Cathedral of the Risen Christ
May 25, 2019
Bishop James D. Conley
Bishop Bruskewitz, Bishop Finn, my brother priests, newly ordained deacons, consecrated religious men and women, beloved seminarians, friends in Christ, and especially dear parents and families of our ordinandi, and my dear sons and brothers in Christ: Tony, Andrew, Allan and Carson.
As the Lord proclaims in today’s gospel, “the hour” has now come. This hour, for you four, is the culmination of all your life’s work and prayer: from the first moment of your existence, God has called you for this purpose. He has called you to share in the priesthood of his son, Jesus Christ. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah from our first reading: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you.”
When Christ speaks of his “hour” — it is filled with deep meaning. It is, as we read in St. Luke’s Gospel, the hour of his self-sacrifice as a ransom for many. Christ’s hour is the consignment of “the new covenant in my blood.” This is now the hour of your own self-consignment into that same mystery, the mystery of the sacrificial and redeeming love of our savior Jesus Christ.
After the laying on of hands and the prayer of ordination, I will anoint your hands with the Sacred Chrism. This holy anointing will consecrate your hands for the celebration of the sacraments, particularly the celebration of the Holy Eucharistic, the Body and Blood of the Lord. For it was within the context of the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist on the night of the Lord’s Supper, that Jesus also instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as we have just heard in our gospel reading from St. Luke.
In the old covenant, three categories of persons underwent anointing: priests, prophets and kings. All of this was to prefigure the new covenant – serving to foretell what would be fulfilled in God’s eternal plan to send a Messiah, the Christ, the “anointed son of God” in whom is the source of all the world’s anointing, past, present and future.
As priests of Jesus Christ you will exercise the “prophetic role” of preaching the message of truth and salvation to a world that is in dire need of hope. In our first reading, Jeremiah tells us that the words the prophet speaks are not his own: they are commanded, underwritten and empowered by God. He can be fearless in speaking them: for there comes, with this, the divine assurance: “I am with you.” For this reason, too, the prophet’s mouth is consecrated by God’s touch: his own littleness or defects of speaking are also anointed by God.
The truth which the priest proclaims must completely claim the priest as well. The preacher doesn’t just inform others, he imparts the very form of holiness to the sinner and by this new form, transforms the other. You must be Christ’s uncompromising witnesses to the world. To that end, St. Paul reminds us “do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
Our second reading taken from the Letter to the Hebrews describes the “office of priest,” as one who mediates between the people and God, “to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” In this sense, too, the priest is anointed by God so that you “can deal gently” with the faithful entrusted to your care because you are also beset with weakness. For “because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.” We do not rely on ourselves but on the Lord, on his strength, on his power and on his love.
In your interviews in the Southern Nebraska Register you all said that what you look forward to most in becoming a priest is celebrating the sacraments so as to facilitate for the people you serve that anointed encounter with the Risen Lord. But this can only be achieved through a deep commitment to personal prayer on your part, a living encounter with the Lord yourselves.
In this ceremony, you will be asked if you are resolved “to implore with me God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing.” Your “yes” will commit you to a mission of mediation. If the priest does not come to know Christ in the depths of his own heart, he can hardly hope to love Him in the least of his brethren. The efficacy of your priestly prayer will depend on the fact that, through Holy Orders, you have been crucified with Christ and thus can say with St. Paul: “it is no longer I who live but Christ, who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Finally, our Gospel for the ordination Mass recounts the priest’s mandate to govern. On you is conferred a kingdom, for Christ takes his place in history with his priests. Here again is that divine assurance: fear not, for “I am with you.” In other words, do not rely on yourselves but rely on the Lord alone. You have been anointed to bear fruit, the abundant fruit of the kingdom.
In like manner, as the Father conferred it on Christ, does He confer it on you. You will exercise your priestly office, not in a ceremonial manner – as something you might put on and take off again, like a vestment. You are configured forever as an offering. You put on Jesus Christ the King, the royal high priest. “As my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.”
But this Kingdom, Christ warns, “suffers violence,” for the spirit of the world opposes it. The priest is engaged in no simple combat: “for we are not contending against flesh and blood, but the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph 6:12). Christ sends us into the world to convert the world, not to be converted by it. As you lay aside the world for the Gospel’s sake, be prepared for the world to reject you as well. But, “be of good cheer,” says the Lord, “for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The recognition that the source of our love is not within ourselves, but is, in fact, God, who casts out all fear. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).
And so dear brothers and sons, what a treasure is our Catholic priesthood! However, few institutions today find themselves under more scrutiny, than this centerpiece of our religion. We live in a time when nothing less than heroic witness will be sufficient to proclaim the authenticity of the Gospel.
In the words of St. Paul, “I urge you, then, to give no thought to what lies behind but to push on to what lies ahead” (Phil 3:13). Reappraise whatever you used to consider as gain now as loss in the light of Christ. Accept in your inmost beings the indelible imprint of this sacramental character and this holy anointing, that you may be completely configured in the image of Christ: priest, prophet and king, the sole high priest and mediator of the New Covenant in his precious blood.
And may Mary, the Mother of Priests and the Mother of the Church always remain close to your heart. May she take you by the hand and lead you deeper and deeper into the love of her son.