By Bishop James Conley
This week, I have the great privilege of ordaining three men to the sacred order of the diaconate, and two men to the sacred order of the priesthood. It is a grace to ordain them into those mysteries.
Ordination week is always a time of great joy for me, for the Diocese of Lincoln, for each one of you, and for the universal Church. As we celebrate the ordination of these men who have spent years in intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral formation, we realize that they enter into the mystery of holy orders—becoming deacons and priests—and thus entering more deeply into a life of service to which the Lord, Jesus Christ, has called them.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote that a vocation to holy orders is a “gift which infinitely transcends the individual.”
The pope meant that the vocation to holy orders is a gift for the one who is called, and, at the very same time, a gift for the universal Church. Sacerdotal and diaconal ordination is a gift to those whom a priest or deacon will serve, a gift to all their coworkers with whom they will labor in the vineyard of the Lord, and a gift to the universal Church.
The vocations of those who will be ordained are a gift to each one of us because, by the mystery of God’s grace, they will proclaim the Kingdom of the Lord, be ministers of the sacraments of salvation, and call us to eternal life with Jesus Christ.
But a vocation to holy orders is also a gift for the ones who are called, because it is the discovery of the very thing for which they were made; the way of living that will draw them into unity with the Lord and become the means of their own salvation.
A priest or deacon receives a gift, and by grace, he becomes a gift.
In the memoir he wrote on the 50th anniversary of his own priestly ordination, John Paul II wrote that “faced with the greatness of the gift, we sense our own inadequacy.”
Everyone called to serve the Lord senses his inadequacy for the task. That is why the call to holy orders is more than a gift, it is, in a fact, a mystery.
John Paul II said that “a vocation is a mystery of divine election.”
Everyone who has discovered his or her vocation in life, no matter what it is, knows that the Lord’s call is a mystery. We cannot understand why the Lord has chosen us for the things to which he calls us. The divine logic of Providence is never clear to us. But we know that God has called us, and that, however unworthy we feel, we must follow him.
“You did not choose me,” the Lord says to his apostles in the Gospel of John, “but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
In my own life, the sacred priesthood has been a gift and a mystery. It is the gift through which I have discovered myself, discovered intimacy with the Lord, discovered joy, and peace. It is a mystery as well— a mystery that the Lord called me, and a mystery that reveals itself in new ways with each passing year, a mystery that is both ancient and new, familiar, and, at the same time, ever a surprise.
Because I know I was called to it, I cannot imagine a greater joy than serving the Lord as a priest.
I discovered my vocation as a young man, after I converted to Catholicism in college. But today, most young men who discover a priestly vocation do so in the family. In the family, they learn to pray, they watch their parents making sacrifices for one another, and for the Lord. In the family, they learn the gift and mystery of following the Lord’s Providence. The family can be, and should be, a wellspring of priestly vocations.
As I prepare to ordain these men to be deacons and priests, I am praying for their parents. Indeed, I am praying for all Catholic parents. I am praying that they will model Christian discipleship for their sons and daughters. I am praying that they will encourage them to courageously consider how the Lord is calling them. Your daughters may be called to the grace and beauty of religious life. Your sons may be called to the gift and mystery of the priesthood. I pray that you will encourage those calls, so that your children will know the happiness of following after the Lord, wherever his call might lead.