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.