Homilies for June 2019

June 2 (7th Sunday or Ascension), Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, and June 30.

Ascension, or Sunday in Easter – June 2, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter

   Readings: Acts 7:55–60 • Ps 97:1–2, 6–7, 9 • Rev 22:12–14, 16–17, 20 • Jn 17:20–26
   usccb.org/bible/readings/060219-ascension.cfm

By all accounts, if you are actually reading this sermon, you are one of the few people left in the world that does not celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord on a Sunday. If you are American, you most likely are from the northeastern states, like my own dear state of New York, or from Nebraska!

Yes, in most parts of the world, the Church celebrates Ascension today, not on Thursday, and, in many ways, it is a shame. I know the reason why it was switched was so that more people would be free to attend Holy Mass and to give this Holy Day even more solemnity. But there is still something wonderful about the traditional Ascension Thursday!

It is also a shame because we miss out on these important readings that the Church offers to us for our reflection this Seventh Sunday of Easter, most especially the reading from Acts of the Apostles, chapter seven, in which we hear about the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.

This proto-martyr, Stephen, the deacon, follows the example of his Lord and Master, the King of the Martyrs, and wins today the crown of glory. Standing by, with cloaks strewn at his feet is Saul of Tarsus, whom we are told, in a section not in today’s reading: “Saul, for his part, consented to this murder.”

We have in this periscope of Acts of the Apostles a brutal murder of an innocent Christian committed by an angry crowd. It might be easy for us to think that this martyrdom is something that the early Church faced and is something about which Christians in the twenty-first century no longer have to be concerned.

If we believe martyrdom is a thing of the past, then we are surely mistaken. We need only to look to see the slaughter of Christians around the world. Recall the horror in Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday morning, April 21, 2019, when almost 400 innocent people were murdered by terrorists for no other reason than that they were Christians attending Holy Mass. The stirring, now almost iconic image of the blood-splattered statue of the Risen Christ from a Sri Lankan church still haunts us.

In order to witness testimony to modern and contemporary Christian martyrdom, one needs only to go to the Basilica of San Bartolomeo on Tiber Island in Rome, Italy. Run by the San’Egidio community, this ancient church now holds relics of twentieth and twenty-first century martyrs on its side altars. From those killed by the Nazis, by the Mafia, by Communists, by military juntas in South and Central America, to those more recently slaughtered by Islamic extremists or other terrorists, martyrdom is very, very real.

And even when we ourselves are not martyred physically, the Christian in the world today also can suffer the martyrdom that can exist when we are dismissed as bigoted or irrelevant for holding to basic natural law when it comes to issues of marriage and family, when one stands for objective truth in an age of subjectivity to the point of absurdity, or be considered backwards when we hold and practice what the Church teaches in matters of faith and morals. We may be killed for our faith, but, if we practice our faith in its entirety in this post-Christian world of ours, we will suffer.

The martyrs make sense of the faith for us. If all of this was just a philosophy, if it were all about being good to one another, if we only viewed this life as something on the natural plane of existence, then we would be wasting our time. It would be absurd to die for a philosophy, even a real good one.

These martyrs make the faith credible. They are the ultimate expression of the credibility of divine revelation. This was true in the past and it is true in the present. To give a contemporary example, when ISIS savagely murdered twenty Egyptian men and one Ghanaian man on January 15, 2015, and then later had the audacity to release the video on February 15, 2015, stating that “Rome is next,” their plan backfired. Instead of provoking fear in the hearts of the Christian world, for those that believe, these twenty Coptic Christians and one Muslim were and are inspirations. The Muslim man, Matthew Ayariga, was, by his actions, baptized in blood, convinced of the truth of the Christian faith due to the witness of his fellow workers. “Their God is my God. I will go with them,” he uttered, even when he could have been pardoned by his executioners.

Why? Why would the Lord, risen gloriously from the dead, allow martyrdom? It is pretty simple — because he loves us. As the Master goes, so too does the disciples — why should we expect anything else? This is a fallen yet redeemed world, and in this world we will suffer. But we need not fear. The Lord, the Mighty One, has won the victory for us and we need to be filled with joy. John the Beloved tells us today in the twenty-second chapter of his apocalyptic Book of Revelation: “Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates.”

Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord and on the example of the martyrs. The rocks are in hand; get ready to be pummeled. And be careful that we ourselves do not have the rocks in our own hands, ready to hurl them at each other. We can be our own worst enemies. To state it again, we as Christians are in the world, but not of the world.

Truth is truth and caritas in veritate (charity in truth) is what matters. The daily martyrdoms, the blows we will no doubt feel, will hurt, but we know that the Lord has won.

Ascension of the Lord

   Readings: Acts 1:1–11 • Ps 47:2–3, 6–9 • Eph 1:17–23 (or Heb 9:24–28; 10:19–23) • Lk 24:46–53
   usccb.org/bible/readings/060219-7thday.cfm

Now, if you are reading this, most likely you are not from the northeastern part of the United States or from Nebraska, where we celebrate the Seventh Sunday of Easter, year C, on this day and had Ascension last Thursday. As an American priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn, we celebrated the Ascension on Thursday. My current assignment is as academic dean at the Pontifical North American College, which is considered extra-territorial property of the Vatican, which celebrates the Ascension on Thursday. I am in the Diocese of Rome, which celebrates the Ascension on Sunday! There have been some years when I have had two Ascension days and there has been one day when I have had no Ascension day, as I celebrated Thursday Mass in the Diocese of Rome and Sunday Mass here on Vatican territory! Oh, the joys of the regionally determined liturgical calendar!

Regardless of when it is celebrated, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to offer some reflection on this important event in our Lord’s life. The Church offers us her wisdom in the preface to this Mass, detailing important aspects of this mystery of Our Lord’s life. This liturgical prayer can illustrate an important lesson.

Preface I of the Ascension of the Lord states:

For the Lord Jesus, the King of glory,
conqueror of sin and death,
ascended (today) to the highest heavens,
as the Angels gazed in wonder.

Mediator between God and man,
judge of the world and Lord of hosts,
he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state
but that we, his members, might be confident of following
where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before.

Listen to those words: “he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state.” Jesus is God. The events of the Paschal Mystery should put any lingering doubts away from our minds and hearts. God, the creator of everything, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, deigned to become one like us in all things but sin through the wonder of the Incarnation. The Lord of all delivered himself into the hands of us sinful human beings and was beaten, bloodied, battered, and bruised in his blessed Passion, eventually opening wide his arms on the Cross in an embrace of love for you and me, dying for our salvation. He who was born in a borrowed cave is then buried in a borrowed cave, and then, three days later, he appears in his resurrected Body, offering hope to his downcast followers.

Jesus knows our problems and suffering. The Lord never distances himself from us for he comes into our midst, bearing our burden. He has died for our sins and has risen to give us new life. He knows our state, namely that of fallen humanity. We are not worthy of this gift of resurrection, but, in his great love, in this divine dispensation, he makes us worthy. Where he goes, one day we hope to follow. That is the first gift of the Ascension — confident hope of Heaven, if we live our lives in accordance with what he taught us.

The second lesson which we can learn from the Ascension comes from the divine commission given to the disciples by our Lord which we read about in today’s Gospel, taken from the conclusion to Saint Luke’s Gospel. Note that they are not yet sent out to preach and forgive, at least in Saint Luke’s version; no, they would have to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Lord states: “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

There is an old scholastic axiom: Nemo dat quod non habet, which in Brooklyn-ese means: “You can’t give what you ain’t got!” All too often, in a desire for evangelization, many of us wish to get out to the front lines right away. And, just as often, our knowledge and our skill do not quite match our pastoral zeal! Wait for the Spirit, that bringer of the seven-fold gifts, before we go out to preach the Gospel. Take the time to learn what it is that the Church teaches and why she does teach it. Take the time to learn to communicate that truth, ever so ancient, ever so new, to the people of God in a manner that is not watered-down or irrelevant, nor obnoxious in its delivery. Wait for the Spirit, especially the gifts of knowledge and prudence before any act of evangelization.

Two lessons, then — namely, have confident hope of Heaven, and wait for the Spirit — which we can learn from our Risen and Ascended Lord.

