Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Priestly Ordination of Rev. Joseph Moreno, Rev. Thomas Jones, Rev. Brett J. Metzler, Rev. Samuel Maul, Rev. Jason Allan, Rev. Linh Nguyen

May 22, 2021
Vietnamese Martyrs Church
Arlington, Texas

Jeremiah 1:4-9
Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3
Acts 20:17-18a, 28-32, 36
John 15:9-17

Prophecy. Pastoral leadership. Sacrificial love. These are three points that the readings and liturgy offer us today for our reflection as we are called together as the Church to celebrate the ordination of these six men, our relatives and friends, to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Our first reading from the Book of Jeremiah is about a vocation. It presents a dialogue between the Lord and Jeremiah. Our rite of ordination presents a dialogue between each of these men and the Lord, spoken through their promises made in response to the questions that I will ask them in the name of the Church and of God. In the dialogue between Jeremiah and the Lord, He speaks to Jeremiah a word of vocation: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” Jeremiah honestly responds to the Lord, “I do not know how to speak. I am too young.” This is a true response that our ordinands could offer to the Lord in their dialogue with Him regarding their own vocations about being too young. Yet, it is inconsequential to the design of the plans of God who orders all things to the good of those who love Him.

The Lord responds to Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” This is the liberating response that the Lord offers Jeremiah. It is the same response that the Lord offers our ordinands. The Lord promises Jeremiah; the Lord promises our ordinands; in fact, the Lord promises each and all of us that He will not abandon us, and He commands that none of us be overcome by fear of the enemies of God because God promises to be with us and to deliver us.

Unlike the prophet Isaiah elsewhere in the Scripture, who says, “Here I am, send me,” Jeremiah is reluctant because he knows that the people to whom the Lord is sending him to speak do not want to hear the message that the Lord has for them, the message that they need to hear. The message requires them to accept their need for a radical change of heart and to persevere through the destruction of a comfortable and unjust way of life for the sake of deliverance from their enemies. Jeremiah knows that the message that the Lord has for His chosen people is vastly different from the message delivered by the official prophets of the royal court of his time who have been bought and sold to tell the Lord’s chosen people not what God desires for them but what the elite and powerful want them to hear. Jeremiah will have to speak some hard truths to them, something they will not want to hear, and he will have to speak these truths well, with clarity, with integrity, and in fidelity to the Lord.

Authentic prophets clearly speak God’s desires for His people whom He loves. Jeremiah’s message and prophesy are imbued indelibly in his life and not just in his words. His prophetic vocation is not exclusively a matter of words but of every aspect of his life. Jeremiah has no wife or children. The elite and powerful reject him and attack his reputation by slandering him as an extremist or a lunatic. Jeremiah’s vocation is very challenging, because it will involve intentionally calling the people to be accountable through the looming exile. In His unconditional love, God desires so much good for His People that He calls Jeremiah to proclaim by his life God’s message of unconditional love, justice, and fidelity: “To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” In a certain way, the life and vocation of Jeremiah foreshadows the life and saving mission of Jesus Christ.

Priests are configured at ordination to Jesus Christ as Head and Shepherd of the Church. This is what God will do with our six ordinands in a few moments. Dear sons, the pastoral ministry of priests is always marked and measured by this configuration to Jesus in our being and not simply by what we say. Our vocation is always a grace. It is not simply a matter of actions or words but rather a matter of how our words and actions are authentic to our personal character. It is a matter of how our character corresponds to Christ the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. The priest’s ministry as a pastor is one of configuration and not only one of imitation of Christ. The priest’s ministry is a matter of loving God’s people as a pastor as Christ has ordained each of us to be a pastor after His own heart. It is not simply a matter of parroting religious words in an aloof and formulaic manner. Christ gives us, His priests, the necessary grace to accept His promise of friendship with Him by living in the way He commands us to live, by loving our neighbor sacrificially as Jesus loved His flock in intimate obedience to His Father’s Commandments. Christ speaks to our ordinands and to us, His priests, again in the words of the Gospel, “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you and appointed you. I command you, love one another.”

