Living the Truth in Love : Priesthood Ordination: The Priest – In the Person of Christ

Priesthood Ordination: of

Deacon Robert Pope, Jr. and Deacon James Scott Adams

Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola

May 7, 2016

 

The Priest – In the Person of Christ

 

Today is a very significant one for the Church in the Diocese of Palm Beach as we ordain two fine men, Deacon Bob Pope and Deacon Scott Adams, to the Priesthood.  We do so on a day that  speaks a special message to Bob and Scott as it is the eve of the Solemnity of the Ascension, an important feast during these culminating days of the Easter season.  Tomorrow we will formally celebrate the Ascension of Christ to His Father forty days after His Resurrection as He commissions His apostles to go out and continue His mission in His Name.  For Bob and Scott the commissioning of the apostles is most appropriate as the same will occur for them upon their ordination and their going forth from this Cathedral this afternoon.

 

The recounting of the Ascension of our Lord is found in the three Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Luke and Mark.  We just heard the account from the Gospel of St. Mark and tomorrow we will read of the same event as recounted in the Gospel of St. Luke.   All three evangelists emphasize the commissioning of the apostles to go out and preach the Good News as the Lord ascends into heaven and the apostles take up His ministry.  However, the Gospel of St. Mark mentions the extraordinary signs that the apostles will demonstrate as they take up this role - they will speak new languages, they will expel demons, they will be able to handle serpents, they will be able to drink deadly poison without harm and the sick upon whom they lay their hands will recover.  My brothers, Bob and Scott, as you are commissioned by Christ through ordination today, you too will be able to carry out extraordinary acts in the celebration of the Sacraments, most especially the celebration of the Eucharist.  You have prepared seriously and diligently to be able to carry out the ministry of Christ in this unique manner and you know that this will bring you a great joy as well as a great honor.

 

However, as you are configured to Christ in a unique manner through ordination this day and are able to carry out His ministry, literally in His very Person, it is very important to realize that the joy of your role comes not from the extraordinary actions you will be able to carry out but from the new relationship that you will have with Christ which enables you to carry out His ministry.  This is especially true pertaining to your celebration of the Sacrament of Sacraments - the Eucharist.  In this regard it is essential to recall the incident in the Gospel of Saint Luke where Jesus sends His disciples out to teach and preach in His name.  Upon returning the disciples are filled with enthusiasm because of the extraordinary things they were able to accomplish but Jesus emphasizes that they should not rejoice because of the power they had received but because their names are written in heaven (cf Lk 10:17-21).  The names of the disciples being written in heaven is a sign of a call to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ which enabled them to act in His Name.  Your configuration to Christ this day is the beginning of a new relationship with Him - one that you already have - but one that now goes in a new direction of exclusive commitment which will make a difference in the lives of those you are sent to serve. This is what will bring joy to your ministry and it is this relationship which must be cultivated at all times through prayer and communion with the Lord.

 

Just a few weeks ago, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, ordained men as priests for the Diocese of Rome.  He spoke words to these men regarding the nature of their call which is extremely significant for you my brothers, Deacon Bob and Deacon Scott. He said, "Remember that you are chosen from among God's people.  Chosen, do not forget that you are chosen!  The Lord called you one by one.  You are chosen and appointed to act for them in relation to God.  Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own."

 

It is awesome to realize that you have been called personally by Christ.  That call is primarily one to a relationship with Him through which you will be able to hand on His love, mercy, forgiveness and very His Body and Blood through the Sacraments you will celebrate in His Person.  However, the joy you will experience in celebrating these divine actions flows from your relationship with the Lord through which you are able to affect that relationship in others.  The joy of Priesthood is not in success but in our relationship with the Lord to which He has called us and through which we are able to call others.  While the Sacraments will always be effective through the hands of the priest, unless that personal relationship with the Lord is living and real there will be a lack of joy in the priest.

 

The call that you receive is one through which you are able to act in the very Person of Christ Himself when celebrating the Sacraments.  This is why the Sacraments are always effective no matter what the particular state of the priest may be.  It is very critical to realize that since you are called to act in the Person of Christ you are called to imitate His Person in your own lives.  This imitation can only come about through your personal relationship with him.  As priests, we need to identify with Christ more deeply by realizing our personal need for His mercy especially when, in so many situations, we do not act the way He would.  This is part of our frail human nature.  The more we are able to identify our own sinfulness, the more we are able to experience His mercy and to grow in our relationship with the Lord as well as to bring Him to others for His love and mercy.

 

We are familiar with the identification of the priest as another Christ.  However, there are many dangers in this identification since we cannot identify ourselves as Christ but simply as another Christ.  We may act in His Person but we are not Christ.  There are many others Christs.  In fact, it was St. Cyprian who rightly said that every Christian is another Christ.  It is the call of the priest to live this identity in the deepest manner in order that he might minister to other Christs, the faith community, in bringing the joy of the Lord to them.  It is in this manner that the priest is able to share the mercy of Christ, through the Eucharist and the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which enables, not only he, but all of the faithful to recognize how far we are from being Christ and how much He grants us mercy to draw us into a personal relationship with Him.

 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke edifying but piercing words in regard to the identity of a priest as another Christ.  In a general audience in 2009, during the Year for Priests, he spoke these words which I address to you, my brothers, Bob and Scott, who are now to be ordained, to all my brother priests and to myself as well: "As an alter Christus (another Christ), the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father who, in becoming incarnate took the form of a servant, He became a servant (Phil 2:5 - 11).  The priest is a servant of Christ, in the sense that his existence, configured to Christ ontologically, acquires an essentially relational character: he is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ, at the service of humankind. Because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people: he is the minister of their salvation, their happiness and their authentic liberation, developing, in this gradual assumption of Christ’s will, in prayer, in 'being heart to heart' with Him. Therefore this is the indispensable condition for every proclamation, which entails participation in the Sacramental offering of the Eucharist and obedience to the Church.  The saintly Curé d'Ars would often say with tears in his eyes: 'How dreadful it is to be a priest!'.  And he would add: ‘How a priest who celebrates Mass like an ordinary event is to be pitied!  How unfortunate is a priest with no inner life!'."

 

My brothers on this eve of the Ascension you are called and commissioned by the Lord to go out and to act in His Person so that the Good News He has proclaimed is part of the lives of all of us.  You will find great joy, indescribable joy, in this vocation provided it is not centered on the extraordinary acts you will be able to carry out but in growing in your relationship with the Lord which takes a new direction today.  Our Diocese certainly is blessed by your becoming part of what is already an extraordinary presbyterate which you will enhance by your presence and ministry.  May the Lord who today brings this new ministry to you continue to bring it to fulfillment.
 

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
May 13, 2016