Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Ordination to the Priesthood – June 9, 2018
Jeremiah 1:4-9; II Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-7; John 15:9-17
By the grace of God – our brothers Edward Casey and Ryan Glenn – are to be ordained priests today for service of God’s people in the Diocese of Scranton. In response for this great gift, I join with this local Church to give thanks – first, to God – for the call to the priesthood that was planted in the hearts of these two men – a call initiated by Jesus himself, as noted in today’s gospel passage: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”
I offer thanks as well to so 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 Ed’s and Ryan’s formation – Monsignor David Bohr, Father Don Williams, and priests, deacons, religious and members of the Christian faithful from throughout the Diocese of Scranton, the Congregation of the Holy Cross and particularly Father Brian Kiely, rector of St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, Father Phil Brown, rector of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, and the faculties of the seminaries they represent. … I especially thank Ryan’s and Ed’s families – and of course Ryan’s parents, Jim and Maria, and Ed’s parents, Ed and Marcella. Ed, even though your parents join us from the vantage point of God’s eternity, having known them for many years myself, their gifts to you and to the Church this day are cause for much gratitude and joy.
Finally, Ed and Ryan, on behalf of the Church of Scranton, I thank you for saying “yes” to the Lord’s call to serve his Church as priests. Thank you for your willingness to walk with the Lord through incredible journeys that have enabled you to know the rich blessing of God’s presence in your lives – from the midst of challenging academic environments to multi-cultural ministerial opportunities, to service to the poorest among us through the blessed work of Catholic Social Services and, I might add, to the longest transitional diaconate in the 150 year history of the Diocese of Scranton. … We are so blessed this day!
Father Michael Fallihee was born in Susquehanna County on August 15, 1844 and was ordained for service to the Church of Scranton by Bishop William O’Hara in September 1869. He was one of the first native priests ordained one year after the founding of the Diocese of Scranton, 150 years ago.
In James Earley’s Envisioning Faith, the author writes about Father Fallihee, who became rector of Saint Ann’s Parish in Freeland. Quoting The Catholic Light Historical Issue of 1916, Father Fallihee’s personal involvement in the growth of his parish is described. “The excavation of the church cellar was done by the men and boys of the parish on idle days and evenings with little or no expense to the congregation. … The young priest too could be seen swinging his hammer with the air of an expert, and it was a matter of general comment among the miners of the congregation he was the best rockman on the job.”
The point of this historical recollection of one of the first priests ordained for service to this local Church is hardly that I would expect either of you to hone your skills at being “rockmen.” Yet, Father Fallihee teaches every priest a very valuable lesson. Be close to the people God entrusts to your care. Walk with them. Work with them. And never set yourself apart from them. Don’t ever think for a minute that your hands are too sacred to join with their hands in the sacred work that they do to eke out a living, to raise their children, to care for their sick and to build the domestic Church rooted in their lives and in their families.
These recollections, however, teach something else that’s even more significant. Father Fallihee is further described as a priest with a great love for the poor and the sick, with a deep commitment to prayer and profound devotion to the Eucharist. For as much as his people appreciated the time and effort that he expended on their behalf in the building of their new house of worship, they treasured Father Fallihee’s presence as their priest – as the one set apart to speak to them about God … to celebrate the sacramental life of the Church … and to herald of the gospel of Jesus.
Reflect with me upon words from the second reading taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Church of Corinth and chosen by Ed and Ryan. “Since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us, we are not discouraged. … For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” … Ed and Ryan, for all that you have personally invested in the journey that has brought you to this altar – remember that this day is really not about you! It’s about Jesus.
St. Paul realized from the moment of his conversion that it wasn’t because of his own determination or resolve but because of the power of God shining within his life that he, in turn, could be used as an instrument to bring hearts to experience the glory of God. The essence of Paul’s mission, then, was to proclaim not himself but Jesus Christ as Lord. For Paul, it was not in the one who worked showy deeds, but in the one who led a humble and honest life dependent upon Jesus – that the true “servant of Christ” – the true Christian – was to be found.
The words of St. Paul are quite poignant as we celebrate the ordination to the priesthood of these two men who will devote their lives to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus and serving the people of God. Ed and Ryan, the priestly ministry that you embrace this day will bear fruit only if you understand that your ministry is a gift from God and that it is Jesus whom you must preach and his life and example that you must make your own. … The ministry you are given today will never make sense to our world if it is about you. … It will always be a source of fulfillment, meaning and joy for you, however, if it is about Jesus Christ.
Some time ago, Pope Francis reflected the message of St. Paul. “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.” … Being a priest demands the same. Only when you come to appreciate and live this unique relationship given to you through the mercy and love of God will all that you are called to do and to be as priests be possible.
In Saint John’s gospel proclaimed a few moments ago, on the night before he died as he shared a meal with his disciples, Jesus reflects upon this relationship. First, he describes the quality of love that serves as its essence. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Then Jesus goes on to insist on the priority of this love in the lives of his disciples. “It was not you who chose me but I who chose you” – for a purpose: “to go and bear fruit that will remain” … to engage the mission of the good news of God’s love and mercy through the selfless gift of their own lives.
Ed and Ryan, today you declare your willingness to engage this mission 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 co-workers 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. 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, particularly the Eucharist – you are both a servant of the Church and a member of the People of God. So be faithful to the teachings of the Church. And, remember too, that while you are appointed on behalf of the Christian faithful for those things that pertain to God, you, like all of us, are in need of God’s presence, God’s life and God’s saving grace. So continually nurture your relationship with the Lord and listen carefully as he speaks to your heart.
As a priest, you will be called by the Church “another Christ.” Understand, 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 God’s 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.
Finally, Ed and Ryan, if you take nothing else from this homily, remember these words offered by Pope Francis to newly ordained priests like yourselves. You’ve heard them before – not just from Pope Francis but from me. “Never tire of being merciful! Please! You have the capacity of forgiveness that the Lord had, who did not come to condemn, but to forgive! Have much mercy! And if the scruple comes to you of being too forgiving, think of the priest who would go in front of the tabernacle and say: ‘Lord, forgive me if I have forgiven too much. But it is You who has given me the example!’”
Ed and Ryan, God’s People are looking for meaning, purpose and peace in their lives. In these difficult days, they want priests whom they can trust – priests who will convey to them the love and mercy of God. … Give them a reason to trust and to believe that God’s grace and goodness still abound in our world and in our lives. … And you will – we know you will – if you are wise and humble enough to root your lives and your ministry in Jesus, who first chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.
So brothers and sisters, join with me in giving thanks to God who calls these two men today to serve the Church as his priests. … Ed and Ryan – know and believe in your heart – as we do – that God who has begun the good work in you will bring it to fulfillment.