One of the best experiences of the resurrection this side of eternity

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The names of those just called for Orders, Radley, Timothy, Moises, Trenton, Przemyslaw and Miguel are known to us, but in a particular way, to the parents who gave these names to the candidates when they came into this world. I can only imagine the joy you parents feel as this congregation responded to your sons’ names with the phrase "Thanks be to God" and offered a roaring applause.

Welcome to all of you, parents, families, my brother priests and bishops and friends of the ordinandi. I know that some of you have traveled long distances. We are blessed to have each one of you here today and I know that you who are to be ordained know that blessing in a very personal and intimate way.

Your brother priests will tell you that one of most satisfying and life-giving experiences in the ministry of a priest is celebrating the sacrament of penance. The Gospel just proclaimed offers insight into why that is the case.

The peace granted in the forgiveness of sins is unique, as it comes from the one who has risen from the dead. In other words, if it is possible to have an experience of the resurrection this side of eternity, it will be in this moment when we are given the peace that belongs to the Risen One, a peace this world cannot give or take away.

It is important to keep this in mind as you are ordained today, if only to avoid reducing the encounter that takes place in this peace-giving and life-giving sacrament to a juridical act, the exercise of a tribunal that moves mechanically from determining guilt to pronouncing judgment, making amends and offering satisfaction. There is a history to that mechanical approach to this peace-giving and spirit-filled sacrament in the life of the church. That history sadly haunts us in our day, prompting Pope Francis to wince at the thought that at times the confessional is turned into a torture chamber.

So listen attentively to this Gospel by which you are commissioned to forgive sins in a very unique way, in a way that breathes the peace and new life of the Risen Christ into the hearts of those who come to you to be reconciled to God and the church. Pay close attention to how the Lord moves his disciples to a conversion, a change of heart, which allows them to take up this commission lest they settle for the limited, provisional peace and conditional conciliation offered by the world. Be ready to have that same conversion in your lives.

The scene begins with Jesus coming to them in their fears. They cower behind locked doors, paralyzed in terror by the unsettling events of the Crucifixion and shamed by the betrayal, denial and abandonment among their ranks.

You come here today with fears, and if you don’t, God help you. Your brothers will tell you that life for a priest can be unsettling, precisely because it will not be what you imagined. It will be full of the unexpected and unanticipated.

You at times may be tempted to lock yourself behind closed doors, isolating yourself even from your brothers in this presbyterate, tempted to escape all that makes you feel uncertain and insecure, your own inadequacies and weaknesses, and the demands some unfairly will make of you. But today, the Lord tells you this is where he comes to be with you, not only to console you, but to prepare you for your encounter with those who come to you with their own fears and disappointments with life, which they have tried to escape in the darkness of sin.

See your own weaknesses, doubts and fears as precisely the classroom where the Lord comes to teach you compassion for those who have lost their way, hidden themselves from responsibilities and commitments, or allowed their lives to be enslaved in addictive behavior. You will be a better confessor for them to the degree that you allow the Lord to calm your own fears. People will trust you when you say "do not be afraid" if you say it with the conviction of someone who has heeded those words himself. In all of this, you will learn that priesthood indeed is not what you imagined; it is more.

Jesus’ call to a conversion that brings healing continues in this Gospel scene as he shows the disciples his wounds, moving them to a further change of heart. He offers first his hands. They know these hands. They touched the sick with astonishing power to heal. They lifted up the dead to bring them back to life. These were the same hands in which he movingly held his life and gave it to them in the broken bread and cup of blessing, the night before he died.

Then he showed his side, the very side where the beloved disciple leaned and from which gushed forth blood and water as he hung on the cross. In their days with him, his hands and side offered so much promise and hope. His wounds now are a painful reminder of his failure, the failure that is part of human existence, the incompleteness of our plans and efforts, our personal disappointments and the betrayals when others let us down.

Remember that only when Jesus touched the wounds of doubt in Thomas could that same doubting disciple accept the invitation to believe that his own hands had the power to touch and heal the wounds of the Body of Christ. So see your wounds as a grace that empowers you to heal others. This is where Jesus comes to you, when the promise of our lives meets up with human limitations and you are left wounded. Letting him touch you there will give you the courage and power to reach out to the wounded who come to you for healing.

Finally, the spirit he breathes on them sends them out. Being forgiven is about sending people forward. Today, with the gift of the spirit, you are being sent forth. You will depart from this cathedral and this celebration knowing that Christ is with you, opening a new path ahead for you. As your celebration of the sacrament of penance breathes the spirit of the Risen Lord on those who come to you, leave them with a sense of hope that a new pathways has been opened for them, always treating them with respect, admiring them even if the step forward they take is so very small in your view. What is important is that they walk ahead knowing that Christ sends them and accompanies them, just as he sends you today.

When Jesus rose from the dead, the first thing he did was to breathe on his disciples the spirit that brought him back from the dead, empowering them to forgive sins. Taking up this commission to forgive sins must always be about breathing that same spirit into those who come to you to be reconciled, to be brought back from the death of sin.

This is why your brothers tell you the sacrament of penance is so satisfying in the life of a priest. It can be, as Jesus meant it to be from the very beginning, one of the best experiences of the resurrection this side of eternity.


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