Priests’ Anniversary of Ordination Mass – June 9, 2022
Thursday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time
I Kings 18:41-46; Matthew 5:20-26

Often during my homilies for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, I like to reflect with those to be confirmed on one component of the definition of the sacrament:  its power to make us “strong and perfect Christians and witnesses of Jesus Christ.”  …  Witnesses of Jesus.  …  What does it mean to you – to me – to be a witness of Jesus?

It’s fair to say that in Saint Matthew’s gospel, there is a tension present regarding how we best witness to God’s love in our lives.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day believed that they gave witness to their relationship with God by meticulously keeping the letter of the Law.  For Jesus, however, it’s not that simple.

For Jesus, while the Law is a starting point, being a witness to his gospel demands much more.  For Jesus, the heart of the matter is not the minimum we need to do but what it takes to be an authentic disciple – what it takes to embrace the way of life that he lived and for which he died – what it takes to keep the “fire” of his love aflame in our world.

We’re not saved by a cheap grace – but by a love which took Jesus to the cross and cost him his life.  To be authentic disciples, then, we have to live our faith with integrity – and not merely give it lip service by following the letter of a law while missing its spirit altogether!

The perfect example of what Jesus is calling all of us to embrace comes from today’s gospel.  …  If you bring your gift to the altar and realize that your brother has something against you, go first to be reconciled and only then bring your gift.  …  In other words, realize that our faith is best engaged less by ritualizing it or talking about it and far more by living its spirit in our lives!

Today, the Church of Scranton has the privilege of honoring a group of men who have sought to witness in their lives the life and love of Jesus.  We celebrate the priestly service of Father Michael Rafferty and Monsignor William Ward, who has served for 65 years and Fathers William Karle, Connell McHugh and Joseph Kakareka who have served the Church of Scranton for 50 years.

Teaching us to pray, celebrating the Eucharist, proclaiming the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, walking with the People of God entrusted to their care – these are the merciful works that enabled these priests to speak to us, in word and deed, about God, about grace and about the deepest hopes that rest within our hearts.  …  These merciful works make the Church credible!  …  And these works, along with countless others, have all been embraced by our jubilarians with the simple purpose of witnessing to Jesus – and of keeping our parishes vibrant and focused on the proclamation of the good news of God’s mercy.

Are these men perfect examples of discipleship?  No.  None of us are.  Yet, their lives – and all of our lives – are an integral part of the miracle and mystery of how God works in our world.  These priests, like so many others, help us to see and hear God in every event that unfolds in life.  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.  …  And I thank them for pointing the way to Jesus – in the great gift of the Eucharist – in the Word proclaimed – and in the Church, the People of God from among whom every priest is called and with whom every priest is privileged to journey in faith.

May these words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, spoken to us, his priests, encourage us as we continue on in our ministry of service, “Brothers, each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity; he has given us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples; he invites us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but he asks us to do so not only by our words but by the witness of our lives, in daily life. Jesus is the Lord of our lives and he invites us to strip ourselves of our many idols and to worship him alone – to proclaim, to witness, to adore.  May the Blessed Virgin Mary help us on this journey and intercede for us. Amen.”