“Without priests the Church would not be able to live that fundamental obedience which is at the very heart of her existence and her mission in history, an obedience in response to the command of Christ: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ and ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’”
These words come from the beginning of St. John Paul II’s 1992 apostolic exhortation on the formation of priests, Pastores Dabo Vobis. The title comes from Jeremiah 3:15, where the Lord tells Israel, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart.” The gift of the priesthood is on my mind and heart because this coming Saturday I will ordain five men as priests for the archdiocese.
At the heart of the priesthood is the call to love Jesus Christ and to serve him and his followers in the Church. Every person receives this call with their baptism, but priests in the ministerial priesthood receive “a sacred power” through holy orders that is “no other than that of Christ” (CCC, no. 1551).
I discovered my vocation after falling away from the faith during my college years and then searching for the truth in the Eastern religions. As I worked my way back into Christianity, I was convicted by the fact that Catholics recognized Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist. A deep love for the faith had always been present in me because of my Catholic upbringing and education, but the real presence and a desire to serve others are what brought me back to the Church and then to the seminary.
Next weekend I will ordain Deacon Tomasz Strzebonski, a young Polish man who also experienced a call to love Christ by becoming a priest. For him, the journey began with feeling a void in his life while he was studying physics. Soon, it became an unquenchable thirst for deeper purpose and meaning and he enrolled in the diocesan seminary in Poland. But after two years he still felt that God was asking more of him, and he discovered that he was being called to become a missionary priest, here in the Archdiocese of Denver.
God has a plan and a particular vocation for each and every one of us that only we can fulfill, and when we open ourselves to that plan, we can find true joy, peace and happiness. This is true whether we are called to be a priest, sister, consecrated or married person.
The Church teaches that both lay people and those called to the priestly or religious life share in the priesthood of Christ. In the catechism, we read that Jesus “has made of the Church ‘a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.’ The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king” (CCC, no. 1546).
Fathers and mothers, you are called to lead your family in prayer and form them in the faith, thus participating in the priestly ministry of Christ. When you speak the truth in love to your children, neighbors, fellow parishioners and in the public square, you exercise your prophetic role. And when you justly and mercifully correct your children, structure the life of your family, or participate in bringing order to society, you carry out your kingly office.
This week I encourage you to give thanks for all those priests who have served you and brought you closer to Christ. Without their generous dedication to Christ and his Church, we would have been like sheep without a shepherd. Give thanks, too, for all parents who have faithfully lived out their baptismal priesthood. Without their tireless dedication and love, we may not have known Christ. Finally, I ask you to read the section on the sacrament of holy orders in the catechism (nos. 1536-1600) to understand more fully the gift of holy orders and the ministerial priesthood.
May we all commit ourselves anew to living out our call to be men and women after God’s own heart!
>> Ordination will begin at 10 a.m. May 16 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The liturgy will be available for live viewing online at http://archden.org/livestream.