Editor’s note: Bishop Douglas J. Lucia ordained Father Malachi Clark to the priesthood Aug. 15 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Here is the prepared text of the homily he preached on the occasion.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist, once said, “Our chief need in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” It is interesting to note that Emerson did not state that our chief need was to find somebody who will tell us what we ought to do. Rather it is none other than to find someone who will inspire us to do what we should do. Emerson would go on to define this “someone” as a friend or a spouse or a parent… and we perhaps this morning can see this “someone” as a “priest”… one who is called to be a friend like Jesus, along with taking the Church, Our Mother, to be his spouse and being a Father to the sheep both inside and outside the flock.
Now Malachi, I hope you are not beginning to sweat already, because you must always remember that you do not walk the road of the ministerial priesthood alone. In fact, today’s Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary reminds all of us of our call to work the harvest, while prompting us to remember that its ultimate fruitfulness comes from the Lord.
For you, Mal, in a particular way, Mary’s total gift of self in salvation history can be the model for your own priestly life and service. Not foreign to you either is the first lesson we find in Mary’s life: suffering. As a young mother, Mary’s suffering began when she and Joseph took the child Jesus to the temple and encountered Simeon’s prophecy. Yet, even greater would be Mary’s suffering in seeing her son’s mission opposed and having it reach its peak when she stood beneath the crucified body of her son on Calvary. Mary bore her suffering with courage and patience. And that’s where she becomes a source of inspiration for your priestly ministry, inviting you to be courageous and patient when facing opposition in the proclamation of the Kingdom, not just from those outside the Church, but even from within its walls.
The second example Mary sets for your life as a priest, Malachi, is her spirit of service to others. This spirit manifested itself when the angel Gabriel announced that she was to be the mother of Jesus. Her answer was concise and to the point: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Mary’s spirit of service continued to manifest itself when she learned of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy and hastened to her side. Finally, this same spirit of service would be found at Cana of Galilee when Mary asked help from Jesus for the young married couple.
Someone once said, “My life turned around when I stopped asking God to do things for me and asked God what I could do for Him.” Mal, it is this kind of spirit of service in Mary that inspires us as her priestly sons to want to try to serve as she did.
Finally, this brings us to the thing we find in Mary’s life that should be the center of life of every priest. It is a spirit of profound prayerfulness. This spirit of prayerfulness is seen in her prayer of praise to God that as Church we use at Evening Prayer: the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary. Mary offered this prayer after learning that Elizabeth’s child, John the Baptist, had leapt in the womb for so near was man’s salvation! In it, she not only proclaims the greatness of God, but speaks of the living prayer we are called to be: “My soul doth magnify the Lord.”
This same spirit of prayer-filled and radiant joy would continue at the birth of Jesus where in referring to this moment, Jesus would state that his mother’s blessedness came from the fact that she heard God’s Word and kept it. In such a statement is found the priestly calling to be a bearer of the Ark of the Covenant: to let God’s Word be a living Word alive in its bearer!
The Acts of the Apostles reminds us of Mary’s devotedness to prayer and her prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit within the Church. St. Teresa of Kolkata once said, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.” This is what prayer did for Mary, and Malachi this is what prayer must do for you as you respond to his call to be “in persona Christi captis,” “in the person of Christ the head,” in the Church and in the world today. Remember not only the gift you are in God’s eyes, but also the gift you are meant to open so that the world may know that God is with us!
Beloved brothers and sisters: because this our son, Malachi, who is your relative and friend, is now to be advanced to the Order of Priests, consider carefully the nature of the rank in the Church to which he is about to be raised.
It is true that God has made his entire holy people a royal priesthood in Christ. Nevertheless, our great Priest himself, Jesus Christ, chose certain disciples to carry out publicly in his name, and on behalf of mankind, a priestly office in the Church. For Christ was sent by the Father and he in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the Bishops, he might continue to exercise his office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd. Indeed, Priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to service of the People of God.
In being configured to Christ the eternal High Priest and joined to the Priesthood of the Bishops, he will be consecrated as a true Priest of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the Lord’s Sacrifice.
Now, dear son, you are to be raised to the Order of the Priesthood. For your part you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the word of God which you have received with joy. Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach.
In this way, let what you teach be nourishment for the People of God. Let the holiness of your life be a delightful fragrance to Christ’s faithful, so that by word and example you may build up the house which is God’s Church.
Likewise, you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For by your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the Sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the altar, in union with the faithful, in the celebration of the sacraments. Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate. As a celebrant of the mystery of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection, strive to put to death whatever in your members is sinful, and to walk in newness of life.
Remember, when you gather others into the People of God through Baptism, and when you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance; when you comfort the sick with holy oil and celebrate the sacred rites, when you offer prayers of praise and thanks to God throughout the hours of the day, not only for the People of God but for the whole world — remember then that you are taken from among the human family and appointed on their behalf for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ.
Finally, dear son, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost. Remember this day the glory to be revealed in us; when we, too, hear God’s Word and let it take on flesh in us. Amen.