July 3, 2015
The Solemnity of the Martyrs
Saint Peter and Saint Paul
“When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He (then) said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’.” (Matt. 16:13-16)
This is a question that must be answered by every single human being who wants to be a follower of Jesus. And to be a faithful disciple of Jesus the answer must be the same, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16-16) This is especially true of the one who wishes to be a priest who functions ‘In Persona Christi.”
This Solemnity of the Holy Martyrs, Saints Peter and Paul that we are celebrating would be enough to provide a wonderful homily reflecting on their lives, their conversions, their ministry and commitment to Jesus. However I choose to consider three words to reflect on the meaning and importance of the Ministerial Priesthood.
The first word, as you well know, is Vocation. My brother priests, you and I have been called; called by God, called by Christ, called by the Church. No matter how that call came, how it was mediated to you and me, or with whatever emotion it was received, it was a mystical experience in which God spoke to the innermost depth of our consciences. For some of us it may have been a surprise, for others, something actually expected. However, there is one fact that we all experienced…it is a fact that truly marked our existence: “The divine choice made of your person and of mine.” (Paul VI, Homily, Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, June 29, 1975)
Just as with the call of the Twelve Apostles and also of Paul of Tarsus, the word of the Gospel descended from the Gospel to your existence, my brother priests, to you and to me, saying: “Come after me, and I will make (you) fishers of men.” (Mk. 1:16). I chose you. (Matt. 1921) (Jer. 1:5)
“From his fullness we have all received, Grace in place of Grace.” (Jn. 1:16)
Brothers, we are fortunate. We “are fortunate, because we have had the Grace, the Wisdom and the courage to have listened to, to have heard the voice of God and to have accepted this decisive invitation. It may have upset the normal and attractive plans of your life and mine; it may have snatched us away from the company of our deer ones. It has even asked from us the renunciation of conjugal love, in order to extol in us an extraordinary fullness of love for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. It has made us exceptional individuals, nearer, by the priestly character, to the angels than to the men of this world.” (Paul, VI, homily…)
You, my co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord, are indeed fortunate! Reflect always on this exalting good fortune of your vocation, and “NEVER DOUBT, never fear, never wonder whether you have mistaken your choice, a choice inspired by a superlative charism of wisdom and love.” (Paul VI, homily)
Perhaps this is the Temptation of our contemporary history. Now society questions Faith. It does not accept the values that come from Christian Faith. It does not accept objective truth. All is considered relative!
Treasure your Vocation. Always rejoice in it. Be grateful. The world truly needs us now, more than ever!
The second word is totally divine…it is Sacramental Priestly Ordination. The focal point of Ordination, and also of the Church is nothing less than the “transmission of Spiritual Powers, powers that the Holy Spirit himself infuses into the chosen disciple, who is raised to the rank of a minister of God, for Christ, in the Church.” (Paul VI, homily)
When the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples, breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22) an incredible transformation took place in them. At that moment, “a contact, an impression, a character formed” which transformed those humble men of Galilee into priests of Jesus Christ. That same Spirit “still forms him who received the sacrament of Holy Orders” today. He, too, becomes of priest of Jesus Christ. “He also becomes able to dispense ‘the mysteries of God’.” (1 Cor. 4:1; 1 Pt 4:10)
This “involves principally the conferring of a power” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Suppl. 34; 2 ad 2) which transcends all human possibility. It is a “Divine Power entrusted to priests to consecrate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, offering the Sacrifice to the Father, forgiving and retaining sins.” (DS 1754)
The third word is Mission. The priesthood is a ministry, a service, a mediation between God and the People of God. It is meant for the community of believers…and for the entire world. On the very evening of the Resurrection Christ told his Apostles “Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. (Jn. 20:21) “Go, therefore, and take the Gospel to all the nations.” (Matt. 28:19)
Each of us priests must repeat to ourselves, and often: I am destined to the service of the Church, to the service of the people. The priesthood is Charity. It is the total gift of self for other in imitation of the Savior who “Came, not to be served, but to Serve and to give his life for the ransom of the many.” (Mk. 10:45)
This total gift of self for others “opens up a new marvel before the generous priest: the entire panorama of mankind”. (Paul VI, homily) We priests have been set apart from our own social background and have been destined for a very specialized religious ministry. “If there is a service which calls for those who exercise it to be immersed in the many-sided and tumultuous experiences of society, even more so that the teacher, the doctor, or the man in public life it is the service or the priestly ministry. ‘You are the Salt of the earth and the Light of the world’.” (Matt. 5:13-15)
Brothers, our ministry is truly a unique gift…not only to the Church, but also, and maybe especially, for the entire world. The world is in constant need of us. This is because the world is so lacking in a “manifestly supernatural, sensitive, pure and attentive love that characterizes our ministry.” (Paul VI, homily) Pope Francis seems to have captured this sense so well when he speaks of the need for all Christians to be known for Love, Mercy and Forgiveness. Love is the Great Commandment. God finds it easier to show Mercy than to administer justice. (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 2015) Forgiveness is the love letter of the Father to humanity written on the Body of his Son hanging on the Cross. Perhaps we are the sacrament of these three virtues.
For the young and not so young Men considering a vocation to the priesthood “Look around you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest.” (Jn. 4:35) Yes, a priestly vocation is hard work; but it is also so very rewarding. There are challenges. There is misunderstanding at times; but there is a tremendous Grace that accompanies it. There is anxiety and sadness at times; but an incredible joy knowing that you have been Chosen, Called and Minister in persona Christi.
In short St. Paul describes it best. It is a sacrificial ministry. It is not for the weak, but for the strong. It is for the adventuresome and the bold! It is for those who want to love and serve others, even when that love and service is not returned.
“I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:19b-20)
I also want to acknowledge the vocation to the Diaconate. Obviously much of what I said about priesthood pertains to you also. We treasure your vocation also.
Finally, let us acknowledge our Religious Men and Women in Consecrated Life. Long before your apostolate, is your witness as a man or woman of God consecrated and living the Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. Your way of life is truly a treasure of great price that truly makes the Church more beautiful and attractive.
Let me sum up my thoughts in the words of St. Augustine, one of my favorites.
“Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a Bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of Grace; that one means danger, this one salvation. Finally, as if in the open sea, I am being tossed about by the stormy activity involved in that one; but as I recall by whose blood I have been redeemed, I enter a safe harbor in the tranquil recollection of this one; and thus while toiling away at my own proper office, I take my rest in the marvelous benefit conferred on all of us in common.
So I hope the fact that I have been bought together with you gives me more pleasure than my having been placed at your head…” (St. Augustine, Sermon 340, 292)
After all, together all of us make up the One People of God, the one Body of Christ, which is the Church.
Most Reverend Patrick J. Zurek, Bishop of Amarillo
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
Fortieth Anniversary of Priestly Ordination
St. Mary’s Cathedral
June 29, 2015