Priesthood Sunday Homily
October 25, 2009
Every once in a while someone will ask me how I got to where I am. Every priest has his own story, but the similarity is God calling. This is indeed a mysterious calling. Priesthood is not a job or a career choice. It is a vocation… a calling that comes from God and not from us. To tell my story, I’m going to reflect on today’s second reading from Paul to the Hebrews.
Brothers and sisters:
Every high priest is taken from among men
I have been taken out from my “normal” life. Anyone who has known me for a long time or has heard some of the stories of my past knows that my life is very different than it used to be. And I love my life now. The times when I least liked my life just so happened to be the times when I was saying no to God’s call. God called me numerous times during my life to the priesthood beginning with my childhood. Though he called me from my mother’s womb, one of the earliest memories I have is after my first communion when a good friend of the family came up to me, bent down, looked me in the eyes and said “Michael, you look like you’d be a great priest one day.” I never forgot that phrase. One of the clearest times he called me was when my older brother Bob was on his way to a retreat to discern the priesthood. I was with a friend and we were getting ready to head down to the “flats” with some of my other, once high-school, now adult and working buddies. Bobby called me to tell me he was on his way to the retreat, and forgot to tell me the date (It must run in the family), but it was tonight. “Do I still want to go?” he asked. I told him I don’t know… then I paced around the house and finally went to the deck in the back of my house, looked up into the sky and asked God. I knew in my heart that He wanted me to finally say yes to this call. God can take us at any moment, especially if we are open to the call. If we can see him at work and recognize him like the blind man Bartimaeus in today’s gospel. Right now, God is here. Ask him to help you to know your vocation. God has taken me out of the normal life and lifted me to this life of priesthood.
and made their representative before God,
As a priest I have this special privilege of being a part of your lives especially at significant times. Just this week a very kind and elderly man came up to me and said “Father, my wife is dying and we both want you to do her funeral.” What an honor. I told him that I would love to come and pray with her and spend some time with them. He offered to take me out to lunch with her this week, but I just got a call that she is now with hospice and is dying so would I please come and see her and hear her last confession. What a privilege. In some way I become a bridge to God. I hear your confessions and concerns and requests for prayers and all day long I am praying for you making your requests known to God. One of my purposes of being a priest is to pray for you. I go before God every day when I say mass, and throughout the day when I pray and I reflect on all the lives and all the people that God has placed into my life that day. And then I bring your prayers before God. People ask me to pray for them all the time and I do, morning, noon, and night. In a special way your struggles become mine, I carry your burdens to the heart of the Father.
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
The gifts I offer are bread and wine. I also offer my life, my whole self to God, and all of you. Each and every morning I lie down before the crucifix and ask God to take me and to use me. And yes, there is sacrifice. I lay my life down for all of you that you may know the forgiveness of your sins. I said to someone the other day, I have a small glimpse of what it must be like to be a mother, to constantly give and give and give and then give some more. We give because God has been so good to us. I give because God has given me so much in this life and I have come to know his love in such a deep and personal way and I want for all of you to know that and experience that same love.
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness
Patience is not one of my virtues, but by God’s grace I can see all of you with compassion. The more that I am aware of my own weakness and the more I know that I myself am ignorant and err, and the more patient I realize that God is with me, the more patient I am with all of you. I myself mess up and do the things that I don’t want to do. When I become impatient it is because I haven’t myself been vulnerable to God. And I’m sorry for that. His Love is patient, His love is kind. It’s only when I admit my weakness and go before God in confession or humbly approach this altar and ask forgiveness that I am much more gentle and patient with all of you.
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.
Every day the priest celebrates the Eucharist, before he begins that Eucharistic Prayer and transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest washes his hands and says silently to himself: “Lord, wash away my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sins.” I say these words, realizing my own sinfulness sometimes more acutely than others. But I celebrate this Eucharist not only to be cleansed of my own sins, but for yours as well. We all struggle with sin and are all in need of this sin offering.
No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
Becoming a priest wasn’t my idea. Believe me I had other ideas for my life. It wasn’t an honor that I grasped at or even understood. God called. What is this call like? We can experience the call to the priesthood in three ways: from another person of the church (like my brother or that moment after my first communion or the priest saying it to us), from God Himself, and in the Depths of our Heart. It is not something that we decide like a hobby or a career, it is a call and it is God who initiates the call. And guess what? He doesn’t stop calling. He is persistent. He won’t give up on you.
just as Aaron was.
Just as Aaron was, and I was, God is calling some of you young men to the priesthood. He loves you so much and wants you to know this love and share this love with others. Maybe he is speaking to your heart right now. Maybe someone has said this to you before. Maybe in the depths of your heart you will hear his voice. If you don’t see him working in your life… if you are not sure of the call, then like Bartimaeus, ask him to help you to see. Ask him to help you to know if you are called to the priesthood.
In the same way,
it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are my son:
this day I have begotten you;
There are moments along the journey when our call is confirmed. When we here God say “You are my son: this day I have begotten you.” For me it was glimpses along the way where I would have an experience of priesthood. A lady that I visited in the hospital who was away from the faith, but opened herself up to me. Another was one evening after the reception for a good friend of mine – Mike Snider. I was his best man. It was a great night of dancing and celebration. And as I walked out to my car that night I noticed that all of my other friends were walking out with their dates arm in arm… and I walked out alone. But I wasn’t sad. I realized I was OK. I was happy even leaving alone because I loved my life and I was not alone. There were moments of realizing the good people that God placed in my life to love and support me. I have more good friends than I ever did. People that have made me feel part of their family. People that have treated me like their own son. I have heard the voice of the father saying to me “You are my son.”
just as he says in another place:
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.
I am so blessed to be called to this life. I know it is forever because God continues to support me with good friends and families and good priests to bless me and walk with me. This is not a life that I walk alone. I walk it with all of you, in the company of my brother priests, and in this long line of priests that God has given us to bless us and guide us. This priesthood Sunday we pray for all of our priests that they may know and cherish their call to the priesthood. From Melchizedek to St. John Vianney to the priests who have served you at St. Barnabas: Fr. Bedell, Fr. DeCrane, Fr. Norm, Fr. David, Fr. Charlie, Fr. Bob, Fr. Ralph and myself. And If God is calling you to the priesthood open your heart to him this Priesthood Sunday. This priesthood Sunday please pray for each of us priests that we may remain “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”