Ordination to the Priesthood
Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Because Diego, Kamil, John Paul, Dražen, Edmond, Jae, Anthony, Preston, Darren and Nicholas, who are your relatives and friends, are now to be ordained to the priesthood, I invite you to consider in the light of the Word of God we have just heard the sacrament that they will receive. 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 humanity, a priestly office publicly in the church in order that they may continue his personal mission as teacher, priest and shepherd.
Ordination means incorporation into an “order”. In the Church “orders” are established bodies which Tradition, with a basis in Sacred Scripture, has since ancient times called “orders. The catechism and liturgy speak of the Order of Bishops, the Order of Priests, the Order of Deacons. By the way, over the centuries other groups also receive the name of “order”: the Order of Catechumens, the Order of Virgins, the Order of Spouses, the Order of Widows....
Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordination, a religious and liturgical act which was seen as a consecration, a blessing or a sacrament. Today the word “ordination” is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, priests, or deacons. This month the Archdiocese of Newark will celebrate initiation into each of the three Holy Orders. The rite goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a “sacred power” which can come only from Christ himself through his Church.
Like the sacrament of matrimony, Holy Orders is celebrated at a precise moment, but it is never a reality that is “one and done”. Just as the “yes” a man and a woman say to each other and to God on their wedding day is absolutely crucial for the sacrament, life in the sacrament of marriage requires endlessness of “yeses”. As our brothers enter the Order of Priests through a sacramental act this morning, they will face the same challenge every married couple must face: how do you make love stay?
The circumstances of this ordination make that question even more critical. Someone recently observed that “the future is not what it used to be.” Together with the whole society, over the last months every sector of our Church has had to respond to unforeseen challenges. Even as restrictions begin to ease, we will need to figure out how to operate in new ways. In short, the whole Church and, in particular, bishops, priests and deacons, need to learn the virtue of resiliency, that is, the ability to absorb a shock, and to come out of it better than the competition, especially since our formidable competition consists in cynicism, unbelief, selfishness, division and despair.
The household of faith can learn from the world of business, where the past can be a prelude. Research on the 2008 financial crisis found that a small group of companies in each sector outperformed their peers. They did get hurt, with revenues falling about the industry average, but they recovered much faster. By 2009, the earnings of the resilient companies had risen 10 percent, while that of the non-resilients had gone down almost 15 percent.
What characterized the resilient companies was preparation before the crisis—they typically had stronger balance sheets—and effective action during the crisis —specifically, their ability to cut operating costs.
This crisis has revealed the resiliency of many of our priests. Because they worked patiently, persistently and in communion with one another and their bishops, their communities are poised to recover much more quickly than those who are only conscious of what has been lost.
How does a priest prepare to be resilient in a crisis? Today the Word of God instructs us. The Gospel of Luke tells us the Jesus appointed – we can say “ordained”, seventy[-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He instructs them to work in communion (“two by two”) and to travel light. Some of the other instructions are a harder to understand: greet no one on the way, pay attention to how a potential host receives their greeting of peace. What is Jesus talking about?
He explains: I am sending you like lambs among wolves…they will carry out the mission far from their support base, casual encounters may be risky and they should avoid courting unnecessary danger. The ordained will meet hostility, the mission is not supposed to be easy, but the harvest is great and the mission remains the same, whatever the crisis: healing and preaching the Kingdom in the context of table fellowship, since ministry always reaches its apex in the Eucharist.
His Second Letter to the Corinthians is Paul’s most personal: he minces no words in describing the many crises he has endured – crises in his ministry as well as in his heart of hearts. How can he continue, not simply surviving but thriving, despite it all? Today he tells us:
…the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died...so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Brothers, the love of Christ impels us, supports us, envelopes us, even torments and distresses us. That love is so boundless that it can never be reduced to a single function. But the ultimate result in us is always the same: that we might no longer live for ourselves but for him, who for our sake died and was raised.
The gift of the Holy Spirit you receive today is an anointing that penetrates to the core of who you are but “flows to the hem of your garment” and to the edges of the Church. According to Isaiah and Jesus of Nazareth, the anointing must flow to the afflicted … the brokenhearted…captives… prisoners…those who mourn. You are anointed with the Holy Spirit so that, whatever the crisis, you will give an oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit.
So, my dear brothers, how will you make love stay? Jesus, who has called you, teaches you to prepare for crises by traveling light and working in communion. Isaiah reminds you that the anointing you receive is meant for others, especially those on the margins. Pope Francis would remind you that, anointed today, you will spend the rest of your life anointing others. St. Paul teaches us that, while our love for Christ is always fickle and unstable, his love never alters and is so powerful that it empowers human beings to live not for ourselves but for Him, who died for us.
May the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of the Church, help you and all priests to discover the ultimate resilience: that by losing your life for his sake, you will find it. Amen.