Celebration of 25th Anniversary of Ordination
Homily by Fr. Matthew Clark, OSB
Heb. 5:1-10; Mt. 10, 35 - 38
2 May 2012
Saint Joseph Seminary College Chapel
In the lecture I gave on homiletics to the public speaking class yesterday morning, I told them to be very judicious with their use of the first person singular pronoun in giving a homily. Every homily must be about Jesus Christ, or it is not a homily. When they hear "I" used an excessive amount, they can begin to wonder if this is a homily, or just a nice a talk about the one who is speaking.
That said, we also have to remember a cardinal rule about the English language: for every rule, there are usually more exceptions than not! As I speak today in this jubilee Mass, I'll have to use the word "I". I leave it to you to judge if these reflections rank as a homily, or as a "nice talk".
Today we are praying the Votive Mass entitled: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Every Mass is about Jesus Christ, his Cross and Resurrection, his saving grace for us. Every sacrament of our Church is the Eternal High Priest, going around to all our towns and villages, our schools and homes, our families, the darkest places we can hide, coming to our own hearts, to cure every disease and illness, and to announce the Kingdom of God. The power of the sacraments, including Holy Orders, rests in the grace of Jesus Christ alone, the grace which opens for us all the opportunity, if we wish, to fulfill the words of the Letter to the Hebrews: let us persevere in running the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
As we once again "fix our eyes on Jesus," we can come to realize the true meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist: it is an act of thanksgiving, our thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ for his saving work, for his relentless pursuit of us, and his power to save us. It is the work of the Church which actualizes, confirms, and renews the priest in the center of his being into the ministry of self-sacrificing love which is the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest.
This is a Mass of Thanksgiving: thanksgiving for 25 years of priestly ministry of one of God's struggling servants. (Here, I must start using the word "I"!) As I reflect on the past twenty-five years of priesthood, I realize just how short a time this has been. On the day of my ordination, a twenty-fifth anniversary was unimaginable. Now, that afternoon at 4 PM in the abbey church with Archbishop Hannan seems - well, not like yesterday, but perhaps like last week. From then to now I have tried to follow the Holy Spirit, wherever he may have led me, from the organ bench which has become an extension of my ministry to the classroom and offices of this seminary college where I have worked for most of these years -- and surely will for years to come -- to the other side of the world serving our sailors and Marines in a difficult and complex war. (It was in some of those adventures that I truly came to believe in my guardian angel, and to see God's grace working everywhere!) And of course, there is the "everywhere in between" where I have spent so much of my time of ministerial service to Christ and his Church. I suppose it sounds unusual for a monk to be saying this, but I have learned that it is a great mistake to try to limit or control the Holy Spirit: doing so only leads to a sure and certain dead end! He will lead us where he wills.
The actor James Earl Jones once said: The hardest thing in life is having words in your heart that you can't begin to utter! In this Mass of Thanksgiving, that expresses my situation as I try give thanks for all that God has done for me in my years of priestly vocation, despite myself, he is eternally persevering!
And I give thanks to all the people in my life he has given me - every single one the most precious of all gifts on this earth, because in them is the Lord himself.
I am thankful, then, for my parents, who I am happy to have with us this evening. They have been, for me, well, the greatest of parents in the world - what more can I say! They are here representing my family for whom I am most thankful. They will join in another celebration this summer. If they had all come, we would have had to expand the refectory this afternoon to fit everyone, and double the food (and wine) budget for this event. None of that is part of the seminary's strategic plan!
I am thankful for my monastic community of St. Joseph Abbey, whose friendship, support and patience over these years has been a true sacrament of the compassion of Jesus Christ. In every way they model the spirit of St. Benedict for me, a true priestly spirit: to see Christ in everyone. I am always conscious and proud of the fact that I am a monk of St. Joseph Abbey called to serve God's Church as a priest, and I pray that my ministry always reflects that.
For my friends and co-workers here at the seminary, I am thankful as well. All of you continue to be an important part of my ministry, and I am sure that you will for the next twenty-five years.
Of course, at a jubilee one becomes deeply grateful to God for one's fellow priests, so many of whom I have worked with and, in many cases, depended on for advice and help in my own ministry. There is untold truth to the statement that only a fellow priest can fully understand what you experience as a priest.
At this Eucharist, in this seminary where I have spent the majority of my waking hours for the past twenty-five years, I am thankful for you, seminarians of St. Ben's. You have to realize that according to our alumni records, you are 80 of the more than - yes - 700 seminarians that have attended this seminary from 1987 - 2012. I continue to be amazed at the work of God in you as he works out your formation to Christian maturity and to priesthood through the seminary program. What wonders the Lord has done! What miracles he has wrought! And I say this most humbly, as St. Benedict would remind me, as one of his toughest miracles in progress! This celebration is truly for you, to say to you that the calling to the Catholic priesthood, if this is God's design for you, is worth all the time and study and sometimes painful growth involved in seminary formation. And while I can assure you that the "sometimes painful growth" part continues on a new level after ordination, at least for me, these twenty-five years have all been worthwhile, and I would not change my free decision to follow the Lord as a priest for anything in the world.
The theology of the priesthood returns continuously to the concept of in persona Christi, the priest acting and living in the person of Christ. While the concept is far beyond the scope of a homily to explain, it has been for me a concrete experience - in every person I have ministered to as a priest, of every social condition and rank, especially in the lost, the broken, the grieving, the old, the sick, the dying. In all of them, as in all of you, I have met Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, whose heart is moved to compassion for his people. I am humbled to share in his work with those he sends my way.
To labor in the Master's field is long and hard and sometimes dirty work. It is also joyful as well, knowing that Jesus is doing the work through me, despite my own weakness and flaws. That takes a great deal of faith, and thank God faith is his gift to us!
And thank God for this life which includes the honor to administer the sacraments of his Church, as I continue to do at his calling. I ask your prayers for me, for every priest in this chapel, and for every Catholic priest in this world: that we will continue in the faith to serve all his people, both those of his fold, and those elsewhere, that all may be one in Christ.
Is it possible? Is this life truly possible?, the world asks. May the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, answer it through our lives, as we affirm his powerful words and his relentless promise to his Church and to all his creation: The Zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this!