Editor’s note: As the diocese celebrates the Year of Vocations, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia shares the homily he preached May 4, 2014, in thanksgiving for 25 years of priestly ministry.
Twenty-five years ago when I was Ordained to God’s Service in the Ministerial Priesthood, I was given three pieces of advice and a charge. The three pieces of advice were:
1. Choose your words carefully.
2. What you don’t know won’t hurt you.
3. You won’t be able to please everyone all the time.
The charge was: to be an ambassador of reconciliation building a community of love. Now, as the originator of these pieces of advice and the accompanying challenge to build a community of love [Bishop Terry LaValley] would say at his own Ordination as Bishop four years ago this past week, “the joy of a journey, the struggle of a lifetime.”
Twenty-five years ago when I began this journey, I should have known I was in for a ride! And my first clue should have been that for my first month after Ordination I was without an assignment… Let’s just say I think I have made up for it since!
Yet, my sisters and brothers, wherever the journey has taken me, I would be sorely remiss if my first words this day were not ones of praise and thanks to God for walking the journey with me … opening the Scriptures and helping me to know Him in the breaking of the bread … as well as for giving me such wonderful companions on that journey who fill this church this afternoon or who are with us in spirit! Echoing the words of another coworker in the Lord’s vineyard, St. Paul: “I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now” (Phil 1:3-5).
“Partnership for the Gospel…” These words aptly sum up the role of “ambassador” that Bishop Stanislaus Brzana spoke of on Ordination Day, May 20, 1989. The word “ambassador” refers to an authorized representative or messenger. But at its German root, it signifies “service.” For me, that is what these last 25 years have been about: service. Etched on the bottom of my chalice are the words “Ordained to God’s Service — Douglas John Lucia.” Yet, the origin of these words comes not from me, but from my parents; and is made real for me by their genuine life of faith and service. They are the ones who through my formative years nurtured the seed of faith planted in me at baptism, as well as cultivated a culture of vocations — where one was free to and encouraged to answer God’s call for one’s life.
Dad and Mom, it is upon your confession of faith that my life is now built. Your own daily decision for the “we” and not for the “me” in the Sacrament of Marriage for nearly 55 years has been my greatest inspiration in living out the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Even now, you continue to teach your family the meaning of sacrifice and the love and labor that goes into it. Thank you does not seem adequate enough! Just know that every time I raise my chalice I think of you and your example that have taught me the true meaning of the words “Do this in memory of me!”
That being said, I am the first to admit the struggle of the journey to give myself in total service in persona Christi capitis … in imitation of Him who emptied Himself for our salvation. Like other of Jesus’ disciples on the road, I have questioned and struggled with events along the way and have been slow of heart to believe that the emptying of self was a part of God’s plan for the betterment of humankind and even that Christ could sufficiently fill the void.
Nonetheless through it all, as Psalm 16 reminded us a few moments ago, our God has shown me the path of life, a path which leads to this holy Table where he makes himself known in the spoken Word and the broken Bread and shared Cup. If anyone wants to know what has kept me going through the last 25 years, it is our Eucharistic Lord who through the working of the Holy Spirit allows one to walk from strength to strength.
Yet, this homily is not about me! In the personal reflections I have just shared with you is to be found OUR COMMON BAPTISMAL CALLING! The Second Vatican Council in its “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” stated:
“The whole Church is a priestly people. Through Baptism and the anointing and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called the ‘common priesthood of the faithful’: that through all their Christian activities they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.
“Arising from this common priesthood and ordered to its service, there exists another participation in the mission of Christ: the ministry conferred by the sacrament of Holy Orders, where the task is to serve the People of God in the name and in the person of Christ the Head. The ordained ministers exercise their service for the People of God by teaching (munus docendi), divine worship (munus liturgicum) and pastoral governance (munus regendi).”
My brothers and sisters, this Sunday’s second reading from the First Letter of St. Peter highlights our Sacred Purpose as Church: “He was known before the foundations of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pt 1:20-21). Just as Jesus Christ was the conduit through which God’s Word to the human family was made real, so today if the face of God is to be seen in our homes and villages, it is through the faith and hope alive in Christ’s Church, which is us, all the baptized!
In his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis wrote, “In the desert, people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink…to go out of ourselves and to join others is healthy for us” (#86). Isn’t that what happened at the end of our Gospel reading? The disciples thought they had settled in for the night and yet after the Lord’s Supper, they found themselves racing back to Jerusalem to share with their companions the joy to be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
This afternoon, it is this movement that defines for me the next leg of the journey. Today is not one on which I can rest on the laurels of 25 years of service, but rather it beckons me to even more faithful service in Jesus’ name. Nonetheless, as our Gospel also teaches us, I do not walk this way alone! First, Christ is a constant companion stirring into flame the gift He gave me in Ordination; and second, this same Christ sends us out together.
Twenty-five years ago, three stories were used to impart wisdom for the beginning of the journey. Today, I have one of my own as we continue the journey: Sister Luke asked her students what the most important part of the Mass was. Nobody raised their hand then all of the sudden Johnny’s hand shot up. Sister was afraid — very afraid — as it was the hand of the class clown! Sister asked the question again. Still no other hands went up. So reluctantly, she acknowledged Johnny. “Well, Johnny, what is the most important part of the Mass?” I know he said, “The Dismissal Rite!” “Are you trying to be a wise guy?” Sister shot back. “No, No!” he exclaimed. “Well, why did you say the Dismissal Rite?” “Because, Sister, that is when we go out and live the Mass!”