Ordination to the Priesthood – June 24, 2023
Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

By the grace of God, our brother Michael Boris is to be ordained a priest this day for service of the people of God in the local Church of the Diocese of Scranton.  I join with all of you in giving thanks to God for the call to priestly ministry that he first planted in Michael’s heart – a call built upon the universal call to holiness that each of us have received in Baptism – and a call to which Michael has so generously responded. 

Thank you to so many of you who gather in our cathedral and who have helped Michael discern and respond to God’s call, especially the pastors and members of the parishes and schools in which Michael’s faith has been nurtured.  …  I thank the Holy Cross community at Kings College for journeying with Michael as he began to discern in earnest the Lord’s call.  …  I thank those who have been involved in Michael’s formation – Father Alex Roche, Monsignor David Bohr, priests, deacons, religious and members of the Christian faithful from throughout our diocese and beyond.  And I particularly thank Father Philip Brown, rector of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, who is with us today, along with his faculty and staff.  …  I especially thank Michael’s parents, Joe and Susan, and his family.  How grateful we are for your support and the gift of your son to the Church. 

Finally, Michael, on behalf of the Church of Scranton, I thank you for saying “yes” to the Lord’s call to serve the Church as his priest. 

Today’s celebration of the birth of John the Baptist provides us with a context that providentially speaks to you, Michael, and your response to the call of the Lord to priestly service in the Church. 

First, the gospel passage proclaimed from Saint Luke’s infancy narrative conveys a compelling dimension of salvation history well beyond the charm of the village scene in which Elizabeth and Zechariah assembled with their relatives and friends for the ritual circumcision of their newborn son.  The entire point of this scriptural vignette is that the prophecy of the angel Gabriel was fulfilled.  Despite the fact that God and his people so often work at cross-purposes, in the end, when Zechariah finally consented to God’s instruction, God’s will is accomplished as it always is.  …  Michael, your consent to God’s will that has brought you to this day in the life of our local Church affirms that the power of God continues to move among us and effect God’s plan for salvation. 

But it’s the ministry of John the Baptist that is most poignantly reflected in your life, Michael, and in the life of every authentic disciple.   John was the bridge between the old and new testaments – the prophet whose entire purpose in life was to point the way to Christ.  Recall the question of John’s disciples to Jesus, “Are you the long awaited Messiah or should we look for another?”  To which Jesus replied by quoting Isaiah regarding John, “Behold, I send my messenger before you, who will prepare your way before you.”

John’s role was clear.  With a determination that eventually took him to his death, John focused his entire life and ministry preparing the way for Jesus, the long awaited hope of Israel.  He understood and accepted God’s will for himself and embraced it with humility and resolve.  For all that today’s Solemnity teaches us about John’s place in salvation history, it’s most essential purpose is to provide us with the image of a man of faith whose sole responsibility was to point to Jesus – to proclaim his life and mission to save God’s people – and to provide us with a model for our lives as disciples of the same Lord and Savior.

A few years ago on Pentecost Sunday, Pope Francis shared a message with the crowds gathered in Saint Peter’s Square that reflect the essence of John’s life and our responsibility as disciples of Jesus.  Listen to his words.  “Being a Christian does not mean primarily belonging to a certain culture or adhering to a certain doctrine, but rather binding one’s own life, in all its aspects, to the person of Jesus and, through him, to the Father.”  …  Michael, being a priest demands the same response and more.

Only when you come to appreciate and live this unique relationship given to you through the mercy and love of God – not earned nor merited – will all that you are called to do and to be as a priest make sense and become possible in your ministry. 

Does that mean that because of the Sacrament of Holy Orders you will somehow achieve a level of perfection that exceeds that of the Christian community?  No.  But it does mean that while very much aware of our human weakness and frailty, God will use you – with your imperfections – to speak on his behalf and to serve in his name for the sake of his people.   

More than once in the gospels, we hear Jesus say, “I have come to serve and not to be served.”  In Jesus’ willingness to embrace and serve the needs of countless numbers of broken, suffering, hopeless people, we’re given a glimpse of the depth of all that is demanded of us as true disciples.  …  An authentic love of God gives us no choice but to make the mission of Jesus our own and to express our love for God in the service of our brothers and sisters.  It’s not enough for us to devoutly profess our faith in words and rituals.  All that we believe and profess must be given life – a voice – hands – and a heart – in service of God’s people. 

It is for this reason that your willingness to embrace Jesus’ example in and through priestly ministry is looked upon by the Church as such a unique and singular moment both in your lives and in our own.  Your commitment to serve the poorest among us is a sign of hope for the entire People of God as each of us attempts to live our baptismal promises and journey to the Lord.

Michael, today you declare your willingness to do the work of God within the life of the Church.  You affirm your desire to participate in Jesus’ work as Teacher, Priest and Shepherd, by embracing his priesthood and so joining as a co-worker with the Order of Bishops in service of the People of God.  In so doing, trust in the grace of God present to you in this sacrament.  Be faithful to the teachings of the Church.  And remember that while you are appointed to serve on behalf of the Christian faithful, you, like all of us, are in need of God’s presence, God’s life and God’s saving grace.  Nurture your relationship with the Lord and listen carefully as he speaks to your heart. 

As a priest, the Church will call you “another Christ”.  Remember well, however, that this title has little to do with rank or status among the People of God.  Instead, it carries with it a perpetual challenge to be like Christ.  If, then, you truly desire to effectively lead the people, always hold in your heart the same selfless commitment to love and service that so characterized Jesus’ ministry.  Seek to live with integrity the life of celibacy, obedience and simplicity.  Lead a life that is characterized by the way of thinking and acting that is proper to Christ and embrace the spirit of mercy that is the heart of Christ.

Michael, God’s People are looking for meaning, purpose and peace in their lives.  Today, they will celebrate your response to the Lord’s call, they will encourage you and they will embrace you with pride.  Tomorrow, they will look to you for answers to their questions.  And they will look to you to find Jesus – in your words of forgiveness – in your service of the poor – in the simplicity of your life – and in the depth of your love.  The People of God will look to you for so much – and in return, they will teach you, they will love you and they will pray for you.  And their prayer will be that through the priestly ministry entrusted to you – like John the Baptist whose birth we celebrate – you will always point the way not to yourself but to Jesus, the true and only source of God’s mercy, love and peace.

Michael, open your heart now to the power of the Spirit and allow God, who has begun this good work in you, to bring it to fulfillment.