Fr. Carola - Homily for a First Mass
A. M. D. G.
Father Joseph Carola, S.J.
Sermon for the Father Christian Städter’s First Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving
The Church of Saint Bartholomew
Tiber Island, Rome
11 October 2007
Readings: Malachi 3:13-20b; Psalm 31; Luke 11:5-13
The prophet Malachi describes three types of men: (1) evil doers who apparently flourish, (2) the begrudgingly obedient who envy evil doers, and (3) the Lord’s servants who trust in His Name. The prophet reduces these three types to two basic categories: the just and the wicked—those who serve God and those who do not serve Him. For, while the begrudgingly obedient may perform their duty, they do so without love. Their hearts long for something else. They long for the evil doers’ apparent prosperity. Since the service of God is fundamentally a service of love, the begrudgingly obedient fail to serve Him in truth. A judgement in fire awaits them along with the evil doers whom they envy, whereas for those who fear the Lord’s Name, that is, for those who serve Him faithfully in love, “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
Yesterday Christian Städter was ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He was ordained for priestly service. The prophet Malachi’s discourse, therefore, should challenge him as well as all of us here present who serve the Lord—most especially us priests. In his well-known sermon on the Church’s Pastors, Saint Augustine of Hippo in a manner similar to the prophet Malachi distinguishes between those pastors who seek their own good and those who seek Christ’s, those shepherds who shepherd themselves and those who shepherd Christ’s flock, or, as the prophet Ezekiel puts it, those shepherds who feed themselves and those who feed the sheep (cf. Ezekiel 34:2, 8). Preaching on the Gospels, Pope Saint Gregory the Great laments in a similar vein: “Look about you and see how full the world is of priests, yet in God’s harvest a labourer is rarely to be found; for although we have accepted the priestly office, we do not fulfil its demands” (Hom. 17.3). Father Städter, may I ask you: what kind of priest will you be?
Yesterday morning in promising obedience and respect to your bishop as well as solemnly promising to discharge faithfully the office of priesthood, to celebrate the sacred mysteries of Christ, to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, and to consecrate your life to God in union with Christ the High Priest, you publicly proclaimed that your one desire is to be a priest who serves and not one who seeks to be served. You have solemnly promised to feed God’s people with His Word and Sacrament. You are Christ’s priest, and today you offer to God the Father the first fruits of your priesthood as you offer to Him His Son’s own Sacrifice.
Christian, you are Christ’s ordained servant—by God’s grace, a servant who trusts in His Name. O priest-servant, recall now Christ’s words: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also” (John 12:26). Hear Christ speak to you these words. Hear the Christ who ministers among the poor, the Christ who heals the sick, the Christ who welcomes children, the Christ who preaches the Kingdom of God, the Christ who spends the night in prayerful solitude on the mountain. Hear the Crucified Christ on the Cross say to you: “Wherever I am, there should my servant be.” In our patristic seminar you wrote your final essay on the priesthood and Jesus Christ’s self-emptying unto death on the Cross. “Christ Jesus…,though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). The Son of God came among us as a man who served obediently unto death. In Christ’s self-emptying act, you rightly beheld the priesthood. At the end of your paper, I wrote to you: “Now you must live this.” As of yesterday, you are Christ’s priest. You have been ordained to serve Him selflessly among the poor, the sick and the lowly; to serve Him in your preaching and your private prayer; indeed, to serve with Christ from the Cross.
Christ’s Sacrifice upon the Cross is the greatest expression of love known to man. For, as Jesus himself taught us, “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In the man Jesus Christ, it is God himself who in His humanity offers Himself in sacrifice for our salvation. From the Cross God loves us with a human Heart. Christian, in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, your own heart and indeed your very being have been made one with Jesus the High Priest. Now, in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ the Head, you will utter the ‘I’ of Jesus and not your own, when you, Christ’s priest, forgive men their sins, declaring: “Ego te absolvo—I absolve you from your sins.” As you stand at the Altar and offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice, you will speak with the very ‘I’ of Jesus when you say: “This is My Body; this is the Chalice of My Blood.” In this Eucharistic Sacrifice, you, the alter Christus, will mysteriously offer yourself as well. As you live the Eucharist, your priestly service will become a service of self-sacrificing love. To this end you have made the Psalmist’s prayer your own: “Into your hands I commend my spirit” (Ps. 31:6). May you forever remain a servant who trusts in His Name.
The begrudgingly obedient servants argue that “it is vain to serve God.” “What do we profit,” they ask, “by keeping his command, and going about in penitential dress in awe of the Lord of hosts?” Obedience is a terrible burden for such servants. Yet, I can assure you that priestly obedience faithfully lived will free you to respond with joy to God’s will. It will free you to serve as He would have you serve. When lived in trust, your obedience will open your heart to receive the abundant blessings of God’s Providence. Even your ‘penitential dress’, that is, your clerical garb faithfully worn, will free you always and everywhere to respond to God’s call of service. For, it will declare to all that you are Christ’s priest, that you are here to serve others selflessly in love at all times and in every place. It will declare that the time and place of your priestly service is not something that you wish to limit as if the priesthood were merely a secular job. Your garb will boldly contradict the man in today’s Gospel who, having already locked his door and gone to bed, did not want to be disturbed. On the contrary, as an incarnate sign of your priesthood, your garb says to all: “I am willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls.” When faithfully worn, it becomes an invitation for all to ask, to seek and to knock. In you they will behold Christ’s priest who lovingly lays down his life for others. By presenting yourself always as the priest, who you now are, you will say to those in need: “I am here to serve.” Christian, pray for the grace always to be prompt in your response to the Father’s call whenever, wherever and however He should ask you to lay down your life in imitation of His Son.
I exhort you: be found among those servants upon whom the sun of justice arises with its healing rays. For, Christ Jesus is the Sun of Justice whose rays heal us. Despite our awesome sacerdotal vocation to speak the very ‘I’ of Jesus at the Altar and in the confessional, we priests remain sinners ever in need of Christ’s mercy. We bear the precious treasure of our vocation in earthen vessels. Only because we ourselves have first experienced Christ’s healing balm in our own lives are we able to proclaim His mercy in a credible manner to others. The confession of our own sins keeps us humble in our priestly service. Indeed, such humility is essential if our service is to remain faithful. For without it we run the risk of becoming proud, wicked and evil men who refuse to serve God. Christian, humbly acknowledge your need before the Lord who will have compassion on you “as a man has compassion on his son who serves him.” Live each day in His mercy. Make Christ’s Sacred Heart wounded for love of us your priestly home so that when those in need come at any hour of the day or night and knock at your door they will promptly receive through your ministry the divine mercy which they seek. May all who meet you meet in you the merciful Christ Jesus whose priest you now are.
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