Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Priests’ Anniversary of Ordination Mass – June 18, 2018
I Kings 21:1-16  —   Matthew 5:38-42

Today’s gospel passage from Saint Matthew is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  According to Matthew, in the Sermon, Jesus placed before all of the people of Israel his teachings and then challenged them to accept them and act upon them.  Indeed, in one of the very opening verses of the Sermon, on the heels of the Beatitudes, Jesus very specifically establishes the overall theme of his discourse, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”  …  Moreover, while Matthew places Jesus’ teaching in an eschatological framework, much of Jesus’ teaching concerns appropriate behavior in the present.  …  In other words, our reflection upon the scriptures this day is hardly just an academic exercise.  The Word of God speaks quite clearly and challengingly to you and to me!

Right out of the gate, Jesus states in the today’s gospel, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil.”  …  Does he really know what he’s asking us to do?  Living like that can lead to a person’s demise.  …  But, then, that’s exactly what Jesus did when he was arrested and when he stood before Pilate and when his executioners struck and ridiculed him.  He walked his talk.  His resurrection and new life came from the very actions of those who acted in an evil way toward him.

These words of Jesus are challenging, aren’t they?  But they can hardly be rationalized or explained away for one reason or another.  If we’re honest in our review of human history and in our recollections of our own personal journeys of life, resistance and retaliation have never ended or lessened evil.  They may put it at bay for a while, but it generally rises even stronger than before, lie the terrorism and violence evident throughout our world today, when force is lifted.

Jesus asks us for more.  Go two miles instead of one.  Hand over your cloak.  Do not ignore those in need.  Love your enemies.  …  Now don’t think for a minute that Jesus is soft on common sense and life.  He’s hardly speaking against the value of tough love.  To the contrary, throughout his teachings, Jesus sets limits, creates boundaries, and challenges behavior.  But he does so in order to invite change – not to seek revenge.  …  As Pope Francis has reminded us many times, only love can reduce hate and rob evil of its power.  Force may be necessary at times, but without an authentic change of heart, evil will always return once the force is gone.

Our lives as Christians and, particularly, as ministers of the Gospel will never make sense in a world that is so sadly intent upon An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth mentality – or worse!  Yet, our relationship with Jesus has the power to not only witness to our world of its potential for goodness and life, but especially to bring us – the followers of Jesus – to a place of meaning, life and peace.

Today, the Church of Scranton has the privilege of honoring a number of priests whose relationships with Jesus have indeed witnessed to our world of the enduring values of the Gospel message.  …  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 Father Patrick Cortese, who has served the Church for 70 years; Father William Campbell, who has served for 60 years, and Fathers Charles Cummings, Vincent Grimalia, Robert Hochreiter, Peter Madus, John Manno, Patrick McDoweel, James McGahagan, Stephen McGough, Joseph Sitko and Michael Zipay, each of whom has served the Church f Scranton for 50 years.

Teaching us to pray, struggling to pray themselves, 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 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 Evangelization – 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.

The great theologian, Karl Rahner shared these words about the priest in our world today:  “The priest is not an angel sent from heaven.  He is a man, a member of the Church, a Christian.  Remaining man and Christian, he begins to speak to us the Word of God.  …  Perhaps he has not entirely understood it himself.  Perhaps he falters and stammers.  How else could he speak God’s word, ordinary man that he is?  …  But must not some one of us say something about God, about eternal life, about the majesty of grace in our sanctified being?”

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 and always 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.