Pentecost Sunday – June 9, 2019

   Readings (Mass during the Day): Acts 2:1–11 • Ps 104:1, 24, 29–31, 34 • 1 Cor 12:3b–7, 12–13 (or Rom 8:8–17) • Jn 20:19–23 (or Jn 14:15–16, 23b–26)
   usccb.org/bible/readings/060919-day.cfm

Imagine, just picture in your mind for a moment, what it would be like to be one of these disciples, locked away, as we read about in today’s Gospel from the Evangelist John. You are frightened; no, you are terrified. The Master, the one whom you believe to be Lord and God, Messiah and King, is gone, murdered, killed by the Romans. And you could be next. Even though you ran, despite the fact that you scattered like a frightened child, not the leader of men who thought you were, the Jewish authorities are looking for you. They know who you are. They know that you are a follower of that man, that one whom they humiliated and killed. And these Jewish leaders are still so angry and outraged, they have the Romans, the invaders, in on it with them. And they will have no mercy. What they did to the Master, stretching him out and nailing him to a tree, no doubt they will do to you, and maybe even worse, like flaying your skin off! And here you are, surrounded by your friends, scared to make a move.

And you have just heard the news, some incredible news, news that made your heart leap with joy from one of the Lord’s female followers, this Mary, the Magdalene, a friend of the Lord. She claims that she was at the tomb, that borrowed burial plot of Joseph of Arimathea, and she saw it empty. And not only that it was empty, the Magdalene says that she saw and spoke to the Lord. He is not dead; he is alive. And he said he is coming to his brothers. And yet, this news also fills your heart with fear.

If this is true, what would Jesus say? What words would he utter to his brothers, these chosen ones, this apostolic band, each of whom in his own way betrayed the Lord? He had every right to have righteous indignation. The Master could have rightfully reprimanded the Eleven. They had all ran and left him to suffer and die, all except John, the Master’s Beloved Disciple; Mary, the Lord’s Mother; and the women, including the Magdalene. Whom should you really fear, as you are behind these locked doors, more — the Romans? The Jews? Or, perhaps, the rebuke of the Master, the Innocent One, whom you denied, denigrated, and ditched, all in a vain attempt at coming to your own safety? If the Lord is really risen and if he is, as the Magdalene stated, coming to you all, his brothers, what would he say to you?

The Lord appears, instantly recognizable, yet changed, glorified, appearing almost like Peter, James, and John said he looked on that mount a few months prior. There is no doubt it is the Master; in fact, he bears the horrible marks of the nails on his hands and feet and clearly has the wound from the soldier’s lance, that gaping hole from which the Beloved Disciple witnessed blood and water flowing.

You are so happy to see the Lord. All that you knew, all that he taught you, it is true. He has done it, as he said he would. The Master has conquered death and, as he said to you, he will share this with you. And yet, you are still nervous. He has not spoken as of yet.

Finally, issuing forth from those lips which have the words of everlasting life, the Master speaks. He says not words of anger and correction, words like you would have spoken if you had been betrayed by your closest friends. The Word of Life himself, in his Divine Mercy, simply, clearly, calmly, lovingly says: “Peace be with you.”

The Lord’s gift to us this Pentecost Sunday is the gift of peace. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, that Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, who appears to the disciples as tongues of flame, peace is given to us.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is living in the tranquility of order that can only come from the presence of God. Peace is that gift of serenity that only the Lord can give us this Eirene, this shalom.

Many of us are blessed to live in areas that are not war-torn. Many of us, sadly, in our modern age, are not that blessed. But even those who live not under the shadow of violence are conflicted, perhaps externally, but also in many ways internally.

Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, give to the Lord our internal conflicts, that which weights us down. Through the Spirit’s gift of peace, hear the Lord’s words to you personally — “Peace be with you.” As we carry our cross, recognize him right next to you helping you bear the burden. As we suffer on the cross, often of our own making, see him remove the nails and take our place there. As we huddle frightened in the upper room, see the Lord Jesus appear to you, his contemporary disciple — “Peace be with you.” Live in that peace.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – June 16, 2019

   Readings: Prv 8:22–31 • Ps 8:4–9 • Rom 5:1–5 • Jn 16:12–15
   usccb.org/bible/readings/061619.cfm

One of the more interesting films of the past twenty years or so, Castaway (2000, directed by Robert Zemeckis), with Tom Hanks, was the story of a man, Chuck Nolan, whose Federal Express freight airplane crashes on a desert island. This modern-day Robinson Crusoe is trapped, stranded on this island, which is somewhere, I think, between where Gilligan was and where the cast of Lost had been.

