Editor’s note: Bishop Douglas J. Lucia ordained Fathers Daniel Caughey, Brendan Foley, John Leo Oduor, and Dennis Walker to the priesthood June 5 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The prepared text of the homily he preached that day is below.
A few weeks ago, I was at St. Leo’s & St. Ann’s Church in Holland Patent to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. It was my first time to visit the parish and to celebrate Holy Mass with parishioners. I enjoyed my time with Father Vincent Long and those to be confirmed and their families very much.
Now, you may be wondering, “Bishop Lucia, you have been to many parishes in the Diocese of Syracuse this spring, so why does this particular one have an honorable mention at this morning’s ordination ceremony?”
Well, it is because of the statue you see before the pulpit. Believe it or not, that statue was in the front of the altar at St. Leo’s & St. Ann’s and I did not notice it right away. Seriously. Some of you may think I need my eyes checked, but I totally overlooked it and almost jumped out of my skin when I turned toward the ambo for words of welcome that were being given! I had to ask myself, “How the heck did I miss seeing this image of Christ sitting in front of me?”
That question was on my mind not only for the duration of the Confirmation Mass but has been percolating in my brain since then. Particularly, I keep challenging myself to consider, “How attentive am I to Jesus Christ in my life? Do I pay attention to him through prayer? Do I look for him when I am with others? Are his commandments the ones I live my life by? Is his way of loving my way of loving?”
Such questions are important for all followers of Christ, but particularly for those who are called to live their lives in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the head. How can the ordained priest lead others to Christ unless he pays attention to and remains united with what his master is doing?
It is true that God has made his entire holy people a royal priesthood in Christ. Nevertheless, our great and eternal High Priest himself, Jesus Christ, chose certain disciples to carry out publicly in his name, and on behalf of humankind, 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 the service of the people of God.
Such service is signified by the making of one’s own life — through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit — a living witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stated often that the Gospel was “an encounter with the person of Christ.” For your part, Daniel, Brendan, John Leo, and Dennis, you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher, not only by your preaching, but even more by a Christ-like way of life.
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.
For me, such a life is summed up by the word “integrity.” Integrity is defined as: (1) the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness; and (2) the state of being whole and undivided. Words associated with “integrity” are honesty, honorableness, morals, righteousness, decency, fairness, sincerity, truthfulness, and trustworthy.
Integrity also shares its root with the word “integral,” signifying “fundamental, essential, and necessary to make the whole complete.” Dennis, John Leo, Brendan, and Daniel, integrity of life — that is, a life lived in conformity with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church — is fundamental and essential if we are to build up the Body of Christ today.
Ordination to the priestly office is meant for one thing and one thing only — to continue the mission and service of Jesus Christ; and not to make for ourselves a cushy life seeing how many days off, vacations, fine meals, and golf games we can rack up! Our place is on the ground, stooping to wash the feet of fellow pilgrims or seeking them out and picking them up when they have strayed off the path. Our place is on the cross with Christ, stretching out our hands between heaven and earth bringing God to the people and the people to God. This is the greater love the priest is ordained to live on in!
For in your priestly ministry, brothers, you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying through your offering of self. The spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the Sacrifice of Christ, 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. To all my brother priests, today’s Ordination Rite is a time for you and me to hold ourselves accountable for our behavior and to recognize that to build the Kingdom of God means we need to be men of service who work together ever more closely with one another and in union with the diocesan bishop.
With Daniel, Brendan, John Leo, and Dennis we are called to remember that when we gather others into the people of God through baptism, when we forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance, when we comfort the sick with holy oil and celebrate the sacred rites, when we 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 and I 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.
I have asked myself over and over what concerns distracted me from seeing the Christ in front of me at Holland Patent. Moreover, this particular image of Christ reminds me that I may have to really get down and even dirty to see the face of Christ in those around me. Therefore, dear ordinands, 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 gift that is being conferred upon you and persevere in the tasks of teaching, sanctifying, and leading the flock. Dennis, John Leo, Brendan, and Daniel, throughout your priesthood of service may you forever sing the goodness of the Lord.
And the people said, “Amen!”