Homily on Priesthood – Start of World Year of the Priest – 2009

The Year of the Priest
During those days priests and parishioners are celebrating anniversaries of their Ordination to Priesthood.  Today, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Pope Benedict launches the year of the priest.  When God calls, whether it be a people or an individual, he creates. Only God can create.

Call in St. Mark’s Gospel
Calling and creating are closely associated on the occasion of the call of the twelve in St. Mark’s gospel.  The call of the twelve by Jesus in Mark is seen as a creative work.  Jesus “goes up the mountain, and calls those whom he wished; and they came to him.  And he made/created/appointed twelve (whom he names his apostles), in order that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach”. (Mark 3:13-14).

Call to Priesthood
Central to the vocation to priesthood must be those three elements which we find in the call of the twelve.  There is the call to be “with him” (Communion) and their commission is to be sent out to preach.

The call of the twelve stands out as a fundamental initiative, a direct choice on his part.  This call immediately sets up a relationship.  Priesthood is founded on and derives meaning from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We live in an era of profound social changes. Ideas, customs, ways of thinking, attitudes and ideologies are in constant flux. The contemporary crisis of faith and culture is a crisis of humanity itself, a spiritual crisis that reaches into the deepest foundations of Christian identity and the identity of the Priest himself.

Priesthood Today
Priests are deeply and negatively affected by the sexual abuse scandals. Though only a small precentage of priests have been accused; the impact on the life of all priests is considerable.  Priests have suffered serious disorientation and disappointment as a result. The need for reconciliation at many levels is urgent.  To be able to respond with kindness and compassion, while maintaining integrity takes wisdom and courage and time for reflection and prayer.  Priests and people together need to find the heart to face the future without fear and with great trust, to surrender into God’s hands and to pledge themselves in a Eucharistic way as bread that is broken and wine poured out for others.

The Joy of Priesthood
A theme which is central to priesthood which receives little emphasis today is Joy.  The apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians to “rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), thereby declaring joy the fundamental attitude of the Christian ethos.  Virtually all priests love their ministry and experience immense joy in administering the sacraments and responding to the pastoral care of their people. Joy is born of the confidence that God’s mercy infinitely outweighs evil.  It is an unshakeable conviction that life, every life, is both liveable and worth living.  Priests are generally satisfied with their ministry although many experience considerable stress from the excessive demands it makes on them.  Recent surveys reveal that their level of satisfaction with ministry surpases almost every other profession.

“Rejoice always”, with these words, Paul seems to be laying on us an impossible task.  But Paul knew a thing or two about the hardships of living in this world and he is not asking us to behave as if these troubles did not exist.  Rather he is reminding us of what has become the fundamental reality of our lives: we now “live with” Christ who conquered death, this does not commit us to living in a state of enforced hilarity. This joy need not always be consciously felt, but it is so powerful that it can turn even suffering into a sacrament of the encounter with Christ.  As Paul says elsewhere, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

The Priest as herald of hope
With the Psalmist the priest can say “ I will come to the altar of God, the God of my joy”.  Joy has been described as the echo of God’s life within us.  Joy is the fruit of hope.  Today, the priest ought to be the herald of hope.  Hope is central, but too often it is neglected.  The person with hope in his or her heart actively participates in the world and impatient to bring about a better future.  Hope enables and challenges us, relying on the promises of God, to change the world.

In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict focuses on the centrality of hope, reminding us of the fact that we can grow in hope through the things we suffer.  It is not by side-stepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for coping with it, maturing through it and finding meaning in it through our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Surely this is particularly relevant in the situation in which we find ourselves as priests today.

Centrality of Prayer for the Priest
If the priest is to truly represent Jesus Christ and serve Him, then there is no  substitute for spending time with Christ.  In many respects the priest is a kind of lightening conductor who absorbs so much of the tensions and tragedies of life.  But if the priest is not in close contact with the Lord then this task becomes unbearable. Central to the vocation of the priest is the celebration of the Eucharist, where the broken bits and pieces of life take on new meaning, when the broken bread becomes the body of Christ.

Priesthood and Eucharist
The Eucharist, celebrated and lived frees us from preoccupation with ourselves and enables us to be truly involved and immersed in God’s plan.  We accept a call which challenges us to give ourselves to others and to be less preoccupied with success or failure.

The Priesthood and Mary, Mother of God
As priests, our hope is always hope for others.  Here at Our Lady’s Shrine we are conscious of the way in which thousands of pilgrims have found hope in the Mother of God as “The Star of the Sea”: Ave Maris Stella.  At the end of his encyclical Pope Benedict acknowledges that  life is a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route.  The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives.  They are lights of hope.  Mary is a star of hope for us.  With her “yes” she opened the doors of our world to God himself.  The Holy Father likened Mary hastening with joy across the mountains of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth, to the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope the world in her womb across he mountains of history.  Even in the darkness of Holy Saturday she kept hope alive in her heart, she made her way towards Easter morning.  She remains in the midst of the followers of her son as a Mother of Hope.  The Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us upon our way.

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