Thanks be to God, Hanks’s character, Chuck, was on an airplane that was carrying almost everything one could need to survive. And survive he does, learning how to cook, to clean, to build a shelter — even in one particularly harrowing scene, to do minor dental surgery. He has shelter, food, air, and clean water, seemingly everything that one could need to survive. Everything, that is, except for company.

In one of the more interesting parts of this movie, there is complete silence, no dialogue whatsoever in this film. Chuck is just trying to survive. Yet he is longing for someone to dialogue. He needs companionship. So, if there is no one there with whom to talk, what can one do? Well, in the case of this character, he meets Wilson.

Wilson functions as the “Man Friday” to Chuck’s Crusoe, with one telling exception. Wilson is a volleyball! Granted, Wilson is a volleyball with a bloody handprint for his face. And the character played by Hanks forms in this film a relationship with Wilson. They even have arguments, at least in the lead character’s head, leading to one of the more heartbreaking scenes in this movie — while on a raft at sea during an attempt to escape, Wilson the volleyball floats away. When the main character of the Castaway notices this, it is too late, leaving the character to shout, “Wilson, come back, I’m sorry!”

Why do I mention this older film in a homily on Trinity Sunday? For one reason — we can have all of the basic necessities of life and still not have what we need to be fully human. We need community!

Why do we as human beings need community? Because Almighty God in Himself is a Communion of Three Persons, yet One Godhead. You might say that being in communion with others is built into who we are as human beings, created by God in his image and likeness. We are called to communion, because God is a Communion!

The twentieth-century German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, in his book The Trinity (1970), opined that, for the average Catholic, one could dispense with the entire doctrine of the Blessed Trinity and very few would notice it in the course of their daily life. This statement has always bothered me tremendously, but in many ways, for the average Catholic, and not only the laity, the doctrine of the Most Blessed Trinity, although certainly acknowledged, does not play a very big, explicit part in their daily life. This is true even for us as priests and deacons, especially when we are called to preach on Trinity Sunday. How many times have we heard the homilist simply proclaim this as a mystery, something that we must accept as a tenant of the faith, yet no real attempt is made to engage this most essential element of our faith, namely who God is in himself!

Yes, the Most Blessed Trinity is a mystery. We can never fully comprehend the Godhead. Yet, in our daily lives, we experience the working of the Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity time and again. In fact, in the Church, through the sacrament of Baptism, we are made adopted children of God the Father, through Christ his Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Existing from all eternity, God is. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, three Persons, equal in power, equal in majesty. From all eternity, God the Father and God the Son gaze in love upon each other and that look of love and knowledge is so great, so intense, so mutual, so reciprocal, that also from all eternity the bond of love and knowledge that is the Holy Spirit is also present. This divine circle of love and knowledge is so great that it spills out and, from that intense love, all of reality is created. We are called to a life of communion with the Most Blessed Trinity. We desire that companionship with each other and we find it in the Church.

Far from an abstraction, the doctrine of the Most Blessed Trinity is actually one of the most practical in all of our faith. Even if we have the basic necessities of life, we still need communion — both with God, who is a Communion of love in Himself, and with each other.

The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is the place where we can find that communion, both with God and with each other. May she be healed of all wounds and division so as to allow the Lord, the true Lumen Gentium (Light of the People), to radiate that communion to the whole world.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – June 23, 2019

   Readings: Gn 14:18–20 • Ps 110:1–4 • 1 Cor 11:23–26 • Lk 9:11b–17
   usccb.org/bible/readings/062319.cfm

Saint Thomas Aquinas, towards the end of his life, was asked to write a treatise, a compendium, on Eucharistic theology, to encapsulate all that we as Catholics believe about the Eucharist. He wrote and he wrote and he wrote, until he could write no more, and in a rare moment of frustration, he took the manuscript that he was writing and threw it at the foot of the crucifix. The story is that the corpus, the figure of Christ on the Cross, came to life and spoke to St. Thomas Aquinas. Jesus spoke to Thomas and said: “Thomas Aquinas, no one has written as well as you have concerning my Eucharistic body and blood. Whatever it is that you want the most, I will grant you.” Imagine if Jesus spoke to you, right here, right now, and said to you, “Whatever it is you want most in the world, I will grant to you.” What would you say? What would I say? What would I really say? Thomas Aquinas looked at the Lord squarely in the eyes and said three little words, and, of course, they were in Latin, because that’s what they were speaking then, three little words: NIL NISI TE, which means NOTHING BUT YOU. What do you want most in the world? Nothing but you.

