Saturday, June 27, 2020
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the ordination Mass for Father Andrew Tomonto and Father Ryan Saunders, celebrated June 27, 2020, at St. Mary Cathedral in Miami.
Today, this is an unusual ordination – for many reasons to be sure: First, it was postponed because of the lock-down. In the archdiocese, we usually have our priesthood ordinations the Saturday before Mothers’ Day – a kind of gift to the mothers of our priests. This month, we’re not in a lock-down anymore but the coronavirus remains a real threat – and so we are remaining socially distanced, with facemasks and hand sanitizers at the ready. Many people would have wanted to be here in person but because of prudence – and the limitations of space – they are following the ceremony by livestream: something our people have become very familiar with over the last three months. Of course, this Saturday is the Saturday after Fathers’ Day – and so today the ordination of these two men is like a belated Fathers’ Day gift to this local Church of Miami. By the laying on of hands, we will consecrate two new “Fathers.”
As priests, hearing confessions is a humbling experience; but it is especially humbling when someone old enough to be our grandfather or grandmother, begins their confession saying, “Bless me, Father.
Ryan and Andrew, soon to be fathers, remember you are not ordained for yourselves – you are ordained to be men for others, you are ordained for the people of God. You are anointed “with the oil of gladness” so that you can anoint others “with the oil of gladness.” The priesthood is not about us, or for us – it is for them – and their salvation – you are ordained today. Be a blessing for the people of God – live for them, don’t live off of them.
For those of us who have lived relatively comfortable lives, the pandemic has shaken us out of our complacency. We are not as in charge of our lives as we sometimes pretend to be. Today, we face a global health emergency, ans economic disaster and a societal crisis. COVID has upended our lives and economic distress and social disorder have reminded us that life is hard, life is messy, life is often unfair and tragic.
You begin your priestly ministry when the Church is crossing unchartered waters; there is no playbook on how we are to bring people back together when we must stand apart. But, no matter what side of the spread we are on, people must “feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, Christ, has come to them through the priest.” So never fail to be humbled when someone says to you, “Bless me, Father.” Be blessings for the people; be shepherds and not wolves.
St. John Paul II, in writing of people’s high expectations of their priests, said: “...in the end they have but one expectation: they are thirsty for Christ. Everything else – their economic, social and political needs – can be met by any number of other people. From the priest they ask for Christ! And from him they have the right to receive Christ.”
Of course, the strength of your priesthood – and its effectiveness – will depend on the strength of your relationship with the Lord. The heart of ministry is found in and nourished by our friendship with the Lord.
A few years ago, at a Lenten Day of Recollection, Pope Francis asked a group of Roman priests this rather pointed question: How does your day end? With God? Or with television? Brothers, if we are to acquit ourselves on judgment day – and we are accountable for the integrity of our ministry – we need to grow in union with Christ – through the intimacy of prayer. In prayer, you learn to see as Christ sees, and to love as he loves.
In the Second Eucharistic Prayer, we pray “giving thanks that you held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.” Yes, priests are to be with the Lord and minister to him; but priests also are to be for him. We stand in for him as it were – for, it is not our word, or ourselves that we preach but Christ’s word, Christ’s person.
So, just as you must stay close to Jesus, you must also stay close to the people you serve. A famous psychologist once said that every successful client/counselor relationship depends on the counselor having “unconditional positive regard” for his client. In other words, you've got to love your people. “Unconditional positive regard” means loving them despite their idiosyncrasies, despite their perceived faults and failings, despite their economic status, race or class. If a priest cannot love the people of his parish, he needs to go – maybe to another parish or possibly just to go – not only for his own good and salvation, but for the good and salvation of his parishioners.
And remember you are entrusted with the cura animarum, the care of the souls of all those found within the parish boundaries – not just those who are registered, not just those who use Sunday envelopes (or give online); but all of them including the least, the last and the lost. And, if there is a hospital, a jail, or a nursing home in your parish – they are your parishioners, and they depend on you for the care of their souls.
We are living through difficult times. Some have described our times as being not so much an era of change but the change of an era. One of the signs of the times is that all of society’s institutions are being called into question. Certainly, in recent years, these institutions have been undermined to one extent or another because of corruption and greed and because of the abuse of authority and power. Positions of service are turned into instruments of personal gain. We see this in politics, we see this in academia, in the media, in the entertainment world, and in business. Tragically, we have also seen this in the Church.
When society’s institutions are discredited, and our elites are perceived to be corrupt, we are left rudderless. In a sea of moral relativism, people feel set adrift — and this is perhaps the reason for their outrage, which we have seen in our nation’s cities these past weeks after the killing of George Floyd.
St. Paul VI captured the anti-institutional or anti-authority mood of the world in which we inhabit when he wrote: “Contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, or if he listens to teachers, he does so because they are witnesses."
Be witnesses to the living Lord. And as Pope Francis reminds us, "An authentic witness is one that does not contradict, by behavior or lifestyle, what is preached with the word and taught to others.”
Of course, no one wants you to burn out — a candle that burns out leaves a sooty mess. A burned-out priest is a mess too. But, my dear “Fathers to be,” my soon to be brothers and collaborators in the mission fields of this local Church, you are expected to work hard: You are not to burn out, but you are supposed to burn yourself up, to consume yourself in the service of Christ and his Church.