Priesthood-First Mass of Thanksgiving
Your Excellency, Archbishop Montalvo, our newly ordained Father Magat, Reverend Fathers here present, Mr. and Mrs. Magat, family and friends of our new priest, faithful people of St. Andrews.
I have known our newly ordained more than half his life and some of you may have heard the story - because I know he tells it very often - of how he came to me after he had graduated from the University of Virginia, and told me he had made his mind up to become a priest. Well, at that time I was a little well known for encouraging vocations, so I guess I was supposed to be overjoyed and enthusiastic at hearing this from his lips. But he was shocked by my reaction when instead I told him: "Oh, you'll get over it." Well, obviously he didn't get over it and happily for us he didn't. He always maintained that I was using reverse psychology on him. Well, whatever, it worked. But we know that it was God's will and His extraordinary grace that, in spite of the both of us, has led him to this altar today.
I have brought to the pulpit this morning one of my greatest treasures, my wife. Well, that is what we priests lovingly refer to as our breviary. We take her with us everywhere. And this particular volume of my breviary is very, very special to me, because I had it with me in the early 1980s when I had the extraordinary good fortune of sharing lunch with Mother Theresa of Calcutta. After the lunch, I was bold enough to ask her if she would autograph my breviary - with the bribe when I told her that "every time I open it, Mother, I will be reminded to pray for your and your sisters." So, Mother took the breviary and she started writing and she gave it back to me and these are the words inscribed. She said:
BE HOLY, BECAUSE JESUS, WHO HAS CHOSEN YOU TO BE HIS PRIEST, IS HOLY.
Well, this is the message I wish to impart to our newly ordained priest this morning:
BE HOLY, BECAUSE JESUS, WHO HAS CHOSEN YOU TO BE HIS PRIEST, IS HOLY.
Though it's true that all of us, by virtue of our Baptism and our Confirmation, are called to a holiness of life that is the universal vocation; "Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." And we all participate in the priestly anointing of Christ in the Holy Spirit, by virtue of our Baptism and our Confirmation. As it's recorded in First Peter, he says, "All the faithful form a holy and royal priesthood. Offer spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ, and proclaim the greatness of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." However, this universal priesthood is not enough. God knew that it would not be enough, and so he resorted to institute the ministerial priesthood, the priesthood of those men who would be ordained by the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
And yesterday Father Magat, like so many men before him over two thousand years, was ontologically changed, a very change in his being, allowing him now to possess a unique gift that makes him Alter Christus, another Christ.
He can now render tangible the actual work of Christ. He becomes a living sign, that Christ is still in and with His Catholic Church. And as John Paul II put it in his Pastores Dabo Vobis, he is a sacramental representation of Christ, head and shepherd.
Father Magat has how received a spiritual power as a gift which is the participation in the authority with which Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, continuously guides His Church.
Father Magat, you are now a consecrated man; and just as there is clearly a real difference between an ordinary person, man or woman, and a Christian, by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism, which effects a very real and indelible character or mark in the soul, so there is a very real difference now between you, Father Magat, and every other Christian who is not ordained, because on your soul a mark has been placed that makes you a priest forever - sacerdos in aeternum - making you different, not necessarily better than others, but essentially different from others, giving you a potential and a capacity to rise to the greatest heights of holiness. Just as anyone baptized is saved or lost as a Christian, so a man ordained is saved or lost as a priest.
You have taken an irreversible step that leaves you marked forever and have assumed a new personality as now you act in persona Christi, in the very person of Christ, speaking His words in the first person. Not, "This is Christ's Body. This is Christ's Blood." You will say in a few moments; "This is my Body. This is my Blood." You will not say, "May God absolve you and forgive you of your sins". You will speak in the first person singular. "I absolve you." And you will be the instrument of Christ" his voice, his hands, his feet. You'll become completely His.
And why have you and all priests taken that irreversible step? Well, first it is the sign of the love that the individual man who becomes a priest has for you, the faithful of God. He lays down his life for his friends. There is no greater love than that. He denies himself, dies to himself to live for you, he's saying you're worth it. How sad to receive the response at times of multitudes, even of faithful people who say, "What a waste! No! Not a waste! It is a gift, a gift to you, a gift to me that a young man has thought enough of us to lay down his life in this way.
