Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for Priestly Ordination

of Fr. Randolph Ed Hopkins, Fr. Brandon LeClair, and Fr. Austin Hoodenpyle

May 20, 2023
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Numbers 11:11b-12, 14-17, 24-25 (English)
Psalm 116
1 Timothy 4:12-16 (Spanish)
John 10:11-16 (English)

El evento real de la ordenación sacerdotal ocurre en silencio en la imposición de las manos.  Es un gesto sencillo pero lleno de significado.  Por medio de este gesto silencioso, una comunión ocurre entre el Señor y el que va a ser ordenado por medio del obispo, el presbiterado y toda la iglesia.  Es decir que el Señor los agarra a ustedes; acepta su disponibilidad que acaban de expresar.  Es como si esté diciendo, “Tú eres mío.  Y tus caminos deben llegar a ser mis caminos.  Esta comunión se expresa tan radicalmente que la persona de Cristo—su “Yo”—se identifica por medio de la persona del sacerdote: “Este es mi cuerpo.”  “Yo te absuelvo de tus pecados.”

“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.” This gesture of the imposition of hands enjoys a great deal of emphasis in the pastoral epistles of Saint Paul. We have just heard it proclaimed in Spanish in our second reading whereby Paul speaks to Timothy of this great gift that Timothy has received through the imposition of hands of the presbyterate. Paul will return to this focus when he writes to Timothy in the first chapter of his second epistle, “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God: that you have through the imposition of my hands.”

The laying on of hands, both by the Apostle and by the presbyterate, signify the conferral by God of a great gift—the gift of priestly character and ministry. Yet, since this gesture of crucial importance will take place in silence in a few moments within this liturgy, it is important that we consider with more depth the true character and nature of this gift lest we take the gift for granted and become detached from its authentic and eternal value.

You have just expressed your willingness to present yourselves for priestly ordination. The significance of the gesture of the imposition of hands that you will receive in a few moments is beautifully described by the theologian Joseph Ratzinger as follows: “It is as though the Lord says to you: “you are mine now. Your ways are to be my ways. With the gesture of the laying on of hands, the Lord accepts your free offer of yourselves and says to you in the silence, “You belong to me now. You are to be a voice for me in this world as an instrument, to such an extent that you are privileged to speak in my person, with my ‘I’ (ego): “This is my body.” I forgive you your sins.” Through this gesture the Lord accepts your offer of your life, and you no longer belong to yourself, and you can no longer say, “I will do with my life whatever I want.”

“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.” This gesture of the imposition of my hands and that of the concelebrating priests on your heads speaks eloquently in silence and conveys the gift of a relationship of belonging that is enjoyed and exemplified by Jesus the Good Shepherd who lays down His life freely for human beings in obedience to His Father’s Will. His Father’s will is pure love and desires the salvation of every human being ensnared by sin and the surrender of the Son’s will to that of His Father requires that He offer His life freely and lovingly for their salvation.

The eloquence of this liturgical gesture is preceded verbally by the promise of obedience that you will make to me and to my successors as bishop. The series of questions that I will ask you begins and ends with our relationship as priest and bishop. The first question asks you to resolve with the help of the Holy Spirit to discharge priestly ministry as worthy fellow workers with the order of bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock. The last question is the direct question, “Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?”

Collaboration and obedience directed to care of the Lord’s flock: the Lord who is the Good Shepherd who in obedience to the Father lays down His life for the sheep. Obedience and collaboration between bishop and priest are essential for the salvation of the Lord’s flock. The centrality of the Good Shepherd as the example of our shared priestly mission and ministry is indispensable for obedience to be truly salvific. True obedience is about unity of will between two collaborators in Christ; it is not about the domination or capitulation by one party to the other; nor is it simply a ceremonial stamp that really does not require surrender and trust.

Let us listen again to the words of Jesus spoken in today’s Gospel: “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.” For us truly not to neglect the gift that we have through the imposition of hands, we must imitate the relationship between Christ and His Father by knowing each other. Without a relationship of trust based on the expectations of Christ in which we know each other, the relationship of obedience between priest and bishop can become misunderstood as a transactional relationship between employer and employee or one of a contract to be settled in the adversarial setting of a courtroom.

To illustrate the true beauty of obedience I share the following story. Several years ago, I was in Rome at a meeting of bishops from around the world. During a break in one of the meetings three of us began a conversation, a bishop from Europe, a bishop from an Islamic nation that I will not identify for reasons for his protection, and me. The European bishop asked the other bishop why he appeared to be so preoccupied and worried. The other bishop said that he was concerned about one of his priests who had gone missing, and that life and ministry were becoming so dangerous because of radical terrorists and that over the past five years, three priests had been captured, tortured, crucified, and decapitated.

The European bishop said to the other bishop, “Why are the priests still in these dangerous areas?” The other bishop simply responded, “Obedience.” I mentioned to the bishop that it must be exceedingly difficult for him to be in Rome for this meeting and away from his diocese at such a precarious time. To which the other bishop responded, “Obedience.”

Moses asked the Lord for assistance in carrying the burden of the Lord’s chosen people. The Lord spoke to Moses and asked that he assemble seventy wise men and the Lord said, “I will also take some of the spirit that is on you and will confer it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you. You will then not have to bear it by yourself.”

This action of the Lord requires Moses to admit that he cannot do everything that the Lord’s mission requires. The Lord takes from Him part of His gift and shares it with His chosen collaborators. Likewise, as your bishop I must accept my weakness and dependence upon God in the relationship of obedience that He desires us to share for the unity and communion of His people.

Without authentic obedience centered upon the relationship between Christ the Good Shepherd and His Father, the flock will be scattered, and the vulnerable will be lost in the chaos and disunity of the evil one within the Church and in the broader society. We are collaborators and we need each other for the sake of the salvation of the Lord’s flock. I rely on you, and I hope that you rely on me. “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.”

Before offering the instruction before ordination, I share with you the words of the late Joseph Ratzinger, “This is the mission that you receive, the mission contained in the imposition of hands. Although this may seem to us too great for our capacities, you should reflect that the imposition of hands is not only a taking possession but at the same time a gesture of kindness, tenderness, protection. Through it the Lord says not only: “You are mine,” but also: I want to be yours and to accompany you on all your paths. Wherever you walk, you go in the shadow of my hands.”

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