Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Priests’ Anniversary of Ordination Mass – June 21, 2012
2 Corinthians 4: 1-2, 5-7 — Matthew 28: 16-20
Today, the Church of Scranton has the privilege of honoring a number of priests who have dedicated themselves to priestly ministry for many years, many of whom are with us today: 4 who have served for 25 years – Monsignor Walter Rossi, Father Andrew Hvozdovic, Father Michael Kloton and Father Kenneth Seegar; 2 who have served for 50 years – Monsignor John Louis and Father Andrew Gallia; 1 who has served for 55 years – the Most Revered John Dougherty, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Scranton, and 2 who have served for 60 years – Father Joseph Ostrowski and Father Edward Finn. Although he is not able to be with us, I also wish to acknowledge Monsignor James Clarke, the longest ordained priest of the Diocese of Scranton, celebrating his 74th anniversary this year – and Father Harry Lewis, who although ordained for a mere 62 years will be celebrating his 101st birthday later this year.
When he announced a special year of prayer for Priests which began three years ago in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI stated that his objective was “to support that struggle of every priest ‘toward spiritual perfection, on which the effectiveness of his ministry primarily depends.’ It is to help priests first of all – and with them all of God’s people – to rediscover and reinvigorate their awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of grace that the ordained ministry is for he who receives it, for the whole Church, and for the world, which would be lost without the real presence of Christ.”
The recognition of our jubilarians today vividly underscores the words of our Holy Father. These jubilarians reflect almost 400 years of priestly service to the People of God – almost 400 years of commitment to the words of Jesus when he took bread and wine, blessed and shared it and said: “This is my body broken for you; this is my blood poured forth for you. Do this in memory of me.”
Our jubiliarians reflect almost 400 years of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and baptizing the faithful in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our jubilarians reflect almost 400 years of prayer and devotion as each of them has struggled to proclaim with the same depth of sincerity and commitment that brought St. Paul to say: “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”
Celebrating the Eucharist, proclaiming the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, walking with the People of God entrusted to their care, spending time in prayer with the Lord whom they serve – these are the works to which every priest aspires; the works that every priest longs to perform – the works that have touched the lives of the Faithful and that in turn have given meaning and purpose to the priest.
Yet every priest – and our jubilarians are no exception – every priest has been challenged to different works – works that hardly seem priestly yet works that seem to go hand in hand with those so closely marked with priestly character. Every priest at one time or another has been asked by some member of the Faithful to be plumber, electrician, carpenter, musician, mediator, grounds keeper, artist, mechanic, cook, counselor, secretary, servant and more!
And what’s so amazing is that with little experience or expertise in many of these areas, our priests assume such responsibilities – and more importantly dutifully embrace them in their efforts to keep their parishes vibrant and ultimately focused on the Mission of the Church.
During my years of formation for priesthood, I had the privilege of attending Mary Immaculate Seminary in Northamption, Pennsylvania – just outside of Allentown. I was run by Vincentian priests. The founder of their community was the great saint, Vincent DePaul. The Vincentian Community maintained a two-fold charism in their service to the Church: they offered special care and devotion to the poor; and they also committed themselves to the formation of priests who would serve the Church.
Very often in conferences and homilies that were offered during my four years of studies at the seminary, the teaching of Vincent DePaul would be shared. One story seemed to surface over and over again and had particular relevance to those of us who were preparing for priestly ministry. In one of the seminaries run by Vincent and his young community of priests in France, the seminarians complained to Vincent that their prayer time in the chapel was often interrupted by the poor who would knock on the seminary doors looking for food, clothing, medical care and support. This was the great saint’s response to his seminarians: “Never regret leaving God to serve God in the poor. … And let us love and serve God at the price of our hands and the sweat of our face.” My brothers, you understand those words very well.
How providential that we also offer this jubilee mass for our priests on the day in which the Church celebrates the memorial of another great saint, Aloysius Gonzaga, known for his devotion to the Eucharist, to prayer and to the service of his brothers and sisters in need. In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, we find the roots for Saint Aloysius’ life of service and, indeed, that which motivates every priest to embrace the mission of Jesus. On the heels of the great commission given by Jesus to preach the Gospel and to Baptize all nations, Jesus reminds them – and us – that he “is with us always” until the end of the age. ALWAYS – in the Eucharist, in the Word proclaimed, in the People of God … and in the interruptions of life … the knock on the door, the unexpected telephone call, the requests of the poor. The priests whom we honor this day, like so many others, reflect this gospel passage well through their fulfillment of the many and varied expectations that we place upon them and by the service they so generously offer to God’s people.
Are these men perfect examples of discipleship? No. None of us are. Yet, our priests – even as the earthen vessels spoken of by Saint Paul in our first reading this afternoon – are the ones who interpret in all the events of everyday life what the great theologian Karl Rahner calls “the silent coming of God.” They help us to see and hear God in every event that unfolds – from the most pious gesture to the most mundane experience. What a blessing that is for all of us who struggle to find God – his presence and his peace.
On behalf of the people of the Diocese of Scranton, I congratulate our jubilarians and I thank them – and all of our priests – for their service to the Church and to the Lord Jesus who is its heart. I thank them for their commitment in joyful moments and in challenging times. I thank them for leading us through change and upheaval to harmony and peace. I thank them for their willingness to teach and nurture the Christian Faithful to take their rightful place of service within the Church.
And I thank them for ever and always reminding us of the presence of God in our lives – in the great gift of the Eucharist, in the Word proclaimed, in the Church, the People of God – and even in the interruptions that weave their way into our lives each day and every day.