On the occasion of celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, there is literally an ocean of
thoughts that come to mind, on which I could speak and you could patiently listen. But I thought I would address myself to
just three subjects, expressed in three words, gratitude, concern, and confidence.
When we say that Christ instituted the priesthood on Holy Thursday night, we mean that Jesus instituted the priesthood for two main reasons. First, to ensure that the Holy Eucharist -- which he also instituted at the Last Supper -- that the Holy Eucharist might remain on earth until the end of time: The Holy Eucharist as Sacrifice-sacrament, as Communion-sacrament and as Presence-sacrament. Except for Christ's instituting the priesthood, there would be no Holy Eucharist, dare I say it, there would be no Christianity, because the principal channel of grace by which Jesus communicates the light we need for our minds and the strength we need for our wills to do his divine will would not be available.
Christ therefore instituted the priesthood first to ensure that we would have the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, as the Sacrifice-sacrament of the Mass, the Communion-sacrament of Holy Communion, and with resounding emphasis, as the Presence sacrament. Jesus Christ is on earth, the whole Christ, as the Church defines totus Christus, the whole Christ is present on earth only because the same Jesus instituted the priesthood.
However, having instituted the sacrament of the priesthood on Holy Thursday night, on Easter Sunday night, the same Jesus, speaking to the same apostles, gave them the awesome power of doing what He as the God-man had done during his visible ministry on earth. He told them, "Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them, whose sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven." Jesus Christ instituted the priesthood for two main reasons:
Our first reflection therefore is gratitude. Gratitude for Christ's instituting the sacrament of the priesthood which ensures us of His continued Presence on earth among us in the Holy Eucharist, of His continually feeding us with His own, real, human body and blood in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and with His continuing sacrifice to communicate the graces that He won for us on Calvary.
How happy I am to tell you, so many of my fellow Jesuit priests were killed at the altar in the 16th century by the so-called reformers; there was no Protestant reformation; there was only a Protestant revolution. They were murdered at the altar because, as we believe, Jesus continues to offer the same sacrifice He offered on Calvary. He died only once on the cross, but in every sacrifice of the Mass, made possible only through the priesthood, Jesus communicates the graces that He won for us by His death on Good Friday afternoon.
First then, gratitude, gratitude for the priesthood, through which we have the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. St. Ignatius tells us, his
spiritual sons, whenever possible, divide every homily you preach, every lecture you'll give, into three parts, in honor of the holy Trinity.
- In a nation like ours, the material possessions and affluence. Fourteen years teaching in New York City has increased my vocabulary. One word I've memorized - "mazuma." Money, for millions of Americans, is their substitute for grace.
- In our nation, over five million Americans are on college campuses every year. By the time -- I don't say they finish college -- but long before, these over-educated Americans tell themselves, "I'm no longer a child. Why should I still believe? -- believe that I am to genuflect before the tabernacle? Why should I believe that a human being has power to remit my sins?"
- In a nation like ours, where liberty is almost a synonym for America. In our country, freedom has become the title of what an educated American citizen has. Freedom to do what? Freedom to do his own will.
I was ordained in, of course, 1947, before the modern revolution hit the Catholic priesthood. I can only thank God for preserving me; not only in bodily life, but, dare I say it, in my faith -- faith in Jesus Cluist, the high priest who ordained me.
I've learned not to worry. I say this with the deepest sincerity. Worry, discouragement, is a temptation of the devil, and the more faithfully we try to follow Jesus, the more the devil will tempt us to -- I don't say just discouragement -- but even to despair.
Our Holy Father never tires telling us not to be afraid. How we need to memorize not just the words, but the revealed truth behind the words of St. Paul. "Where sin has abounded [past tense], there grace will even more abound [future tense]." I know Pope John Paul II too well not to be able to tell you he sincerely believes two things: that the twentieth century has been the most sin-laden century in human history, but he also believes the twenty-first century will be the most grace-laden, the holiest century in the history of mankind.
The future of the Catholic priesthood is most promising. Why? Because Christ assures us He will bless the forthcoming century with such graces as the human race had never received before. However -- and this is the principal message of my ordination golden jubilee -- God's grace is assured, but we are Catholics; we believe God's grace must be cooperated with. We must recognize the grace with our minds, and correspond with the grace with our wills. We shall have only as holy priests as we Catholics ourselves live holy lives.
I never once remember my mother, never, missing Mass or Holy Communion, every day of her life. Holy people are not only an example of sanctity to others; oh no, holy people are channels of grace to others. I am speaking to all of you, and through you to the tens of thousands of professed Roman Catholics. In the name of Jesus Christ, live lives of close union with God.
As the Holy Father makes so plain, ordinary Catholics will not even survive, not to say thrive, in our day. Only heroic Catholics will preserve the Catholic Church. Only holy Catholics will be the seedbed of vocations to the priesthood. Hear it, and I am quoting our Holy Father verbally, this is the age of martyrs. We have confidence that God is providing and will provide such graces as the world had never before received, but we must cooperate with these graces. You mothers and fathers, you are the ones from whom vocations to the priesthood must come.
But, there is more still. In the name of God, I beg you, with all my being, to pray. Pray every day to our Lord. Pray for priests. Pray that priests may be priests not only in name, but in reality. What is a real priest? A real priest is one who loves Jesus crucified. A real priest is one who loves nothing more -- and I mean every syllable -- who loves nothing more than to suffer out of love for Jesus, who ordained him. A real priest is a living martyr. Pray for priests.
For those of us who have remained faithful to the Christ who ordained us, pray for the priests who are struggling -- struggling, hear it, especially with temptations against the faith, and temptations against chastity. Pray that we priests, remain faithful believers, and thus be channels of the grace of faith to those who depend on our priestly ministry. Pray that we may preserve our chastity, even though it might mean martyrdom. From my first Mass, at every consecration, I have asked our Lord for the grace of martyrdom. Pray that we priests, if it is God's grace, die a martyr's death, that we might live, all of us, a martyr's life.
I would like to close with a prayer:
Mary, Mother of God and Mother of priests, we ask you to obtain from Jesus the light and strength for His priests to live a truly priestly life. So that, the priests that Jesus ordained might be priests who are living the lives of martyrs, who are ready to shed their blood for your divine Son.
Mary, Mother of the Church, beg your Son to inspire thousands of young men to embrace the vocation to the priesthood, and thus become the communicators of grace; to a world which is starving, starving for the truth that priests are to teach; to a world that is dying, dying for the love that priests are to bring; a world that is suffering, but a world that shall love the cross, because priests have taught this world that the greatest joy on earth is to love Jesus crucified. Amen.
John A. Hardon, S.J.Copyright © 2001, Inter Mirifica
Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
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Lombard, IL 60148
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