Convinced of the Victory Before Us | Cardinal Seán | Holy Week 2014
We gather for the annual oil change and tune up. The oils are the tools we use in the ministry we share, but just as important is our own tune up as we gather as presbyterate to recommit ourselves to follow Christ and to shepherd His people.
These oils will be used for 20,000 Baptisms, 15,000 Confirmations, more than 150,000 Anointing, nine Ordinations and it is our priests and bishops and in some cases our deacons who will administer these sacraments. Your service, your generosity, your holiness is what brings the sacraments to our people and what makes the sacraments available.
Your preaching and your witness of a priestly life is what makes the sacraments credible and meaningful to our people. The role of the priest is crucial even for the priesthood itself.
Everyone here was helped in discovering his priestly vocation because of the witness, the friendship, the advice that each of us experienced in a priest whom we knew and whose ministry touched our lives. Now it is our turn to cultivate vocations for the future. If we truly love our people, we will want them to have the blessings of the Catholic priesthood.
In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah says: “You yourselves shall be named priests of the Lord. Your descendants shall be renowned among the nations.”
Your ministry will produce other ministers, other priests who will serve the next generation of Catholics. And their vocations will inspire the next generation.
The way that we express our thanks for our faith and our priestly vocation is to pass these gifts on. Pope Benedict said that the faith is spread not by proselytizing but by attraction.
I believe that is true of our vocations as well. We felt a love for the priesthood because we saw the vocation embodied in a pastor, a curate, a teacher, a missionary. As young men we were not attracted because of great retirement benefits or insurance policies that provided hair transplants, cosmetic surgery and new dentures. No, we were attracted by the idealism and generosity of men who were good shepherds, who loved Christ and loved the people they served.
A few years ago I was amused by the stark contrast between two vocation advertisements for the Jesuits: one in English and one in Spanish. The English one appeared on the back of America magazine. There was a photo of a Tom Brady clone in Brooks Brother’s threads, nice jacket and tie in a perfectly appointed state of the art class classroom. If you were interested you could contact the Vocation Director at the number provided.
The other advertisement was in a secular publication El Nuevo Día; it also depicted a Jesuit, but not in an ivory tower academic setting. It showed a young Jesuit lashed to a cross, upside down, being hurled over the Iguazú Water Falls on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. The ad featured in bold letters: quieres ser Jesuita? The picture came from the film The Mission. I found it much more beguiling than the America ad. I recall that when I entered the seminary I was a nerdy kid, but I wanted to become a spiritual Rambo in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Idealism and sacrifice are attractive to young men.
Recently the Jesuit magazines published an interview with the Holy Father. In that interview Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ asked Pope Francis why he became a Jesuit. The Holy Father shared with him that he was attracted to the Jesuits by three things: their missionary spirit, community and discipline. These are not necessarily exclusively Ignatian traits, although the young Jorge Bergoglio saw them incarnate in the Jesuits of his native Buenos Aires. I thought it might be interesting to reflect on these three characteristics in our lives as priests of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Pope Francis was attracted by the missionary spirit and joined the Society of Jesus with the dream of being a missionary in Japan like St. Francis Xavier and Fr. Pedro Arrupe. His health was not good enough, so he remained in Argentina and discovered the need for mission there.
In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis writes: “I dream of a missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”
The Holy Father goes on to speak of “pastoral conversion”. He says: “The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with Himself.”
Here in the Archdiocese, Disciples in Mission and the emphasis on Evangelization is our own dream of a missionary option. We all realize that business as usual is not going to do it. We must be a missionary Church right here in the Bay State.
The Holy Father states that “the Parish is not an outdated institution, precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.” He warns against allowing the parish to become “a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.” He calls on us to review and renew our parishes to bring them near to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission oriented.
The Holy Father urges us to say “no to pessimism.” One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists and “sourpusses”. The Holy Father reminds us: Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. In the midst of the pastoral problems we face, our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds.
I am convinced that if we embrace this missionary option, our parishes will see more people responding to a priestly vocation or a life of Christian marriage.
The second quality that the Pope mentions is community. The Holy Father is not referring to some epicurean group of similar individuals who come together for comradery and convenience. The community we need is one of brothers who come together around Christ and who share His vision, a community that is for the mission of Christ.
I never tire of encouraging our priests to join or form priestly support groups where men can come together to pray, to reflect on their own vocations and to share each other’s lives as they work together to bring Christ to his flock. The Holy Father in Evangelii Gaudium reminds us that: “The Christian ideal will always be a summons to overcome suspicion, habitual mistrust, fear of losing our privacy, all the defensive attitudes the world imposes on us…
The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence that challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others.
