Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Priestly Ordination of Fr. Pedro Martinez

Photo by NTC/Juan Guajardo

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Homily for the Priestly Ordination of Fr. Pedro Martinez

June 29, 2020
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church
Keller, Texas

Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 34:2-9
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
Matthew 16:13-19

La oración de la ordenación que voy a rezar en unos momentos se refiere a los 70 hombres sabios a quienes Dios escogió para ayudar a Moisés a gobernar y llevar a Su pueblo elegido, Israel, de ser una multitud de refugiados en la esclavitud a la libertad de la tierra prometida. Moisés sigue al Señor y guía al propio Pueblo del Señor a través del desierto, un viaje hacia la tierra que les ha sido prometida, un viaje que requiere discernimiento y confianza en el Señor Dios. Es en este viaje que comienzan como refugiados en la esclavitud que se convertirán en un pueblo peregrino, el pueblo elegido de Dios a través de la confianza fiel en Dios y en el agente elegido de Dios, Moisés.

Moisés le pide ayuda al Señor porque él la necesita. Él reconoce que hay un número cada vez mayor de personas que abandonan su identidad como el Pueblo Elegido de Dios creada por Su Alianza con ellos, y en lugar de eso, regresan con temor a una vida de esclavitud. Se arriesgan a perder su identidad como un solo pueblo, el pueblo elegido de Dios; se arriesgan a disiparse en una multitud de individuos, solitarios, en una vida sin sentido guiada por la esclavitud del miedo que los lleva al egoísmo y la idolatría.

El Señor entonces le responde a Moisés. El Señor elige a 70 hombres sabios. No son sabios por su educación, no son sabios por su experiencia, no son sabios por sus habilidades técnicas, son sabios por su disposición sincera a confiar en el Señor, y al hacerlo, reciben la gracia de Dios en una porción de Su Espíritu que ya le ha otorgado a Moisés. Estos ancianos deben servir como puentes entre el pueblo y Dios. Deben servir de puentes entre sí mismos, uniéndolos en la misión de la peregrinación a la libertad verdadera y duradera en Dios, cuando el miedo los separaría y rodearía de la esclavitud de los muros de aislamiento autoimpuestos y el egocentrismo.

Estos hombres elegidos prefiguran a los sacerdotes y su ministerio en la vida de la Iglesia. Un sacerdote es un puente, un pontífex. Como escribió el Papa Benedicto XVI: “Ningún hombre solo, confiando en su propio poder, puede poner a otro en contacto con Dios. Una parte esencial de la gracia del sacerdote es el don, la tarea de crear este contacto … Como un acto de la infinita misericordia de Dios, llama a algunos a ‘estar’ con Él y convertirse, a través del sacramento de las Órdenes, a pesar de su pobreza humana, en partícipes de su propio sacerdocio, ministros de santificación, administradores de sus misterios, ‘puentes’ para el encuentro con Él y de su mediación entre Dios y el hombre y entre el hombre y Dios”.

La vocación y el ministerio sacramental de un sacerdote requieren que él sea un puente, un pontífex como Pedro y Pablo, para aminorar la experiencia de aislamiento y pérdida de identidad de tantas personas hoy día, dentro y fuera de la Iglesia, y llevarlas al sentido de pertenencia que Dios ha elegido dar a su pueblo a través de sus vidas y la comunión con Su Iglesia.

In our first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles we hear of the community of the local church of Jerusalem locked away in fear. Herod, an enemy of the Church because he is first an enemy of Christ, has killed the Apostle James and he has locked away Peter to pacify the enemies of the Church for his own political motives. He plans on killing Peter. The members of the Church are locked away in their own homes out of fear of persecution and even death.

It bears reflecting that this persecution by Herod occurred during the Easter season and prompted the locking of doors and the prevention of the faithful to assemble with Peter for the celebration of the Easter mysteries, a situation not unlike what we experienced this past Easter.  The prayer of Peter and those of the Church prompt the Lord to send an angel to free Peter from his prison cell and his chains. Peter follows the angel out of the prison and away from his fear.  Peter goes to the home of the mother of John Mark and knocks on the door that is opened with joy.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once used the image of a prisoner’s cell door locked from the outside that is suddenly opened allowing bright light to shine in the darkness of the confinement to describe the second coming of Christ for the deliverance of the Christian oppressed by the forces of the darkened world. It is the vocation and ministry of the priest to open those locked doors through effective preaching, sound teaching, wise and compassionate counsel, and the providing of mercy through the administration of the sacraments of the Church. A priest is most able to do this well when he is mindful of how the doors of his own imprisonment have been swung open through the mercy of God and the ministry of others.

The priestly ministry of Christ needs to be continued in the here and now, particularly with real people in need, through the priest who gives his life so that he may be configured by ordination to Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church. As a shepherd configured to the heart of Christ, the priest is to search out the lost and to bring liberty to captives, to bring a light and a freedom that can only come from God and not from his own resources. The role of the priest is to place himself between the captives and the power of sin to free the captives by claiming them for Christ our Savior especially through his sacramental ministry. This is a perennial challenge for priests engaged in authentic pastoral and Christ-like ministry because the eyes of the captives become accustomed to the darkness of their cells to the point that they either think that the cell is “light enough” or that they even prefer the darkness. It is for the priest then to accompany the captive into the light and to exercise his ministry with patience and with courageous perseverance provided by the grace of God afforded to the priest at his ordination.

Simon and Saul each illustrate what happens when you respond to fear without appeal to God’s grace. It is only after Simon and Saul recognize their own insufficiency and incompleteness, when they rely exclusively on their own goodness and fail, that they turn to Christ and trust Him and respond to His guidance and inspiration to overcome their fears with confidence and perseverance. It is then when Simon and Saul become known as Peter and Paul.

Pedro, our relative and friend, is being ordained at a time of much fear and darkness with many locked doors. It is the prayers of the Church locked away that have brought him to this moment of ordination at the culmination of his “yes” to the call of Christ, just as it was the prayers of the Church locked away in fear that brought to Peter the angel of the Lord who opened the cell door and set him free. Father Pedro will be entrusted with the sacred mysteries that open the doors of the locked homes of the faithful imprisoned by fear of sickness, the fear of civil unrest, the fear caused by sin, and its bitter fruit of death. As a priest configured to Christ the Good Shepherd, it will fall to him to not remain locked away by his own self-sufficiency but to go out with hope in God’s power and unlock the doors of the People of God who have been imprisoned by fear and sin. Trust the Lord always. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “With the Holy Spirit within us, ‘it is quite natural for people who have been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become people of great courage.’”

So, now what? Where do we go from here?  I have something to say to Deacon Pedro, soon to be Father Pedro in a matter of moments. I have something to say to those gathered here.  And, I have something to say to the laity and Father Pedro together.

Father Pedro, I share with you what a dear friend said to me on the occasion of my priestly ordination over 26 years ago. My friend quoted from the Second Letter of Peter, “God’s flock is in your midst, give it a shepherd’s care.” Protect the flock from both the wolf and the hireling. There is nothing better or more precious that I could offer you on this joyful occasion. To the laity gathered here, I say please welcome Father Pedro as a true priest of Jesus Christ because that is what he truly is. Pray for him every day. Receive from him all that Christ would give you. Accompany him into the light away from the darkness. Most especially, learn to love him as both a brother and as a father.

As your bishop and as a Successor of the Apostles, I say to Father Pedro and the priests and laity assembled here: It is high time for us to exit through our doors unlocked by Christ, rise up, and confidently continue our pilgrimage into the light, the journey to our Father’s House, our only true home, the only place where we truly belong, where already a banquet is prepared for us.

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