Mass of Thanksgiving
Dec 15/ 2013
St. George's Catholic Church, Ottawa, ON
It is my great privilege to welcome all of you, all the faithful, here today for this Mass of thanksgiving
– A very special welcome to Msgr Jeffery Steenson; who is the Ordinary of the Ordinairiate of the Chair of St. Peter.
· Your presence here, Msgr, is a particular blessing.
· All of us, but perhaps especially those of us who have come into full communion with the Catholic Church, are very grateful for your powerful and beautiful homily yesterday at the ordination.
· It is not difficult to see why the Holy Father entrusted you with this precious responsibility.
- A special welcome also to the priests and religious present here, especially the Queenship of Mary community, who have been particularly close and supportive of this parish and its aspirations for years.
Today is, of course, a day of great rejoicing! Not only is it Gaudete Sunday – wherein we rejoice at the approach, the imminent Advent of our God,
· our God who has kept his word,
· who has fulfilled all his promises to humanity
· and in a way more marvellous than even the greatest prophet (John the Baptist) could imagine!
But we also rejoice that he has given us these wonderful priests to shepherd and lay down their lives for his beloved people…
· Fr. Doug
· Fr. John
· Fr. Kipling
Thank you for the gift of your lives for His people,
And for the many sacrifices of love you made in bringing them all the way home into the sheepfold of the Catholic Church
A) When I think of the priesthood, I cannot help but think about the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House, a mystic of the first degree who toiled right here in our own backyard…
Herself a woman who came into full communion with the Catholic Church after much searching and many trials, she had a penetrating mystical understanding of the priesthood.
- Catherine loved the priesthood. Her concern for priests and reverence for their office was obvious and sincere.
- But she was not naïve. She was well aware of all the faults and shortcomings of priests, probably more than most people. Indeed, she suffered a great deal in her life because of them.
- But she saw with the eyes of faith what most of us miss.
- Our Lord graced her to see beyond the priest himself, whoever he might be, into the very mystery of the priesthood.
- Living through the Communist Revolution, where priests were easy victims for slaughter, [Catherine] realized that she would crawl on her belly to any priest for the graces of the sacraments that she so missed during those horrendous days. She realized in a very concrete manner that her life truly was lived between two Masses
- She relates one story from that time of how some communist soldiers walked into a church in a certain city and shot the last priest as he distributed Holy Communion, stepping on the Sacred Species as they left.
- As the last crumbs of the desecrated Body of the Lord were distributed, a stark realization set in to everyone present. Having no more priests meant no more Jesus in the Eucharist.
- As you listen to her recount this experience you can almost feel what those people might have felt. How precious the Eucharistic Presence of Jesus would have seemed to them at that moment. And how precious the priesthood would have seemed, through which the Eucharistic Jesus came to them.
- How precious the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the other Sacraments now that there were no longer any priests to minister them.
- How vacant the church must have felt! You can’t help but feel along with them a whole new appreciation for the incredible treasure and gift of what it means to have a priest.
- The mystery of the priesthood suddenly became very real to them!
B) The Mystery of Priesthood
- So what is this mystery?
Pope Pius XII put it this way:
[T]he priesthood is a great gift of the Divine Redeemer, Who, in order to perpetuate the work of redemption of the human race which He completed on the Cross, confided His powers to the Church which He wished to be a participator in His unique and everlasting Priesthood. The priest is like "another Christ" because he is marked with an indelible character making him, as it were, a living image of our Saviour. The priest represents Christ Who said "As the Father has sent me, I also send you"; (John 20:21) "he who hears you, hears me" (Luke 10:16). (Apostolic Exhortation To The Clergy Of The Entire World On the Development of Holiness in Priestly Life, no. 7)
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church relates that “He is configured to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit (CCC1581) and shares in the One Priesthood of Jesus, the only true Priest (CCC1544-45)
- Pope Benedict put it even more succinctly: Through the sacrament [of Holy Orders] the priest is totally inserted into Christ (Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Clergy for Year of Priests, 2009).
- Because of this the priest makes present and mediates the Priesthood of Jesus to the world.
- Another way of saying this is that Jesus is still exercising His Priestly ministry in the world, only now He is doing it though his priests.
- When a priest celebrates any Sacrament, it is Jesus who is acting through him.
- When a priest says the words of absolution in confession it is Jesus who is absolving them.
- When a priest pronounces the words of consecration at Mass – it is Jesus who is consecrating the elements.
