03 November 2012

Priesthood Sunday (a belated homily)

NB.  The deacons are preaching at St Dominic this weekend.  I'm preaching at Our Lady Star of the Sea.  That homily will be up later today.  Below is a homily for Priesthood Sunday* from 2005. It's one of the first I posted on HancAquam.
31st Sunday OT (Priesthood Sunday)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas

Wow. I know of no other way of expressing my amazement at tonight’s readings. Wow! On Priesthood Sunday we get these readings. One from the prophet Malachi, delivering a dire warning from the Lord to his priests: “If you do not listen, if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name…I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.” Again, I say, Wow! We have another from Paul describing his apostolic work among the Thessolians: “We were gentle among you…with such affection for you, we were determined to share with you [the gospel and our every selves] so dearly beloved had you become to us…Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to the gospel of God.” Wow. And then we have Jesus denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their failure to minister according to their own teaching, and an admonition to his disciples to avoid the destructive example of these men in their own ministry. Instead, Jesus teaches, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Wow.

I can say without fear of contradiction from any of my brother priests: these are not the readings we would have chosen to preach on on this Priesthood Sunday! But I will go out on a limb here too and say: these are the readings we—my brother priests and I—most need to hear. We have an warning from the Lord that our teaching, our manner of life, our public ministry, all bear on the integrity and authenticity of the witness we claim to make to the world.

We have a picture of selfless service to God’s people, a determination to preach and teach the gospel, an affection for the brothers and sisters given to us by God to care for—a striking image of the apostle caring for his kin in Christ like a nursing mother cares for her children. And we have the Lord Himself drawing a stark constrast btw the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes and the necessary humility of his own students.

What’s absolutely clear in this teaching is that the Christian priest utterly fails in his ministry when he turns his ministry into an opportunity to promote his ego, to glorify his personality, to satisfiy his own needs, to celebrate with his cult of fans, or to place himself as master above those he serves. This is a failure to listen, a failure to take to heart the vocation of service, a failure to give glory to God, to walk the narrow way, to preach and teach what Jesus preached and taught, and a failure to honor his ordination covenant, the covenant every Catholic priest makes when he kneels before the bishop to receive the Holy Spirit: the covenant to be for God’s people a man ordered to sacrifice and to serve in persona Christi Capitis—in the person of Christ the Head of his Body.

I started my priesthood just five months ago. I started my life as a Dominican five years ago at the beginning of the scandals. My brothers and I sat at table every morning in the novitate and the studium and read the headlines. I remember gathering for a meeting with our student master in St Louis and talking frankly about the future of the priesthood and our place in the Church as men ordained to be servant-leaders. Our overwhelming sense of disgust, betrayal, dire disappointment, and anger constantly threatened our vocations. We seemed to teeter on the verge of an exodus. We waited, holding our breath, for the tension to break and the departures to begin. No one left. We all stayed. Scandal did not kill this harvest!

What does the Body of Christ need from its priests in the 21st century? The Body needs now and tomorrow what it needed yesterday, last year, and 2,000 years ago: men ready, willing, and able to take on the person of Christ in priestly ordination and lead His church by an exemplary life of selfless service to others. More than ever the Church needs men who will put aside private political agendas, personal philosophies and theologies, idiosyncratic visions of ecclesial reform and revolution and take on the yoke of Christ that has been handed down to us through twenty centuries by men and women blessed of God with graces beyond measure.

We need men unafraid of obedience, fearless in the face of growing secular opposition and internal dissent, men deeply commited to prayer, who live lives in humility (or who are eager to learn how!); we need men who can say, “I don’t know it all, I can’t learn it all, I need as much help as I can get, I need your help, and we all need the Lord’s help.” And we need men who will preach and teach what Jesus preached and taught. If he will stand in the pulpit to preach and stand at the altar of sacrifice to pray, he must be a man ready to say, “Do not look at me to see Christ, look through me.”

Jesus teaches us this evening that the ministry of the Christian priest is founded on a life of integrity: a seamless garment of thought and action given to the service of others for the greater glory of God. He denounces the Pharisees and the scribes for teaching one thing and doing another, for heaping onto their people burdens that they themselves will not take on, for seeking honor, prestige, and titles for the sake of ego and public display. Jesus directs his disciples to watch these hypocrites carefully so that they will learn how not to serve his Church, how not to lead in his name. The call from Jesus to lead by service is the call to seek humility in the face of the temptation to be lauded. It is the call to act in the full knowledge that one does not serve out of acquired or practiced talents, but out of the pure gift of love, the invitation to dwell in the divine life. Paul writing to the Thessalonians describes perfectly the ministry of the apostle sent out to be Christ for others. He tells his brothers and sisters that they have received from him “not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”

The work of the priest, the work of all Christians priests, ordained and royal, is to speak the word of God for others to hear, to bring that word into their own lives so that there is no discrepancy, no hypocrisy btw word and deed, and to toil with affection for one another.

On this Priesthood Sunday, we have a warning, an example, and a lesson. Listen, take them to heart, and give glory to God’s name.  

* Priesthood Sunday was last Sunday, Oct 28th.

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