6th Sunday in Easter – Year B
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: May 6, 2018
This Saturday, 3 men were ordained to the priesthood for our Diocese. One of them has asked me to preach at his First Mass this Sunday afternoon. So, I am going to share that homily with all of you today. Important to all of you as baptized Catholics, for you have a priestly calling in your baptism. But you should also be concerned with the Ministerial Priesthood in Holy Orders, the priests called to serve you in the church, to both support and challenge them.
The problem with preaching at a First Mass is that the Priesthood is a mystery and there is so much that could be said that we could go on almost forever. But, I want to focus on the Gospel in which Jesus is giving a part of his final discourse to his disciples in John’s Gospel, that we just heard for this Sunday. Two words stand out, love and joy.
We hear: God is Love. Abide in my love. Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. In these words, we find the heart of the Christian life and perhaps no better words to guide the life of a priest.
Then we hear “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you. and your joy be complete.” Love and joy go together. When a priest truly lives the priesthood rooted in love then this will also lead to joy, for the priest and for the people he serves.
The love that the priest is called to is found in Service. A priest is to serve the people of God. To find Jesus in the people he serves. The sick in hospital, the elderly person shut in at home, Christmas and Easter Catholics, the indifferent, the marginalized, the rich and the poor, the old and the young. To see all the people he serves with the eyes of faith. To serve each of them as having equal dignity and worth. A priest must find Jesus hidden in the midst of the people he serves.
One of the best definitions of a parish priest I heard is this: “A parish priest becomes one with the people and the people become one with him.” A priest must go to all of them. Not asking if they deserve my service or if they have earned it. Not asking if they can give me back something in return. Do not forget nor avoid the indifferent, the unchurched, those struggling with the Church.
In our Catholic Sacramental vision, we see that all is a potential path to God. Jesus even uses weak, sinful human beings like us priests. A priest needs to not be discouraged by his sinfulness and weakness. But face it honestly. Be aware of his sinfulness and weakness. Not to be discouraged by it, but to be honest with himself. This will keep him from a sense of entitlement, from feeling superior or over others. It will help him to be more compassionate, more merciful with all he meets. Someone once said that when he looks at a young man entering the priesthood, he asks himself, can this man learn to be a priest from the people. As a priest enters out to begin serving in his first parish, he is in a sense just beginning to learn to be a priest. He is to serve those people with love, find Jesus in them, and learn to be a priest from them.
The priesthood is expressed perhaps most clearly while presiding at the Eucharist. It is not about rubrics, or about doing it right. The heart of the Eucharist for the priest is perhaps best found in those words of Consecration that he says each day as he celebrates the Eucharist. “This is my body which will be given up for you.” We are not just to say those words, but to live those words. The meaning of the priesthood is found in those words. He is to lay down his life for the people he serves.
The Priesthood is a Sacrament, the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In our Catholic Tradition we speak of Lex Orandi Lex Credendi, the way we pray is the way we believe. So, we are to express visibly what we believe. A good examination of conscience for any priest is to ask, “by the way I live my priesthood what do people see?”
When they look to how you are living your priesthood what will people see? Hopefully what they see in each priest is someone who cares. They should see a priest who cares by how he celebrates the Sacraments, by how he prepares to preach, by how he is present to the sick, the poor, the dying. They should see a priest who cares by the way he receives each person. People should see us and say, this is a priest I can go to, a priest that will receive me with mercy and care. Like Jesus who says come to me for I am gentle and humble of heart.
I was thinking about one piece of advice I would give to any man beginning in the priesthood. One piece of advice I could give to this new priest. I thought back over the advice I received in my life on the priesthood. The one advice that I came to mind, was the advice I received from my father when I was studying for the priesthood. The only advice he gave me. He said, Be Kind to the People. Seemed like simplistic advice at the time. I have come to see that it was perhaps the most important advice I could have received. Over my 28 years as a priest, I have regretted at times not being kind enough to people, I have never regretted being too kind to people. So, that will be my advice to this new priest tomorrow, Be Kind to the People.
There were two words we began with today, Love and Joy. To the extent that each one of us lives our vocation, whether marriage, single life, priesthood, religious life, giving our life away in love, to that extent we will find joy and bring joy to others. To the extent that a priest gives his life in love, truly loves the people he serves, to that extent he will find joy in his ministry and he will bring joy to the people he serves.