Each year the priests in the Archdiocese of Mobile gather in the cathedral on Tuesday of Holy Week for the Chrism Mass at which the oils used in the sacraments are blessed and consecrated and the priests renew their commitment to priestly ministry. This is the homily Archbishop Rodi addressed to his brother priests at the Chrism Mass this year.
The first reading today from Genesis recounts that Jacob spent the night wrestling with God. Our Gospel reading today recounts that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus wrestled with the divine will.
Despite the similarity of these stories of Jacob struggling with God and Jesus sweating blood, the two are profoundly different. Jacob vies with God so that God’s will would be in line with Jacob’s. Jesus struggles so that His will is in complete harmony with the Father’s.
Jacob knows he must confront his adversaries in the morning and wants God to vanquish Jacob’s foes. Instead, God weakens Jacobs’s leg that, when Jacob meets the foe in the morning, Jacob will be so weak that he must rely upon God. Jesus also knows that He will face His foes in the morning with only His human weakness but also with the strength that comes from the determination to do the Father’s will. The same must be true with us.
In our priesthood, and in our lives as Christians, there may be times that we, like Jacob, may wish we could alter God’s will to suit our own, but our call is to trust God in all things and to strive to do the will of the Father even in our weaknesses, our confusion and our struggles. It is not for us to tell God what to do but to trust and to persevere in our priesthood. We must rely upon God to be faithful to us.
In scripture God promises to guide the blind on paths unknown to them. He will guide us in our blindness, asking us to trust Him and to be certain that He adorns the person He has chosen with all the gifts needed to fulfill the task at hand. He has chosen us to be His priests and will give us the gifts of the Spirit necessary to fulfill our ministry.
Our ministry may be rewarding but sometimes not easy. At Mass we are the priest and we offer Christ in sacrifice. The rest of the day, Jesus is the priest and He offers us in sacrifice. We are to trust and to place ourselves into the Lord’s hands.
We must trust in the One who has called us to be His priests and to stand ready to sacrifice ourselves for the priceless gift we are called to bring to the world: the Good News of the Risen Christ. Our task is at times daunting. Jesus called the apostles, the first priests, to be shepherds (feed my lambs, He told them) and to be fishermen (I will make you fishers of men, He told them).
In today’s world I think it is easier to be a shepherd than a fisherman. Our ministry is at its heart the ministry of a shepherd. The very word pastor means shepherd. But in our increasingly secular world it can appear that the flock has scattered. Sometimes it can feel that we care for the one lamb while the 99 have wandered away. We do have opportunities to evangelize, to be fishers of souls, and we must use these opportunities, but in large part we must prepare our people to go into the public square and bring others to the flock we shepherd. It is our duty to be faithful to feeding the flock for we offer the nourishment the world is starving to receive. We offer hope.
It is interesting that in the Gospels Jesus does not speak of hope. He speaks of love and of faith, but not hope. There is no hope until the cross. Instead, the apostles and the early Church spoke of hope. In their pagan world, they brought the hope of the Good News. In our secular world, so lacking in hope, we are called to do the same.
We have heard the expression: “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” While at first this may seem a positive if not cheerful expression, upon reflection we realize what a hopeless statement it is. Imagine it written on a tomb. In other words, enjoy today as much as you can because when you die it’s all over. How hopeless! It offers only a meaningless and pointless existence.
There is a French poem, which I have not read since I do not read French, but I understand that the gist of the poem is this: God looks at humans and notices that many have faith in their hearts. He is pleased, but not surprised because He knows that people cannot see the grandeur and beauty of creation and not realize that He exists. God also notices many have love in their hearts. He is pleased but not surprised, because He knows people so hunger for love that they seek to share love. Finally, God notices that many have hope in their hearts and God marvels at this, that despite all the evil they have seen and pain they have endured, they still trust in Him. And God is very pleased.
Christ has come to bring us the gift of eternal life. He tells us that there is a reason we are alive; there is a reason why we exist. He brings purpose and meaning to our lives and offers us the gift of eternal life. Our secular society cannot offer hope. Christ has chosen us to be His priests and bring hope to our world. Despite the fact that we are sinners, despite the flaws and frailties of the Church, we are God’s instruments. We, like Jacob, may be weak human beings but it is God’s strength and not our own that we rely upon.
There are many struggles we face in our ministry. There are times we will wrestle with God. Let our spiritual struggles help us to conform our will to His. God is in charge, not us. He will show the way, He will care for us and His Church. Regardless of our unfaithfulness, He is always faithful to us.
Confident that God is with us, and trusting in Him, let us now recommit ourselves to our priestly ministry.