|Photo by Juan Guajardo|
May 20, 2017
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
1 Peter 5:1-4
Several years ago, when Bishop Vann was transferred from our Diocese of Fort Worth to the Diocese of Orange, each and every one of us began to pray that Christ would send us a new bishop for the good of our local church. As a priest of this diocese, whose term of assignment was approaching its end, I prayed with particular zeal and specificity for this intention. I prayed ardently that Christ would send us for our bishop, a patient man, a man of reticence of speech, and a man with enough aversion to controversy to at least stay out of the newspapers. Our faith teaches us that God answers all prayers but sometimes He says "no." That was the case on November 12, 2013 when I received a call from the papal nuncio who informed me that the pope had appointed me to be the new bishop of Fort Worth. With disbelief, I quickly responded to the archbishop, "Your Excellency" (we use such salutations when we want very much to get our own way). "Your Excellency, there are certainly very many priests and bishops who are more patient, more prudent, and more experienced than me to be the bishop of Fort Worth." To which the nuncio responded, "Your Excellency, the pope knows that but he has chosen you."
I tell that story because Christ’s choice of you to follow Him and to serve His people as priests is not based upon your talents. Christ’s choice of you is not made reluctantly by Him because of your weaknesses. Christ’s choice to call you is based upon His love for you and for His people; it is a love that is fully displayed in His Sacrifice of the Cross. Your priestly vocation is an act of Christ’s generous love for you and for His people, the Church. Your priestly vocation is not a career or a form of self-identification. Christ’s choice is trustworthy and it is decisive in offering you a particular share in His mission. His choice enables you to make a decision that is as firm, trustworthy, and purposeful as His.
This is important because we too frequently misunderstand choice in our contemporary world as being an expression of a type of freedom that is indifferent to permanence and stability. We mistakenly think that to be free means to maintain as many options among abstract goods as possible. Choice becomes only the temporary expression of my current and changing preferences indifferent to reality or to anybody else. This too often adversely affects discernment of a vocation where the discerner becomes paralyzed in making a decision from among such abstract goods as priesthood or marriage. Yet, in fact, priesthood and marriage are not abstract goods. They are very real. They involve very real human beings responding to the very real God. They only become misunderstood as abstract goods when we draw our attention away from Christ by placing our focus on our preferences in considering these vocations apart from Him who extends the invitation and the call to us to love.
Perseverance in our vocation and our discernment requires simplicity of heart in order that we can say, “yes when we mean yes, and say no when we mean no, for as Christ teaches us, anything more is from the evil one.” Trust in Christ ensures our perseverance and spares us from indecision and the sadness of not belonging to anyone.
How do we come to recognize with clarity that He has chosen us? The Gospel from today offers us some insight. The Gospel includes a series of sayings that alternate between commandment and love. These are held in tandem, commandment and love; they express the rhythm of Christian life and discipleship. Follow Christ’s commands, do so out of love — His for you and the Church, and yours for Him and His Church. The more we obey, the more we love, and the more we become His friends. In this friendship we hear His invitation and are able to respond to it and to trust Him.
Christ’s choice for us is permanent and lasting and far from being indifferent. He will never take it away. In order for our choice to respond with reciprocal permanence and love to His choice, His assistance is required because of our weak and wounded human condition. This assistance is brought about through the grace of anointing with chrism. Anointing with chrism marks us as belonging to Him and to each other as brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of His Church. It is His brand upon each of us the baptized as His sheep, the sheep of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. Anointing on our heads with chrism at Baptism and Confirmation makes us belong to Him, and each of us to each other as brothers and sisters and as sons and daughters of the Church born through Baptism. The anointing with chrism is permanent and far from being indifferent. It shows us as belonging to Him by His choice and by our choice to accept His choice.
Today’s celebration involves a further choice by Christ to call these men into deeper belonging and particular service with a further response required by our candidates for ordination. Therefore, another anointing with chrism is required to bring about sacramentally the permanence of Christ’s call and their response to a priestly vocation. Dear sons, your hands are to be anointed with chrism. This anointing of your hands makes them belong to Christ as His hands. He remains in you and you in Him manifested by the ongoing tandem of obedience and sacrificial love. Your hands belong to Him and His hands belong to you. Never forget that Christ’s hands constructed and created as a carpenter at work, His hands healed the sick, His hands cleansed the leper, His hands imparted mercy as they wrote upon the ground to free the woman caught in adultery and to admonish the self-righteous to conversion. His hands washed the feet of the disciples, His hands offered the bread and wine at the Last Supper in instituting the Eucharist, His hands were pierced and bloodied by nails in the freely-offered sacrifice of His life at the crucifixion, and His wounded hands were glorified at His Resurrection and they dispelled the darkness of doubt by their open display to Thomas. He gives you His hands to become your hands in the anointing with chrism that you are about to receive. He gives you His heart, the heart of the Good Shepherd who cares for the lost sheep through the imposition of my hands accompanied by those of your brother priests with whom you will soon belong as brothers in the priesthood.
You will belong even more profoundly to Him in a deeper way through your use of these anointed hands for His mission of salvation in your perseverance in ministry as His priests. Use these hands well. Offer the sacrifice of the Mass daily with them, absolve sinners with them, anoint the sick with them, baptize and mark new members of His Church by using chrism with them, bless His people with them, comfort the afflicted with them. Remind those who are on the margins of the sheepfold that they belong to Christ through their anointing with chrism at baptism, for you will today be anointed to anoint them and to mark them as belonging to Christ, to the Church, and to nobody else as a possession. Because your hands belong to Christ through this anointing, do not fill them with lesser goods and possessions selected by indifferent choices. If you were to do so, you would go away sad like the rich young man who could not decide to answer Jesus’ call to follow and to belong to Him or to anyone else.
In our contemporary world, in which we are to bring joyfully the Gospel of Christ, the people of God especially need your ministry as priests to be reminded that they belong to Christ and to each other and are not isolated from either. Joyfully receive this share in His mission with which He entrusts you.