Editor’s note: This is Bishop Douglas J. Lucia’s homily for the priesthood ordination of James Vincent Buttner on June 3, 2023.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news …” (Is. 61:1).

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Lord:

We have gathered in this cathedral church for the conferral of a Sacrament; in fact, a Sacrament of Service — the Holy Order of Priests. Indeed, the entire holy People of God is made a royal priesthood in Christ. Nevertheless, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds you and me this morning — our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, chose certain of his disciples to exercise in his name, on behalf of the human race, a public priestly office in the Church. For Christ, who was sent from the Father, himself in turn sent the Apostles into the world, that through them and their successors — the Order of Bishops — he might exercise without ceasing his own office of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd. Moreover, Priests are established as co-workers of the Bishops with whom they are joined in priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the People of God.

Today, James Vincent Buttner, is to be ordained to the Priesthood in the Order of the Presbyterate and offer his life as an outward and consecratory sign — in service of Christ and His Church — in order to preach the Gospel, shepherd God’s people and celebrate divine worship, especially in the Lord’s Sacrifice — the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As our mother Mary inquired when God’s messenger solicited her to be the mother of the Savior, “How can this be?” — I am sure James and even his family and friends might be pondering this same question, “How can this be?” Yet, we recall the angel Gabriel’s response to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you; and the power of the Most High will overshadow …” (Lk 1:35). In other words, it is God’s doing; just like the Pentecost event that we recalled on Sunday!

At yesterday’s luncheon prior to rehearsal, some of the seminarians were bantering about some of the big words they learned this year. Interestingly, one of those used, was the Greek word “parresia.” What is significant about this particular word is that it is used in the Acts of the Apostles to describe the way in which the apostles began to proceed after the Holy Spirit had transformed them. As scholars note, it is hard to translate that word into English. It includes the meanings of courage, conviction, forcefulness and even boldness. Nevertheless, as in Mary’s Annunciation, we see Apostles who had locked themselves away now showing no hesitation or doubt about their mission and the direction towards which they were to direct their lives!

In preparation for today’s ordination, I found myself doing some spiritual reading I have been wanting to accomplish for a while. It is a book written in 2021 by the Archbishop-emeritus of New Orleans, Alfred Hughes, and it is titled, “Priests in Love with God and Eager to Witness to the Gospel”. I started it on Monday and finished its 17 chapters by Wednesday. I really did not want to put it down once I started reading from its first chapter dedicated to “Stumbling Apostles become Spirit-filled Apostles” to its seventeenth chapter focused on “Priests on Fire with the Gospel.” However, it was in the third chapter dedicated to St. John Chrysostom that I found an image that would accompany me for the remainder of my reading and in my prayer: “The priest was the crucible in which the struggle for salvation and sanctification of souls had to take place” (Page 29 of 173).

Brothers and sisters, when one speaks of a crucible in biblical times, it is a “melting pot, probably made of pottery, that can resist great heat, used to refine metals like silver and gold.” My brother James, St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, 4:7-12, illustrates for us what this means for one called to discipleship and indeed the ordained priesthood:

7 But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

8 We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair;

9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed;

10 Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

11 For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Particularly, sisters and brothers, what it means to be a crucible in the present age is how do the ordained ministers of the Church today inspire discipleship among Christ’s priestly people?! In his writing, Archbishop Hughes states: “Yes, the Church is sinful and holy. Bishops and priests have been scoundrels and saints. The same is true today. So, what is the renewal that the Church needs in our own time? Simply stated, the Church needs God! The Church needs to seek God, kneel in adoration before God, love God above all, and become more fully an icon of God’s presence in the world” (Pages 112 & 113 of 173).

James, this is where you come in, in an actual way, along with those whom you will call your brother priests. It is the heart of the priestly vocation to be “in persona Christi capitis” — “in the person of Christ the head.” Pope Francis in calling for a joyful witness to the Gospel highlights the need for bishops and priests to lead the way. Again, Archbishop Hughes clarifies this mission as he writes: “What will be the sign to seekers that the Church is truly radiating God and has entered into this spiritual, purifying renewal? The witness of Gospel living in the Church! Real communion with God is expressed in virtue. When more and more people experience the Church living Gospel truth and witnessing to Gospel life, they will not only be more likely to give the Church another look but even be attracted to her…but the ultimate antidote to scandal has to be holiness of life” (Pages 124 & 117 of 173).   

This past March as I celebrated my 60th birthday, friends and co-workers of mine gifted me with a compass. Besides my love of the outdoors, I don’t know if they were trying to send me another message! Yet, I was deeply moved and inspired as I lifted the cover on the compass and found these words from the Book of Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your ways straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

So, James, let me give you a compass for the road you will walk as a priest of Jesus Christ. First and foremost, be faithful to your spiritual life amid the complexities of daily parish life. As a simple cross-stitch reminds me and gets me in trouble when ignored, “A day hemmed in prayer seldom unravels.” Especially as we begin the second year of the national Eucharistic Revival in our parishes do not forget your daily Holy Hour as a model for those you serve and seek to shepherd. Also remember the need for the regular celebration of the Sacrament of Penance in the life of a priest. In his writings, St. Augustine of Hippo challenges priests “to recognize that a conscious decision to turn their lives over to the Lord needs to shape their self-gift and constantly needs to be renewed and deepened” (Page 41 of 173).

Another point on the compass is simplicity of life. This approach to life enables the disciple to treat material possessions as gifts to use insofar as they help him fulfill his responsibilities in his vocation and to let go of them when they get in the way. A third point is that chaste life and love in a life of celibacy fosters your respect for the dignity of others and counteracts any tendency to use others inappropriately to satisfy one’s own needs. A fourth point is to remember that obedience enables the disciple to submit his egotistical self-will to God through one’s union with the Bishop and in the exercise of authority as a true servant.

Finally, James, keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd and of his holy mother Mary, who at the cross revealed their priestly hearts. In this month of June, may the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary be your inspiration for those you will serve in your priestly ministry. May the fire of their love fill you this day and all your days so you may one day hear the voice of the Good Shepherd saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!”

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