The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners,
To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God; To comfort all who mourn;
to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, To give them oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a faint spirit.
~Isaiah 61: 1-3
I’d like to begin by extending a very warm welcome to everyone here tonight. Your presence and your prayers mean a great deal to Brian, Mark, and Jarrod. I’d like to thank in a special way all of you who have travelled some distance to be here this weekend to celebrate with them their ordination as priests. Many of you were here just a little over seven months ago to celebrate their profession of Final Vows as religious of Holy Cross and their ordination as deacons.
Most importantly, I’d like to thanks the parents of our three men to be ordained, Fred and Debbie Ching, John and Jodi DeMott, and Jerry and Carolyn Waugh. Encouraging your son and supporting him in his vocational discernment to embrace the religious life and to be open to the call of God to serve Him and His Church as priests of Holy Cross has made all the difference in their lives. And for this we are ever so grateful. Please join me in thanking them.
The journey in Holy Cross for these three men has spanned between six and nine years: six years for Mark, seven years for Jarrod, and nine years for Brian. This may seem to be a long time, but I would wager, if you were to ask each of them, they would say, by and large, the time passed quickly, perhaps at times too quickly.
Each of their journeys to this weekend were in many ways similar, yet different, each filled with joys and blessings, as well as struggles and challenges. Each, of course, experienced, from time to time, the wagging of my right index finger—better known as my “liturgical finger”—a sign which usually meant that some “terrible” liturgical faux pas had been committed—for example, singing only two verses of a hymn which has 5 verses! One thing about Brian, Mark, and Jarrod—they were all eager to learn how to do things the correct way—which sometimes meant the “Rocca way” —in matters liturgical!
Some four years ago, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the Jubilee Year for Priests. It ran from June of 2009 to June of 2010, opening and closing on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of the death of the patron saint of priests, St. John Mary Vianney, the famous Curé of Ars. In his homily at the Mass opening the Jubilee Year for Priests, the Pope said the year was for priests “an opportunity to grow ever closer to Jesus, who counts on us, His ministers, to spread and build His kingdom, and to radiate His love and His truth.”
I was struck by the Holy Father’s comments that all priests not only grow closer to Jesus, but that they radiate His love. Radiate His love. These words of Pope Benedict reminded me of an incident many years ago when I was a newly ordained priest, just 27 years old. I was assigned to one of our Holy Cross parishes in Austin, Texas. The setting was a meeting with parents whose children were preparing, with the help of their parents, to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation.
I asked the parents if any of them would like to share their experiences of the sacrament. One mother raised her hand. “Father,” she said, “you may not like what I have to say, but I feel it’s important for all to hear it.” She recounted an experience she had had some 10 years earlier with a confessor. After she had confessed her sins, the confessor berated her, belittled her, insulted her, even yelled at her. When the priest finally finished, she said to him: “Father, I came here expecting to meet Jesus.” She then got up, left the confessional, and had never returned since. I’ve never forgotten that mother and the words she spoke some 39 years ago: “I came here expecting to meet Jesus.”
Pope Benedict put it so well in his homily opening the Year for Priests. Jesus counts on His priests to “radiate His love,” to radiate His love. Volumes, of course, have been written about the priesthood and the sacrament of Holy Orders—about the indelible character it confers, the ontological change that it effects, how the priest acts in persona Ecclesiae, in the person of the Church. But all of this will mean nothing if the priest does not radiate love, radiate (pointing to the crucifix) His love.
Brian, Jarrod, and Mark, there will be times, as I’m sure you’ve experienced this past year, when you will feel burdened by the demands of ministry, overwhelmed by pastoral and liturgical commitments, tired and physically exhausted as you begin to prepare yet another homily, or have yet another meeting to attend. It is at such moments that you—that I and all of us who are priests—must remember the crucified One, and that, configured to Him, we as priests must always act in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, and radiate His love, and nothing less.
And so, when you baptize, when you care for the sick and dying and those who grieve, when you forgive sinners, when you assist couples to profess their vows to love each other forever, when you counsel those looking for meaning and hope in their lives, when you proclaim the Good News, when you speak the words of Jesus transforming simple gifts of bread and wine into His very Body and Blood—radiate His love!
My prayer is that in all the many ways you experience your priesthood—through the celebration of the sacraments, through your preaching, through your pastoral care—that each and every person you touch will be able to say: “I came to you expecting to meet Jesus and you have radiated His love for me. And for that I can never thank you enough.”
It was on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that Pope Benedict inaugurated and closed the Year for Priests. Blessed Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, chose this feast as having special significance for his priests. He told them that the primary purpose of devotion to the Sacred Heart is to return love for love.
Brian, Mark, and Jarrod: always radiate his love, as our holy Founder urges, and you’ll be very good priests.
Fr. Peter Rocca, C.S.C., is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He professed Final Vows on February 10, 1973 and was ordained on June 1, 1974. He currently serves as Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and is on the formation staff at Moreau Seminary. He was selected by the three ordinandi to preach at Lucernarium in preparation for their ordination. Check out more of the Spes Unica Blog’s Ordination Week coverage. The Ordination Mass is on Saturday, April 6, at 2 p.m. EST in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.