My dear brothers and sisters,
Because these, our sons, who are your relatives and friends, are now to be ordained to the priesthood, I invite you to consider the sacrament that they will receive in the light of the Word of God we have just heard. As you well know, the Lord Jesus is the one and only great high priest of the New Testament; but in him God has made his entire holy people a royal priesthood. All of us!
Nevertheless, among his disciples the Lord Jesus chooses certain ones to carry out, in his name and on behalf of the human race, a priestly office publicly in the Church in order that they may continue his personal mission as teacher, priest and shepherd.
It seems to me that three questions may help us understand the office, which our brothers will assume today.
- Where is the heart of a priest?
- Where is the joy of a priest?
- What is the identity of a priest?
The Heart of a Priest
If we ask ‘where is the heart of a priest?’ we are in fact asking, where is his treasure? Jesus teaches quite logically, where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. What he means by 'treasure', of course, is not merely money or possessions, but whatever each of us judges to be best, that which we most eagerly strive to attain, that which we most dread to lose, that which, if we have it, we consider ourselves to be blessed, that which, if we do not attain it, we know ourselves to be profoundly unhappy.
The treasure of a priest is the same as that of the chief Shepherd. The great riches of the heart of Jesus are two: the Father and ourselves. Jesus divided his days between prayer to the Father and encountering people. Not observing them or governing them from a distance or, what would be worse, harshly judging and condemning them, but going out to meet them with a message and a touch that was always glad tidings to the poor, healing for the brokenhearted, a proclamation of liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.
So too the heart of Christ’s priests knows only two directions: towards the Lord and towards his people. Pope Francis described the heart of the priest as a heart pierced by the love of the Lord. For this reason, he no long looks to himself nor should look to himself, but is instead turned toward God and his brothers and sisters. There is his treasure; there will be the heart of a priest.
The Joy of a Priest
What about the joy of a priest? The joy of a priest is the joy of the shepherd. The joy of Jesus, the Good Shepherd is not a joy for himself alone but a joy for others and with others, the true delight of love. It is the joy of the greatest love, which, finally, is not loving oneself but rather laying down one’s life for one’s friends.
This is also the joy of the priest. A priest is changed by the mercy that he freely gives. In prayer he discovers God’s consolation and realizes that nothing is more powerful than God’s love. In this way he experiences inner peace and is happy to be a channel of mercy, to bring men and women closer to the heart of God.
My brothers, you may wonder: Is there sadness in the life of a priest? Certainly, but sadness for him is not the norm but only a step along the way. Sadness may enter the life of a priest, but harshness is foreign to him because he is a shepherd after the meek and humble heart of God.
Daily Discovery of our Identity as Priests
And, what about the identity of a priest, our fundamental self-understanding that allows us to live creatively, securely and serenely amid the change, chaos and disappointment that enters everyone’s life?
We strive to have the same mind as Christ Jesus and empty ourselves for God and his people. In the Eucharistic celebration we rediscover each day our identity as shepherds. In every Mass, we strive to make our own Christ’s words, “This is my body, which is given up for you.” This is our identity, the meaning of our life; with these words in a real way you and I can daily renew the promises we made at our priestly ordination.
My dear brothers – Richard, Jaycee, Philip, Juanito, Michele, Patrick and Kevin – you have not chosen Jesus; our Risen Lord has chosen you to go forth and bear fruit that will remain. I thank each of you for saying yes to that call. I thank each of you also for all the times you will say yes in the days to come. Most of these “yes’s” you will pronounce secretly, in ways only the Lord knows about. I thank you for saying yes to giving your life in union with Jesus, the chief Shepherd, for in this offering is found the treasure of every priest, the pure source of our joy.