We are very grateful to Bishop Robert J. McManus, Bishop of Worcester, who celebrated the Rite of Candidacy yesterday for sixteen of our seminarians. Here is the homily he preached.
In these days following the great solemnity of Easter, the Church presents in her sacred liturgy readings from the Acts of the Apostles which narrate the first days of the Christian community. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles boldly proclaimed the good news of salvation and invited anyone who would listen to accept this salvific message and to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
In this morning's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke speaks about the travels of Paul and Barnabas as they move with apostolic urgency from city to city, preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles and confirming the faith of those early Christians newly reborn in Christ. And in the face of misunderstanding and even rejection, they continue to rejoice that they have been found worthy to suffer for the Gospel of Christ.
The zeal, fortitude and joy of Paul and Barnabas must be paradigmatic for all the Church's efforts to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. Courage, boldness and perseverance in the face of rejection characterized the first evangelization. It is these same apostolic virtues that must inform the lives of all of you who hope to be ordained priests of the New Evangelization.
The late St. John Paul II often said that for the person of faith, there is no such thing as chance or sheer good luck. For the person of faith, all good things come from the provident hand of God who wills only that we should be saved.
Therefore I think that it is providential that we are celebrating this Rite of Candidacy during the Jubilee Year of Mercy when the entire Church is called to reflect deeply and with profound gratitude on the infinite mercy of God which has been revealed definitively in the Crucified and Risen Christ who is the human face of Divine Mercy. And you, my dear friends, are being called in God's providence to be missionaries of mercy, sent into a world that yearns for the healing touch of Christ, the Divine Physician.
My dear candidates, you are publicly presenting yourselves to the Church in preparation for your ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. In a real sense, Christ our Eternal High Priest has called you by name and has invited you as a future priest to continue his redemptive mission by preaching the Word of God and celebrating the sacraments of the New Covenant. Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has summoned all the members of the Church to engage themselves in the New Evangelization. It is true that in virtue of his or her baptism, every disciple of Christ is expected to bring the person of Jesus to others, that is, every disciple of Christ is called to evangelize. But it is the priest, the man who is configured to the mind and heart of Christ the Good Shepherd, who bears a primary responsibility in bringing Christ to others.
Benedict XVI pointed out early in his pontificate that being a Christian is not "the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea. Rather it is an encounter with a person who gives life a new horizon and decisive direction." (DEC P. 1) The person whom we encounter in faith is Jesus Christ risen from the dead and who today is living and working in the Church which is His Body.
There is a scholastic axiom that states, "You cannot give what you do not have." As priests of the New Evangelization, you cannot introduce the person of Jesus to others unless you have first met Him and fallen in love with Him. Benedict XVI defined the priest as "a friend of Jesus." During your seminary formation, you have the unique opportunity to develop and deepen a profound and intimate friendship with Christ. So I urge you, do not waste such a grace-filled adventure.
When you read and study the Word of God, seek to learn more about who this Jesus truly is. When you celebrate the sacraments, especially when you receive the inestimable gift of the Eucharist, open your heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and know that in and through these sacramental encounters, Christ is abiding in you and you in Him. And when you enter deeply into the silence of prayer, listen for the familiar voice of the Lord who is calling you to be his priest and rejoice that the words Christ spoke to the apostles on the night before he died for the salvation of the world, those words he now speaks to you, "I no longer call you servants but friends." (Jn. 15:15)
In many Catholic schools in the Diocese of Worcester, there is a plaque near the main entrance of the school that reads: "Christ is the reason for this school." Today as we celebrate the Rite of Candidacy, I remind you that "Christ is the reason for this seminary." Christ is alive and he has called each of you to bring Him to a world that is in desperate need of his unquenchable love and mercy. This is the goal of the New Evangelization; this is the reason for your ministry as future priests: to restore all things in Christ for the salvation of the world.
During your years of seminary formation, I would ask all of you to turn your gaze towards Mary, the Star of the New Evangelization and to remember the words she spoke to the stewards at the wedding feast of Cana: "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn. 2:5). May your response and mine always be: "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." Amen