The Pope warns us about isolation which can find expression in a false autonomy which had no place for God. We are called to bear witness to a constantly new way of living together in fidelity to the Gospel. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of communion.
I was so happy that Bishop Hennessey invited Fr. Ron Knott to give this year’s clergy retreat; the acupuncture Reiki instructor was not available. Fr. Knott is always talking about an intentional presbyterate with a corporate sense of priestly identity and mission. He is always reminding us that we are not private practitioners.
In the Ordination Rite every priest present joins the Bishop in imposing hands on the ordinand and then gather around the bishop as he prays the consecratory prayer; by doing so we participate in welcoming and celebrate the arrival of a new member into our “intimate sacramental brotherhood.”
The Chrism Mass replicates some of this same symbolism as together we bless these oils we will use for our sacramental ministry that we share with one another.
The Lord is calling us to be a family gathering, not a house divided. We are diverse in our outlooks, ethnic background, age, experience, spirituality, but we are all priests of the same presbyterate, sharing in the responsibility not only of our individual parish but also of the entire Archdiocese.
In the chapter on “Temptation faced by Pastoral Workers”, the Holy Father pleads with us to say “No to warring among ourselves.” We need to give the witness of authentically fraternal and reconciled communities that will help people feel attracted to the Church. In the early church the pagans marveled at the unity and fraternity in the Church. “See how much they love one another” was their mantra.
The Holy Father says: “It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy, and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions that appear as veritable witch hunts.
Our challenge is to bear witness to a constantly new way of living together in fidelity to the Gospel. It is a fraternal love capable of seeing the grandeur of our neighbor, of finding God in every human being, of tolerating the nuisances of life in common by clinging to the love of God, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does.
The third quality that attracted the young Jorge Bergoglio to his vocation was the discipline he saw in the lives of the Jesuit priests in Buenos Aires. He especially admired their use of time.
Discipline is not easy. In some ways it gets harder as you grow older, but it is no less important. Certainly one of the greatest disciplines as the young Bergoglio wisely perceived is our use of time. The Holy Father often repeats that time is greater than space. He says, “This principle enables us to work slowly but surely, without being obsessed with immediate results.” It helps us patiently to endure difficult and adverse situations, or inevitable changes in our plans.
I never tire of urging my priests to develop a Rule of Life, that will help assure a certain discipline in one’s life, and to guarantee the time needed to cultivate a real friendship with the Lord in prayer. Sometimes we deceive ourselves into believing that financial resources, pastoral techniques, professional trainings and great organization is the key to success.
True success really depends on our own faith life and vocation as priest and friend of Jesus Christ. As the Holy Father says: “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart.” If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize, ever anew, that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life. There is nothing more precious which we can give others.
Prayer, spiritual reading, meditation must be part of our daily routine. Managing our time is a great challenge, but also in prayer, we will find the peace and the strength to live our ministry with joy.
There are moments in our ministry that are difficult; I call them the Simon of Cyrene moments. Simon was walking down the street minding his own business when those Romans got him and forced him to help Jesus carry the cross. I am sure that he was angry, upset, embarrassed and frustrated. Being part of a public execution is not exactly on everyone’s bucket list. I am sure that he must have felt that it was the worst day of his life.
The New Testament tells us very little about Simon the Cyrenean. We only know that he was African, and that he had two sons, Alexander and Rufus. Some scholars have indentified these two sons with men who were later leaders in the Christian Community. I like to think that Simon’s experience of carrying the cross is what led to his conversion and eventually to the conversion of his entire family. What began as the worst day of his life was really the best day, something he came to realize much later.
Yes, we all have Simon the Cyrenean moments in our ministry. Those are the difficult things that we would rather not do, but we have no escape. You have all heard the story.
One Sunday morning, a mother went in to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready for church, to which he replied, “I’m not going.” “Why not?” she asked. I’ll give you two good reasons, “he said” (1), they don’t like me, and (2), I don’t like them.” His mother replied, “I’ll give YOU two good reasons why YOU SHOULD go to church. (1) You’re 59 years old, and (2) you’re the pastor!”
We all have moments when we could say: “I’d rather be having a root canal”, yes we all have Simon Cyrenean moments. We do it but we would rather not. Human respect, fear of criticism, a despotic bishop, Irish guilt. Powerful motivators. All of us have things we have to do, that we dread - you know what – those worse days of our life are probably the most important things that we can do as a priest. In my own ministry, I know this to be the case.
During Lent I love to pray the Stations. And I often linger on the contrast between the 5th and the 6th Stations. In the 5th Station the Cyrenean is being forced to carry the cross. Inside he is whining and feeling sorry for himself and can’t wait for this to end.
