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 Final Vows Mass of Michael Palmer, C.S.C., and Ryan Pietrocarlo, C.S.C., on Saturday, August 27, 2016 from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
My sisters and brothers, how blessed are we to be here today to witness the Final Vows ceremony of our two brothers in Holy Cross, Ryan Pietrocarlo and Michael Palmer. Such a definitive and complete giving of oneself is surely a most significant moment in anyone’s life. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has spoken several times of the fact that we have developed in our world a culture of the Provisional. In other words, we too often commit to do something provided we are sure of the return. Or we will make a promise, provided we continue to benefit by the promise. Or we will assist one another provided we are benefiting as well or at least recognized for our actions. Pope Francis challenges us to reject this culture of the Provisional by acknowledging that God has loved us once and for all, forever, never provisionally, and always for all of us, never for certain generations, never for certain groups of peoples. There is nothing provisional about God’s love for us. And we are challenged to love God, also without provision.
Today there is nothing provisional about Ryan and Michael’s commitment. In the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the act of professing Final Vows is stated rather clearly “The point of these vows is simple. They are an act of love for the God who first loved us.” Michael and Ryan today in age of the Provisional you speak of the permanent – the total – the complete commitment of your love for God who first loved you. Pope Francis smiles upon you, as do we all, for your commitment of the complete, total and final in this culture of provisional. And yet Michael and Ryan, let us be honest. The readings you have selected for us today speak of the mystery of your call and the complexity of responding to that call.
In the first reading, young Samuel several times thinks he hears a mysterious call but is not sure of the nature of the call. So too in your lives, there was considerable time trying to understand your call and to what it was you were being called. Like Samuel, there is in fact nothing automatic about the call, indeed it is a bit of a struggle knowing if it is indeed a call from the Lord. Michael and Ryan, the first to help you in the process of discovery were your families. It was they who nourished you with God’s love and steeped you in God’s word. It is they who helped you hear God’s call. It is they who stand with you today and bring you to this most important day in your lives. Be forever grateful to them. Then through the subsequent help of friends, professors, Holy Cross men and women, spiritual directors, formation staffs, people whom you served, you come to this definitive point today. Many of these people are in this Basilica today rejoicing with you today as you say definitively as did Samuel to the Lord’s call, “Speak Lord for your Servant is listening”.
In the second reading you chose from the writings of St. Paul. We are reminded that as blessed and holy as we strive to be, we also have to contend with the darkness that life will also present. Paul surely gives us a stark reminder of the struggle of life. But Paul quickly assures us of the good news of our lives: Jesus conquered all darkness, all struggle, all sin, even all death by his own death and resurrection. Paul reminds us that this resurrection of Jesus promises us our own constant renewal of life. Nothing can overcome us, no darkness, no struggle, not even death itself. On this day when you pronounce your vows as Holy Cross religious, it makes sense that you chose this reading. For as men of Holy Cross, we know that it is in the Cross that ironically we find new life, new hope. Michael and Ryan, you have been called to be those men who bring hope. No doubt in your own ministries to this point, whether at the University of Portland or the University of Notre Dame or at a parish in Mexico or a military base in South Carolina or at St. Adalbert’s or Christ the King parishes in South Bend, you have had that experience of being instruments of hope to those whom you serve. You can be such instruments precisely because you have seen it in your own lives. Your lives and ministries give testimony to the motto of our congregation, “Ave Crux, Spes Unica”, Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope. You are men who help others know and believe that there is nothing provisional about God’s ability to turn darkness into hope and death into life; an everlasting, not provisional gift. Ryan and Michael, never tire of reminding your brothers and sisters of this gift; we all need to be reminded of God’s constant love for us. We all need to be reminded that from the Cross comes new life and new hope.
Finally, the Gospel you chose reminds us of the precious words of Jesus “As the Father loves me so I also love you.” Because of that love that God has for us, Jesus then commands us then to love one another. Michael and Ryan you are vowing yourself today within a community of brothers in Holy Cross. And as we are reminded by our constitutions “If we do not love the brothers whom we see, then we cannot love the God whom we have not seen.” Even with our imperfections and differences, the Love of God must remain at the center of our lives as men of Holy Cross. Because as Holy Cross men we are challenged to rise above our differences so as to love one another, it is then more possible for us to extend that same love to all with whom we minister and to whom we serve. As Constitution two reminds us, “As disciples of Jesus we stand side by side with all people. Like them we are hardened by the same struggles and beset by the same weaknesses, like them we are made new by the same Lord’s Love; like them we hope for a world where justice and love prevail” Michael and Ryan, you possess that love today. Be confident of that love; be confident of the love of your family, your friends, your brothers and sisters in Holy Cross, all of us in this basilica. Because of your knowing and experiencing that love personally, you can be bold in bringing that love to all whom you will encounter in your years as Holy Cross religious, bringing hope to a world that needs it more than ever. In the words of Pope Francis, use that love “to wake up the world”. May God bless you today and always in that endeavor. Now come, come before God, come before all of us, to profess your Final Vows by proclaiming your love for the God who first loved you. A God who loves you completely, unconditionally and without provision.