Sunday, October 28, 2012

Homily: What makes for a Holy Priest.

With Seminarian Max Cole at St. Joseph.  Max spoke at all of our masses this weekend and helped me with the Baptism of "Michael".  Max will hopefully be ordained in May of 2014.  Please pray for all of our Seminarians.  

This Sunday is Priesthood Sunday.  St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us the three elements of what it takes to be a high priest.  

Every priest is:
1) Taken from among men and made their representative before God.  
2) Able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring because he himself is beset by weakness
3) No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God.  

It is these three qualities that make up what a good and holy priest should be.  Since we are celebrating the year of faith and called to look once more on the Documents of Vatican II, I will reflect on both the Scripture for today as well as the Tradition of the Church which has been most recently taught in John Paul II’s Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I Will Give You Shepherds: On the Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day - Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation March 25, 1992) PDV

Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

The priest first and foremost shares in the humanity of those he serves.  Human formation, is the basis of all priestly formation.  (PDV)  In the seminary men are formed as priests first to be good, holy, healthy men.  You may notice that I try to do this as well, take care of myself physically by exercising, emotionally through good friends and priestly support, I spend my days off with priest friends, Sundays I try to be with my family.  I try to keep current with the latest movies, books, music, I play guitar, piano, violin and am learning the ukulele, you’ll notice I’m on Facebook and I try to share some of the human side of just enjoying life.  Some may think I play too much, but I am an overachiever, and do have a love and passion for life.  All of this is important for the formation of a good and holy priest.  

Pastores Dabo Vobis the importance of the humanity of the priest:  “Through his daily contact with people, his sharing in their daily lives, the priest needs to develop and sharpen his human sensitivity so as to understand more clearly their needs, respond to their demands, perceive their unvoiced questions, and share the hopes and expectations, the joys and burdens which are part of life:  thus he will be able to meet and enter into dialogue with all people.  In particular, through coming to know and share, through making his own, the human experience of suffering in its many different manifestations, from poverty to illness, from rejection to ignorance, loneliness, and material or moral poverty, the priest can cultivate his own humanity and make it all the more genuine and clearly apparent by his increasingly ardent love for his fellow man.”

What this means is that the priest is supposed to be above all, a man who is relatable.  There should be a human quality to the priest, though set-apart, at the same time is approachable, warm, friendly, and inviting.  I think the greatest compliment we can receive as priests is when someone says “Father, I feel like I can really talk to you.”  Hopefully you have this sense that you can go to your priest and share anything with them.  

Pastores Dabo Vobis reveals that: “The priest, who is called to be a “living image” of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church, should seek to reflect in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which shines forth in the Incarnate Son of God and which is reflected with particular liveliness in his attitudes towards others as we see narrated in the Gospels.  The ministry of the priest is, certainly, to proclaim the Word, to celebrate the Sacraments, to guide the Christian community in charity “in the name and in the person of Christ”, but all this he does dealing always and only with individual human beings: “Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God” (Heb 5:1).  So we see that human formation of the priest its special importance when related to the receivers of the mission: in order that his ministry may be humanely as credible and acceptable as possible, it is important that the priest should mould his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of Man.  It is necessary that, following the example of Jesus who “knew what was in man”  (Jn 2:25, cf. 8:3-11), the priest should be able to know the depths of the human heart, to perceive difficulties and problems, to make meeting and dialogue easy, to create trust and cooperation, to express serene and objective judgements.  Future priests therefore should cultivate a series of human qualities... these qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities.”

These human qualities should help people experience God in the very humanness of the priest.  Because priests are human and sanctified there is a great mystery of grace and nature at work.  The priest, though ordained, consecrated and set apart, is still at the same time “beset by weakness.”   

He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,
for he himself is beset by weakness
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.

The priest is compassionate and sympathetic to those he serves because he himself struggles with weakness and also relies on the sacraments.  

Sometimes priests joke that they don’t have to go to confession, we simply find a mirror and absolve ourselves!  This, of course, is not true, as priests we still struggle with sin and with the grace of the Holy Spirit are “working out our redemption.”  

The priests that make the best confessors are those that actually go to confession themselves.  We know what it is like to take our sin to another priest, make ourselves vulnerable, and experience the forgiveness which only God can give in the Sacrament. I love nothing more to be able to do this for others!  

Pastores Dabo Vobis explains that: “The priest is, therefore, a man of charity, and is called to educate others according to Christ’s example and the new commandment of brotherly love (cf. Jn 15:12).  But this demands that he himself allow himself to be constantly trained by the Spirit in the charity of Christ.  In this sense preparation for the priesthood must necessarily involve a proper training in charity and particularly in the preferential love for the “poor” in whom our faith discovers Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40), and a merciful love for sinners.”  

It is because we have discovered through the Sacrament of Confession and Eucharist that we ourselves are loved sinners, that we can be that much more compassionate to each and every person who has their own struggles with sin.  

As priests we’ve had a unique opportunity of formation, spiritual direction, retreats, and opportunities for meditation, healing, and encounters with the Lord.  And on top of all that we are given the very special Sacramental Grace of Holy Orders.  

Again, in Pastores Dabo Vobis: “Before being sent out to preach and to heal, they are called “to be with him” (Mk 3:14) The sacrament of Holy Orders confers upon the priest sacramental grace which gives him a share not only in Jesus’ saving “power” and “ministry” but also in his pastoral ‘love”.  at the same time it ensures that the priest can count on all the actual graces he needs, whenever they are necessary and useful for the worthy and perfect exercise of the ministry he has received...
The people of God should be able to say about the priest, who has increasingly matured in human sensitivity, something similar to what we read about Jesus in the Letter to the Hebrews: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15)

No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,

The third quality of the high priest is that priests are ultimately called by God.  This call is spoken softly in the depths of the heart but is also heard in the voice of the community of believers.  