In the 6th Station, Veronica overcomes all human respects, regard for her personal safety or her reputation. She forces her way through the crowd that is always pushing us away from Christ. She only wants to provide the slightest service to comfort Christ, to be present to Him and wipe His bloodied face. It is courage, generosity, that puts the needs of others first. This legendary woman represents all those disciples who boldly overcome the fear of the cross in order to be a sign of God’s mercy to those who are suffering, and those who seem to be beyond help.
How do we move from being the character in the 5th station who has to be forced to do good, to becoming like the one in the 6th station who does the right thing, boldly and enthusiastically.
That is the discipline that the young Jorge Bergoglio saw in the priests and religious he admired and who inspired him in his vocation. It is the kind of discipline that makes time and space for God in our daily routine.
It is the discipline that allows us to overcome our fear of the cross. Fear of the cross is what causes us to be mediocre. Love casts out that fear and allows us to face Calvary. It is not easy. Of the first priests, only the youngest one stood by the Cross. He was terrified but his love allowed him to overcome all fear and to stand at the foot of the Cross.
This is the discipline we need in our ministry, especially in our service of the sick and the poor. One of the greatest responses to the Francis effect is the Holy Father’s challenge to see Lazarus suffering, covered with sores on our doorstep. The Holy Father says our preferential love for the poor must translate into pastoral care for the poor and the suffering. We must look for ways to bring the word of God and the Sacraments to them.
As the Holy Father states so clearly: “None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.”
It requires great discipline to be able to respond to the demands on our time and the many challenges of ministry. Our task is to allow the world to glimpse the love and mercy of the Good Shepherd who is always seeking the lost sheep, not to condemn but to console. Like the Greeks in the Gospel who wanted to see Jesus, our people want to glance Jesus in us, in our kindness, mercy and loving response to their pain and suffering. We often find ourselves where Simon the Cyrenean was. Only a person with discipline in their life will have the freedom to respond.
It is the discipline that we will attain only by having that personal Rule of Life that provides for prayer, spiritual reading, confession and priestly fraternity.
The joy of the Gospel that can make our ministry an expression of the joy requires: apostolic zeal, priestly fraternity and discipline. At the same time these are qualities that will inspire young men to respond to the call of a vocation without having to throw father Dan Hennessey over Niagara Falls on a cross.
I never use props for my homilies. Fr. Kevin O’Leary in his children’s Mass uses some with great skill. Recently I was at Holy Name Church for the very moving ceremony and funeral Mass for one of the fireman who died in the tragic fire a couple of weeks ago.
I featured the beautiful mosaic over the altar in my blog. It is a replica of the mosaic in the historic church of San Clemente in Rome. Subsequently, Fran Hauck sent me a copy of the cross as depicted in the Mosaic. It is very unusual, for the cross appears in the apse of San Clemente as the tree of life; at the foot of the Cross a deer is drinking, and nearby there is a dead snake, but on the cross are a series of birds.
I was going to consult with Bishop John Boles, an amateur ornithologist, but I decided to consult with the antient and renowned theological authority of Wikipedia and discovered that the doves on the San Clemente Cross represent the 12 Apostles, perched on the Cross, poised to fly to the ends of the earth to announce Christ’s victory.
I thought about that. It occurred to me that on Good Friday there were not 12 doves on the Cross. There was only one young priest nervously accompanying our Blessed Lady. The cross reminds us that the very Apostles who fled from the Cross into witness protection program at the Cenacle safe house, later return to embrace the Cross after Pentecost. Christ gives them another chance to overcome their fear of the Cross. The irony is that all the Apostles died as martyrs except the one who actually went to Calvary.
If we do not have missionary zeal in our ministry, if we are not striving to form a communion with our fellow priests in an intentional presbyterate, if we do not have discipline in our lives especially in our use of time, a precious commodity, we must ask ourselves if we are fleeing from the Cross.
Ten years ago I entered those doors at the installation ceremony. Outside there was a sea of demonstrators and media. The ceremony begins with a powerful symbol: I was presented with a cross to kiss. I confess it was a Simon the Cyrenean moment.
This is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Most of your brothers were ordained here in this church dedicated to the Holy Cross, and each year we return here to celebrate the priesthood of Jesus Christ, to rediscover our identity to be reminded as St. Paul wrote to Timothy:
“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the
Gift of God that you have through the imposition
of hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather of power and love and self-control. So do
not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of
me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship
for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
Today we have another chance to fly to the Cross and be renewed together with our brother priests. We will pronounce our ordination promises. They are the vows of love and fidelity that we made to Christ and to our people. And often stirring the gifts into flame, like the Apostles we go back to our people to announce Christ’s victory and the joy of the Gospel.
Watch the full homily here: