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'Jesus needs us to be servant leaders'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at seminarians' convocation

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during a Mass he celebrated for seminarians gathered for their annual convocation at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Miami. The Mass was celebrated May 14, 2018.

Saturday, we had a beautiful ceremony – and a special thanks to those of you who served. Father Vigoa trained you well – and all of you make me look good. But more importantly the Church of Miami looked good.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Mathias. And we celebrate him as a martyr. Jesus in establishing the priesthood of the New Testament did not intend to establish a “caste” with special privileges and perks to be lorded over the “lesser” Christians. If we are put at the front of the line, it’s the line that leads to one type of martyrdom or another. Like I told our new priests on Saturday: “This is not about us. It’s about them, the people of God.” The sacred anointing we receive is never just “about us.” We are ordained to be men for others. As Pope Francis says, “The people of God receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the anointed one, came to bring us.”

Closely related to the institution of the priesthood is the Eucharist itself and the commandment of love exemplified by Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. In calling us to the priesthood, Jesus needs us to be servant leaders, leaders who readily kneel in humble adoration before our Lord hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, but also leaders who just as readily can kneel in humble service washing the feet of the Lord in his many, and oftentimes, distressing disguises.

A few years ago, in a meeting with some seminarians, Pope Francis urged them to meditate on the Gospel every day, to experience frequently the mercy of God in the sacrament of penance, and to eat the Eucharist with faith and with love. Good advice for them – and for us. And I would add: There is no vacation from a vocation. You are seminarians even when you are away from the seminary.

The Pope also told those seminarians not to expect that the priesthood would put them on “easy street.” If that’s what they’re looking for, he advised them to look elsewhere. We have long hours – and short pay: because we are called to be shepherds and not functionaries; we are called to be missionaries and not mercenaries.

Sometimes we come across a pious sort who says he wants to be a priest to save his soul. That’s sort of like a crazy guy saying he wants to become a psychologist to get his…. issues together. We become priests to save other people’s souls – and we work at it with “fear and trembling.” Like St. Paul says, “…I chastise my body and bring it into subjection lest perhaps I have preached to others I myself shall become a castaway”. (1 Cor. 9: 27)

Saint John Paul II for most of his pontificate would write a letter addressed to priests that would be published during Holy Week– and the Holy Week that preceded his death in 2005 was no different – even though he wrote the letter from a hospital bed. In this last letter to the priests of the world he reminded us: “Particularly in the context of the new evangelization, the people have a right to turn to priests in the hope of ‘seeing’ Christ in them (cf. Jn 12:21). The young feel the need for this especially; Christ continues to call them, to make them his friends and to challenge some to give themselves completely for the sake of the Kingdom. Vocations will certainly not be lacking if our manner of life is truly priestly, if we become more holy, more joyful, more impassioned in the exercise of our ministry. A priest ‘won’ by Christ (cf. Phil 3:12) more easily ‘wins’ others, so that they too decide to set out on the same adventure.”

And it is an adventure. These days almost every priest in the Archdiocese is celebrating an anniversary: Fathers Vigoa and Rodriguez celebrate 10 years; Father Elvis, five years – and tomorrow I will celebrate 42 years. Saint Mathias, pray for all of us.

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