Jubilarian homily: Diocesan priesthood an unequaled brotherhood, fraternity
EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the full text of the homily delivered at the Diocese of Peoria’s Jubilarian Mass celebrated at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on June 22. The Mass recognized priests observing significant anniversary years of ordination. Profiles of the priests as well as deacons and consecrated men and women marking anniversary years appeared in a special section of the May 21 issue of The Catholic Post. The homilist was Msgr. Richard Soseman, who was ordained 25 years ago and is serving with the Congregation for Clergy in Rome. The Gospel reading was Matthew 6:7-15.
Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. “This is how you are to pray: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
A great event happened 25 years ago. It was a singular event noticed by people throughout the nation. It was covered by all the major media, and even by the nascent Internet. Indeed, it was an occasion of celebration, tinged with some sadness. On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson appeared for the last time on the “Tonight Show,” never to return again. The 12 of us were staying together at St. Francis Hospital that night, preparing for the big day. I don’t remember who among us was a fan of the Weather Channel, but rather than following Johnny Carson along with the rest of the world, the few of us stopping by the television lounge were following weather fronts. The country was entering a new era. We, ordinandi, too, were entering a new era.
On May 23, 1992, 12 of us were ordained at St. Mary’s Cathedral, to be followed in December by two more of our class. The seniority list became a bit longer that year, and we were happy to make it so. The priesthood of Jesus Christ was conferred upon us by the Most Reverend John J. Myers, in the presence of the bishop who had received us into seminary, and who had confirmed many of us, Bishop Edward O’Rourke. We gathered for this exciting day, this wonderful day, in many ways, this tiring day (or tiring week, or month, or perhaps 25 years) we were ordained priests and then went forth, to bring the sacraments to others, to preach the word, and to join this new, to us, brotherhood, of the presbyterate of the Diocese of Peoria.
WE STRIVE TO SHOW THEM CHRIST’S LOVE
That brotherhood is what impressed many of my Protestant relatives; my father had been a convert of Father Cornelius Halloran. The action of the bishop, and then the collegial action of the priests, laying their hands upon each one of us, demonstrated to them, and demonstrated to us, ordinandi, of the action of the Church throughout the centuries. The sacred exchange of peace, between the priests of the diocese and we newly ordained, was commented on in a moving way by some of my loved ones. Indeed, ordination and incardination in a diocese brings a welcoming into a brotherhood, into a fraternity, which is unequaled, I believe, on this earth.
Father (Charles B.) Motsett told a story of this diocesan brotherhood, which would inspire me in times ahead. He said that, as a young priest, he was in New York for some event, and thought he would stop by and see his diocesan brother, Fulton J. Sheen. So, in that unique Motsett way, he presented himself with no appointment or even a phone call, and asked to see Bishop Sheen. The secretary was explaining how impossible that would be when Bishop Sheen overheard, popped out of his office, and welcomed him with open arms, saying that no priest of Peoria should ever be turned away. They then visited for half an hour, talking about diocesan brothers, senior pastors, and parishes. Father (Charles) McCarthy, the Holy Ghost Father who served in our diocese for many years, wrote me that he enjoyed so much the news I would send him. Returned to Ireland, he longed for the brotherhood of diocesan priests.
When I was hit by a car and in a wheelchair for several months, your kindnesses to a brother priest were without equal. When I would have dinners and other events for priests in Princeville, it was always good to have you there, to share in our oneness in brotherhood with our Lord. One Holy Thursday, I made lunch for priests, and cooked both a ham, and a leg of lamb. As Father Glenn Harris, who had been my roommate in seminary, came into the rectory and quipped, “Oh, I see you have the best of the Old and the New Covenants.”
“Ecce quam bonum habitare fratres in unum.” (Psalm 133) As the Psalmist reminds us, how good it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.