· Blessed Pope John Paul II made this point clearly in His encyclical on the Eucharist in 2000:
“This is My body which will be given up for you This is the cup of My blood, poured out for you...” The priest says these words, or rather he puts his voice at the disposal of the One who spoke these words in the Upper Room and who desires that they should be repeated in every generation by all those who in the Church ministerially share in His priesthood. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Introduction)
- What is this mystery? It is the mystery of the ongoing priestly ministry of Jesus right here in our midst –
- Jesus, who in His priestly love could not bear to be separated from us
- Jesus, who is still healing, teaching, forgiving, and feeding us with His own divine life – through his priests…
- What an incredible gift & mystery!
C) Pope Benedict XVI quoted St. John Vianney liberally in discussing the mystery and importance of the priesthood in his letter to clergy during the Year of Priests in 2009:
The Curé of Ars was very humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy". He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: "O, how great is the priest! ... If he realised what he is, he would die. ... God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host". Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the Sacraments, he would say: "Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest. ... After God, the priest is everything! ... Only in heaven will he fully realise what he is". These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the Sacrament of the Priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: "Were we to fully realise what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love. ... Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth. ... What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods. ... Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshipping the beasts there. ... The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you".
D) The Love of God
- St. John Vianney also gives us one of the most well-known phrases about the priesthood – a phrase which takes us even deeper into the mystery of the priesthood:
…the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus” (CCC #1589).
- St Ambrose said:
He made them [priests] the vicars of His love.
- This is the mystery of the priesthood at its very core! Priesthood is about God’s love! It is the love of the heart of Jesus!
- The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus because it was love that compelled Jesus to become our High Priest in order to bring about our redemption. And it is this same love that compels him to continue to call weak and sinful men to continue his work of redemption by sharing in the saving power and grace of his own priesthood.
- It was love that compelled him to leave aside his glory and humble himself to come among us as a man. Lovers need to be with their beloved and so he needed to be with us. And it is this same love that compels him to make his priestly love humbly visible again to his beloved bride, the Church, through his priests.
- It was love that compelled Jesus to teach, heal, forgive, and sanctify those to whom he was sent. And it is his love that flows through his priests as he continues to teach, heal, forgive, and sanctify his people through them.
- It was love that compelled him to suffer for us and to let his heart be pierced. And it is love that compels him to call men to share the sufferings of his priestly ministry. Like Jesus, the heart of a priest will also be pierced. He, too, will become “victim” as well as priest. A priest is called to share in the self-sacrificing love of Jesus.
- It was love that compelled Jesus to offer to the Father the perfect sacrifice of his death and resurrection for us. And it is this same love that compels him to re-present the perfect offering of his paschal sacrifice to every time and place in the Mass through the ministry of his priests.
- It was love that compelled him to give himself to us in the Eucharistic banquet so that he might always dwell with us and draw us into communion with himself. And it is this same love that compels him to continually offer his Eucharistic love and Presence to the world through the hands of his priests.
- This Love of Jesus is so great that even the weakness, broken humanity, or sinfulness of a priest cannot stop it:
1584 St. Augustine states this forcefully: As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ's gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.
Catherine Doherty learned this lesson from her mother early in life:
In one incident she often recounted, they were visiting relatives in Poland, and she ventured forth on a walk in the midst of which she encountered a priest who had fallen drunk in the street. She ran home in great distress. Her mother had Catherine accompany her to the fallen priest, bring him to his house, and then when they had returned home, prepared an instruction for her daughter. She had Catherine gather some beautiful flowers from the garden and place them in a precious vase. Then she told her to go and get the potty used by Catherine's younger brother, clean it out, and bring it back. When Catherine did so, her mother placed the flowers in the potty and turned to her daughter, saying, "Catherine, the flowers are the beauty of the priesthood; they remain beautiful whether they are in a priceless vase or in a potty. Never confuse the priesthood with the human vessel." This was a lesson deeply imprinted in the heart of the young girl. So much so that when in later years, a new member priest of the Apostolate came to her to ask what his role was, what she wanted him to do, she turned to him and replied, "Your presence, Father. That is what we need."
(Voice of the Southwest. – Sept/Oct Edition, Sept. 27, 2009)
Having come to know these priests here - celebrating this Mass of Thanksgiving
- And having the grace of being counted a friend to them…
- I know them to be men of God
- Men after his own heart!
- I am so edified by them, and inspired to be a better priest because of their example
- And I am so grateful to each of them
- But even more I am grateful to Jesus, Our Great High priest,
- Who gives Himself to us through them
- Who will minister and love us through them – so that even if they should struggle or stumble – His light and love would not be dimmed in the least…
E) Fr. John, Fr. Doug, Fr. Kipling
Thank you for all the struggles, the searching, and the sacrifices that have brought you to this day…
But most of all, thank you for allowing Jesus to love us to the full – to incarnate His Sacred Heart, His burning Priestly love, in you and through you…
I pray our heavenly Mother Mary enfold you always in her tender mantle of maternal love, protection, and intercession. Amen.