Priests’ Anniversary of Ordination Mass June 8, 2023
2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7  —  Mark 12:28-34 

Jesus was asked a single question in today’s gospel to which he gave two answers.  “Which is the first of all the commandments?”  …  “Love the Lord your God with all your being – and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

In combining two commandments from the Old Testament, one from the book of Deuteronomy and the other from the book of Leviticus – love of God and love of neighbor – Jesus, in effect, provides us with a blueprint for authentic discipleship.  Yes, love God as the author of life and salvation.  But recognize that through the incarnation, the human person has been given the grace to reflect God, having been created in God’s very image and likeness, and thereby deserving the same selfless, sacrificial love that we attempt to return to author of life.

Simply put, how do we love God whom we cannot see when we can’t seem to respect or love the neighbor whom we see every day.  Recall the words from the 25th chapter of Saint Matthew’s gospel and the judgment of the nations, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or ill or in prison?”  And we know the answer, don’t we?  “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Today, the Church of Scranton has the privilege of honoring a number of priests who have not only understood the heart of the great commandment that Jesus shares in today’s gospel – but who have lived it well in their service of the People of God.  …  We have the privilege of honoring a group of men who have sought to love selflessly, patterning their lives on the life and love of Jesus, and in the process have brought so many of us to a deeper sense of meaning, life and peace in our lives.

We celebrate the priestly ministry and service of Monsignor John Esseff, who has served the Church for 70 years; Father William Campbell, who has served for 65 years, Monsignor Thomas Banick and Fathers John Ryan and Eugene Carr, who have served for 60 years, Fathers William Petruska, Anthony Urban, Thomas Hudak, Paul Mullen and James Walsh, who have served for 50 years and Fathers Philip Rayappan, Jackson Pinhero, Andrew Mensah Amankwaa and Mariusz Beczek who have served the Church for 25 years. 

Teaching us to pray, struggling to pray themselves, celebrating the Eucharist, proclaiming the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, walking with the People of God – 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 that at times are extremely mundane and hardly seem priestly in nature, have all been embraced by our jubilarians with the simple purpose of keeping our parishes vibrant and focused on the mission of the gospel of Jesus – the proclamation of the good news of God’s mercy. 

Are these priests perfect examples of discipleship?  No.  None of us are.  They and we reflect the words of Saint Paul in today’s first reading from his letter to the Church at Corinth reminding us that the treasure of ministry that we are privileged to have been given, we hold in the fragile, often broken earthen vessels of our lives.  Yet, those same fragile lives of the priests that we honor today – and all of our lives – are an integral part of the miracle and mystery of how God works in our world.  They teach us, more than we might imagine, what it means to fulfill the great commandment to love God and to give that love a life through the love they share with the people given to their care. 

A few years ago, Pope Francis, for whom we pray today as he recovers from surgery, addressed a letter to all those priests who have given their lives to Jesus and who, as he states so directly, “are working in the trenches” exposed to countless difficulties.  Listen to the thoughts that he shared, “I want to say a word to each of you who, often without fanfare and at personal cost, amid weariness, infirmity and sorrow, carry out your mission of service to God and to your people.  …  Despite the hardships of the journey, you are writing the finest pages ever written about the priestly life.”

“Writing as an older brother and a father,” the Holy Father continued, “I want to thank you in the name of the holy and faithful People of God for all that you do for them” and “to encourage you never to forget the words that the Lord spoke to us with great love on our ordination day: ‘I no longer call you servants…I call you friends.’”

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 ever reminding us of God’s presence in our lives – 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.