Rev. Thomas J. O’Hara, C.S.C., Provincial Superior of the United States Province of Priests and Brothers, preached the following homily at the Celebration of Lucernaium on the Friday prior to the Ordination of Matt. Fase, C.S.C., David Halm, C.S.C., Tim Mouton, C.S.C., Chase Pepper, C.S.C., Dan Ponisiciak, C.S.C. and Chris Rehagen, C.S.C.
My brothers, Matt, David, Tim, Chase, Dan and Chris, you are on the verge of a most sacred day in your lives. For tomorrow you will be ordained priests of God – you will have the deep privilege to help people see our God more clearly in their lives as you administer the sacraments; as you celebrate the most precious element of our faith – presiding at the Eucharistic celebration where for all assembled you provide the Body and Blood of Christ. It is surely an awesome privilege, a humbling experience that will forever change your life. Shortly before I was ordained as a priest, a great Holy Cross priest, Fr. Charlie Sheedy gave me some wonderful advice as I contemplated celebrating the Eucharist for the first time. I told him “Charlie, I am a bit nervous and have butterflies in my stomach.” He said, “Tom, of course you do; you should always have a touch of butterflies in your stomach before you celebrate Mass. When you no longer have that feeling, you have taken it for granted and you may have lost the sense of awe about that which you are about to do.” My brothers, never lose that sense of awe at any point in your lives of having the privilege of celebrating the sacraments and presiding at the Eucharist. Be humbled by the awesome privilege about to come into your lives.
Paradoxically, at the same time, the reading you selected for reflection tonight urges you never to be timid in proclaiming the gospel message – a message you are asked to preach and more importantly, to live. In tonight’s reading, Paul is writing to young Timothy. Timothy, though young, was a trusted disciple of Paul and even at his young age, Paul laid hands on him appointing him to be the head of the Church in Ephesus. But we also know from 1st Corinthians that Paul had concerns about Timothy. Timothy could sometimes be too timid. So in the reading you selected Paul invites Timothy “to stir into the flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather power; love and self-control.” He urges Timothy not to be afraid to proclaim the faith that has been handed on to him, not to be afraid to accept and use the power of preaching the gospel, not to be afraid to love, not to be afraid to live a distinctive life of self-control. My brothers that holds for you tonight as well: Be bold, not timid, in proclaiming the gospel. This advice reminds me very much of Pope Francis’s exhortation to religious in this year of consecrated life to “wake up the world.” Paul further encourages young Timothy “never to be discouraged, bearing all hardships coming your way knowing your strength to meet such hardships come from God”. My young brothers, harken to these words of Paul to Timothy. You are like Timothy – young men who are about to receive their enormous responsibility. The truth is much of the world in Timothy’s time did not accept the gospel. So too for us in our time. Many in the cultures in which you may live, whether in this country or anywhere else, may even despise what you stand for, but it is your privilege and responsibility to preach the gospel with conviction drawing from the power of God, even if it means standing apart from any given culture at any given time. For as our Constitutions of Holy Cross state “The mission is not simple. That for the kingdom to come in this world, disciples must have the competence to see and the courage to act.” My brothers you have been trained in good Holy Cross fashion to have the competence to see and the courage to act. Remind yourselves of that tonight. Like Timothy, God will empower you to have the strength to carry on – to accept all your challenges. Why? Because God loved you from the moment he created you. God has been with you through all the ups and downs of your formation, is lovingly with you tonight, will be with you as hands are imposed tomorrow and all the days that lie ahead in your lives.
Finally, there is one more passage in the reading you selected that I ask you to reflect on. When Paul writes to Timothy he recalls that Timothy’s faith first lived in his grandmother and his mother. It was they who handed on the faith to Timothy. So too, you ought to give thanks to those in your family who first nurtured your faith – whether it be grandparents, mother, father, or whomever. They passed on this precious gift of your faith which leads you to this point in your life. Your priesthood tomorrow is in large part a testimonial to the faith of your families. In addition, as your own families helped form you, allow yourselves to continue to be formed by the laymen and women, the families and lay colleagues who will enter your life still, helping you to be a better priest. In true Holy Cross fashion, allow your lay colleagues, your friends and your families to continue to form you. For as we proclaim in our Constitutions, “In every work of our mission, we find that we ourselves stand to learn much from those whom we are called to teach.”
So tonight, be humbled and in awe of what is about to happen to you tomorrow, but be strong, courageous, and determined that God will see to it that you will boldly proclaim the gospel and be grateful to your families who first taught you about loving the God whom you serve. Finally, be happy and smile often for God has led you to a great path of service as an ordained priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross. My brothers, may God bless you tonight and all the days of your lives.