Welcome home, Fathers! Welcome home. Six months ago you were kneeling before your Bishop, as he, “relying on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ,” chose you, our brothers, for the Order of the priesthood.” And now you have become what you for so long prepared to be. You have baptized babies, anointed old people in the middle of the night, heard the confessions of sinners on a busy Saturday afternoon and consecrated the gifts of the people of God, offering them for their salvation.
You return as an encouragement to each one of us. To the faculty, you are the fulfillment of our prayers and a reminder of how privileged we are to witness God’s grace at work in the lives of men just like you. To your younger brothers you are a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel, an encouragement and an example.
So welcome home. Unfortunately I cannot join you for this entire homecoming as I have a long scheduled commitment at Our Lady of Providence Seminary. But know that you are always welcome in this holy house which you once called home and you now know as alma mater. God bless you.
Homily on the Memorial of St Ignatius of Antioch
St John’s Seminary
"I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire."
These profound words from St Ignatius of Antioch are an invitation to all of us to be faithful disciples of the Gospel, and an invitation to make Christ the center of our lives.
Ignatius, disciple of John, was consecrated Bishop by Peter the Apostle, around the year 69. Nearly 40 years later, in the year 107, during the reign of Emperor Trajan, he was condemned to death because he refused to renounce his faith. He chose to remain faithful to Christ until the end, even when he knew that it would cost him his own life.
St Ignatius’ courageous life, and fidelity to the word of God, reminds us of our own call to discipleship and true service to the Gospel. His willingness to die for the truth serves as inspiration to all men and women who wish to make Christ known to the world. It also reminds us that true power does not come from attaining the first places of recognition – either within the Church or outside of it – but from a true detachment from our own self, wants and needs.
In other words, when we make Christ the center of our lives we become empty vessels through which God transmits His graces, and at the same time find the freedom to respond to God’s call to discipleship.
This power given to us, which comes from above, and not from our own skills and talents, must be put to the service of the Gospel, the people of God and the work of evangelization, especially in a world were many cling to and thirst for earthly powers. But before we can use this power to serve the Kingdom of God, we must allow the word of God to take root in our hearts. And we must also be vigilant to ensure that things like selfishness, arrogance, clericalism and thirst for power don’t get in the way of the mission that the Son of God has for us.
Christ himself makes us aware of this danger especially when he asks the question; “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” He also teaches that he is the way, the truth and the life; that He is our perfect model to follow; and that our own mission in life must be about service and putting others first - before our own needs, wants and desires. For Christ says in the Gospel of Mark: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
St Ignatius’ great fidelity and love for the Gospel became a great example to his community and to the entire early Church of what discipleship is all about. He also became an inspiration to many men and women to make the ultimate offering to God by becoming martyrs for their faith.
In one of his letters, on his way to martyrdom, he wrote to the Christian community: "I know what is to my advantage. At last I am becoming his disciple. May nothing entice me till I happily make my way to Jesus Christ! Fire, cross, struggles with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs-let them come to me, provided only I make my way to Jesus Christ."
For many of us, St. Ignatius’ words, which are filled with zeal for the Gospel, continue, throughout the centuries, to be a source of inspiration to remain faithful to the gospel and to our mission of evangelization. Though our journey toward heaven, which is our ultimate goal and destiny, may be filled with thorns and challenges, we must never forget that what matters most in this journey of faith is our fidelity to Christ and not to the passing things of this world. Once we make Him the center of our lives, nothing – not even death itself – can take him away from us.
Like St. Ignatius of Antioch, we must remain courageous and vigilant at all times, so that one day, like him, we can say with great conviction in our hearts that we “prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth.”
St Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us!