Sunday, May 13, 2012

No Greater Love: Ten Years of Priesthood

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

This homily was preached at my 10th Anniversary Mass at St. Brendan in Miami.

I look around this room and see so many friends and so many faces.  Each face tells a story of my priestly journey.  Every picture that I have seen over the last few days comes alive with a memory filled with grace.  We are not here to simply honor me for reaching a decade of priestly service, but rather to celebrate the love that we have for the Church and for the ministerial priesthood.  (I’m just here because I wanted an excuse to party!)  For the last ten years, I have been inspired by you, loved by you, consoled by you, lifted up by you, and in awe of your incredible faith.  Every day the people of God remind me of the love that they have for the priesthood, and it even happened today with a lady that I never even met.

We went to pick up the cake that was graciously donated for tonight and what a cake it was!  These ladies had created my cake for my ordination day which was a replica of my ordination card.  For my 10th anniversary, they used heavenly inspiration to come up with a new design that moved me.  It was a three-tiered cake with fish cascading down a waterfall and at the base were two hands, priestly hands, making sure none of the fish got away.  On those hands were inscribed the words, “Bonus piscator”.  For ten years I have endeavored to make sure that not one gets away and here was this cake made by someone I didn’t even know reminding me of my sacred mission.

Yesterday, I watched the homily that Father Mario Vizcaino preached at my first Mass.  Two things jumped out at me at this point in my journey.  The first was his explanation of the simplicity of the rite of ordination.  I knelt down before Archbishop Favalora and through the imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit I became a priest.  Through such a simple gesture something transformative took place.  The second thing was how Father explained how I was chosen from among men to sanctify men.  This reflects what Jesus tells the disciples in today’s gospel:  “It was not you who chose me.  It was I who chose you.”  Unworthy as I am, God chose this imperfect instrument for the sanctification of his people and to be a minister of his joy:  “that your joy may be complete.”  I do not know how to be anything less than a joyful priest.  Yes there are days that I may be cross or in an unpleasant mood, but when I sanctify God’s people through the sacraments and especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, I must do it with joy.   I do not know how to do it any other way.  I became a priest because I felt this joy that Jesus speaks of in the gospel.  This joy that overwhelms our hearts and must be shared is a joy that I spend every Sunday trying to pass on to God’s holy people.

And as a minister of God’s joy, I realize that I am also called to serve.  Today’s gospel was read at my ordination and the verse that still jumps out at me is “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  I joyfully lay down my life for each and every one of you that I call friends, parishioners, family, and strangers because I was called to serve all.  I lay down my life so that you might know Jesus and then share his joy, his love, and his presence with the entire world.  When I was Vocations Director, I used to tell the seminarians and candidates that the Church needed a new kind of priest:  ones that are joyful and courageous.  We need priests that will set the world on fire, will boldly proclaim the truth of Christ no matter the consequences, and sanctify the world through their words and actions.  But the Church needs committed laity as well who are joyful and courageous.  These are difficult times that we are going through and we must have the courage to stand with our priests on the truths that Christ taught us and spread the joy of Christ to a broken world.  As a priest, I am called to sanctify you so that you may in turn bring that joy and that holiness into the world.

Ten years of service and I realize that I am just getting warmed up.  Ten years of fruits that I see here before me and others who through God’s grace received fruit from this imperfect servant in an unexpected way.  Even after all this time, I am still humbled when I approach this altar to break the bread and to share with all of you the living presence of Christ.  There is no greater adventure than the priesthood.  There is no greater life.  And on this day, I thank you for allowing me to serve you, to absolve you, to feed you, to preach to you, to anoint you, to love you, and for simply allowing me to be your priest.

Thou Art A Priest Forever

To live in the midst of the world,
Without wishing its pleasures;
To be a member of each family,
Yet belonging to none;
To share all sufferings;
To penetrate all secrets;
To heal all wounds;
To go from men to God
And offer Him their Prayers;
To return from God to men
To bring pardon and hope;
To have a heart of fire for charity
And a heart of bronze for chastity;
To teach and to pardon,
Console and bless always--
What a glorious life!
And it is yours,
O Priest of Jesus Christ!
                                                --Author Unknown