A Reflection on Ordination

Reflect

At our ordinations the words that say “You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing” come true for us in a very special way. Indeed, as a Priestly Fraternity, our joy is magnified when we add to the number of men ordained to the sacred priesthood. Together with you I greet with affection our new priests who were ordained from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in May. I express deep gratitude to those who have guided them in their process of discernment and preparation, and I ask you to thank God for His gift to the Church of these new priests. Let us support them with intense prayer during their first celebrations of the Holy Mass, in a spirit of fervent praise to the Father who has called them, to the Son who has attracted them to Him, and to the Spirit who has formed them. The ordination of new priests usually takes place for us at the end of May, but the image of the Good Shepherd seems to be the one which sheds more light than any other on the role and ministry of the priest in the world.

However, I offer for your reflection the biblical passages from Chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, which tells of the mission of the deacon Philip in Samaria. I would like immediately to draw attention to the sentence that ends the first part of the text: “The rejoicing in that town rose to fever pitch” (v. 8). This expression does not communicate an idea or a theological concept but refers to a circumstantiated event, something that changed people’s lives. In a specific city of Samaria, in the period that followed the violent persecution of the Church in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 8:1), something happened that caused “great joy”. So what was it? The sacred author recounts that to escape the persecution which had been unleashed in Jerusalem against those who had converted to Christianity, all the disciples, except the Apostles, left the Holy City and scattered in the countryside around it. This distressing event mysteriously and providentially gave new dynamism to the spread of the Gospel. Among those who had dispersed was Philip, one of the Community’s seven deacons, a deacon endowed, like the Apostles, by the Holy Spirit with extraordinary power in both preaching and in healing. Now, it happened that the inhabitants of the region of Samaria, mentioned in this chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, unanimously accepted Philip’s proclamation and, thanks to their adherence to the Gospel, he was able to heal many sick people. In that town of Samaria, in the midst of a people traditionally despised and virtually excommunicated by the Jews, the proclamation of Christ, which opened the hearts of all who accepted it, resounded. This explains why, St. Luke emphasizes, “there was great joy” in that town.

Dear friends of our Fraternity, this is also your mission: to bring the Gospel traditions to everyone so that all may experience the joy of Christ and so that joy may be in every city. What can be more beautiful than this? What can be greater, more exciting, than cooperating in spreading the Word of Life in the world, than communicating the living water of the Holy Spirit through the traditions of the Apostles themselves? To proclaim and to witness joy, to intimately embrace Christ at the altar: this is the central core of our mission. The Apostle Paul called missionaries of the Gospel “servants of joy”. He wrote in his Second Letter to the Christians of Corinth: “Domineering over your faith is not my purpose. I prefer to work with you toward your happiness. As regards faith, you are standing firm” (II Corinthians 1:24). These are typical words for every priest. In order to be collaborators in the joy of others, in a world that is often sad and negative, the fire of the Gospel must burn within you and the joy of the Lord dwell in you. Only then will you be able to be messengers and multipliers of this joy, bringing it to all, especially to those who are sorrowful and disheartened.

Let us return to the Acts of the Apostles which offers us another element of meditation. In it is mentioned a meeting which takes place precisely in the Samaritan town which is addressed by the deacon Philip. Presiding at it are the Apostles Peter and John, two “pillars” of the Church, who came from Jerusalem to visit this new community and strengthen it in the faith. Through the imposition of their hands, the Holy Spirit descended upon all those who had been baptized. In this episode we can see a first attestation of the rite of “Confirmation”. The reference to the ritual gesture of the imposition of hands is especially meaningful also for us who are ordained priests. Indeed, it is also the central gesture of the rite of Ordination through which we are conformed to Christ through the dignity of the priesthood. It is a sign inseparable from the prayer of which it is a silent prolongation. Without speaking, the consecrating Bishop and after him the other priests, place their hands on the heads of the ordinandi, thereby expressing the invocation to God that He will pour out His Spirit upon them and transform them, making them sharers in the priesthood of Christ. It is a matter of only a few seconds, a very short time, but full of an extraordinary spiritual intensity.

