"I Call You Friends" -- Priesthood Ordination Homily
“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Jesus said these words to the apostles at the Last Supper when He instituted the priesthood. Patrick, Jay, David, Nathan, and Thomas, the Lord speaks these words to you today. “I no longer call you slaves…..I call you friends.” Our Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, once said that “this is the profound meaning of being a priest: becoming a friend of Jesus Christ.” It is the core of the priesthood. “Being a priest means becoming an ever closing friend of Jesus Christ with the whole of our existence.” This is the first imperative of a priest: to be a man of God, a man in friendship with Jesus Christ.
Today the Lord makes these five young men His friends in a most unique way – He entrusts Himself to them; He entrusts to them His Body and Blood in the Eucharist; He entrusts to them His church. He lays His hands upon them and draws them into the mystery of His priesthood in such a way that they will be empowered to say words that only Jesus can say: “I absolve you from your sins”, and “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” By virtue of the sacrament of priestly ordination, they will be able to speak these words “in the person of Christ” and these words will be effective by the power of the Holy Spirit: sins will be forgiven and bread and wine will become the body and Blood of Christ.
No one can speak in the name and person of Jesus on his own. Only God can empower him to do so. “God extended His hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth, saying “See, I place my words in your mouth.” And that’s what will enable them to say “This is my Body! This is my Blood!” and “I absolve you from your sins.” My brothers, you can’t empower yourselves to speak these words with efficacy nor can the congregation empower you. You will be able to say these personal words of the Lord with efficacy only because of the sacrament you receive today, with the sacramental power that God Himself will give you.
Today the Lord places His hands on Patrick, Jay, David, Nathan, and Thomas, making them share in the mystery of His priesthood, giving them a new identity, uniting them in a new and radical way to Himself, and sending them forth to proclaim His Gospel to the world, to be His ambassadors, to carry on His mission of salvation.
My sons, the Lord Jesus drew you close to Himself when you were baptized and confirmed. He received you into God’s family, the Church. Today, He welcomes you into the circle of friends He has chosen to be shepherds of His people, those He empowers to act in His person as Head of the Church. In the sacred mysteries, you will not represent yourselves or speak for yourself – you will represent Christ and speak for Him. But there is also a very personal dimension to this unique friendship with Christ that you will have as ordained priests. This friendship involves a commitment on your part. It involves your lifelong commitment to celibacy, the sacred promise you made when you were ordained deacons to serve Christ and His Church with an undivided heart. And it involves your commitment of obedience to Christ through your promise of obedience to me and my successors.
Good friends speak and listen to each other. To speak and listen to Jesus is an essential part of the personal dimension of your friendship with Him and is necessary for the fruitfulness of your priestly ministry. Our Lord Himself would withdraw from the crowds for entire nights and go up to the mountains to pray alone, to be in communion with His Father. We too need these mountains and this solitude. The time we spend in prayer is not wasted time. In fact, it is a time of authentic pastoral activity. If we fall into frenetic activism and neglect our spiritual life, our ministry suffers; our people suffer. They need us and want us to be men of God. They are not looking for us to be experts in business and finance or in politics. They look to us to be experts in spiritual life. Being a friend of Jesus, being a priest, means being a man of prayer. Only in this way do we learn to think like Jesus thinks, to will what He wills, and to act like He acts. And only with prayer, our prayer and those who pray for us, do we receive the strength to carry the crosses of priestly life and ministry today.
Another important dimension of friendship with Jesus is friendship with His followers. Our friendship with the Lord is not exclusive. We can be true friends of Jesus only in communion with His Body, the Church. Patrick, Jay, David, Nathan, and Thomas, today the Lord entrusts His Bride, the Church, to you and asks you to love her and honor her all the days of your life. No priest is a priest on his own. A lone-ranger mentality or attitude is detrimental to ministry and can be dangerous. My brothers, you become part of the presbyterate when you are ordained. It is only in this communion with me and my successors and with your brother priests that you can carry out your service in an authentic way. I encourage you to make priestly fraternity a priority in your lives, living the sacramental communion that is part of priestly identity. It should not be viewed as something optional. Resist the temptation of individualism, so often dominant in today’s culture.
My sons, I pray that you will always be authentic in your priestly life and ministry. You will be good and holy priests if you become ever closer friends of Jesus Christ with the whole of your existence, in your lives of prayer, chaste celibacy, and obedience. I encourage you to live a simple and modest life, to be detached from material things, and to be in solidarity with the faithful whom I will send you to serve. I also encourage you to be accessible to your people, especially in the confessionals, and to have a special love for the sick and the poor. And always be accessible, day or night, to answer a call to anoint, absolve, and bring Viaticum to the dying.
You are being ordained on the feast of Saint Marcellinus and Peter, a priest and an exorcist. They were arrested and imprisoned during the terrible persecution by the emperor Diocletian. While in prison, Marcellinus and Peter made many converts, including the jailer and his family. Then they were beheaded. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Though I don’t expect any of our new priests to become martyrs, today they are indeed laying down their lives for a friend, for Jesus, and for His Church. In a few minutes, they will lay prostrate on this floor as we all invoke the prayers of the saints for them. We will pray with the saints that the Lord will bless, sanctify, and consecrate these young men and pour out upon them the power of priestly grace. The first saint whom we will invoke is the Queen of All Saints, Mary our Mother. She loves and watches over the friends of her Son. Patrick, Jay, David, Nathan, and Thomas, like Saint John the Apostle, may you take Mary into your home, the interior home of your priesthood. Saint John Paul II taught that Mary, with a mother’s love, will do everything in her power so that the priestly brothers of her Son, who become His friends, may not betray this holy friendship. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of priests, intercede for you and watch over you always with her maternal love!
--Bishop Kevin Rhoades (June 2, 2018)