The first Scripture reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah announces, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me.” My brothers, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you. On the day of your Ordination your hands were anointed with sacred Chrism. Take a moment to recall and reflect on that day. On the day of your Ordination the Spirit of the Lord came upon you. The Reading from Revelation reminds us, “Grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ who has made into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.” We are called to glorify the Lord with our lives.
Today we pay tribute to our jubilarians who celebrate their anniversary of Ordination. Twenty-five years ordained Augusto Cadavid, Augustine Clark, Titus Kachinda, Rogelio Landeta, Waldemar Maciag, Andrew Chen Nguyen, Fidel Rodriguez-Cuza, OCD, Jaroslaw Sztybel, Shenoy Thomas, MC.
Fr. Joseph Pinchock celebrates his 50th anniversary of Ordination. We remember our giants Msgr. David Page, 64 years, Sean Cooney, 63 years and Robert Kurber, 62 years. Fr. Frank Smith is our senor priest at 91 years old. Isaiah reminds us, “You yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord, ministers of our God shall you be called … All who see them shall acknowledge them as the Lord blessed.” Today we acknowledge our senior priests, jubilarians and all our priests as the Lord blessed.
Pope Francis recently addressed a Symposium on the Priesthood. He reflected on his 52 years of priesthood. He said the priests “who, by their life and witness, showed me from my earliest years what it means to reflect the face of the Good Shepherd.” He also recalled priests who needed his help “because they had lost the flame of their first love and whose “ministry had become barren, repetitive, and almost meaningless.”
Pope Francis said these past three years priests have faced an “epochal change” from the Covid pandemic to social and political unrest. Priests had to learn to respond to the needs and challenges of their people. Priests realized that there was no easy way to minister to the people because of uncertainty and political turmoil. Pope Francis said his response to this uncertainty gave birth to “a trusting acceptance of reality, anchored in the wise and living Tradition of the Church, which enables him to ‘put out into the deep’ without fear.” He reminds us that the vocation to the priesthood requires a trusting discernment to determine where God is leading us.
When faced with trials and with unanswerable questions about the future, Pope Francis wants us to focus on what is “decisive” for the life of a priest today, “the attitudes that sustain us as priests.” Pope Francis considered “four pillars of our priestly life,” which he described as four forms of closeness: “closeness to God, closeness to the bishop, closeness to fellow priests, and closeness to the people of God.”
Closeness to God
Pope Francis from the Gospel of John reminds us that Jesus invites us: “I am the vine; you are the branches. He who remains in me and I in him bears much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” “Priests are invited to cultivate this closeness, this intimacy with God. This closeness with God will help the priest to be able to minister to the people in moments of joys and moments of sorrow.” Pope Francis recalled “important moments in my life in which this closeness to the Lord has been decisive in sustaining me.” He stressed that the problems of priesthood begin when there is, “a lack of prayer life, a lack of intimacy with the Lord, a reduction of the spiritual life to a mere religious practice.”
Pope Francis stressed that without “the intimacy born of prayer, of the spiritual life, of concrete closeness to God through listening to the Word, the celebration of the Eucharist, the silence of Adoration, the entrustment to Mary, the wise accompaniment of a guide, the Sacrament of Reconciliation … a priest is only a weary hireling who has none of the benefits of the Lord’s friends.”
Being available for the Lord in your busy day he said is difficult unless one is accustomed to having “moments of silence throughout the day and to set aside the activism of Martha in order to learn the quiet contemplation of Mary.” Perseverance in prayer is more than simply remaining faithful to its practice: it means not running away in those times when prayer draws us into the desert. The way of the desert is the way that leads to intimacy with God, provided we do not run away or find ways to avoid this encounter. “Once we accept the desolation that is born of silence, fast from our activities and words, and find the courage to take a sincere look at ourselves, everything takes on a light and peace no longer based on our own strengths and abilities.
Pope Francis tells us that we “priests are called to be close to Jesus.” This closeness to God is nourished by a daily life of prayer and by silent contemplation. The more a priest is drawn closer to God, the more he becomes fulfilled in ministering to the people, which in turn deepens the spiritual life of the people and the priest.
Closeness to the Bishop
Our Holy Father said this “closeness” is expressed in the priest’s vow of obedience to the bishop. But this obedience must come from the spirit of the Gospel. Pope Francis reminds the bishop that he “remains for each priest and for every particular church a bond that helps discern the will of God.” He also warned that a bishop must listen “to the lives of his priests and of the holy people of God entrusted to his care.” Obedience “is the fundamental decision to accept what is asked of us and to do so as a concrete sign of that universal sacrament of salvation which is the Church.” It requires that priests and bishops pray for one another and feel free to express their opinions “with respect, courage and sincerity.”
Closeness to Other Priests
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20). Pope Francis said that fraternity, like obedience, cannot be a moral imposition. Rather, fraternity means “choosing deliberately to pursue holiness together with others, not by oneself.” Pope Francis said that this fraternity must be based on the love expressed by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:4-7). Love is patient is “the ability to feel responsible for others, to bear their burdens, to suffer in some way with them.” Patience is the opposite of indifference. We must learn patience so we are able to be open and honest with one another. Priests must also be humble and not seeking their own interests because “If there is one thing a priest can boast about, it is the Lord’s mercy. For conscious of his own sinfulness, weakness and limitations, he knows from experience that where sin abounds, love abounds all the more (cf. Rom 5:20). Pope Francis acknowledged the difficulties of living out fraternity with your brother priests. He calls for “heralds” of a fraternity founded on mutual love. But he stressed “fraternal love is the great prophecy that we are called to embody in today’s throwaway society.” Priestly relationships today should be a model for others to follow.
Our Holy Father reminds us of the gift of celibacy. “When priestly fraternity thrives and bonds of true friendship exist, it likewise becomes possible to experience with greater serenity the life of celibacy. Celibacy is a gift to be lived as a means of sanctification. (It) calls for healthy relationships, relationships of true esteem and true goodness that are deeply rooted in Christ. Without friends and without prayer, celibacy can become an unbearable burden and a counter-witness to the very beauty of the priesthood.
Closeness to the people
Pope Francis said that the relationship of priests with the holy people of God, is not a duty, but a grace. Therefore, “the proper place of every priest is in the midst of the people, in close relationship to others.” This relationship helps us to deal with the real life of the people. Jesus “wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others . . . The People of God are hoping to find shepherds with the style of Jesus—not ‘clerical functionaries’ or ‘professionals of the sacred’—but shepherds filled with compassion, courageous men, capable of reaching out to the wounded and showing passion and concern. He asks us to know the power of tenderness. Pope Francis calls on us to ask ourselves, “How am I practicing these forms of closeness?” He insisted that “a priestly heart knows about closeness, because his primary form of closeness is with the Lord.”
He closed with the reflection that “the forms of closeness that the Lord demands are not an added burden: they are a gift that He gives us to keep our vocation alive and fruitful. These forms of closeness are signposts that point the way to appreciating and rekindling their missionary zeal: closeness that is compassionate and tender, closeness to God, to the Bishop, to brother priests and to the people entrusted to their care. A closeness in the “style” of God himself, who is ever close to us, with compassion and tender love.”
May Christ visit his priests in their prayer, in their Bishop, in their brother priests and in their people. May he upset our routine, disrupt our lives and disquiet us – as at the time of our first love – and lead us to employ all our talents and abilities to ensure that our people may have life and life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). May the Lord bless us now and forever. Amen.
Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe
Homily by Bishop John Noonan
April 13, 2022