Dear Ordinandi, in the future you must always think back to this moment, to this gesture that has nothing magical about it and yet is full of mystery, because this is the origin of your new mission. In that silent prayer the encounter between two freedoms comes into being: the freedom of God, who works through the Holy Spirit, and the freedom of man. The imposition of hands visually expresses the specific manner of this meeting. The Church, in the person of the Bishop standing with extended hands, prays to the Holy Spirit to consecrate the candidate; the deacon, on his knees, receives the imposition of hands and entrusts himself to this mediation. Altogether these gestures are important, but the invisible spiritual movement that they express is infinitely more important, a movement clearly evoked by the sacred silence that envelops everything, internal and external.

We also find in this Gospel passage the mysterious Trinitarian “movement” that leads the Holy Spirit and the Son to dwell in the disciples. Here, it is Jesus himself who promises that he will ask the Father to send his Spirit, “another Paraclete” (John 14:16), a Greek word that is equivalent to the Latin “ad-vocatus”, an advocate-defender. The first Paraclete is, in fact, the Incarnate Son who came to defend man from the accuser Satan. At the moment when Christ, His mission fulfilled, returns to the Father, He sends the Spirit as Defender and Consoler to remain with the faithful forever, dwelling within them. Thus, through the mediation of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, an intimate relationship of reciprocity is established between God the Father and the disciples: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”, Jesus says (John 14:20). However, all this depends on one condition which Christ imposes clearly at the beginning: “If you love me, keep my commandments”. Without love for Jesus, which is expressed in the observance of His commandments, the person is excluded from the Trinitarian movement and begins to withdraw into himself, losing the ability to receive and to communicate God.

“If you love me…” Dear friends, Jesus said these words at the Last Supper in the context of the moment when He instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood. Although they were addressed to the Apostles, in a certain sense they are addressed to all their successors and to priests who are the closest collaborators of the successors of the Apostles. Let us hear them again today as an invitation to live our vocation in the Church ever more coherently. Do not forget them, do not lose them on the way! Reread them, meditate on them often and, especially, pray on them. Thus you will remain faithful to Christ’s love and realize with joy ever new that His divine word “walks” with you and “grows” within you.

May the Virgin Mary, whom I urge you to welcome anew, as did the Apostle John beneath the Cross, accompany you on this mission and protect you always, as the Mother and Star of your life and your priesthood. Amen!

Act

The ancient liturgy for the ordination of priests is unlike any of the ordinations to the minor orders since it takes place after the Gospel. During the ordination the hands of the new priest are anointed with the oil of Catechumens. (Chrism is reserved by ancient tradition for the anointing used at Baptism, Confirmation, and at the Consecration of a Bishop to show the conferral of authority upon the intellect and will.)

Our priestly ordinations usually take place at the end of May and are celebrated by a variety of different bishops from all over the United States and Canada. During the ordination the new priest, after he is consecrated, has his hands bound with a maniturgium, a simple linen cloth. This cloth is later presented to the new priest’s mother as a sign of the sacrifices she has made to bring a priest into the world. Custom has it that the mother of a priest holds a special place in Our Lord’s heart and will be forgiven much in consequence of her sacrifice.

Pray

O Lord Jesus, born to give testimony to the Truth, Thou, who lovest unto the end those whom Thou hast chosen, kindly hear our prayers for our pastors. Thou, who knowest all things, knowest that they love Thee and can do all things in Thee who strengthenest them. Sanctify them in Truth. Pour into them, we beseech Thee, the Spirit, Whom Thou didst give to Thy apostles, Who would make them, in all things, like unto Thee. Receive the homage of love which they offer up to Thee, who hast graciously received the threefold confession of Peter. And so that a pure oblation may everywhere be offered without ceasing unto the Most Holy Trinity, graciously enrich their number and keep them in Thy love, who art one with the Father and the Holy Ghost, to whom be glory and honour forever. Amen.