Monday, May 16, 2022

Homily on the 25th Anniversary of My Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood

This week, I celebrate the 25th Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood. This past Sunday I offered Mass in the seminary chapel with some family and friends in Thanksgiving to God for the gift of the past 25 years. This was the homily. I do with that I could have invited tons more people, but our capacity was limited.

 Homily on the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination 

 Dear Friends in Christ, 

There’s a scene in the novel “Brideshead Revisited,” where the two main characters spend an afternoon lying out in the countryside, drinking wine. One of them—in a melancholic kind of way—says, “Just the place to bury a crock of gold. I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.” 

Commemorating the 25th anniversary of my ordination provides me with the opportunity to make a sort of pilgrimage of memory, returning to places where I have been happy, and digging up gold and remembering.  Unlike the character in the book, however, it is not melancholy or misery that makes me do this. (I will leave it to you to decide about whether I am ugly or old). Looking out at all of you—and thinking about many others who, for one reason or another could not be here today—is not a glancing towards the past with nostalgia.  Instead, you are an assurance to me of Christ’s Presence now. You are an assurance that the Lord is faithful. The gold that I have discovered in every assignment is Jesus Christ. The gold that I have left behind in every assignment is Jesus Christ. The gold that I will find tomorrow and the next day is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ yesterday, Jesus Christ today, Jesus Christ forever. 

On the first Easter, the disciples were told to go back to Galilee—back to where it all began. To go back and to see all that had transpired over the previous years in the light of the Risen Lord. To return to Galilee and to begin to make sense of all that had occurred. To see everything in the light of the Resurrection.  To go back and to discover all of the gold that Christ brought into their lives, the gold that he planted into their hearts. They are directed to return to Galilee where Christ will meet them.  

In one way or another, all of you are my Galilee. When I return to you—when I recall what we have shared together, what we have lived together, I am convinced all over again about Jesus Christ. When I return to you, I encounter Christ. When I return to you, the gold that is Jesus Christ is made present once again to me. You convince of me of Christ.  I need to be convinced of Christ every day. And in his mercy, Christ has always placed in my path people—family and friends, parishioners, and students, priests and religious, and seminarians who convince me of Christ. 

In today’s first reading, Paul and Barnabas arrive back in Antioch and they immediately get the whole Church together so that they can share with them all of the amazing things that God had done with them on their journey. This has been my experience during these past 25 years. So much of priesthood for me has been the experience of gathering together with others—priests, religious, seminarians, families, college students, lay men and women—and marveling together about the amazing things that God is doing.  

I am never hesitant to speak about these amazing things because I am completely surprised by them. They are not the result of ingenuity, or a program, or a series of calculated steps. Each one is a miracle of grace. There is no formula. They are all signs of the gratuitous and surprising love of Jesus Christ.  

For example, the Lord tells us that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 who have no need to repent. Why? Because repentance is always a surprise. We can do everything well, have excellent programs, beautiful liturgies, doctrinally solid instruction....all of which are important...but when that person comes into the confessional and kneels down and opens himself or herself to the Mercy of God, it is always a surprise. In that moment, no priest thinks, “This is because of what we did.” No, in that moment, every priest thinks, “How is this even possible?” God is so good. Grace is always surprising. 

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” 

For twenty-five years, the Lord has placed me in situations where I could easily recognize his disciples because of the love that was shared among us. This love is always surprising. It is always new. This love poured into our hearts by Christ is the gold. When I was first ordained, I didn’t realize how much I would need that love. But twenty-five years into it (and I still feel new at it), I recognize that this love is what saves me. This love is what I need. This love is what I want to tell others about, so that they too can encounter it. There is enough gold for everyone. 

Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ makes all things new. At the Eucharistic Altar, he restores the joy of our youth. At the Eucharistic Altar, he loves us and pours into our hearts a charity for one another that truly saves us. Love for one another is the most effective way to evangelize. It is the gold that every heart desires. 

Like Paul and Barnabas and the Church at Antioch, I am happy to gather with all of you in one place today, so that we can marvel together at the great things God has done. The greatest thing I can tell you about these past 25 years of priesthood is that God has surrounded me with disciples who have loved one another and who have loved me. This love continues to surprise me and to save me. This love of Christ—poured into our hearts is the pure gold, it is the treasure that we hold in earthen vessels. It is a gold that will never run out. It is the gold that is waiting for us every day.  

Today, as I travel back to Galilee, and as the golden rays of Easter—the Light of the Risen Lord—shines upon you, the radiant face of Jesus Christ once again appears to me. The face of Love Incarnate. The Face of the One who makes all things new. Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Praised Be Jesus Christ. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Priests Surprised by Grace


Every year at St. John's Seminary, in the weeks before priestly ordination, we celebrate "Deacon's Night." It is an opportunity to honor the men about to be ordained. It is a fun night, marked by a lot of joy, humor, and gratitude.  This year, I was one of the speakers, and was asked to share some thoughts on priesthood.


