My friend Deacon Edvin Geovanny Pèrez Tàquez will be ordained in Guatemala tomorrow into the Holy Priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.
Here are the words from our recent Bishop, now retired Bishop Weigand regarding Priestly ordination:
Dear ordinands, after many years of studies and spiritual growth, you have freely sought to be ordained as priests and I have called you to ordination.
But it is God who has led you. As Jesus says to Peter: “Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”. (Mt 16:17)
Your study and spiritual growth will continue, of course. But now, in persona Christi capitis, through ordination and sacramental configuration to Christ the Priest, you will be sent on mission, like Sts. Peter and Paul. You are sent to teach, to shepherd and to sanctify those whom God has chosen for his own.
Like Peter and Paul, you go in Christ’s name, as vicars of Christ; you also go as churchmen. You represent Christ and his Church, not yourself.
You go to do the work and bidding of Christ and his Church, not your own. Your opinions and interests are relevant only if they are also Christ’s and the Church’s.
You are not ordained to be “private practitioners,” to do your own bidding, or to be anything but faithful representatives of Christ and his Church.
You simply step out in faith and trust as instruments of Christ and do the best you can. You do it on behalf of Christ. You can depend on him; trust him. Be willing to be inadequate, even “to be fools for Christ.”
Try to forget yourselves and your human limitations. You just “close your eyes,” in a sense, before a pastoral challenge and go forward. You pray for courage as you lend yourselves to Christ without stint. There is a learning curve, of course. Be both patient and persistent. It gets easier with experience.
When training the apostles, Christ was very explicit. To do his mission and be fishers of souls, we have to put out into deep water. “Duc in altum.” Brothers, in everything you do as priests, you will be over your heads, beyond your talents, out of your depth. You will get used to it if you remember, that it is not about you, but about Christ and his mission. Striving to forget self, we simply do the work of the Gospel as best we can.
Of course, you will be nervous. Every time you get into the pulpit to preach, your knees may shake. Every time you search for a lost sheep, your heart will be in anguish. Every time you sit for Christ to hear the sins of people and administer Christ’s merciful forgiveness, you will be humbled. Every time you stand in Christ’s stead at the altar and utter his words and call on the Holy Spirit to change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, you will feel awe and fear. But, you humbly do all this and much more – in faith and trust – and with love. Strive never “to get used to it.” Try to keep your reverence, devotion, and awareness fresh.
Dear ordinands, as you know, being a priest requires a lot: selflessness, generosity, energy, initiative, creativity, courage, hard work and, of course, zeal for souls.
This is not a life for weaklings!
It is a call to be restless and on fire for doing Christ’s mission. You will want to do your best to resist any inclination to be passive, non-engaged, lethargic, or concerned for personal comfort.
The priesthood is not a job, nor just a profession. It is a vocation – and not of your choosing, primarily. Christ said: “I have chosen you; you have not chosen me.” (Jn 15: 16) “Go and bear much fruit,” “As the Father has sent me, so I send you...and he breathed on them” the Holy Spirit. (Jn 20:21-22) Even though much of what we do is beyond our talents and we are over our heads in deep water, we trust in this “power from on high.”
You know that being a priest is a full-time endeavor, not 9:00 to 5:00, not just during office hours. Nor is the priesthood a matter of doing certain assigned duties, with the rest of the time then being yours. No. Ordination makes you apostles for Christ, missionaries charged with communicating the Word of God, “in season and out,” commissioned to build up the Kingdom of God. Even on your day “off,” you are a priest for your people, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and praying the Divine Office in union with Christ and his Church.
Priestly consecration requires of you this zeal for souls. As priests the salvation of souls has become your charge, because it is Christ’s. “Caritas Christi urget nos”, “The love of Christ impels us,” says St. Paul. (2 Cor 5:14) We are to be “on fire,” to “lose ourselves” for souls, – constantly inventing and trying new pastoral strategies; sharing the faith, evangelizing, teaching in every way possible; offering salvation to one and all.
As you also know, dear brothers, priesthood is not about titles, honors, or status; not about an easy life, an expensive car, public acknowledgment and personal comfort. These things will not be of great importance to you.
Instead, prayer and a deep personal relationship with Christ will be the foundation of your priestly life. If not, there will be little chance of keeping vibrant your vision, your motivation and your priestly life.
A priest is simply not his own. We belong to Christ and his people. That we are committed to chaste celibacy “for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” bears this out and constantly reminds us. That you renew today your promise of obedience to your Bishop and the Church also reinforces this fact.
Shortly, among the several questions, I will ask:
“Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice and with him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all?”
“I do, with the help of God.” Being a priest requires continual growth in your love for Christ and his people, steady growth in holiness. This resolve is graced and made possible by “the help of God.”
But priestly vocation is a joyous matter, as most priests know so well, and your ordination today is a joyous occasion. Soon your hands will be anointed with holy chrism: the oil of gladness. A glorious mantle will be placed upon you instead of a listless spirit. Priesthood, for all its challenges, is a joyous pursuit and joy is a sign of God’s presence. So, as priests, you are called to the joy of Christ, and you will communicate that joy to others, in all you do and say and think.
Our priestly ministry releases the joy and goodness in others, the goodness in our world, the goodness that leads people back to God. There will be sufferings in your life, of course. The cross is very real. But through it all, yours will be an abiding joy that nothing and no one can take from you.
When he was a young priest, the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York asked an elderly and admired priest he lived with to give some advice to him as a young priest starting out. The old man said three things, “Love the people; love the people; love the people.” How wise!
It is another way of stressing zeal for souls. But it’s difficult to be loving unless we permit ourselves to be loved.
Brothers, you must let the people love you and must let Jesus love you. Cultivating good friends, staying in touch with your family, remaining open to God’s love in a close, prayerful friendship with Jesus are essential for one to be a happy, holy priest.
We cannot easily lead others to friendship with Christ if we are not his friends – and have no friends. Jesus called the twelve first into close friendship with himself, and with one another, then only later sent them out on mission.
It is an awesome commitment we make, one impossible to fulfill without the grace of God – day in and day out. We are but limited and weak instruments. We can do little without the constant grace of orders, grace of office. And this is assured to us because God is faithful. So, we go forward in hope and trust. The ordination rite has me conclude the questioning by praying for each of you: “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.” And he will.
Dear ordinands, I commend you for your courage and generosity in wanting to undertake this awesome but demanding life of consecrated service of Christ and his people. Believe firmly that God loves you very much and will richly bless you – and us – throughout your priestly life.
We love you, too, and are proud of you.