What a joy and blessing it is for me to celebrate this first Chrism Mass as your bishop, to experience the wonderful communion of my brothers in the same priesthood and ministry of Christ, and also to gather with so many of the deacons, religious and lay faithful of our diocese here present in prayerful support of our priests who at this Mass renew their commitment to priestly service.
We are truly blessed by the presence of our beloved Bishop Emeritus who is concelebrating this Chrism Mass. Thank you so much, Bishop D’Arcy, for your presence and for your continuing devoted ministry here in our diocese. (In South Bend: I wish also to thank Father David Tyson, the provincial superior of the Holy Cross Fathers, and all the Holy Cross Fathers and Holy Cross Brothers, and all the religious sisters here present).
Last week, during a Holy Hour of Eucharistic adoration, I addressed our priests on the mystery of the Holy Eucharist in the life and ministry of priests. And now our concelebration at this Chrism Mass is a beautiful manifestation of our fraternal unity and deep communion as priests of Jesus Christ as we celebrate together the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Pope Benedict proclaimed this Year for Priests in order “to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.” It has been a year of grace for us priests, thanks especially to the amazing support and prayers of so many of you, deacons, religious and lay faithful. I think this Year for Priests is a wonderful time also to focus on the promotion of the discernment of priestly vocations. That is what I wish to preach about in this homily this evening.
As many of you know, one of my highest priorities as your new bishop is promoting priestly vocations. This should in no way be perceived as a neglect of the great need for an increase of vocations to the consecrated life, which is also a high priority and very close to my heart. Nor should it be perceived as a lack of attention to the great dignity and beauty of the vocation of marriage, the promotion of which is also one of my highest priorities. But the Chrism Mass is particularly focused on the gift of the ministerial priesthood, and thus I am focusing this evening on the priestly vocation. I am convinced in the bottom of my heart that God is calling many young men throughout our diocese to the ministerial priesthood, to become living icons of Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, the head and shepherd of the Church.
I am very grateful for the presence here at this Chrism Mass of our seminarians. I want them to know that we support them, that we pray for them, and that we are proud of them. We thank them for answering the call of the Lord. (Applause).
Without priests, the Church would not be able to fulfill her mission. Without priests, there would be no Eucharist, since by the will of Christ the Eucharistic mystery cannot be celebrated in any community except by an ordained priest. In this Year of the Priest, it is particularly important for us to think about this and to consider that the promotion of priestly vocations is a duty of us all. For example, parents have a very special responsibility in this regard, especially by inculcating in the home an awareness of piety and prayer and of love for the Church and the priesthood.
Priests themselves have an essential role in promoting vocations. I ask our priests this evening as they renew their priestly promises also to consider their responsibility in this regard. In fact, the priest’s faithful living of his priestly promises is a powerful means to promoting the priestly vocations. I say to all the priests present here this evening: it is our very life, our unconditional dedication to God’s flock, our witness of loving service to the Lord and to His Church…. our fraternal unity and zeal for the evangelization of the world: these are the first and most convincing factors in the growth of vocations. I know from my experience as a seminary rector that this is true. And statistics time and time again show that it’s the example of good and holy priests which influenced young men to pursue a priestly vocation.
The theme for this year’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will be celebrated on April 25th, Good Shepherd Sunday, is Witness Awakens Vocations. This is a very appropriate theme for this Year for Priests. The personal and communal witness of our priests, of those who have already answered the Lord’s call to the priesthood, can awaken in others a desire to respond generously to God’s call. In his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Benedict writes about three aspects of the life of a priest which are essential for an effective priestly witness.
First is friendship with Christ. The Holy Father says that “prayer is the first form of witness which awakens vocations.” This is something that needs continual renewal in our lives which are often filled with so many busy activities. Above all, priests need to be “men of God,” to belong to Him, to make space in their lives to hear His Word ever anew and to abide in His love. Friendship with Christ is fundamental to priestly life and ministry. It is truly a form of witness which awakens vocations.
The second aspect of the priestly life which the Holy Father highlights is “the complete gift of oneself to God.” Pope Benedict says that “the story of every vocation is almost always intertwined with the testimony of a priest who joyfully lives the gift of himself to his brothers and sisters for the sake of the Kingdom of God.” My favorite image of priestly life and ministry is that of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. We are reminded of this amazing scene on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus “rises from the table, lays aside his garments, takes a towel, girds himself with it and stoops to wash the feet of the Apostles.” This action “expresses the sense of service and gift manifested in Jesus’ entire existence, in obedience to the will of the Father.” It is the priest’s giving of himself completely to God, and to those whom the Lord entrusts to him in his pastoral ministry, which can and does inspire young men to consider that God might be calling them to this way of life.
The third aspect of the priestly life which the Holy Father highlights is “a life of communion.” The priest is to be “a man of communion.” This means being “open to all, capable of gathering into one the pilgrim flock which the goodness of the Lord has entrusted to him.” In a talk to a group of priests in Italy, Pope Benedict said that “if young people see priests who appear distant and sad, they will hardly feel encouraged to follow their example. They will remain hesitant if they are led to think that this is the life of a priest. Instead, they need to see the example of a communion of life which can reveal to them the beauty of being a priest. Only then will a young man say, ‘Yes, this could be my future; I can live like this.’”
In a few minutes, our priests will renew their priestly promises. As we do so, I invite our priests to be mindful that our faithful living of these promises, our witness of prayer, self-giving love and service, and joyful communion of life indeed awakens vocations. We are reflecting a lot this year on the holy Cure of Ars, Saint John Vianney. How did he teach his parishioners? Primarily by the witness of his life! We can only imagine the number of priestly vocations he inspired by his example!
All of us, priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful need to have a renewed appreciation for the priesthood as a gift to the Church which needs to be safeguarded and loved. This is necessary if we hope to have an increase in priestly vocations.
In the synagogue at Nazareth, our Lord proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, anointed Him, and sent Him forth to announce the Gospel. My brother priests, when we were ordained, the Spirit of the Lord came upon us, anointed us, consecrated us, and sent us forth to announce the Gospel, to sanctify through the sacraments, and to shepherd God’s people in love. My brothers and sisters, fellow disciples of the Lord Jesus, the Spirit of the Lord is upon all of you, upon the entire people of God, through our Baptism and Confirmation, calling all of us to the work of the new evangelization, and calling all of us to holiness. My brothers and sisters in consecrated life, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you who have made vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Your many charisms have been bestowed on you by the Holy Spirit. Your consecrated life is a beautiful gift to the Church, an example for all of us, priests and laity, of greater fidelity to the Gospel.
In this Year of the Priest, on behalf of all the people of our diocese, I wish to thank our priests for their devoted ministry, for their pastoral charity, and for their untiring service of God’s people throughout our diocese.
Let us together lift up the vocation to the priesthood here in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Please join me in the pressing pastoral task of the new evangelization which requires more priests, new evangelizers, who with the cooperation of our deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, will help to invigorate the Church and extend Christ’s kingdom. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. Let us open our hearts to His grace. And may the Blessed Virgin Mary, with her example and intercession, watch over us and the growth of priestly holiness and priestly vocations in the Church.
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