For us to follow Jesus’ command and to live it effectively, we require justice established by right order. Society naturally requires right order for authentic justice and peace to flourish. Human nature requires hierarchy to provide that right order in family life and in the structures of civil government for the sake of the common good and authentic human freedom. As grace completes nature, Jesus established and instituted His Church with Peter and his successors as the visible head of the Church and the bishops in communion with him as the successors to the Apostles as a hierarchy. Jesus intended that while this hierarchy is essential to His Church — it is a hierarchy established with offices for service in imitation and configuration to Him who came to serve and not to be served. It is not a hierarchy based on elitism, power, or entitlement. It is directed towards the salvation of souls. At Baptism you were, as all of us were, configured to Christ for loving service to our neighbor. At your ordination as deacons, you were configured to Christ the Servant with intentional focus directed to the poor and those in the margins of society. Today in your ordination as priests you will be configured to Christ, Head and Shepherd of the Church for the service of pastoral leadership and sacrificial love in communion with me as your bishop. Prophecy, pastoral leadership, and sacrificial love are all essential to the hierarchy of the priestly office instituted by Christ and manifested in part by your promise of obedience to me as your bishop and to my successors in my office as the bishop of this local church, the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The Lord calls you to the priesthood and is sending you to speak prophetically by your lives His message that many do not want to hear, the message that they need to hear. We are called to minister pastorally as priests amidst many of our people’s current intoxication with various forms of anarchy brought about by the tyranny of relativism that, like Pontius Pilate, cynically asks the question, “What is Truth,” implying that there exist only power and self-interest. The oppressive anarchy that we are called to challenge prophetically with our lives, especially in our pastoral ministry as priests, imposes itself as legion from the political right and the political left, including libertarianism and socialism. Each of these ideologies have in common the denial of human nature, denial of the integrity of the engendered human body, and the destruction of social order and peace by asserting a radical individualism with no one being responsible for service or authoritative decision-making in family life, in the life of the state, and even in the life of the Church. It proposes a sense of unaccountable freedom for everyone’s personal ego which never results in unanimity or peace but only in confusion, discord, and violence. If everyone’s opinion is equally valid, then the only means of settling disagreements become violence and will to power. It is especially the pastoral vocation of priests to speak the fullness of the Truth with clarity and charity and to manifest it by our being and lives lived fraternally with each other. “To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you and appointed you. I command you, love one another.”

In conclusion it is helpful for all of us to recall the priestly example of Saint Maximilian Kolbe who offered his life as a martyr and as a priest. Prophecy, pastoral leadership, and sacrificial love were not only incidental to his martyrdom but constitutive of his entire priestly life. The setting of his martyrdom was the death camp of Auschwitz, the chaotic result of the tyranny of relativism and the place where human life and love were replaced by the instinct for survival and hatred.  As the story is recounted, a prisoner escaped and in retribution and revenge ten men were selected at random by the guards to die in a starvation bunker. One of the men selected, Franciszek Gajowniczek, exclaimed the natural and human cry for family amidst the ideological inhumanity of power, “My wife and my children!” Father Kolbe stepped forward and spoke, “I wish to take this man’s place, I am a Catholic priest.” How poignant and how true! Father Kolbe does not give the guard his own name. He does not identify himself by his prison number, he offers no other reason, and he wastes no words. “I am a Catholic priest.” These words and the accompanying actions put the truth to the lie of every oppressive ideology. He gives his life freely, prophetically, and sacrificially in this moment as a priest with pastoral charity as he takes the place of Franciszek Gajowniczek. As heroic as this action is, his identity and mission as a priest shine even more brightly after taking his place in the death chamber because there he continues to shepherd and to lead each of his nine fellow prisoners with the solace of the Gospel, the grace of the sacraments, and the mystery of the Cross so that in the end they do not abandon faith, hope, or charity nor reject the salvation of their souls won for them by Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.”

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