St. Patrick’s Cathedral,Fort Worth, Texas
May 21, 2016
Numbers 11:11b-12, 14-17, 24-25a
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
|Photo by Donna Ryckaert|
The readings for our ordination liturgy today begin and end with two conversations. The first reading from the Book of Numbers offers us the conversation between Moses and the Lord. The Gospel reading presents the conversation between Peter and the Lord Jesus. There are questions and responses; there are petitions and there are promises.
Moses is following the Lord, leading the Lord’s own People through the wilderness, a journey towards the land that has been promised to them, a journey that requires discernment and trust in the Lord God. It is in this journey that they have begun as refugees from slavery that they are to become a pilgrim people — God’s chosen and pilgrim people — through faithful trust in God and in God’s chosen agent, Moses.
|Prayer of Moses|
Ivan Kramskoy, 1801
So the Lord answers Moses. The Lord raises up seventy wise men. They aren’t wise in education, they aren’t wise in experience, they aren’t wise in technical skills — they are wise in the willingness to trust the Lord — and in so doing they receive the grace of God in a portion of His Spirit that He has already given to Moses. These elders are to serve as bridges between the people and God. They are to serve as bridges among the people with each other, uniting them in the mission of the pilgrimage to true and lasting freedom in God, when fear would otherwise drive them apart and surround them with the slavery of self-imposed walls of isolation and self-centeredness.
These chosen elders prefigure priests and their ministry in the life of the Church. A priest is a bridge — a pontifex. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote — -“No man on his own, relying on his own power, can put another in touch with God. An essential part of the priest’s grace is the gift, the task of creating this contact… As an act of God’s infinite mercy, he calls some “to be” with Him and to become, through the sacrament of Orders, despite their human poverty, sharers in His own priesthood, ministers of sanctification, stewards of His mysteries, “bridges” to the encounter with Him and of His mediation between God and man and between man and God.”
The marrow of a priest’s being a bridge is anchored in the conversation that Christ initiated with him when he first heard Christ’s call to follow Him. This conversation between Christ and the priest might be better understood in the light of the conversation between Jesus and Peter that is revealed to us in today’s Gospel which ends with Jesus’ words spoken to Peter, “Follow me.” The conversation in the Gospel today is only part of an ongoing conversation that began with Christ’s first call to Peter to follow Him. The conversation intensified when Christ gave Peter the keys of binding and loosing. The conversation continued at the Last Supper with the washing of Peter’s feet and his promised fidelity to be denied in futility. The conversation quiets at Calvary. The conversation echoes through the empty tomb, picks up again in the post Resurrection scene depicted in today’s Gospel, reverberates through the peripheries of the world after Pentecost, and culminates in Peter’s martyrdom — the death for love that Jesus alludes to in today’s reading.
In today’s conversation Jesus asks Peter, are you willing to sacrifice yourself for me. Peter, having been humbled by his threefold denial, responds in a paraphrase, “let’s just be friends.” Jesus repeats the question, are you willing to give yourself for me — Peter responds, “I am your friend.” Jesus patiently meets Peter where he is at and asks Peter for his friendship, because it is in friendship where self-sacrifice begins again. To be friends with the Lord requires the grace of a conversation, a dialogue — the dialogue of prayer by which Peter, and by which each of us priests will grow towards self-sacrifice — the self-sacrifice of true Christ-like love — the love of the Cross — the death that Peter will undergo.
|St. Peter and St. Paul|
El Greco, 1607
Each one of us shares in the Cross. By his ordination and ministry, a priest shares intimately in Christ’s priestly sacrifice of atonement and reconciliation through his celebration of each of the sacraments — most especially the Eucharist and Penance. It is this sacrificial aspect of a priest’s life that enables him to lead the People of God, the New Israel, from slavery to selfishness and sin towards the freedom of the baptized. It is this sacrificial aspect that motivates a priest to go to the peripheries of society to reach those who otherwise would collapse in fear and confusion. It is this sacrificial aspect of a priest’s life that illuminates a priest with the truth of the Gospel to enlighten those lost in the fog of error. It is this sacrificial aspect that empowers a priest to shepherd people away from the walled off isolation experienced as part of a mob of individuals towards the Communion offered and shared that makes us the Church — Christ’s Body. “Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.”
Dear Sons, in a few moments, the conversation will continue with the questions that I will ask in the Person of Christ and in the name of the Church. Christ will say to you again, “Follow me.” The conversation will continue with your promises. It will continue with Christ in your daily prayer and ministry throughout your lives. It will grow in your development in God’s Grace to give of yourselves to Christ and His People, to begin with friendship and to culminate in the self-sacrifice of the Cross — of authentic Christ-like love in your life and ministry by which you will be able to meaningfully and humbly stand at the altar and say, “This is my Body, this is my Blood.”
+ Most Rev. Michael F. Olson
Bishop of Fort Worth