Ordination to the Priesthood – 27 June 2020
Isaiah 61:1-3; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7; John 21:15-17 

By the grace of God – our brothers Jonathan Kuhar, Kevin Miller and Shawn Simchock – are to be ordained priests 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 the priestly service that he planted in their hearts – an invitation built upon the universal call to holiness which all of us have received in Baptism.

I offer thanks as well to many of you who gather in our cathedral today who have helped these men discern and respond to God’s call.  …  Thank you to their pastors and the faithful of the parish communities in and through which their faith has been nurtured.  …  Thank you to those who have been involved in their formation – Monsignor David Bohr, Father Don Williams, and priests, deacons, religious and members of the Christian faithful from throughout the Diocese of Scranton and the faculty and staff of St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, and St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.  …  I thank the families and close friends of Jonathan, Kevin and Shawn for your support, love and encouragement to these men.  And I particularly want to acknowledge Jonathan’s mother, Joan, and Kevin’s mother, Maureen, who are with us today.  And even though four of the parents of the men to be ordained today join us from the vantage point of God’s eternity, their gifts to these three men and to the Church this day are cause for much gratitude and joy.

Finally, Jonathan, Kevin and Shawn, on behalf of the Church of Scranton, I thank you for saying “yes” to the Lord’s call to serve his Church as priests.

For as blessed and joyful a day as this is, I would certainly be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the obvious.  We gather in a very unusual way, don’t we – with masks in place, keeping distance one from another, singing in a rather subdued manner.  What began as a life-threatening crisis has, for many of us, become a tiresome inconvenience, especially on this day that seems to demand something more.  Yet, if we probe these experiences just a bit, the urgency of this moment for the Church and for these three men is plain to see.

Jonathan, Kevin and Shawn, you are entering priestly ministry at a crucial time in the life of our Church and our world.  …  We’ve been buffeted by the harsh winds of a global pandemic that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and here at home, that has stolen our peace and well-being, and that has become a source of fear and anxiety.  …  And during recent months, we’ve also been reminded that in our land, a core gospel value for which Jesus lived and died has not always been embraced, even by some of us who claim for ourselves the name Christian.  Sadly, we have all too often set aside the value of the human person made in God’s image and worthy of being treated with respect and dignity.  Instead, we’ve tolerated hatred and unwittingly sown seeds of discrimination and racism.

Some have mused about the relevancy of Christianity in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  …  Others have wondered how the division that still is present among peoples could possibly exist if we were truly committed to authentic gospel living.  …  But for those who believe in the enduring power of faith, there is hope – hope in what we celebrate today:  God’s gift of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  A common phrase from the Black religious tradition in our land speaks to this moment better than most, “God will make a way out of no way!”  …  Jonathan, Kevin and Shawn, you are called today to be God’s instruments in carving out that way.

Pope Francis recently offered a meditation on the current global crisis called “A plan for rising up again.”  “This is the propitious time,” Pope Francis says, “to encourage us to a new imagination of what is possible with the realism that only the Gospel can provide. The Spirit … proposes that we join his movement capable of ‘making all things new’ (Revelation 21:5) … We cannot afford to write the present and future history with our backs turned to the suffering of so many. It is the Lord who will ask us again,” as he did in Genesis, “‘where is your brother?’”

Jonathan, Kevin and Shawn, you take your place today among a myriad of faithful servants called forth by God to bring healing and hope to brothers and sisters who are overwhelmed by sin and suffering.  The prophet Isaiah, like us, was faced with a people in exile, bereft of freedom, burdened with uncertainty and pain.  They were discouraged, dazed and destitute.  He understood that they needed consolation, not punishment.  Their faith needed to be sustained, not further tried.  Because their situation seemed so hopeless, they needed to be reminded that only God’s enduring love had the power to create for them a new world.

Recall Isaiah’s words:  “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tiding to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”  …  Brothers, the Spirit of the Lord God rests this day upon you, just as it rested upon Isaiah, Peter and Paul.  As their words have echoed God’s healing touch, so too will yours, if you hold on to the treasure of God’s love.

In today’s gospel, Jesus asked Peter – the rock upon whom he would build his church – “Do you love me?”  Underneath Jesus’ question that was posed to Peter, we discover why an affirmed disciple was suddenly challenged by the risen Lord himself with the most sobering of questions – “Do you love 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 denial was not the last word.  …  Jesus’ invitation to “follow” was – as Jesus yet again affirmed the all too human Peter and called him to engage the mission of proclaiming the good news.

The mission 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’ selfless love and total gift of himself.  …   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 himself would provide them with all they would need to do his work.

On our own, we are ill-equipped to do the work of God.  Yet, through Baptism and our response to God’s call, we are assured of God’s abiding presence as we assume our unique place in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus.

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

While it is true that God has made his entire people a royal priesthood in Christ, Jesus chooses certain disciples to carry out publically in his name, a priestly office in the Church.  Today, brothers, he calls you to that office.  He calls you to shepherd his people in a unique, patterned on his own life of service and sacrifice.  And you, in turn, declare your willingness to do the work of God within the Church that he has called into being.  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.

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 gather others into the Church through Baptism – 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.  Remember, then, that while you are appointed to act on behalf of the Christian faithful for those things that pertain to God, you – like all of us – are in need of God’s continued presence, life and mercy.

Brothers, we are all grateful today for your willingness to embrace Jesus’ call to service and leadership in the Church as priests.  Seek, then, 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.  And in so doing, find a life that is filled with meaning, purpose and peace.

The Church of Scranton rejoices with you, your families and friends today.  While grateful for your selfless gift in service to God and the Church, we also know the great demands that our lives will place upon you as you seek to bring the love of Jesus to our broken world.  The best that we can offer in return for your gift is to walk with you, to serve with you and to pray with and for you as together – with God’s grace – we build his kingdom here in the Church of Scranton.

So Jonathan, Kevin and Shawn, join with us as we give thanks to the God who calls you as his priests.  And know and believe with all your hearts that God who has begun the good work in you will bring it to fulfillment.