Our gathering together is an occasion of joyful expectation, not only because it is the Mass at which the sacred oils are blessed, but most especially because it is the Mass of our anniversary, the day we as priests celebrate, together, as companions that unique and wonderful priesthood which we are privileged to share.
My brothers, at this Holy Mass our thoughts go back to that moment when, through prayer and the laying on of hands, the bishop made us sharers in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, so that we might be “consecrated in truth” (John 17:19), as Jesus besought the Father for us in his high-priestly prayer. It is He who has consecrated us, that is to say, handed us over to God forever, so that we can offer on behalf of men and women a service that comes from God and leads to Him.
It is as the prophet Isaiah says in the readings tonight, “a glorious mantle instead of the kind of sadness that they perhaps bear” (Is 61:3).
On our day of ordination the examination involved four questions. The first concerned the general resolve to “discharge without fail the office of priesthood … in caring for the Lord’s people.”
It’s a pretty broad promise. We need prayer and grace to live up to it.
The second was to resolve … and the question is always the same: “Do you resolve …” It’s more than a wish or a whim or a desire. It’s a commitment, a pledge, a promise “to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously … for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people.”
And we said confidently and seriously, “I do.”
The third involved the office of teaching and ministry of the word, including “preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith.”
And again we knew that a glorious mantle was being put on our shoulders, a mantle to be teachers of the Faith and the truths of our faith
And finally the question was posed, “Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of His people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?”
To unite ourselves more closely every day so that as each year of our priesthood passes, we in fact deepen the nature of our relationship to Christ, and every year deepen our commitment to Him and draw ever closer to Him. This was the promise at the beginning of our journey, and we’re blessed in the Church every year at the Chrism Mass to have the opportunity to renew those same promises, not in exactly the same language, but to recall again those promises, to recall that day of grace when nothing that would be asked of us would be too much, no sacrifice deemed unreasonable, no commitment ever questioned because of the depth, of the fervor of our faith and the depth of our love for Christ.
I have no doubt that the depth of that love continues and the depth of that commitment continues, as well. And yet we do need these moments to remember, to be renewed, and to refresh ourselves in that commitment, that the mantle of priesthood might be taken up ever more joyfully anew and lived ever more faithfully and fruitfully.
The Renewal of Promises at this Mass reminds us of that moment in time, however many years ago, when filled with a graced, enthusiastic Spirit, we figuratively stood side by side with Christ and said with Thomas, when Jesus was preparing to go up to Jerusalem, and they said, “But they’re wanting to kill you,” and Thomas said, “Lord, brothers, let us go up to Jerusalem to be killed with Him!
That’s our day of ordination. Brothers, let us stand up together and go to Jerusalem with Our Lord. Pope Francis is showing us a marvelously bold and perhaps even brash way a committed, living out of the gospel. And he’s calling all of us to stand up and go into the real battle of our culture and there stand up for the teachings of Christ. All of the gospel message—and particularly for him and hopefully for us as well—that we need to refresh and renew our commitment to the service of the poor. We recognize in our service to the poor is an external manifestation of the love and charity we have for Christ in our hearts, and it’s lived out in a concrete way by our charitable presence in our community.
Brothers, if any element of that initial zeal for Christ and confidence in His power has begun, even if ever so slightly, to fade in the daily exercise of our duties at Mass and Liturgy of the Hours and, hopefully, our daily hour of adoration before Our Lord, then we are afforded this opportunity by the Church to be renewed in that Spirit.
The day of ordination also saw within us a joyfully zealous appreciation for the transformative power of the word of God. If there has been any diminishment over the years in our confidence in the power of the word of God or in the truth of the clear teachings of His Church, then here, too, we are afforded this opportunity to beg for a renewal in Spirit.
It is good for us to be reminded by Saint Paul that we are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1) and are charged with the ministry of teaching the truth. As “stewards of the mysteries of God” we are given the noble task of teaching others to live and to love our faith. If they and we are to love God and to hear him aright, we need to know what God has said and is saying to us and our minds and hearts must be touched and, as Pope Francis reminds us, converted by His words.
My brothers, as we renew our Priestly Promises today, it is important that we truly listen to the request made of us by the Church for the sake of our people and genuinely resolve, again, to strive to make these promises ever, increasingly effective in our lives. The People of God have a right to experience and sense our zeal and love for souls. They long to sense the seriousness with which we take these promises today.
We can get used to the mantle of the priesthood. We can begin to take it rather for granted. And there are numerous reminders for us every day. The people come calling for us to bless them, to bless their children, to pray for them, to pray for their loved ones, to pray for healing, to simply touch some medallion of theirs so that somehow that blessing of priesthood can be taken with them. They call us when they know not where else to call because of a sense that, “We can always go to the priest. The priest is the one with the power of God. He can do something for us.”
We know so very well that we don’t have the power to give them often what they ask for, but we must be convinced that we always have the power of Christ to give what they need. We can give them a point of contact with God and godly things. We can give them a hope in eternal life. We can give them a sense of their dignity and worth and value, and we do that simply by being priests in their midst, by being priests for them.
For our part, let us treasure this dignity of the priesthood and strive increasingly to be worthy of it. Together let us strive for that humble gratitude which acknowledges, very honestly, our complete unworthiness but profound gratitude that we have been selected and chosen to be privileged to be His priests.
At the same time, brothers, in the cause of promotion of vocations, particularly to the priesthood, I beg you to dispel the myth that the lives we lead are so filled with trials and tribulations as to somehow deserve the sympathy of all those we encounter.
We know better, brothers. We know our lives are so abundantly and richly blessed that we can do nothing but give thanks to Almighty God that we have been chosen and in some measure found “worthy,” as the ordination rite says, through the laying on of hands and the ministerial priesthood. We must rejoice in that. Constantly. And we must remind ourselves on difficult days. But even on the most difficult days, we are still more richly blessed, abundantly blessed, joyfully blessed.
And today, finally, my dear People of God, we turn to you and ask you to pray for us. My dear people, pray for your priests as I know you do each day. Pray as the petition today asks: That the Lord pour out His gifts abundantly upon them and keep them faithful in all ways to the ministry entrusted to them by Christ, a ministry to your souls, a ministry to your eternal salvation. What greater mantle could be bestowed upon men than that mantle of leading men and women to God?
I can assure all of you that your prayers are not only a source of great encouragement for me and the priests, your prayers are in fact essential for the strengthening and sustaining of priests and bishops as we strive ardently to carry out our pastoral responsibilities.