creator of all things,
bless the food we are about to eat,
and the fellowship we share
as your sons and daughter,
the brothers and sisters
of Christ Jesus, your Only-Begotten Son.
Bless the words we are about to speak,
the men we are about to honor
and the stories we are about to tell.
May our feasting be a foretaste
of that heavenly banquet
at which all the saints will celebrate
the wonders of your eternal love,
We give you thanks,
through Christ our Lord.
Toast for the Class of 2014
“Each new priest brings with him a special blessing... For in every priest it is Christ himself who comes. If, as Saint Cyprian said, the Christian is ‘another Christ’—Christianus alter Christus—with all the more reason it can be said: Sacerdos alter Christus.”(1) The priest is another Christ. These words come from Saint John Paul II. He composed them on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee of Priestly Ordination that fell in 1996.
Tonight our Deacon brothers and other Fourth Year Men embark on the same path that the recently sainted Pope began in Poland after World War II. Their destinations reflect the worldwide reach of Saint John’s Seminary. Like Pope John Paul II, you, dear Brothers about to be ordained priests, begin your ministry during a time of reconstruction. We call our period the New Evangelization. However, in New England, where most of you will serve, the Church requires rebuilding.
Seminaries are not professional training schools, they are more like homes, holy houses, as Monsignor Moroney likes to say. So the priest maintains an affectionate allegiance with his seminary. This attachment provides him with a source of strength, especially during those periods of trial and distress that priestly ministry cannot escape. Classmates and fellow seminarians continue to sustain each other throughout a priest’s lifetime and even at death, priests pray for each other. Seminary superiors and professors maintain the alma mater so that there always remains a place for the priest to call home.
So it has become customary for the seminarians and the priests and the others who keep Saint John’s Seminary up and running to toast those who are about to join the number of her alumni. Like at every toast, those who raise their glasses wish the recipients health and happiness, “À votre santé,” “Salud,” “Zum Wohl,” “Salute.” To these traditional good wishes, Saint John’s Seminary adds another: may you enjoy many fruitful years “to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the head and shepherd.”(2)
I would ask that everyone except those being honored at tonight’s festivities to stand.
To the Saint John’s Seminary Class of 2014, Ad multos annos.
1 - Pope John Paul II, Gift and Mystery (New York, 1966), p. 99.
2 - Pastores dabo Vobis, no. 15.
On the Priesthood
by theI’ll begin with a story that is fast going out of date. The story has a limited “shelf life” because it involves the words of the Mass from the old Sacramentary and doesn’t quite fit with the Roman Missal. It happened probably twenty years ago when I was celebrating Mass in the parish on a particularly busy Sunday. I believe it was my third Mass of the weekend and although I was perfectly accurate, I do not know how attentive I was to the Mass. As I was celebrating the Mass a small boy in the back of the Church unknown to me was not only completely inattentive to this Mass he was, I am told, having a very hard time keeping still. It came time for the Consecration and the boy’s mother desiring to adore the Lord in prayer but being a bit put out by her son decided to simply abandon her purse to his little hands and she knelt down to say her prayers. I continued the Mass, again having no clue as to what was going on in the back of the Church and I elevated the Blessed Sacrament to show the people. At that very moment the boy discovered something new attached to her key ring. Delighted with his discovery the boy said in a voice that everyone in the Church could hear: “What is this?”
And I replied: “This is the Lamb of God…”
The Congregation couldn’t help but chuckle - but me – I was startled. I looked in my hands and once again had that feeling that comes over a priest occasionally where you stop in your busyness and contemplate the awesome privilege of priesthood that God has given us – we literally say the words of John the Baptist from the Gospel of John. This, in our hands, truly is the Lamb of God.
I have a classmate named Fr. Simon Obeng. We had our “Deacon’s Night” 24 years ago here in this same place. Simon was born in Ghana in Africa but his parents were poor and when he was very young his parents gave him to his uncle. His uncle was a goldsmith who had children of his own but Simon was not treated as one of the children, Simon was given to his uncle to work. His cousins went to school and Simon went to work. To this day he has marks on his arms where he was burnt by specks of medal. A priest befriended Simon such that he longed to be a priest from an early age but when he gained his freedom at age 18 the bishop wouldn’t take him because he had never been to school. So, in order to be a priest, Simon began the first grade at 18 years of age. When he graduated he went back to the bishop and he was told he was too old. Frustrated but determined he met a traveling Monsignor who had come to Africa to recruit potential priests. That Monsignor’s bishop was none other than Bishop Seán Patrick O’Malley, then of the Virgin Islands. This is how Simon Obeng ended up as my classmate here at Saint John Seminary. I remember very distinctly Fr. Simon’s first Mass. At the moment of the elevation he held up the Eucharist and said, “This…” then he paused as if he were confused, and he said with incredulity “is the Lamb of God!” He too had that moment. The moment like John the Baptist had in Matthew’s Gospel. John the Baptist was the first to give voice to the fundamental Christian realization – “I am not worthy.” When Jesus approached him in the desert he tried to prevent Jesus “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me” He had the moment.
