On Saturday, June 7, I conferred the sacrament of Holy Orders on Jason Hage at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The following is the homily I preached on that occasion. Please join me in praying for Father Hage that he may be a faithful priest, teacher and shepherd for God’s people. We pray also for our seminarians and ask God to bless us with vocations to the priesthood.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, and in a most special way, my dear son, Jason,
This is truly a blessed day for all of us gathered here at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Jason’s parents, his sister and brothers, his relatives and friends, priests and deacons, consecrated men and women, seminarians, God’s holy people from this diocese and visitors who join us and rejoice on this day!
As we gather to celebrate this ordination, we are in the final hours of the sacred time of the Ascension after which the Lord Jesus was no longer seen in human form by His disciples; the point in the history of salvation when the Savior took His place at the right hand of the Father; the salvific event by which Christ “raised our frail human nature to glory.”
The Ascension is also the occasion when the Lord Jesus, to whom “all power has been given in heaven and on earth,” entrusted the commission to teach, rule and sanctify to His chosen servants, the apostles. By their fulfillment of this sacred ministry, by their witness, and often times by the sacrifice of their own lives, the apostles and their special collaborators in the work of salvation became, following the example of the Lord, the grain of wheat spoken of in today’s Gospel. Because of their dedication, and that of the bishops and priests who followed them, we are able to enjoy today the fruits of faith, hope and love.
Throughout the many centuries of the Church’s existence, the choice of men by Christ as well as the transmission of His power to save, has been made manifest to generations of believers in the sacred right which we are about to celebrate. In the sacrament of Holy Orders, a share in the mission of salvation entrusted to the apostles is transmitted by one of their successors to one who has been impelled by the love of Christ to dedicate his life to the service of God’s people.
Jason, although remaining in the midst of God’s people, you are about to be set apart for service. With faith, you have answered the Lord’s invitation to be one of His servants. Follow the example given to you by Christ, Teacher, Priest and Shepherd, as well as by other sacred ministers who have preceded you. Faithfully exercise your office in union with your Bishop and our Holy Father who regard you as a necessary helper and counselor in their apostolic ministry.
Share with your Bishop and fellow priests the task of teaching the people of God. Your preaching must involve the Gospel, the good news announced by Jesus Himself. It is from this message that your ministry takes its start. Diligently read and meditate on the Word of the Lord that you may believe what you read, teach what you have learned in faith and practice what you teach.
Approach the Sacred Scripture with an attitude of humble and awe-filled reverence. This humility will help you to recognize that you are not the master or owner of God’s word, but its guardian, herald and servant (Cf. Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 146). You are called to preach the Lord’s message, not your own. Appeal to all, believers and nonbelievers alike, in the name and power of Christ, so that all will come to accept what God has achieved perfectly through Christ and manifested in your life.
As you sanctify the people entrusted to your care, realize that you are acting as a minister of Christ, “who in the sacred liturgy continually exercises His priestly office on our behalf, by the action of His Spirit.” Celebrate in sacrament the saving word which you proclaim. Believe that, through your liturgical ministry, salvation is being offered to those who have responded to the call of the Gospel. Above all, consider it a special privilege to be able to celebrate the Eucharist, so essential to Christian life. Remember that all other sacraments, “as well as every ministry of the Church and every work of the apostolate are linked to this source of life and directed to it.”
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 (Cf. Pope Francis, Address to Seminarians, April 14, 2014).
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.
Finally, my brother, realize that Christ the Lord entrusted this special ministry to you as part of His plan of salvation. Be a man whose life is solidly rooted in prayer. Reflect upon the Gospel message and make it a part of your own life. This requires that you daily “contemplate the word of God with love, lingering over it and reading it with the heart” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 254). In addition, you will also need to keep your ear to the people and discover what it is that they need to hear. “A preacher has to contemplate the word, but he also has to contemplate his people. He needs to be able to link the message of the biblical message to a human situation, to an experience which calls out for the light of God’s word” (The Joy of the Gospel, 154).
Never forget, in a special way, the life of Christ our High Priest must now become your own. In moments of suffering and difficulty, trust in the Lord who is, indeed, with you. Recall often that Christ entered into glory through His passion. In suffering, may the image of the grain of wheat, proposed by Jesus in the Gospel, be a source of hope in your obedient submission.
The apostle Paul offers you words that are consoling and challenging at the same time. “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Until I arrive attend to the reading, exhortation and teaching” (1Tim 4:12-13). My son Jason, do not neglect the gift you will be given with the imposition of my hands and the priests here present. Heed the words of St. Paul and attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by so doing you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
My dear friends, our brother Jason comes among you as one who serves. He will act in the name of Christ as a representative of the Church. Receive him as a true minister of Jesus, the Lord. Support him with your prayers and love.
Jason, you have received with joy the glad tidings of which Isaiah spoke in the first reading. You have come to believe in the freedom which belongs to those who dedicate their lives totally to Him. You have experienced the comforting power of our faith. With the anointing of Christ’s Spirit, go forth and announce that in Christ we have all been given new life. Proclaim the joy of the good news to the lowly, the brokenhearted, those who mourn and all who hunger and thirst for God’s love and mercy. May Mary, the mother of all priests, the Queen of the Clergy, accompany you as your favorite companion on the journey.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.