Thomas Aquinas knew that if he has Jesus in the Eucharist, he has everything. Padre Pio once said: “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun, than to do without Holy Mass.” The Eucharist is the single most important thing in the universe, the most precious gift that God has given to man. It is not just a sign, not just a symbol. It is Christ, true God, true man, sacramentally present to us in the form of bread and wine that is, after consecration, truly, substantially changed into Christ’s body and blood. The Eucharist is not just a “nice thing,” not merely a symbolic sign of sharing and community, it is Christ’s true Body and true Blood.

At Holy Mass, we come to celebrate the single greatest gift — God, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Son of God, comes to us, to feed, to strengthen, to nourish us in the simplest of accidents, the simplest of food, the staple of the diet of the Palestinian culture of Jesus’s day, and indeed, even within this Italian culture in which we find ourselves, bread and wine. He who created the stars of the universe, who fashioned the heavens, who single-handedly harrowed the halls of hell, freeing all of humanity from the snares of Satan by his death and resurrection, he comes to us in this simple, humble way. Jesus, ever meek and humble of heart, the Sacred Heart whom we honor and adore this month of June, this Jesus comes to us as food; he enters us, becomes one with us, and, unlike earthly food which becomes integrated into us, this heavenly food makes us become more and more like him whom we receive.

I have to say that I love Mass. I really truly do. It’s the main reason I’m a priest. When I was a high school student, every single day we had to attend Mass as part of the school day, and I thank God that we did. I would look up at the altar and see those priests who were teaching me in classes reverently celebrating Mass, and I wanted to do that, too. I wanted to be like them, because they had this great gift, this great ability. I have been so blessed as in my life as a priest because every single day in my life (except for one, actually: the day Pope Benedict XVI came to Yankee Stadium in New York and we were not permitted to concelebrate, but only to distribute Holy Communion), I have been able to offer Holy Mass, and sometimes, due to pastoral circumstances, several times a day. I know how unworthy I am to do this; I know I am sinner, but I know that this is why I was born. In spite of me, through my hands and the hands of my brother priests, at this altar, heaven and earth meet, time and eternity kiss, God and man are once again reconciled. What we do here at this altar is nothing less than the unbloodied sacrifice of Calvary. What we celebrate at this altar is the nothing less than the entire Paschal Mystery. And you and I get to receive him, Jesus, our Lord.

In the tabernacle, the Living God dwells; when we reverently receive his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we too become tabernacles, too: living, walking, breathing tabernacles, shrines in the flesh of the Living God.

Two things, then, for us: first, if we believe in the Real Presence of Christ, how do we receive the Eucharistic Lord? Do we consciously show reverence and acknowledgment to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or has it become a mere casual act? And further, does the reverence we show draw more attention to ourselves or to the Eucharist Lord? Do we prepare ourselves for Mass, acknowledging consciously what it is we are doing and where we are, in spite of the distractions, even the ones that can come due to our state of lives? The distractions that a young parent will have will be different than those of a priest, and they are things and people that must be attended to, even right before Mass, but perhaps we can take a moment before Mass and quickly say the prayer of Jean-Jacques Olier, the founder of the Sulpicians: “O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants, in the spirit of holiness, in the fullness of your power, in the perfection of your ways, in the truth of your virtues, in the communion of your mysteries. Rule over every adverse power, in your Spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen.”

Second, what are the moral implications of our reception of Holy Communion? How is our day different because we have received Holy Communion? Is my day different because I have celebrated Mass? Do I recognize the Christ who lives in you and transforms you more and more by the Communion that you had received? Do we strive to see Christ in each other and then to be Christ to each other, recognizing that includes everyone whom we meet, especially the people that God has placed in our daily lives, whom we see every single day and whom we sometimes don’t appreciate as much as we should?

Thomas Merton, the twentieth-century Trappist spiritual writer, in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, describes the experience of how each of us must treat each other after reception of Holy Communion. His epiphanic moment, granted, is not overtly Eucharistic, but I believe that we can transpose what he describes to our Eucharistic life:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

and he adds:

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.

