Ordination to the Priesthood – 26 June 2021
Numbers 11:11-12, 14-17, 24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:14-20; John 21:15-17

 By God’s grace, our brother Mark DeCelles is to be ordained a priest today for service of God’s people in the Diocese of Scranton.  I join with this local Church to give thanks – first, to God – for the call to priestly service that he planted in Mark’s heart – an invitation built upon the universal call to holiness which all of us have received in Baptism.

I offer thanks as well to so many of you who gather in our cathedral today who have helped Mark discern and respond to God’s call.  What a difference this day is compared to Mark’s diaconate ordination a year ago, when only a small number of us were able to celebrate his entrance into Holy Orders.  …  Thank you to Father McLaughlin, Mark’s pastor and the faithful of Immaculate Conception Parish who helped to nurture his faith by their witness and shared commitment to service.  …  Thank you to those who have been involved in Mark’s formation – Monsignor David Bohr, Father Alex Roche, and priests, deacons, religious and members of the Christian faithful from throughout the Diocese of Scranton and especially the faculty and staff of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, represented today by Father Gladstone Stevens.  We’re grateful for your presence.

Finally, I thank Mark’s family and friends for all of your support, love and encouragement.  And I especially thank his immediate family – his brothers, Chris and Sal – and particularly his mother Mildred and his father Charles.  I don’t know that any candidate for priestly ordination has ever received such powerful formation in the mysteries of our faith as Mark has received from you.  From the selfless love and commitment to each other that you have all lived as a family on a daily basis – to the dignity with which you have treasured God’s gift of life – to your humble embrace of the crosses that have come your way – to the hope that you have placed in the power of Christ’s life, death and resurrection – you have taught Mark invaluable lessons that most of us take a lifetime to learn.  Thank you.

And to our brother Mark, on behalf of the Church of Scranton, I thank you for saying “yes” to the Lord’s call to serve his Church as priests.

In the last chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, the risen Jesus showed himself to his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  In that incredible moment, he told his disciples where they would find a great catch of fish, despite their inability.  He gave them food to eat.  Then he spoke to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Three times, Jesus asked Peter that question.  And each time, Peter did the best he could to convince the Lord that he did.  In the end, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Obviously, Jesus’ three-fold question to Peter finds its source in the disciple’s three-fold denial of Jesus as he embraced his passion.  Yet, what is so amazing in the exchange between Jesus and Peter is that Peter’s assertion of love was not the last word.  …  Jesus’ invitation to “follow” was – as Jesus affirmed the all too human Peter and called him to engage the mission of proclaiming God’s love and mercy.

The mission to love that Jesus entrusted to Peter – as ill-equipped as he was on his own – demanded that Peter embrace and model within his own life Jesus’ example of selfless love and service.  …   What an incredible mission to place upon the shoulders of any human person!  Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus has always done.  He’s called followers like Peter – followers who, on their own, could never fully embrace or understand the mission entrusted to their care – but followers who were humble enough to accept the mercy of God in the “earthen vessels” of their lives – and followers who were wise enough to know that if called, the Lord would provide them with all they would need to do his work.

As Jesus did with Peter, he invites you, Mark, to follow him, in a deep and intimate way.  He invites you to love him.  But in so doing, Jesus reminds you – and all of us – that our love of God is hardly revealed through pious expressions or in vague concepts.  It’s measured neither by the intensity of our participation in rituals nor by our assertions of personal righteousness.  No, true love of God is something much more profound and humbling.

Love of God is rooted in an authentic relationship with the person of Jesus.  …  Love of God emerges from our awareness of and gratitude for God’s abiding presence in our lives, and the recognition of our unworthiness and our inability to save ourselves.  …  And love of God is given flesh and substance in our feeble efforts to selflessly serve the people God has entrusted to our care.

Listen again to the Word of God proclaimed in our first and second readings this morning.  Both passages, in their own way, speak of the struggles and burdens faced by those who seek to do the will of God and to love, following the pattern of Jesus’ life.  Yet, both passages also reveals the great hope and consolation given to those whom God has called to share in his mission.

Moses, in the Old Testament reading from the Book of Numbers bemoans the complaints of the people of Israel as they wander in the wilderness, making their way to the Promised Land.  “Lord, I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me.”  And the Lord responds to his servant Moses and assures him that he will not bear this burden alone.

And in Saint Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth, we are reminded that whoever is in Christ is a new creation.  The old order has passed away and all is new.  The new creation that we have become is hardly the result of our efforts to perfect ourselves.  No, we are born anew through Christ who died for us all, who reconciled us to himself and who has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.

I hope you see a pattern emerging in the scriptures chosen for today’s Mass.  Each passage reveals the recognition that on our own, we are ill equipped and inadequate to do the work of God – Moses, Paul, Peter, you and me.  Yet, through Baptism and our response to his call, we are assured of God’s abiding presence as we assume our role in the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel.

Therein is the miracle and mystery of how God works in our lives and in his Church.  Mark, you’ve heard Jesus utter words of affirmation to you throughout your journey of faith.  Today, hear his words again.  …  “Do you love me?” …  If you do, then open your heart to his love and be an instrument of his mercy.

While God has made his entire people a royal priesthood in Christ, Jesus chooses certain disciples to carry out publically in his name the priestly office in the Church.  Today, Mark, he calls you to that office.  He calls you to shepherd his people in a unique manner, patterned on his own life of service and sacrifice.  Affirm your desire to participate in Jesus’ work as Teacher, Priest and Shepherd, by embracing his priesthood and so join as a co-worker with the Order of Bishops in service of the People of God.

Trust in the grace of God present to you in this sacrament.  But always remember, when you teach in the name of Christ the Teacher – when you work for justice, truth and freedom – when you baptize – when you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church – when you comfort the sick and the dying – when you serve the poor – and when you celebrate the sacraments and particularly the Sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist – you are both a servant of the Church and a member of the People of God.  As such, while you are appointed to act on behalf of the Christian faithful for those things that pertain to God, remember that you – like all of us – are in need of God’s continued presence, life and mercy.

Through God’s grace, seek to live with integrity the life of celibacy, obedience and simplicity.  Lead a life that is marked, molded and characterized by the way of thinking and acting that is proper to Christ.

In a reflection on priestly life and ministry, Pope Francis noted, “The good that priests can do comes primarily from their proximity to – and a tender love for – their people.” …  Mark, God’s people are looking for the same life of meaning, purpose and peace that you and I seek.  They will look to you for answers to their questions.  They will look to see Jesus in the fruits of your prayer – in your words of forgiveness and encouragement – in your work – in the simplicity of your life – in your love – and in the Eucharist you celebrate for and with them.  They will look to you for so much!  In return, they will love you, they will walk with you, they will support and they will enable you to proclaim with an ever deepening sense of certainty the words of Peter spoken to Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

So Mark, join with us as we give thanks to the God who calls you this day as his priest to live and to proclaim the good news of Jesus.  Know and believe in your heart as you embark upon this life long journey, that God who has begun the good work in you will bring it to fulfillment.