It is also a sign of God's love that He does not abandon His Church. As in those early days when He called Matthew from his post, He has called men who may not be deserving. They are not. You cannot be deserving of such a gift. And He takes them from their lowliness, from their sinfulness and raises them to these new heights, a sign that God does not give up on us. He loves us enough to give us priests. And we have to love our priests and pray for our priests, especially the weakest amongst us.
This is the gift, you my good people, should want for your son, your grandson, your brothers, your friends, your co-workers. Pray for priestly vocations. Encourage them. There are some who believe that the present crisis in the Church might in some way diminish vocations. But I think that as in time of war, many young men and women come forward and give themselves in service to the country. I would hope one of the good effects that comes out of this tragedy is that many men will come forward in defense of Holy Mother Church and lay down their lives, as soldiers who lay down their lives for the country in difficult times. We live in a time when there are many in the Church who even question the value and meaning of priestly life, especially in terms of priestly celibacy. But we must never question this awesome gift of Christ to His Church, this gift that Father Jerome makes to all of us.
What does it mean, this gift? For someone trying to justify it by appealing to human and natural terms, they point out how it is practical, how it may be convenient to continue the discipline of priestly celibacy. But let us not miss the point here. The true meaning and value of priestly celibacy cannot be found in this world but only in terms of the next. It has an eschatological value. And what that means is, Father Magat and every priest who has taken these vows, begins to live in his very body in this world the life of the world to come, where there will be no marriage, no giving in marriage. As sublime a calling as that may be in time, God did not put it in eternity.
And so, the one who is consecrated to celibacy and virginity anticipates in this world, the life that all of us will lead in the world to come. And we need that witness now more than ever. The one who gives himself to holy celibacy is saying, "I believe so much in this Gospel I proclaim that I am willing to give up not what is bad - all of us must do that - but what is good: marriage, family, children. Father Magat has decided to have no children so that all of us can be his children. And it is so fitting that the priest lives this imitation of Christ who himself gave up marriage and family so that in a few moments, when Father Magat speaks the awesome words of Consecration, "This is My Body," he will be even more identified with the Pure Christ who sacrificed so much for us.
A priest must face the challenge to mirror the spotless purity of Christ in his own body. The people of God, you, deserve this; and you expect this of every priest. And that is why we are so shattered when one of us may fail. There was a headline recently I saw in the paper: "Celibacy is not the problem. It's the answer." And, Father Magat, we are grateful that you believe that, and that you lay down your life for your friends.
But priestly celibacy is more than a purity of life. It is moreover the intention to be available, an availability - I can remember Bishop Sheen once wrote a book, The Priest is not His Own. Remember that. Reflect the attitude of Leviticus: I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the people that you should be mine. And by our consecrated life, we can more easily be totally His. We belong not only to God but to others.
How are we to accomplish this? We need extraordinary strength to keep this way of life and to be faithful to it. I can remember before my own ordination, I was privileged to dine with Bishop Sheen and assist him as deacon one night at a Holy Hour. And I asked him for his blessing in preparation for my ordination. And I remember getting on my knees and he blessed me. And as I was getting up, he pushed me down again, and he said, "If you are serious about being a good and holy priest, you will make a Eucharistic Holy Hour every day for the rest of your life."
I pass that advice on to our newly ordained. And although I must publicly confess I have not gotten a hundred percent success in maintaining that discipline, I know the days when I am faithful and that days that I am not. That hour of intimacy before Our Lord changes everything. And you don't have to be a priest to discover the power and the beauty of Eucharistic adoration.
Bishop Sheen always used to say, too, the priest is like a trapeze artist who goes from the natural to the supernatural, from time to eternity. It's a tremendous tension to live a life in such a way. We are in a very difficult position. I remember the work of Innocent III. He said once, "A priest is more than a man but less than a god." Then, what are we? Well, it's a difficult position to be in. We are the most blessed of men, empowered to do the opus Dei, the very work of God.