Today, on this feast of Corpus Christi, filled with love incarnate, the Eucharistic Jesus, shine like the sun, and let everyone whom you encounter know, by your love, that they, too, are shining like the sun, too.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 30, 2019

   Readings: 1 Kgs 19:16b, 19–21 • Ps 16:1–2, 5, 7–11 • Gal 5:1, 13–18 • Lk 9:51–62
   usccb.org/bible/readings/063019.cfm

The readings we proclaim today call me as a priest to examine my own priestly vocation and the motivations that spur me onward to live this vocation wisely and well. The first reading, taken from the First Book of Kings, details the story of Elijah finding Elisha and appointing him a prophet after Elijah is given this call of the Lord. The cloak of service is thrown over the young man and he is forced to make this radical change in his life, leaving all, including family, behind to serve the Lord.

Indeed, Saint Luke in the Gospel given to us for our reflection today by the Church continues this theme, with the clear parallel between Elijah in First Kings 19 and the Lord Jesus. The Master encounters those who wish to follow him, to dedicate their lives to him, and they cannot do so. Unlike Elisha, they are ultimately too caught up in the things of this world, like family and property, all of them in themselves good. The Lord says: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” The refrain of the responsorial psalm reminds us: “You (God) are my inheritance, O Lord.”

It has not been an easy year for those of us in the clerical state. We have witnessed, in an almost mind-blowing manner, the staggering fall of some men, shepherds of the flock, whom we have respected as holy, wise, and learned men of God. The grievous sins of a few clerics, from eminent cardinals to bishops to priests to deacons, have caused the faithful to be scandalized, to leave the practice of the Faith, and to even question the necessity of the Church, her priests, and even the efficacy of the Sacraments. We who are clerics have lost respect in the eyes of the world. I am told by some of my brother priests in the United States that they do not feel very comfortable any longer traveling or, for a vocal few, even being off the parish property in clerical garb or religious habit due to the looks that they receive from some people.

And yet, with all that being said, I contend that there has never been a better time to be a priest than today. Priests are more necessary than ever for the sanctifying of the world. What is necessary today for the priest is a radical reconfiguration to the Person to whom they were configured at their ordination — Jesus Christ, the Lord, the one, true, high priest.

For too long, I have forgotten that it is the Lord who is my sole inheritance, not human respect. For too long, I have set my hand to the plow and at least peered over my shoulder to see what is in back of me. The cloak of radical discipleship has been laid over us who are ordained priests. Therefore, in this age, when we are called to be even more so agents of transparency, of healing, of trust, in the Church and the world, what are we to do?

Simply this — be Christ’s priests. We were given the triple munera for ministry in the Church — to teach, to administer, and to sanctify. If we are to live this out with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole self, what a difference it would be for the Church and the world.

We are to teach and to preach the doctrine of the Church, not only what we think, or what we think might be best acceptable to society, but what our Mother the Church has entrusted to us in the Deposit of Faith without any alteration. This, of course, does not mean that we just recite the Catechism to the people whom we serve, but it does mean that we understand, accept, and teach the Church as it is authentically taught in the Magisterium. At all of our diaconal ordinations, we took an oath of fidelity. Those who are pastors and seminary formators and professors did as well. Now is the time, more than ever, for us to live up to it.

We are to administer the temporal goods of the Church with the sure and certain knowledge that it is not our property. We are merely the caretakers, those responsible for the goods and buildings and services which our Mother, the Church, has given to us as pastors. One of the scandals of the past year has not only been that of broken promises of celibacy, but also the lavish lifestyles of some of the clergy. Even if we are not obliged in religion to holy poverty, we are still called to live a simple lifestyle.

We are called to sanctify the People of God, building up the Mystical Body of Christ by the reverent celebration of the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass. Do we recognize that, when we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is Christ whom we call down in our own unworthy hands? Do we celebrate or concelebrate Holy Mass, even on days when we are not “on” to do so? Do we pray daily the Divine Office in its entirety, as we are obliged to do at our ordinations, not only for the sanctification of our own day, but in intercession for our Bride, the Church, for her growth in holiness? Do we make time daily for Eucharistic adoration, spending, indeed — in the eyes of the world — wasting time before our ultimate love?

