My Dear Friends, Today I wish to speak first of all to you gathered here in Saint Agnes because you have come here as parents, grandparents, siblings, family members, friends and parishioners of one or more of these five men who are to be ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. You love them. Pray for them and support them. Your joy is personal. But it is just as much ecclesial, of the Church, because today, we here and all those watching on Telecare, are the faithful members of the one Church of Jesus Christ, the Diocese of Rockville Centre. All of us are called to be here by an invitation God makes to his Church.
The Peter whom we encounter in today's Gospel is the same Peter, first Bishop of Rome, who from that city wrote to the churches he knew in Asia. He called them and us, A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own. Because we are the one Body of Christ and by baptism we all are priestly as witnesses of Christ's life, we need to be nourished by His sacrament and guided by shepherds after his own heart. For this reason, the Father sent his Son into the world. He in turn sent Apostles into the world. We bishops, successors of the Apostles, are sent to you to exercise His office of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd. We in turn, along with you, count on priests as our co workers in the vineyard. Called by God and sent by the very command of Christ to serve you, His people, these five men will be ordained by me today for that most noble calling of all; to be priests of Jesus Christ as a member of the Presbyterate of Our Diocese.
In imitation of Christ, the High priest, they will fulfill their ministry of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd for you, the Body of Christ. They will be configured to Christ and joined to me and my successors. Consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, they will preach the Gospel, to you. They will shepherd and care for you, His people, bring you the sacraments of the Church and above all, to gather us together as one in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Do not look upon their youth. Embrace them as you would Jesus Christ for they will soon become images of Him as they are sent to be shepherds to you bearing the love and the life of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd of the Flock.
And now I want to speak to you, my dear sons. You know my love for you. Deep as it is, that is nothing compared to the love Christ pours out upon you today. You are called by God and sent by Christ to serve this Church because Christ so loves His people that he needs you. He needs you to be the concrete human instruments to guarantee that His people receive his love and his care. Be strong and of good heart, men of faith, hope and love! At dinner you spoke of your youth using the example of Jeremiah. But as God spoke to Jeremiah, he speaks to you. From the womb I knew you. I dedicated you. I appointed you. To whomever I send you, you shall go, whatever I command you, you shall speak.
The confidence we have as priests is real and true because our strength is from above. We do not act on our own. God acts through us. With great honesty, you spoke of your own weaknesses. As a priest friend of mine once told me: Welcome to the human race! We all know human weakness and sin. But remember Jesus himself is beset by human weakness and willingly became like us so that he might offer himself to the Father for us and all humankind. The Jesus whom the letter to the Hebrews describes is your model. As he offered prayers and supplications, so you and I must be men of constant prayer, both public and private. The Daily Office is our commitment to Him for our people. Our constant meditation on the Word of God and our time spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament are two well springs that strengthen us in our weakness and guide us in our service to His people.
Finally let me turn to this beautiful and moving Gospel passage. The Glorified Christ calls Peter and, note, calls him by his old name: Simon, son of John. The threefold question and answer is the restoration to Peter of the dignity he had squandered by denying Jesus on the night before he died. The tenderness of the moment touches us all. But the deeper, inner spiritual gift, the exchange of human and divine love, transforms Peter. What is spoken humanly becomes the vehicle that confirms Peter's vocation, his role but, above all, his whole being. You know that I love. Feed my sheep. And then that simple but life changing invitation: FOLLOW ME!
My dear sons, today Jesus has asked you the same question and you have answered. You will be transformed, marked forever by the singular grace of becoming his priests. Imitate Peter. Continue to tell him that you love Him every day of your priestly lives. And continue to do as Peter did: Follow Him wherever he might lead you.
He calls you to be his priest. Follow him freely and fully and you will never know anything but deeper and deeper freedom, greater and greater fulfillment. In loving Him, love His Church whom he sends you to serve. Love the Church in all her beauty and in all her neediness. United with me and my successors, bring his Church together and bring them to God the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit. For to him who can do far more than we can ever dare to dream or imagine, to Him be the glory in Christ and in His Church, now and forever. AMEN!