Growing up as a child, I had an exemplary model of the priesthood. And it is my privilege next Sunday to be in Rome as the Holy Father canonizes him, our beloved Padre Pio. I began to correspond with him at the age to twelve. He died when I was eighteen. But he provided for me such an image of the life of a priest. He showed me the three-fold love that should be part of every priest's life; the love of Jesus, the love of Mary, the love of Peter.
The love of Mary. A priest must be one who is totally devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, whose life is focused and nourished by the Eucharist. Make a good preparation and thanksgiving at every Mass. Spend time in adoration. Relish your Communion as the most blessed moment of your day. Celebrate the Mass with reverence and devotion. The people of God deserve no less. Have a love for Mary and express that love in the daily recitation of the Rosary. And you don't have to be a priest to do that. Our Lady at Fatima asked it of all of us: that we meditate on those mysteries, the wisdom Saint Dominic and the Dominicans had to promote those central truths of the faith, that we might have a conversion of life focused on Our Lady. Let her be the woman you need in your life.
And the, have a love for Peter, the person of our Holy Father, the Pope. Be strong in your defense of the Magisterium, as you accept that power to bind and to loose. Be devoted to the confessional, as was our beloved Padre Pio who spent most of the day, knowing that what the Gospel tells us today: "I have not come for the righteous but for sinners." "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Every priest is sent for the reconciliation of man to God.
These must be your three loves. For remember, the priesthood, though it may be a life without sex, it is not a life without love. And you need that three-fold love.
You are now called to be a prophet, calling others back to fidelity, at a time when many are falling away and are failing to be faithful in matters of faith and morals. Jeremiah says, "To all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Behold I have put my words in your mouth." I like to remind people that the priest who tells people what they need to hear, will find that he loses many members of his congregation. Be aware of that. But the priest that tells his people that they want to hear, will find that he loses his soul. And I hope, Father Magat, you choose wisely. Always give the people what they need, even if you must at times deny them what they want.
You are now a minister of God. never give way in the face of human pressure. No compromise with falsehood, with deceit, with error or evil. And never dare from this pulpit, in the classroom, in the confessional, dilute the teachings of Christ and His Church. For now God must speak through you. But don't be surprised if when you speak like Him, you are at times treated like Him, who told us honestly, "The world will hate you because of me." But the world will also love you when you are faithful to everything Christ wants you to be.
Obviously, the Catholic priest is a special and unique person. His position forces him to face many difficulties. He is an ambassador of a world distinct from the one in which he lives, sent to remind all those around him of many saving truths which are at times repellent to our fallen human nature. We are men like others, sometimes, like others, we fail. But we are quite different from others. As the priest is invested with extraordinary power, he carries to others the message of salvation. And yet, for that very reason, his life is often hard and lonely at times.
It's very difficult to express adequately the great dignity of the priesthood that Father has assumed, or the greatness of his vocation. Much is given to him by God, but because of that, much is expected from him, not only by God but by God's people. If there is anyone not allowed to live his own life, that person is the priest. If there is anyone to whom all human reward or any kind of selfishness is forbidden, that person is the priest. He is a man who lives not for himself but for others. No task is more heroic. No situation is more difficult. No responsibility is greater. But neither is there anything more awesome or more sublime, more self-sacrificing or more exiting than the life of a Catholic priest.
In conclusion, I want to read verses that are oftentimes quoted on an occasion such as this, the words of a Nineteenth Century Dominican priest, who better than anyone, I think, capsulized the true ideal of the Catholic Priesthood. And in these days when we need to see that ideal in its purity and beauty, I give you these words:
"To live in the midst of the world with no desire for its pleasures; to be a member of every family and belonging to none; to share all sufferings, to penetrate all secrets, to heal all wounds; to daily go from men to God to offer him their homage and petitions; to return from God to men to bring them His pardon and hope; to have a heart of fire for charity and a heart of bronze for chastity; to bless and to be blessed forever! Oh God, what a life! And t'is thine, Oh, priest of Jesus Christ!"
God love you.