‘Faithful shepherd’

Father Jason Charles Hage ordained a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse

One chapter came to an end and another began anew June 7 as Bishop Robert J. Cunningham ordained Father Jason Hage as the newest priest of the Diocese of Syracuse.

   The rite marked the culmination of a decade of discernment and formation for the Brockport native.

   “I am most overcome by the thought that, without the Lord, none of this would be possible,” he told the Sun in an interview two days before his ordination.

   Father Hage grew up in a tight-knit family that made Sunday Mass a priority, but as a young man he rarely felt engaged by the faith, he recalled.

   “In so many ways in my life during the week, I was dead,” he said. “There was no life I was experiencing.”

   That changed during his junior year in high school, when he returned to prayer and to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

    “All of a sudden, experiencing his [God’s] love for the first time personally, meaning came flooding into my life,” Father Hage said. “And that meaning and purpose came from the simple fact of knowing that I am loved beyond words, I’m loved beyond my imaginings by this God.”

   His first feeling of a call to the priesthood came during that time, a feeling that continued to grow while he studied at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, Father Hage and several of his friends founded Life After Sunday, a group for young Catholics interested in deepening their faith. He said those friends were the ones who encouraged him to seriously consider a vocation to the priesthood and supported him in his application.

   After graduating from Xavier, Father Hage entered St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md., as a seminarian for the diocese. He graduated just weeks ago with a Master of Divinity degree.

   There were “many struggles and many joys, more than I can count on both sides” on the road to ordination, Father Hage said.

   One thing “I definitely had to work through, was that I come from a very loving family, very close, so I always grew up imagining myself to be a good father and a good husband,” he said. But he knew he was truly called to the priesthood several months into his pastoral year at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt. “I saw myself becoming a part of these peoples’ families in a way, at a level of intimacy, I never would have imagined or guessed at or known was possible. It got me really on fire to serve the Lord because I was falling in love with his people,” he remembered.

   Modern culture “forms us to worship our life in such a way that we want to keep it for ourselves,” Father Hage said. “and we’re convinced that if we keep it for ourselves that it’ll bring us happiness. But the Lord teaches us something else. On the cross he shows us that when we give it away, that’s when we realize true joy and happiness in our lives.”

Joy and happiness were written all over Father Hage’s face as he prepared to process into the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception June 7.

   Bishop Cunningham, the Mass’s main celebrant, was joined by Bishop Thomas J. Costello; Corbishop John D. Faris, pastor of Saint Louis Gonzaga Maronite Catholic Church in Utica; and more than 50 priests, deacons and seminarians of the diocese for the celebration. Inside, scores of family and friends filled the pews.

   The music of the diocese’s Festival Choir filled the Cathedral as Mass began. Matthew Vajen and John Niswonger, two of the friends who initially encouraged Father Hage in his vocation, offered the readings. Deacon Zachary Miller, ordained to the transitional diaconate May 24, proclaimed the Gospel.

   The Rite of Ordination began with Father Thomas Servatius, diocesan director of seminarian formation, calling Father Hage forward from the pew where he sat with his family. Declaring himself present, Father Hage stood before Bishop Cunningham, who then accepted and elected the ordinand to the office of priesthood. The congregation affirmed the election with enthusiastic applause.

   Bishop Cunningham then delivered a homily written specifically for Father Hage.

   “As you shepherd the people, strive to gather them together in unity and love, leading them through Christ to God, our Father. Pope Francis has reminded priests that we are not functionaries but true shepherds in the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Know, Jason, that you cannot become a true shepherd through your own efforts. Only by allowing yourself to be shaped by the grace of the Holy Spirit will you be able to shepherd the people of God and guide them along the way to Jesus…. As a faithful shepherd, consider it your special service to help others to see what is God’s will in the events of daily life. Encourage a true missionary spirit in the faithful so that they will assist you in the work of preparing the way that leads to Christ. Lead them to the joy of encountering Christ and, as Pope Francis often tells us, never limit the mercy of God.” (The full text of Bishop Cunningham’s homily can be found on page 3 of this issue.)

   After declaring himself willing to serve as a priest, Father Hage placed his hands in Bishop Cunningham’s and vowed his obedience to the bishop and the Church. He then prostrated himself in the sanctuary as those gathered prayed. At the Laying on of Hands, Bishop Cunningham, followed by all the priests in the sanctuary, placed his hands on Father Hage’s head in silent prayer. Bishop Cunningham then offered the Prayer of Consecration.

   Father Hage was vested in the stole and chasuble of a priest, aided by Msgr. J. Robert Yeazel, pastor of Holy Cross Church, and friend Father Jeremy Miller, a priest of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio.

   After anointing Father Hage’s hands with Sacred Chrism, Bishop Cunningham received the gifts from Father Hage’s parents, Charles and Diane, and his siblings, Chad, Ryan and Lindsay. Bishop Cunningham then presented the paten with the host and the chalice with unconsecrated wine to Father Hage, “so that he may continue to imitate the mystery of Christ by offering Eucharist for God’s holy people.” The Rite of Ordination closed with Bishop Cunningham and clergy offering the Sign of Peace to the newly ordained Father Hage.

   At the conclusion of the Mass, Bishop Cunningham announced Father Hage’s first assignment: beginning July 1, he will serve as parochial vicar at Holy Family Church in Fairmount.
During the interview before his ordination, Father Hage said he was eager to be able to celebrate the Eucharist and offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

   “Mass and Confession, for me, are two things I’ve been longing for, especially this year,” he said.

   He feels “our world is desperate to hear the words of forgiveness, because we’re so guilt-ridden, we beat ourselves up, we don’t find ourselves loveable, we feel like we have to earn people’s love. But in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it’s unconditional love. For me, it’s an incredible honor and privilege to be able to stand in that position of mercy.”

   And, amid all the planning of ordination weekend, Father Hage said his focus had been on his first Mass. “My whole life seems to find its fulfillment in the celebration of the Eucharist. So I’m really looking forward to celebrating that,” he said.

   Father Hage celebrated his first Mass the day after his ordination, returning to the parish he considers his “home” in the diocese, Holy Cross Church.

   Msgr. Yeazel delivered a special homily during the Mass, taking a page from Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture. Drawing on his 47 years as a priest, Msgr. Yeazel offered Father Hage five insights he’s gained: The most effective, vibrant priests are those who spend a lot of time with God every day; who are joyous; who are filled with gratitude; who are “second mile priests,” those who go the extra mile for those around them; and who “make kindness their brand name.” Msgr. Yeazel prayed that the Holy Spirit would deepen the “wonderful gifts within you and keep you always close to Him, making you one of the most happy, holy and vibrant priests that Jesus has ever called.”

   As the liturgy drew to a close, Father Hage offered words of thanks to his family and friends, the Holy Cross community and the priests and seminarians present. And, in an emotional surprise, he offered a special blessing over his parents.

   Father Hage told the congregation that his parents had not only given him a chalice for his ordination, but that they had also given him the diamond from his mother’s engagement ring to set into the chalice. But they had also given him much more: Their “yes” to each other, day in and day out, taught him faithfulness and unconditional love, he said, and gave him life and his vocation. He then offered a blessing over his parents, his mother’s new engagement ring and his father’s wedding band, followed by thunderous applause from the congregation.

   Father Hage offered blessings over many parishioners after the Mass, a smile constantly on his face, already looking at home in his new role as priest. “It was amazing,” he said of his first Mass. “It blew away all of my expectations.”

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