Pastores Dabo Vobis explains: “It cannot be forced in the slightest by any human ambition, and it cannot be replaced by any human decision. Vocation is a gift of God's grace and never a human right, such that "one can never consider priestly life as a simply human affair, nor the mission of the minister as a simply personal project."(101) Every claim or presumption on the part of those called is thus radically excluded (cf Heb 5 4ff ). Their entire heart and spirit should be filled with an amazed and deeply felt gratitude. an unshakable trust and hope, because those who have been called know that they are rooted not in their own strength but in the unconditional faithfulness of God who calls.”

This call is mystery and that is why it truly needs to be discerned with and among the faithful, including the parish priest, seminary fraternity and ultimately the Bishop.  

Gaudium et Spes, a document from Vatican II, explains:  “Certainly a vocation is a fathomless mystery involving the relationship established by God with human beings in their absolute uniqueness, a mystery perceived and heard as a call which awaits a response in the depths of one’s conscience, which is “Man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary.  There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (Gaudium et Spes 16).  

When does God call?  Well we hear in Sacred Scripture “
Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,* you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (John 18:3)

The Documents of Vatican II echo: “As long experience shows, a priestly vocation tends to show itself in the preadolescent years or in the earliest years of youth. Even in people who decide to enter the seminary later on it is not infrequent to find that God's call had been perceived much earlier. The Church's history gives constant witness of calls which the Lord directs to people of tender age. St. Thomas, for example, explains Jesus' special love for St. John the Apostle "because of his tender age" and draws the following conclusion: "This explains that God loves in a special way those who give themselves to his service from their earliest youth." (In Iohannem Evangelistam Expositio, c. 21, lect. V, 2).

Sometimes parents will encourage their children to put it off saying to their sons: “Go to college first, work, try and be successful and if that doesn’t work, then you can go to the seminary!”  Seriously I’ve heard it said many times.  If God is calling your child.  There is no better place to discern than the seminary and no better time than when they are young.  

More from Pastoral Dabo Vobis: “The Church looks after these seeds of vocations sown in the hearts of children, by means of the institution of Minor Seminaries, providing a careful though preliminary discernment and accompaniment.  In a number of parts of the world, these Seminaries continue to carry out a valuable educational work, the aim of which is to protect and develop the seeds of priestly vocation, so that the students may more easily recognize it and be in a better position to respond to it.  

The students “under the fatherly supervision of the superior's, the parents too playing their appropriate part, should lead lives suited to the age, mentality and development of young people.  their way of life should be fully in keeping with the standards of sound psychology and should include suitable experience of the ordinary affairs of daily life and contact with their own families.”  (Decree on Priestly Formation Optatam Totius, 3).

“The call to the priesthood depends on his saving presence:  not only the call, but also the accompanying so that the person called can recognize the Lord’s grace and respond to it freely and lovingly.  

Because there is a freedom there is a possibility for someone to say no to the call.  I know of young men right now who should be in the seminary discerning, but they are saying no, maybe later, or let me try something else first.  In the six years that I spent in the seminary I can tell you a number of guys came and went, but I do not know of one young man that regrets the time that he spent there.  Of all the guys I keep in touch with, they reflect on the seminary as being such a wonderful time in their life, a time of growing in faith, prayer, and experience of service.  They don’t regret giving God that time of their lives for discernment.  I can tell you however, that just being five years a priest I have met dozens of men who have told me, too late in life... “Father, I should have been a priest.”  There are men that always felt the call but never answered.  I’m even talking about men that are married, have children and grandchildren, worked successful careers and lived full lives.  But they never resolved that call.  I can think of nothing more sad than a calling from God that goes unanswered or unexplored.  

We should all be aware of our specific responsibility in fostering the call to the priesthood.  This fostering happens in two primary ways: The Family, and The Parish Community.

“Let us mention first of all the family:  Christian parents, as also brothers and sisters and other members of the family, should never seek to all back the future priest within the narrow confines of a too human (if not worldly) logic, no matter how supported by sincere affection that logic may be (cf. Mk 3:20-21, 31-35)

“Closely linked with this is the Parish Community.  Both it and the family are connected in education in the faith... Above all, inasmuch as it is the most immediate local expression of the mystery of the Church, the parish offers an original and especially valuable contribution to the formation of a future priest.  The parish community should continue to feel that young man on his way to the priesthood is a living part of itself; it should accompany him with its prayer, give him a cordial welcome during holiday periods, respect and encourage him to form himself in his identity as a priest, and offer him suitable opportunities and strong encouragement to try out his vocation for the priestly mission.”  

So here is an important challenge.  Take a moment right now and ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight and reveal to you whom God may be calling to the priesthood.  Pray for that young man.  
And then be the voice of the Church.  Ask them if they have ever thought about being a priest, write them a letter and tell them what you see so special in them, or send me their name and contact information and I will gladly give them a call.  There’s nothing as sad as an unanswered call and there is nothing more joyful than discovering God’s call!  

This priesthood Sunday, you could actually be the one to invite and nurture a vocation to this gift and mystery of the priesthood.  

With Adam Zajac, from St. Barnabas, Diaconate Ordination.  Adam will hopefully be ordained a priest this May! 

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