Fifty years ago, when he was a younger man of 25, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Allentown in his home state of Pennsylvania.
Several assignments and countless homilies later, the archbishop celebrated his golden jubilee with a Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption on March 18. What normally would have been a short noon Mass instead included a procession of nearly 25 deacons and more than 60 priests. It was followed by a luncheon in the cathedral undercroft.
Archbishop Kurtz greeted the congregation and said, “I celebrate with you today the gift of priesthood, the call of Jesus Christ and the call of vocation. … There’s never been a day I’ve served as priest or bishop that I’ve had anything but gratitude for my vocation.”
In a characteristically conversational homily, Archbishop Kurtz spoke about one of the letters he has received since announcing his retirement, the Gospel reading and turning our faults into strengths.
Recently, the archbishop said he received a letter that was written in Latin — it was from Pope Francis. Archbishop Kurtz said with a laugh that he wondered whether it would include a new assignment.
The papal letter did not, in fact, include a new assignment for the soon-to-retire archbishop, but it did laud him for his ministry of nearly 15 years as an archbishop as well as his service to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It’s a great honor for him (Pope Francis) to remember and respect the work not only you and I are doing but also the work that the conference is doing,” he said.
The letter, Archbishop Kurtz said, was a good reminder to be as generous as we can be but also that we’re “given permission to be humble servants who are not perfect.”
The Gospel reading from the book of Luke showed that even Jesus’ disciples needed a reminder about humility.
“Luke 22 gives us the beautiful description of the first Eucharist,” the archbishop said. “But he also eavesdrops into the conversation at the table,” during which the apostles argue about which of them is considered the greatest.
“As he was writing it, I bet St. Luke was thinking, ‘Whoever reads this chapter, I hope they remember how important it is to be humble.’ ”
Archbishop Kurtz said that when he began seminary he was challenged to choose a particular fault of his and work to “turn a vice into a virtue.”
In his fourth year of theology, he admitted he was still working on the fault he picked: impatience.
To close, Archbishop Kurtz called on the congregation to “pray for a vibrant and good church” that is “vibrant in Jesus Christ that we may speak where necessary with bold courage, … and humility to know God’s in charge.”