Hope in the Lord — Homily for ordination Mass

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

In past trips to the eternal city of Rome, I often found myself on that popular street that runs through the old city, called the Corso. Quite frequently I stopped in an imposing church known as the Chiesa Nuova to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. For some reason I was attracted to the shrine on the left side, which is the altar of St. Philip Neri, the saint whose feast we celebrate today.

St. Philip is the 16th century priest known for his joyful, simple spirit. One legend is that when at prayer in the catacombs under that church, St. Philips’ heart expanded with such zeal that he cracked two ribs. As in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls for great zeal from these five laborers preparing for ordination. They will be laborers in a harvest that is not their own. It will be God’s harvest.

In 1963, Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote about priests in his book, “Your Life is Not Your Own” that I recall reading in my first year in the seminary. The life of a priest is not his own.

In today’s first reading, we hear more about a mission that is not one’s own. The prophet Jeremiah receives three directions from God: Go wherever I send you. Speak as I command you. Have no fear.

“Go wherever I send you.” This is the first instruction given to you five men about to be ordained. They are words of adventure! On one level, this refers to your archdiocesan assignment. In my 46 years as a priest, the appointments I received were tickets to new adventures. I hope you love them as much as I have.

The depth of the adventure will be revealed as you serve for a number of years and look back, recalling the ones to whom you have been sent to serve.

Often, I receive letters telling me of the power of priestly presence in someone’s life. At times, these letters describe a great and unselfish act of service by the priest or the way a priest accompanies a person who is converting to Christ and His Church. Recently, I received a letter of thanks for the way the priest conveyed reverence in his celebration of Mass. That priest may not even know the way he has inspired another.

“Speak as I command you,” is the second direction to Jeremiah from God. So, too, you who will be ordained must love God’s words in sacred scripture and never tire of prayer and study. For the sake of the people you serve, be good students!

“Have no fear,” is the final directive by God. Why does God even raise the question of fear? Because God does not want you to avoid conflict at all costs. Rather, He wants you to go into the midst of the people whom you serve. This service can be untidy and messy, but God is with you. Be tough and holy. Be gentle in your care but firm in your convictions.

I just began to read “Forged in Crisis” by Nancy Koehn — the story of five courageous persons and how they were made courageous. The jacket cover describes it well: “five gritty leaders whose extraordinary passion and perseverance change history.” Courage is forged by your response in crisis. Do not avoid crisis at all costs but rather go into the midst of the people you serve.

There are lots of Scripture quotes cautioning you not to be a “pleaser of persons:” St. Paul in Galatians 1:10 – “Am I seeking the favor of men or of God?” or St. Peter in Acts 5:29 – “We want to obey God rather than men.” Today’s second reading from Ephesians 4 says it well: “Live a life worthy of your call – 24/7!”

Let me express it clearly. You are called not to be a victim but to be a witness! Father Martin Laird spends two chapters at the end of his book, “Into the Silent Land,” on the difference between a victim and a witness. He says a victim goes through life always finding an excuse for his failure and frustration … and becomes a victim at the first sign of conflict and trial. The witness is the one, trusting in the Lord Jesus, who stands boldly with Christ as a humble witness, confident in God’s grace.

Let me add two final prayers for you: May you labor with joy and with gratitude. May you labor with joy. Joy is elusive and seems to show up when, after you have served with all your heart, a sense of God’s presence and your wellbeing envelops you and those you serve. Be a man of joy!

Be a man who labors with gratitude. Each day pray in gratitude for the “saint next door.” Pope Francis in “Gaudete et Exultate” quotes St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) who was martyred in 1941 at the hands of Nazis because of her Jewish heritage. She writes of those persons whose influence were a decisive turning point in your personal lives – your parents, a priest, a teacher. She adds that sometimes the person is appreciated only after your life has been spent.

So, men about to be ordained as laborers in the vineyard that is the Lord’s, be:

Men of adventure.

Men of study and prayer.

Men of grit — without fear.

Men of joy.

Men of gratitude.

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