Certainly, my brothers, our priesthood shares in the best of the Old and the New Covenants, and we can understand it best through that optic. We, indeed, have the best of Christian brotherhood, but was also are called and set apart to offer sacrifice to the all-powerful God on behalf of his people, and to bring them his grace. The ministries and powers which are given to us in Holy Orders are astounding, and even though all of us squander them at times, and some of us sometimes completely turn away from our sacramental commitment, the sacrament we share must not be denigrated, it must be honored, even in the most unworthy of us.
Working in the States, I don’t know how often I heard things like “a deacon can do everything a priest can do, but say Mass and hear confessions,” or “the only reason she cannot take that office is because she is a woman.” Lay men and women do marvelous things, astounding works we cannot even understand sometimes, but we are endowed with such gifts in Holy Orders, which enables us alone to carry out some of those ministries, to take some of those offices, relying upon those very same graces of Orders. We exercise that sacrificial role, and also those paternal but judicial functions, as Jesus works through us to look at people with love, and calls them to follow him ever more closely. This is terribly hard sometimes, and it may be hard occasionally for those we serve, but we strive to show them Christ’s love, while helping them understand the sacrifices they many need to undertake to come close to him.
We are called to be a compassionate brother, a respected father, an administrator of sacramental graces.
A BISHOP SHEEN EXPERIENCE WITH A DYING MAN
Bishop Sheen was a true diocesan brother to me in my own administration of the sacraments, soon after our diocese started his cause for beatification. I was working at the Tribunal, and got a call, asking if I could come to Methodist Hospital for an anointing. A dying man needed the last Rites. He had not responded in three days. He only had one relative in the world, his brother who was dying in a hospital in Virginia. The nurse who met me near the room said he loved Frank Sinatra, and “My Way” was blaring as we went in, that is, before I switched it off. I could tell right away that the man had not much time to live, and my mother taught me right that no one should die alone. Joe was nonresponsive so I conditionally administered the sacraments. I had a lunch scheduled, and it was getting close to noon, but no one should die alone. As I flipped through the ritual, I happened upon the prayer card for our diocesan brother, Bishop Sheen. I looked up, and said “Bishop, I have taken some guff for you lately, you must prove yourself to me, either heal this good gentleman completely, or bring him a happy death.” I prayed the prayer for a miracle through the prayers of Fulton J. Sheen. As I finished, the patient opened his eyes, wide. Tears started to stream from his eyes, and I could tell he was seeing something I could not see. I caught his attention. “Joe,” I said as his eyes moved to my face “I gave you the sacraments conditionally, but now be sorry for your sins and I will give you absolution,” which I did. Then I said “Don’t be afraid, Joe, the angels are here for you,” as I knew they were from looking at the radiance of his face. Just as I started the prayer “Go forth from this world, O Christian Soul,” he expired.
COOPERATORS WITH THE LORD
The Lord’s Prayer, which was presented in the Gospel this afternoon, inspires all of us as priests. In some rites of the Church during solemn liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer is recited by the priest alone, as he offers Our Lord’s own words back to the Trinity on behalf of the people. It is a very marvelous possibility: to pray to our Lord in the very words that he gives to us. This was considered and is considered a great honor, and so the early Christians often recited an exuberant doxology of praise to the Trinity at the end of the prayer. In our ministry as priests we live the Lord’s Prayer, striving to be our Lord’s instruments and bringing people their daily bread, the daily bread which St. Jerome reminds us refers not just to earthly food but also the heavenly bread of the Eucharist. We also must be conscious of our needs to bring people to the Lord to help them to reflect the Lord in their daily lives, to be delivered from evil, to flourish as sons and daughters of God. We pray and work that that they might be freed from their transgressions, forgive their persecutors, and live lives of mercy themselves, as Pope Francis reminds us. We cooperate with our Lord so that our ministry helps people, above all, to sanctify the name of the Lord, to hallow his name, and to work for the coming of Our Lord’s kingdom in their daily lives, and hopefully in the life to come.
After 25 years I thank you for supporting we Jubilarians, fraternally, as we have lived out our lives as priests. I ask you to continue those prayers that we may, ourselves, reach a heavenly reward.
May the Lord who has begun this work in us bring it to ultimate fulfillment. Amen.