Audio from 9:30am Mass - click here
This upcoming week is National Vocations Awareness week in the USA, so it is very fitting to talk about the priesthood, especially when the Gospel includes Jesus saying to us: "call no man father..." I'm sure you all can guess that I've been hearing people call me Father every day for the past 6.5 years, and we of course mean the same even when we call our fathers "dad" or "papa" or whatever. So this teaching of Jesus must not be taken literally. It needs to be seen in context with the rest of the passage ("master" and "teacher") as well as the context of the whole bible. In fact, Saturday morning we heard the same closing phrase in a different passage where Luke speaks of taking seats of honor at banquets: "whoever exalts himself will be humbles, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." So Luke 14 has something to say about Matthew 23, and the important part - the overlap and the echo - is about how we deal with authority, fame, influence. So this fits not only the priesthood and teachers and parents, but all types of worldly authority and influence. More on that in a bit, but first I would like to talk a bit about the priesthood.
The priesthood of Jesus Christ which I share in by ordination is the reason for many of the most difficult as well as the most amazing moments in my life. A priest will never forget the joy of walking with someone who joins the Church as an adult and receives Communion for the first time from his hands; just as he never forgets blessing a man or woman who just died or grieving with their loved ones. The priest weeps when he sees a soul running from the Lord unaware of His Mercy, and rejoices in giving absolution to one who returns after many years.
I'm sure the same could be said about any role of leadership and authority, especially parents, teachers, coaches, and civil authorities. It is difficult and rewarding.
We aren't to reject these leadership roles, but we cannot let them feed our age-old weakness of pride. Authority is ultimately an opportunity for humble service.
Yesterday there was a great example of this for the priesthood, and I wish you to think about how this applies to yourself in your various roles of leadership, authority, and influence.
Saint Charles Borromeo - November 4th. Actually my first summer parish assignment - my childhood rivals. Msgr. John vs. Msgr. John (best friends) "that other parish" "de-program him"
Saint Charles really helped complete the reform of the Catholic church at the Council of Trent and afterwards, making the church work to finish the response that was essential for the Church after the spark of Martin Luther ignited revolution and rupture from the Catholic Church precisely 500 years ago, 1517. He is the patron saint of seminarians, because he really started seminaries. He said more or less that the university system should be adapted to train men to be priests in an organized way with more direct supervision, instead of the bishop placing someone in an "apprenticeship" under a good priest-mentor-guide. More was needed, because priesthood is important - very important. The fact is, priests can really help people and can really hurt people. Just like a good coach can build someone up, and a bad coach can crush someone's spirit. Of course, the same goes for a teacher, parent, etc. If the priest is not holy, why would the congregation be holy? He is meant to be an example, like Saint Paul says.
St. Paul in the 2nd reading: Brothers and sisters: We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
Every year, the priest reads great advice from Saint Charles in the office of Readings.
From a sermon given during the last synod he attended, by Saint Charles, bishop
(Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis 1599, 1177-1178) Practice what you preach
I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily. One priest may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should. He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives. Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships. Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?
Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.
If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.
Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.
My brothers, you must realize that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: I will pray, and then I will understand. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on how the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean so that all that you do becomes a work of love.
This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.
For this reason, I will be gone on my retreat this week. To enter more deeply into meditation and prayer and my priesthood. So I can hopefully improve my example of the faith, so I can give myself in service to you more perfectly. Please pray for me.
Pray also for all our seminarians. I would encourage you to pick one and pray for him daily. Or pray for one every day of the month. Today, I wish to end by lifting up in prayer these men discerning the priesthood. Please respond: Lord, watch over him.
Deacon Patrick Hake
Deacon Jay Horning
Deacon David Huneck
Deacon Nathan Maskal
Deacon Thomas Zehr
Spenser St. Louis