Our new coadjutor-archbishop on the priesthood, at an ordination Mass:
Your seminary formation constantly stressed that you must be a great disciple before you can be a good priest. Discipleship involves your whole being — mind, body and heart. It means that the Gospel message you preach, the Mass and the sacraments you celebrate, and the pastoral care you provide — will have first taken root in your own life.
When I present to you, as a newly ordained priest, the chalice and paten prepared for the celebration of Mass, I will say: “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”
Indeed, your very personality is to be a bridge to Christ. You are to be a convincing ambassador for God’s people, the church, and an agent of unity in the parishes where you will serve and among your brother priests and deacons. Your constant prayer, your virtues and reverence, your penitence, your fidelity to church teaching, your kindness to those in need: In all these ways, you must bear witness that you are first and foremost a disciple of Jesus, a follower of Christ crucified who lives and reigns forever.
As you allow the word of God to enlarge and open your heart and as you grow deeper in the love and attachment to Christ, your priesthood will bear abundant fruit. You will be surprised to find yourself embracing the ministerial challenges which, right now, might seem impossible. And people will detect that you are not in this for yourself. Rather, they will come to understand that you are ordained to preach not your own message but the message of Christ. They will come to understand that the passion of your life is to bring Christ to your people and your people to Christ.
By your priestly ministry, you will do a world of good for the poor, the suffering, the sorrowing, the sick and the dying. You will inspire young people to follow Christ and to embrace their God-given vocations; you will help people at every stage of life discover their call to holiness and invite them to participate in the life of the church. You will also reach beyond the frontiers of the visible church to those who are searching for the truth and to those who no longer practice their faith.
But you will be able to accomplish so much good because your mission is your deepest identity: to bring those you serve the glory of God shining on the face of Christ. In the end, this alone is what sheds light on our joys and sorrows; this alone is what satisfies the human spirit.
You and I do this — together — as human beings caught up in the mystery of Christ and his love for us. To be sure, we are “earthen vessels” of which St. Paul speaks, but graced vessels nonetheless. As a priest, you will hold in the depth of your being a treasure which none of us could think up or produce on our own: the treasure of Jesus’ death and resurrection — not as a thing of the past but rather as living reality made present and powerful in our midst by word and sacrament.
Proclaiming the cross, we are expected to carry the cross. The vocation to priesthood, like the vocation to marriage, is not a business deal or a labor contract or a secure career path. Your vocation is a calling to love, come what may — in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, until you draw your last breath. Your vocation is an adventure of love — but an adventure you and I dare not take alone. We can do this only in union with Christ and one another.
Today, the prophecy of Isaiah is indeed being fulfilled in our hearing… it is being fulfilled in you. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to bring good tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted.”
When Mass is celebrated in Latin, the priest blesses the people several times with the words, “Dominus vobiscum,” that is, “The Lord be with you.” And the people respond, “Et cum spiritu tuo” — “And with your spirit.” This is the prayer of the people asking that the Spirit of the Lord given through ordination abide forever with the priest who is to lead and guide them, who is to shepherd them home. This is our prayer for you today…— today and always. Today and always may the Spirit of the Lord be with you.