The Year of the Priest

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woundedside.jpg

Hosea 11:1.3-4. 8-9
Isaiah 12:2-6
Ephesians 3:8-12. 14-19
John 19:31-37

I preached this evening to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa, gathered for the Mass of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the opening of the Year of the Priest. Here is my homily:

When Israel Was a Child

"Thus says the Lord: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11:1). This is the very voice of God pouring out His Heart to us: the story of how every vocation to the holy priesthood began, begins, and will begin until the end of time. The priesthood is not a career one chooses: it is a mystery into which one is called. "You did choose Me," says the Lord, "but I chose you."

Chosen by the Heart of Jesus

Where are life's truest and deepest choices made, if not in the heart? We are created in the image of a God whose divine choices are formed in His Heart and whose designs from age to age reveal that Heart as Love. The call to the priesthood is a choice of the Heart of Jesus. Looking upon a given man, Our Lord sets His Heart upon him and, at length, guides his steps to the altar to enter there into the life-giving Mysteries of the Open Heart.

The Indelible Character of Priesthood

In the context of the Year of the Priest, the First Reading may be heard as the account of a priestly vocation. The names of Israel and Ephraim, designating the Chosen People, also represent every man destined by the Father to bear in his soul the character of the priesthood of the Son, indelibly engraved there by the incandescent incisions of the Holy Spirit.

I Bent Down to Him

"When John -- or Mark -- was child, I loved him, and out of Egypt -- that is to say, out of the world insofar as it is the realm of sin -- I called my son. Yet it was I who taught him to walk; I took him up in my arms. I led him with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to him as one who raises an infant to his cheeks, and I bent down to him and fed him" (Hos 11:1).

Sin and Grace

There is, of course, the question of sin in the life of one so chosen. How can weaknesses and betrayals be reconciled with the irrevocable choice of God? Once, in prayer a certain priest put this question to Our Lord: "Why didst Thou call me to the priesthood, knowing in advance all my weaknesses, sins, and betrayals of Thy friendship." The Lord answered him, "I saw all the sins that you would commit and these grieved My Heart that so loves you, even as they outraged My Divine Majesty, but I also knew the mercies that my Heart held in store for you and the future full of hope into which My merciful Love would bring you, and this was for My Heart an immense joy. Where sin abounded grace has abounded all the more."

Pleading and Hoping

You, Spiritual Mothers, are called to plead for priests with the Heart of Jesus, believing in their call even when they, in hours of doubt, struggle to believe in it. You are called to obtain for priests, by your intercession, an abiding confidence in the unchanging choice of God, a choice that reveals the Heart of Jesus. This perhaps is why Saint Jean-Marie Vianney said, "The priesthood is the Heart of Jesus." And when the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to extinguish the flame of hope in the soul of a priest, you must be there to cup your hands around it. Hope on behalf of that priest on the edge of despair until, helped by Our Lady's prayers and by yours, he regains confidence in the mercy of God and begins to breathe freely once again.

The Wounds of Christ

In the Responsorial Psalm we heard these exultant and mysterious words: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Is 12:3). What are the wells of salvation if not the five glorious wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ: those in His Sacred Hands, in His Sacred Feet, and in His Sacred Side? The joy of the priest, the joy that he communicates to the faithful entrusted to him, the joy that will never fail him or cease to quicken the Church, flows from the wounds of Christ. Where does the priest go to draw the living water of this joy? To the altar. Ancient liturgical tradition prescribes that the mensa of the altar should be engraved with five crosses representing Our Lord's five glorious wounds. So often as the priest ascends to the altar, greeting it with a kiss, he finds himself at the very wellspring of eternal joy.

God Who Giveth Joy to My Youth

You, Spiritual Mothers of Priests, are charged with obtaining for every priest a copious participation in the fresh, ever-youthful joy that flows from the altar. Saint Jean-Marie Vianney said, "How we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine." Routine is, in fact, the death knell of joy. Pray then that every priest may say in truth, even fifty or more years after his ordination: "Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. I will go in unto the altar of God, unto God who giveth joy to my youth" (Ps 42:4).

The Prayer of the Priest

In the Second Reading, Saint Paul shows us how every priest is to pray for souls entrusted to his spiritual paternity: "For this reason," the Apostle says, "I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph

Partners in Prayer

Spiritual Mothers, you are partners of the priesthood in prayer for the Church. Just as your prayer leans on the prayer of the priest for the Church and relies on it, so too will the priest lean on your prayer for him, knowing that you are praying so that he will persevere in prayer and never lose heart.

Calvary

Finally we come to the Gospel, the very Gospel that we heard on Good Friday. Today, in the light of the Resurrection, Ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we return to Calvary with the Virgin Mother of Jesus, with Saint John the Beloved Apostle, and with the other holy women.

The Open Heart

The centurion -- tradition calls him Saint Longinus -- seeing that Jesus was already dead, opened His side with a spear. The verb "opened" is used here designedly": the pierced Side of Jesus is the open door in the ark of salvation. We know that at this moment, John and undoubtedly the Sorrowful Mother were looking on attentively. John calls himself "he who saw it," adding that he speaks as an eyewitness. Then, demonstrating that the thrust of the centurion's lance fulfills Zechariah's ancient prophecy, he adds, "They shall look on Him who they have pierced" (Zech 12:10).

Gazing on the Heart of the Crucified

John gazing at the pierced Heart of Jesus is the image, the prototype, the model of every priest. The priest is a man who lives with the eyes of His heart fixed on the open Heart of Jesus. Therein is the assurance of the eternal love of Christ from which nothing can separate him and those entrusted to his mystical paternity. You, Spiritual Mothers, stand with the Mother of Sorrows and, together with the priest, look on the Heart of Jesus in order to witness to the Blood and the Water that gush from its deep wound.

Into the Sacred Heart

The priest is essentially a man who, in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, witnesses day after day to the mystery of the Heart of Jesus, opened by the soldier's lance and never closed. Your role, Spiritual Mothers, is not to look at the priest; it is, rather, to look with Him at the pierced Side of Jesus until, by the force of Love's irresistible attraction, the priest, and you with him, are drawn across the threshold of that wound, into the inner sanctuary of the Sacred Heart. This more than anything else will make this Year of the Priest fruitful for our Diocese of Tulsa and for the Church throughout the world.

3 Comments

A beautiful homily, Father. May you enjoy a happy and blessed Year of the Priest.

My heart is full. I am speechless.

I copied the whole post. Way above average for Catholic blogs. Obviously the fruit of prayer. Thanks for being a father to us!

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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