When a mother gives birth to a child, everyone celebrates.
Today we and all the Archdiocese are celebrating,
because Mother Church has given birth to nine new priests,
including of course, Father Zach Cecil, a son of St. Mary Parish.
But what precisely are we celebrating?
Certainly this is a great personal accomplishment
for Father Cecil and his classmates.
It has been a long slog of study and practice and prayer.
Along the way there are moments of doubt and darkness,
but also consolation and conviction.
This is what happens when Jesus says, “follow me,” and you go!
As much as I am tempted to talk about Father Zach,
who I’ve known since he was a boy,
and he himself told me then he was going to be a priest,
this is only somewhat about him.
He will say, just as our beloved Father Caserta always said:
It is all about the Lord.
The Gospel we just heard is a good starting point.
It begins on a dark note: Judas has just left the room!
We know where he’s going.
We know what’s about to happen, only a few hours later.
But what does Jesus talk about? How terrible and sad everything is?
No. He says, Now is the time of glory!
There are lots of discordant notes in our time.
If you want to write a story about all that’s wrong with our society,
and with our Church, you can do that very easily.
And yet as his friend turns traitor, Jesus almost seems buoyant:
God’s going to act now, he says; and it’s going to happen “at once.”
This darkness is the moment of Christ’s great victory, and of ours!
This is when all hope and life is about to be born!
So in light of that, I say to you, Father,
what a priest recently said in the National Catholic Register:
“There is no better time to be a Catholic priest.”
This ties in with the first reading, where we see Paul and Barnabas
actually ordain men as priests to serve the local churches,
But as Paul does so, he warns them about hardships to come.
Back to my question: what are we celebrating?
It is that the glory of Christ is made manifest: here, in our midst!
That’s what Easter is. That’s what the sacraments are.
And that’s what this sacrament of Holy Orders is all about.
Jesus gives an invitation. Each of us hears it in a particular way.
For some, it is to be, as he told Peter, “fishers of men.”
To be, as Paul described many times, fathers of spiritual children.
Every once in a while you can hear some grouch complaining,
“why does he get to be a priest but not me?”
But the true perspective is seen in the joy we feel
when first a man enters the seminary,
and even more, when he returns to us as a priest.
The reason for that joy is obvious:
most realize that while this call to Holy Orders indeed is a privilege –
and certainly every priest knows it deep in his bones,
because he knows how very unworthy he is! –
Nevertheless, the priesthood is fundamentally a gift:
Maybe 1% to the man himself; 99% to everyone else.
The other day I heard someone say that in marriage and family life,
you experience both the lowest lows and the highest highs.
You give yourself, and lose yourself in another,
and from that gift comes the miracle of new life,
with every possible heartache and exaltation.
No parent would wish his or her hardships on anyone else;
but neither would they wish away the gift of their family.
Here’s the thing: all this is likewise true of the priesthood:
The lowest lows and highest highs.
The moment of the Cross is the moment of glory.
This just points out something many don’t realize:
The priesthood is, in many ways, a mirror of marriage.
Holy, happy, Christ-centered families give us healthy, holy priests;
and in turn, it is faithful, courageous priests who strengthen us
as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.
Let me close by saying something to you, Father, priest-to-priest,
which I know you will believe; but it may take time fully to understand.
Father, you promised the Archbishop you would obey him;
and to teach Christ’s word faithfully,
and to celebrate the sacred mysteries with zeal and devotion.
You will teach and explain the Faith with conviction;
You will get up early and stay up late to comfort the grieving
and fortify those who are weary and lost.
You will baptize, absolve, and be a companion in joy and sorrow.
But at the center is the Holy Mass.
Whether before hundreds of family and friends,
or seemingly all by yourself,
you stand at the altar and you hear Jesus say,
“This is My Body, given for you.”
And you will be shocked that it is your own voice saying it.
You can’t stand apart from it. It is Jesus, all Jesus, all the time.
And yet, in an impossible mystery, it is also you.
Day by day, year by year, laying yourself on the altar.
“No greater love,” Jesus said. This is what his priests do.
This is how they love the people he gives his priests to care for.