Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Unity with Christ through the sacraments

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The month of May is filled with sacramental celebrations throughout the archdiocese. In the parishes, youngsters receive the Lord for the first time in Holy Communion. Teenagers and adults are confirmed to strengthen the faith that was first given them as pure gift in the sacrament of baptism. Many weddings are celebrated, in which Christ himself joins a man and woman for life in a union that reflects Christ’s own relationship to his church.

The sacramental ceremonies I am most directly involved with are the ordinations to the diaconate and the priesthood. In five separate ceremonies this month, I have ordained 15 seminarian deacons to the priesthood, another 15 seminarians to the transitional diaconate and 17 “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6: 3) as permanent deacons.

Jesus Christ is the High Priest of the New Covenant, which has been sealed in the blood of his self-sacrifice on the cross. The sacraments, which are actions of the risen Christ, allow us to participate in Christ’s priesthood in different ways. In baptism, all the faithful share in Christ’s royal priesthood, in his self-sacrifice for the salvation of the world. The ordained share in Christ’s relationship to his body, the church. The deacon receives authorization to proclaim the word of God to the poor and to serve those in need of the church’s charity. The ordained priest exercises these ministries and has, as well, the power to offer sacrifice for Christ’s people, to celebrate the Eucharist and forgive sins. The bishop, with the fullness of the priesthood, shares in Christ’s power to govern his people and pastor a local church, a diocese. The bishop calls ordained priests to share in this governing authority when he names them pastors or gives them other responsibilities in caring for the faithful.

At the Mass when I ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Chicago on May 17, I told them: “It is a great joy to be with each of you this morning as you present yourselves to be ordained priests of Jesus Christ for service in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Many different paths have brought you together to the cathedral. Your lives began in different countries, your skills have been honed in different occupations, your experiences all contribute to the richness of the gift of yourselves that you now offer unreservedly to Christ and to his church. I am proud of each of you, as are so many others: your families and friends, those who have guided you on your way, especially those responsible for the seminary programs and many others who can not be here this morning.

“You are here, of course, because God took the initiative to change your lives. With the help of your spiritual directors, you have become conscious of the working of God’s grace in what you think and do and desire. The greatest spiritual challenge any of us faces is to let God be God. Let God be God. The prophet Jeremiah is told this clearly: ‘I place my words in your mouth; I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.’ Jeremiah, God says, let me be who I am and don’t worry about who you will be. St. Peter says much the same in the second reading for this ordination liturgy: ‘Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies so that in all things God many be glorified through Jesus Christ.’ St. Peter can preach this confidently because Jesus had told him, in words from the Gospel according to St. John, ‘If you love me, feed my sheep.’ Christ’s sheep, not Peter’s. Peter is therefore to love with Christ’s love.

“Everyone loves — someone, something — and it is beautiful to see love take various forms and shapes in families and elsewhere. Priests of Jesus Christ, however, are ordained to love the church as Christ loves her. They are to love with the Lord’s love, not only with his words or his strength but with his very love. Let God be God, in your lives and your ministry. Let God’s love transform who you are into who Christ wants you to be in him.

“Pope Francis, in a recent homily reminded us that being a Christian means belonging to the church: ‘A Christian without the church is a pure idea, it is not real. It would be like something made in a laboratory, something artificial, something that could not give life. The idea of one Christian alone, without connection to a community and its history, makes no sense. Jesus Christ,’ the pope said, ‘did not fall from heaven like a hero who comes to save us; no, Jesus Christ had a history.’ And so, dear brothers and sons, do you. Your history is now woven into Christ’s history, his mission, his love. Ask during this ordination Mass for the grace to love deeply and constantly — love Christ himself, of course, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother and ours; love the church, especially this local church with its bishops, priests and deacons, its lay faithful and religious men and women, it works and its concerns for the poor and for the salvation of all, for proclaiming the truth about God and his world.

“You will see the face of Christ in those you serve; they, in turn, expect to find the love of Christ when they search you out, when they meet and speak with you, when they encounter a priest of Jesus Christ.”


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