If anything we have learned this year, we need to get back to the basics of our priesthood. This leads me to the models offered by the Institute for Priestly Formation, operating out of Omaha, Nebraska. A few summers ago, I had the opportunity as a seminary formator to attend a program sponsored by this Institute and, even though the models, in and of themselves, are limited (as are all models when discussing God and the things of God), I think that I did learn quite a bit when I was there. In fact, perhaps at another time, I would propose several more models of priesthood. Each are key, each are vital, but each must be taken as a whole, and seen as a unity; otherwise, in my opinion, one misses the point. One cannot be more “chaste spouse” one day and less “head and shepherd” the next.

The whole point of the identities offered is fairly simple, yet vitally important. What’s really the biggest crisis facing the priesthood today? It’s not broken ordination promises, necessarily; it’s not clerical sexual abuse; at its essence, the biggest issue is the lack of a true and real priestly identity. It’s about knowing who a priest is supposed to be. And if a priest doesn’t understand who he is and what he is supposed to be, then how can he lead the people of God as head and shepherd? How can he inspire vocations to the priesthood and religious life?

The priest is not a functionary. The priest is not mainly a facilitator of the ministries of others in the community. One of the basic messages of that program I attended at Creighton a few summers ago, the Institute for Priestly Formation, is this idea. The priest must reorder his entire being, his entire worldview around the idea of relationship with God, then identity in Christ, and then his mission. Many problems, particularly burn-out, resentment of his mission, and an over-functionality, occur when the priest gets the order confused. For myself at times (and dare I say for many of my brother priests), I have reversed the order, placing mission first, getting the job done, at the expense of relationship and identity.

The relationship for the priest that has to be primary is with God. He must realize that he is a beloved son of the Father and has to assure, through the formation of a “monasticism of the heart,” becoming an active contemplative, that this relationship is primary. In the midst of a busy schedule, with all of its demands, I can understand how many of my brother priests could scoff at the concept of being an active contemplative. All one needs to do to be an active contemplative is to take the time daily for real, substantial prayer, preferably before the Blessed Sacrament, doing a daily examen.

From this relationship flows his identity, which is, by his ordination, configured to Christ, and he is ontologically, at the root of his being, changed. The priest is called to be the chaste spouse to the Church, married, if you will, to the Church, the Bride of Christ. He is called to be the spiritual father, the one who gives life to his people through his loving service, like any father to a family, and by feeding them with the Eucharist. He is called to be the divine physician, healing his flock through the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick. He is called to be head and shepherd, leading and guiding his flock even when the times get tough. What a noble role! What an honorable task! How could a priest with this understanding not be excited and want to set the world ablaze?

Rev. John P. Cush, STD About Rev. John P. Cush, STD

Rev. John P. Cush, STD, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as the academic dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. He earned a Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, where he serves as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History. Fr. Cush is the author of a forthcoming book on fundamental theology from Our Sunday Visitor Press and is a columnist for the National Catholic Register.

Comments

  1. Avatar Francis Etheredge says:

    Dear Rev. John Cush, The Peace of Christ. Thank you for a range of homilies. I confess a certain angle in my reading in that I was looking to advertise a book, one of mine, and read your work with this in mind; and then, at a certain point, I began both to be interested in what you have to say and to see a connection with what I am doing. At one point you say, drawing on Rahner, that ‘one could dispense with the entire doctrine of the Blessed Trinity and very few would notice it in the course of their daily life’ and then go on to explain that human beings seek communion: seek communion with God and with each other and that this originates, as it were, with being made in the image of the Blessed Trinity.If we connect Rahner’s comment with one of Ratzinger’s, that a catechesis on creation is a very neglected work, it may be that the problem of understanding our human nature and understanding God need to be revisited through the early chapters of Genesis. Consider, then, in the creation of Adam and Eve that we discover, anew, how intimately we are fashioned in the image and likeness of God: Adam being generated from the ground and Eve proceeding from His side. How can we not discover, anew, that the reality of the Blessed Trinity is intimately expressed in the reality of human being; indeed, to the point that just as Person, in the Blessed Trinity, is a term of relationship, so each of us is in reality a being-in-relation.

    So, kindly forgive me for going on to say, these and other thoughts are at the heart of “The Human Person: A Bioethical Word” – buy it and review it (https://enroutebooksandmedia.com/bioethicalword/. But then you might go on to read “Scriptue: A Unique Word” (https://www.cambridgescholars.com/scripture) … God bless, Francis.

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