And yet John too was a priest called to serve. We know from Luke’s Gospel that John through his father Zechariah was of the priestly house of “Abijah”. It was in fulfilling his duty as priest of that section that Zechariah entered the Lord’s sanctuary where he had his encounter with the angel of the Lord. John could trace his priesthood back through the centuries to the original priests. Priests who not only served in the sanctuary, but priests who had a specific role in God’s sacrifice; it was the priests who selected the lambs worthy of sacrifice. It was the priests who literally inspected the lambs for the unblemished one and declared it “the Lamb of God”.
Was it a coincidence what John was privileged to say. Or was he called from all of time to enter the desert, and live the radical life - called to prepare himself to prepare for the Lord and then discern the fulfillment of not only his calling but to discover the fulfillment of centuries of sacrifice and to fulfill that ancient calling with new meaning; “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?”
And with and in Christ, a new priesthood, a more glorious priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek was created and God has called me to it, and these Deacons, and many here in this room. That’s the realization one gets occasionally at the altar.
But here is what I really want to say – what God has called me to do with the one priesthood is radically different than what he has called other priests to do. We are all living stones building the Kingdom of God. Remember Fr. Simon, let me tell you where Fr. Simon is assigned right now - this same man who once was treated as a slave somewhere in Ghana, deprived of school is currently serving in Afghanistan an officer and Chaplain in the Armed Forces of the United States. Who could have possibly predicted what incredible things God has done through him. That is his calling –not mine.
Sometimes when we are in Seminary we can’t help but compare ourselves with other seminarians. In Chapel, we literally stare at each other across the aisle and at times think about how I wish I could sing like him, or be as smart as him, or be as attentive in prayer as him and we can wonder something along the line of maybe he is the type of person that God calls more than I am. But the truth is – that other seminarian is not called to do what God has prepared for you, and you are not called to the same journey as that man.
I have not been called to go to Afghanistan, I have not been called to be a pastor yet like my classmates, I have not been called to be a Bishop like many of my classmates from my class in Rome, I have not been called to do the funeral of a teenager, I have not been called to anyone else’s vision of priesthood.
But I was called last night, way after hours in the rectory, to hear a Confession. I have been called to comfort many of God’s people in their last moments of life, I am called next week to give First Holy Communion to eleven specific boys and girls members of the people of God; I have been called to be a Canon Lawyer for God and His Church; I was called when the abuse crisis crashed its Tsunami on the shores of the Archdiocese of Boston to be in a unique position to pick up the pieces of people’s shattered faith, I have been called to face Churches full of angry parishioners and tell them why their Church has to close, I have been called celebrate Mass in prison, to Celebrate Mass in convents, and parishes. I had the awesome privilege of celebrating Mass in the Vatican at the Altar of Saint Clement which is the closest altar to the bones of Saint Peter, to concelebrate Mass in the tomb of Christ and in the upper room with Cardinal Seán, to celebrate Mass by my father’s death bed. This has been my path, this has been what God has called me to do to on my tiny nanosecond of time in the history of the Universe to build the Kingdom of God.
My path is different than yours, it is what is written on my own white stone, but it is an enormous overwhelming privilege of which I am not worthy, but nevertheless to which I am uniquely called to stand in persona Christi capitas to raise the broken consecrated Body of Christ aloft and say,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
We give you thanks for all your gifts, O Lord,
for the food we have eaten,
the laughs we have shared,
and the fraternity which bind us together
as brothers and sisters, fathers and sons.
But most of all,
we give you thanks for these good men:
Make them teachers, Lord
in the model of Christ Jesus, your Son.
May the example of their lives lead us closer
to your Word made flesh for all the world.
Make them Priests, Lord,
in the image of Christ upon the Cross.
That they might offer their lives with his
as a fragrant oblation
to the glory of your name.
And make them shepherds, Lord,
who, like the Good Shepherd,
seek out the lost and carry them home.
Bless them, O Lord,
as you have blessed us to be called their friends.
Through Christ, your Son, our Lord.