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and who make themselves the custodian of the good of others.

Priests are called to be marked by this goodness, but this charity.

Last June 3, when thousands of people from Bergamo descended to Rome to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the death of now Saint John XXIII, Pope Francis spent a long time pondering the adjective Fr. Angelo Roncalli received even during his lifetime: the “good” Pope.

Pope Francis said, “It is so beautiful to find a priest, a good priest, filled with goodness. And this reminds me of something that St Ignatius of Loyola said to the Jesuits … when he was talking about the qualities a superior should have.” After giving a long list of virtues, he said, “and if he does not possess these virtues, he must at least have great goodness”. It is the essential. He is a father. A priest with goodness. This was undoubtedly a distinctive trait of [John XXIII’s] personality that enabled him to make firm friendships everywhere.”

“Good” is an adjective that God wants to be predicated of you, Fr. Jason, and of every priest. Would that people call us “Padre buono” as they referred to him as “Papa buono.”

The priest is, ninth, a man of unity

A priest is never supposed to be a lone ranger, but a man of communion in communion.

John Paul II wrote in Pastores Dabo Vobis, his exhortation reforming priestly formation, “By its very nature, the ordained ministry can be carried out only to the extent that the priest is united to Christ through sacramental participation in the priestly order, and thus to the extent that he is in hierarchical communion with his own Bishop. The ordained ministry has a radical “communitarian form” and can only be carried out as “a collective work“. … Each priest… is united to the other members of this presbyterate on the basis of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and by particular bonds of apostolic charity, ministry and fraternity. All priests in fact… share in the one priesthood of Christ the Head and Shepherd; they work for the same cause, namely, the building up of the Body of Christ.”

Pope Francis has been stressing this point in his words to future priests, like he did last July 6 in St. Peter’s Square. He said, “Formation must be undertaken in community … in seminaries…. I always think of this: the worst seminary is better than no seminary! Why? Because this community life is essential. … I would like to stress the importance, in this community life, of relations of friendship and brotherhood that are an integral part of this formation. … Friendship is fraternity that helps me not to fall into either isolation or dissipation.” He finished by summoning priests and future priests to “cultivate friendships, they are a precious good. … A priest … can never be an island, but must be a person who is always ready to meet others. … This is a great wealth. Let us think of the beautiful friendships of many of the saints!”

Finally, the priest is a man of the Holy Eucharist

John Paul II wrote in Gift and Mystery, “The priesthood, in its deepest reality, is the priesthood of Christ. It is Christ who offers himself, his Body and Blood, in sacrifice to God the Father, and by this sacrifice makes righteous in the Father’s eyes all mankind, and, indirectly, all creation. The priest, in his daily celebration of the Eucharist, goes to the very heart of this mystery. For this reason, the celebration of the Eucharist must be the most important moment of the priest’s day, the center of his life.”

John Paul II would go on to say that the priest’s life is meant to be a commentary on the words of consecration, a living out of the “mysterium fidei,” the mystery of faith, he proclaims: “There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood,” John Paul declared, “just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist. … When, after the consecration, the priest says the words ‘Mysterium fidei,’ all are invited to ponder the rich existential meaning of this proclamation, which refers to the mystery of Christ, the Eucharist and the priesthood. Is this not the deepest reason behind the priestly vocation? Certainly it is already fully present at the time of ordination, but — and please listen carefully Fr. Jason —  it needs to be interiorized and deepened for the rest of a priest’s life. Only in this way can a priest discover in depth the great treasure that has been entrusted to him.”

John Paul II gave personal testimony of the way, a half-century into his own priestly life, he felt called still to grow is this root and center of his priestly being. “Fifty years after my ordination,” he commented, “I can say that in the words Mysterium fidei we find ever more each day the meaning of our own priesthood. Here is the measure of the gift that is the priesthood, and here is also the measure of the response that this gift demands. The gift is constantly growing! And this is something wonderful. It is wonderful that a man can never say that he has fully responded to the gift. It remains both a gift and a task: always! To be conscious of this is essential if we are to live our own priesthood to the full!

Bringing God’s work to fulfillment

Today on your tenth anniversary, Fr. Jason, we pray that this gift and mystery of the priesthood will continue to grow in you. We pray that it will be “interiorized and deepened” for the rest of your life. We pray that on this day the Lord will renew in you all the graces of your ordination and help you to recommit yourself totally to everything he wants to do through you in persona Christi. Just as the Father has loved Jesus, so Jesus loves us. He loves us in the priesthood — and he loves us in your priesthood. And he wants through your remaining in his priestly love for you to be able to give you the fullness of his priestly joy!

Together in this beautiful Church tonight, all of us, your brother priests, your family, your parishioners from the parish of St. Catherine and from several other assignments and so many friends join you in praying that the Lord who has begun this good priestly work in you may bring it to fulfillment and make you ever more a man of prayer, of God’s word, of mercy, of shepherdly care, of courage, of fatherly love, of universal charity, of unity and of the Eucharist — after his own priestly heart.

We thank you for saying yes to God to your priestly vocation and for continuing to say yes to that gift and mystery for the last ten years. May the Lord grant you the grace of perseverance in this continued incarnation of redeeming love flowing from his heart into yours and from yours into ours.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 15:7-21

After much debate had taken place,
Peter got up and said to the Apostles and the presbyters,
“My brothers, you are well aware that from early days
God made his choice among you that through my mouth
the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe.
And God, who knows the heart,
bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit
just as he did us.
He made no distinction between us and them,
for by faith he purified their hearts.
Why, then, are you now putting God to the test
by placing on the shoulders of the disciples
a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?
On the contrary, we believe that we are saved
through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”
The whole assembly fell silent,
and they listened
while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders
God had worked among the Gentiles through them.After they had fallen silent, James responded,
“My brothers, listen to me.
Symeon has described how God first concerned himself
with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name.
The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:After this I shall return
and rebuild the fallen hut of David;
from its ruins I shall rebuild it
and raise it up again,
so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord,
even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked.
Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things,
known from of old.
It is my judgment, therefore,
that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God,
but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols,
unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.
For Moses, for generations now,
has had those who proclaim him in every town,
as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 96:1-2A, 2B-3, 10

R. (3) Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel
JN 15:9-11

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.“I have told you this so that
my joy might be in you and
your joy might be complete.”