by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
Cathedral of St. Ignatius
May 14, 2022
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
The Call of St. Matthias
Today is a long anticipated one for our brothers, Deacon Daniel Donohue and Deacon Armando León. Many years of discernment, prayer, preparation and personal growth have taken place within them to bring them to this day of their ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Palm Beach. It is also a long anticipated day for all of us, their families, friends, the Seminary community and the Diocese of Palm Beach, as we receive the gift from the Lord of two new priests to join our wonderful presbyterate and to be for us the continuing presence of Christ in a unique manner.
Today is also a fitting one to celebrate the ordination as it is the feast of an apostle, Saint Matthias. Matthias was chosen to take the place of Judas, as we read in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, so that the college of the twelve apostles would be complete and the mission of Jesus Christ would continue in the newborn Church up to this very day. On this happy day, we are in union with the early Church and its mission in a particular way as Deacon Daniel and Deacon Armando are ordained as priests.
My brothers, the discourse at the Last Supper from the Gospel of Saint John for the Feast of Saint Matthias speaks to you who are about to be ordained as priests in a very personal matter. Jesus spoke these words to His apostles at a table from which He would give them His Body and Blood. Here he anticipated His Passion and Resurrection so that the apostles, in the life of the Church, would carry out this first Mass in the very person of Christ, which you will begin to do today. Among the myriad of reflections which Jesus gave to his apostles in this discourse, I would like to emphasize three as essential to your priesthood: His call to you, the intimate relationship you are to have with Him, and the joy you are to possess living His priesthood.
Jesus tells you today, my brothers, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” You have willingly answered a call, which you have discerned, but this call is from the Lord. It is a call which must be continually listened to and lived up to in your ministry as priests. It is fitting for you to look at the call of Saint Matthias as the call to him would be more like your call than that of the other apostles. Jesus stood in front of the original apostles, including Judas, and called them by name, face-to-face. There was no intermediary or process of selection. However, the mediated call to St. Matthias was just as strong and just as direct, as it is for you today. There is no foundation for any of us to say it would be so much easier to know what God wants us to do if He spoke to us, like Jesus did to the apostles. He speaks to us through His living body, the Church.
The one whom Matthias replaced, Judas, had a direct call and abandoned it. We must always be careful of falling into the same temptation, as the Lord is just as present to us as he was to Judas and subsequently to Saint Matthias. As Pope Francis has reflected, “Judas had received the great grace of belonging to the group of Jesus’ confidants and participating in His very ministry, but at a certain point he aspired to ‘save’ his own life by himself with a result of losing it (cf. Lk 9:24). He ceased to belong wholeheartedly to Jesus and placed himself above the Master.” Judas heard the call directly but abandoned it because he abandoned the communion of the apostles. Matthias heard the call in a different manner, through the call of Saint Peter, but he followed it faithfully, even to his own martyrdom. Matthias lived in communion with the apostles in the Church whose support he would not abandon.
Secondly, Jesus tells his Apostles, as he tells you, Daniel and Armando, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” The relationship of all of us with Jesus is an intimate and personal one which is nurtured by prayer and by union with Him. A priest accepts the special call of friendship in a manner that makes Christ the central focus of his life. The priest’s prayer is what enables him to keep this focus. Celibacy is a gift that enables the priest to keep his focus. It is true that celibacy enables the priest to be available to his people, but its fundamental purpose is to make him available to Christ.
Through the celebration of the Sacraments, and most especially the Eucharist, a priest makes Christ available to the people whom he serves. The Eucharist, from which and to which all the sacraments flow, is the center of the priest’s life to the point that he continues to detach himself from his own person, making the words of Christ his own, “This is my Body given up for you. This is my Blood poured out for you.”
It is astonishing to realize that even after Judas betrayed Jesus, he referred to him as a friend. As he approached Jesus for the betrayal, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus greeted him “Friend, what have you come for?” (Mt 26:50). This is a great reminder to the priest that the Lord offers Himself to even those who betray Him, and He is always ready to welcome anyone back through His mercy and forgiveness, which He offers through the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Judas despaired but Jesus remained. The more the priest is aware of his own continuous need for reconciliation, the more the friend of Christ he will be, as well as the more effective minister of reconciliation he will be.
Saint Peter is another apostle, who betrayed the friendship of the Lord in his denial of Christ during His Passion. However, Peter did not despair and returned to the Lord, confident of His friendship. As Peter stood before the Lord, He asked him three times, “Simon, do you love me?” The response of Peter was affirmative. At this point the intimate call of the Lord to Peter was clear, “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus made the call to Peter, despite his failings, to a deep personal relationship of friendship in a particular manner. He does the same for you, my brothers, Daniel and Armando. That is why, as Pope Francis reminds us, prayer is the most important part of a priest’s life. Your personal friendship in prayer with the Lord will be the foundation of who you are.
Finally, the Lord promises the joy of ministry, “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” We live in a broken world which is in need of true joy. The only one who gives true joy is God. When God’s plan of creation, which includes a personal relationship with Him is lost, selfish pursuit and over consumption replace joy with a distraction that leads to misery. We see this all around us. The priest is truly a minister of the Lord’s joy which proclaims the message of God‘s love, especially when lived by the priest personally. That is why real joy is characteristic of the call to priesthood, which is discovered in the presence of intimacy with the Lord and lived not for oneself but for others. The priest’s words, his actions and his presence should always be a source of joy.
My brothers, as your hands are anointed today with Chrism, the oil of gladness, may you let that oil seep deep within your very being, so that you may experience its gladness and its fragrance. May that fragrance, coming from you, be an essential part of the smell you give to the sheep. As Pope Francis so insightfully reminds us, we, as priests, need to have the smell of the sheep, but it is affirming when the sheep want to smell like us, so that we all have the same supporting fragrance. Matthias found a unique joy and his acceptance of the Lord’s call, as you will today in your joyful living of that call in your lives.
As we now come to the point of your priestly ordination, you commit yourself to the Lord’s call, His friendship and His joy. You respond to Him in a manner similar to Saint Matthias as you do so through the call of the Church.
May the words of Lacordaire in his famous reflection on the priest never become too idealistic for you:
To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures; To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none; To share all suffering; To penetrate all secrets; To heal all wounds; To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers; To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope; To have a heart of fire for Charity, and a heart of bronze for Chastity; To teach and to pardon, console and bless always. My God, what a life; and it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
May 20, 2022