My Place in the Sun, June 8: Priesthood Ordination

My place in the sun

   Saturday, June 3, was a joyous day for our diocese. I ordained Matthew Lyons to the priesthood at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt. Please join me in praying for Father Lyons that he may be a faithful servant, tending God’s people with love and mercy. We pray also for our seminarians and ask God to bless us with vocations to the priesthood. The homily I preached at the ordination is printed below.

My Brothers and Sisters in the Lord; my dear Matthew,

“I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27). Thus, Jesus spoke to the apostles gathered for the Passover Meal the evening before His death. Today, Matthew wishes to consecrate himself to God and His people for service as a priest. We take a few moments to reflect on the readings we have just heard. These sacred words help us, and especially our brother Matthew, to understand what it means to be “one who serves” in imitation of Jesus, the servant.

   Servant is a title whose rich meaning is rooted in the Old Testament. Recall the beautiful suffering servant passages in Isaiah. The suffering servant is described as someone who bears our grief and sorrows, is pierced for our transgressions and cursed for our iniquities. This servant is someone God will send in a future day. Seven hundred years after Isaiah described the suffering servant, Jesus announces, “I have come not to be served but to serve, to give my life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).

   Today’s Gospel described Jesus’ ultimate act of service. “This is my body, which will be given up for you . . . This cup is the new covenant in my blood which shall be shed for you” (Lk 22:19-20).

   Matthew, a priest is called to serve in imitation of Christ. In all things, you must seek to share in the pattern of His death so that you may experience the power of His glorious resurrection. Your configuration to Christ is particularly evident when you celebrate Mass. Pope Francis cautions you to understand what you are doing. “Do not do it in haste! Imitate what you celebrate . . . so that, participating in the Mystery of the Lord’s death and Resurrection, you may bear the death of Christ in your members and walk with Him in the newness of life” (Ordination Homily, April 26, 2015). You are ordained Matthew, to serve, not to lord it over others or jockey for the position of “greatest.” Imitate Jesus who said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27). 

   “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God” (Heb 5:4). These words from the second reading tell us that God chose Matthew and called him to the order of priests. God took the first step, by planting a desire within him, to consider the ordained ministry. He seriously prayed, studied, and considered this invitation and now is on the threshold of ordination to the priesthood.

   My brother Matthew, it is a splendid and humbling grace to be called by God to speak His word and offer His sacrifice. Nevertheless, the Lord directs you to teach, to make holy, and to govern His people in His name. As the second reading told us, you have been “taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb 5:1). May the grace of the sacraments strengthen your belief that God is with you always in fidelity and love. The one who began this good work in you will bring it to completion (cf. Phil 1:6).

   Matthew, you have a particular responsibility to announce the good news. This requires that you spend time, often in silence, meditating on God’s word. Quoting Pope Francis, “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart” (The Joy of the Gospel, 264). Lingering, contemplating with love, and reading with the heart must be practices you cultivate regularly. Without them, you will not be able to impart the beauty and joy of the Gospel.

   A priest’s life, Matthew, is not meant to be sedentary. The responsibility to proclaim the good news requires an unselfish and tireless use of your time and energy. Pope Francis expects all of us “to go out” and “to reach out” to our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. This responsibility is particularly ours as shepherds of God’s flock. We must challenge ourselves to go out to others, even when we find it time consuming, inconvenient, or even uncomfortable.

   In the first reading, we heard a portion of Paul’s farewell speech. The advice he offered is timeless for those charged with preaching the good news. “Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). He goes on to say it will be a challenge to tend God’s flock. Savage wolves will attack the sheep and truth will be perverted. Hence, the need to be vigilant.

   Matthew, you cannot serve in imitation of Christ, proclaim the good news, or tend to God’s flock alone in isolation from others. First and foremost, nurture and strengthen your relationship with Christ through fidelity to prayer, the faithful recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the daily celebration of the Eucharist. Remember, as you offer the nourishment of God’s word and His sacred Body and Blood to others, you too need this nourishment. 

   Recently Pope Francis, in speaking to a group of young priests, offered this advice: “Pray tirelessly because we can be ‘fishers of men’ only if we first recognize that we have been ‘fished’ by the tenderness of the Lord. Our vocation began when, abandoning the land of our individualism and personal projects, we walked on the ‘holy journey’ by handing ourselves over to the Love that sought us in the night and the Voice that made our heart quick. . . . Like the fishermen of Galilee, we left our nets to grab those that the Master delivered us. If we do not keep close to Him, our fishing will not be successful” (Plenary Assembly of the Congregation of the Clergy, June 1, 2017)

   Second, and no less important, keep alive the bond which unites you with other priests in a sacramental brotherhood. Remember, with them you are exercising the one priestly ministry of Christ on behalf of His people. You share one priestly ministry with the Bishop. Work in union with me and my successors for the salvation of all. Always maintain a special love and loyalty towards our Holy Father, the successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

   My dear friends, our brother Matthew 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.

   Matthew, one final word. May Mary, the Mother of the Church and the patroness of our diocese, wrap her protective mantle around you and keep you always in her loving embrace. May you follow her words to the servers at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2: 5).

   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.