I was really surprised when Third Theology asked me to share a few brief reflections on priesthood this evening. I was even more surprised to learn that my script would not have to be submitted to Fr. Tom for editing and approval. But then I learned that that was only because my talk would have to be submitted to a sub-committee of the Faculty for final approval.  

You have spent many years listening to homilies, conferences, and lectures on the priesthood. You have read innumerable texts on the topic, and presumably, you will spend the rest of your life deepening your understanding of the great gift that you are about to receive. So tonight, I simply want to share something from my heart. Something that is not so much a profound reflection on the priesthood as it is something that I’ve noticed along the way. Something that has grown within me and has sustained me along the way. It is something that I am truly grateful for and it is something that I also hope will be the case for you. It is basically this: I hope that you live your priesthood constantly surprised by it. It is too good, too amazing, and too awesome to live it in any other way.  

Every Thursday at Compline we pray these words: “He has put into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.” I think the greatest surprise of priesthood for me has been just that. The Lord really pours into my heart a marvelous love for his people. It’s not something I did. It’s not something I worked at. It’s not something that I accomplished. In an act of pure goodness, the Lord poured into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones. I never thought it was possible to have so much affection and love for people. Whenever I see the term, “Pastoral Charity,” I think, “He has poured into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.” 

You will someday be seated in your chair on Good Friday, and you will watch people whom you love deeply approach the Cross and adore. You will know so many things about them. You will know their heartaches, their worries, their anxieties, their failures, their struggles. As they kiss the Cross, you will know very well the crosses of each of them. You will recognize how close you are to these people. You will look at them with a love that is incomprehensible to yourself. You will once again be surprised by how good the Lord is. You will think to yourself, “He has put into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.”  

This love has been a constant surprise to me, a constant source of joy. It comes in extraordinary and grand moments, but also in little moments. A kid I met 25 years ago when I would go and watch his high school baseball games—he's married now and has a family—a few months ago, at the end of a phone call, he said to me, “Fr. Barnes, I just want you to know that I pray for you every night.” In that brief remark, I was once again surprised, joyful, and filled with gratitude for the gift and grace of the priesthood, for the gift of the Lord pouring into my heart a marvelous love for his faithful ones.  

I am grateful that priesthood continues to surprise me. After 25 years of hearing confessions, I am still surprised by how good the Lord is. I am still surprised that people come and unburden themselves in that way. I am still surprised by that exhilarating exhaustion that comes from hearing hours of heartfelt and painful confessions. 

Sometimes we talk about vocations work as though there were some formula out there that if you do these three things, vocations will happen. But, in my experience, every time someone I know enters the seminary, it is a new surprise to me. Their vocation is not the result of a program or a series of well-planned steps. Their vocation is the result of a grace. And grace is always surprising. I think one of the most effective ways that we can encourage priestly vocations is for priests to live their priesthood as men who are constantly surprised by grace, surprised by what the Lord is doing in our midst.  

I hope that those of you who will soon be ordained will live your priesthood in a constant state of surprise by what the Lord is doing in you, through you, and around you. I hope you spend your priesthood with a constant expression of, “How is this even possible?” When we are surprised, when we ourselves are moved, then we have the capacity to move others.  

Another thing that has surprised me about priesthood is the people that the Lord has placed in my path. I am really surprised by how good the Lord has been to me. He has continuously surprised me—in every assignment—with unexpected friendships. Whether they be young people, married couples, college kids, priests of all ages, seminarians—the Lord continues to surprise me. As you get older, you can kind of settle into an attitude that there can't be any more surprises left. But my experience is that the Lord always continues to do new things, to give new encounters. 

I hope that those of you who will soon be ordained will not be afraid to live your priesthood close to people. The professional priesthood—the priesthood that is lived remotely and at a distance—is a priesthood devoid of surprises. And a priesthood devoid of surprises is a priesthood that gradually becomes inhuman and cynical. My experience has been that when we live closely with people—eat meals with them, do crosswords together, play ultimate frisbee together, share our hearts with them, live our humanity with them—then Christ uses these moments to do surprising things. First of all, he surprises the priest himself. And a priest surprised by grace is a joyful priest.  

The last thing I want to say is that for me, the surprise of priesthood continues right here and right now. Some days, I catch myself sitting in chapel, just scanning the faces on the other side of the chapel. It’s a total surprise to me how good the Lord is. We are not that far from that day on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus called his disciples. He is still doing something new. He is still doing surprising things. What happens in this house is surprisingly beautiful. Every day, in this house, the Lord is preparing the hearts of seminarians so that those hearts will be properly formed to receive on the day of ordination, the outpouring of His Marvelous Love. 

In a few short weeks, the Lord is going to pour into the hearts of these brothers of ours, a marvelous love for his faithful ones. I am deeply moved by that. I am completely surprised by that. I hope that you will spend the rest of your life—every day—moved and surprised by that grace. The lives of the faithful ones entrusted to your care will be all the more fruitful because their priest lived close to them and was a priest always surprised by grace.