Homily for the priesthood
Deacon Thomas James Higman, soon you shall be consecrated priest, handed over to God forever, so that you can offer women and men a service that comes from God and leads to God. You know well, there has been much, much preparation and formation for this day of the Lord.
The Church of Ogdensburg welcomes and rejoices with all present here who have been companions with you on this journey of growth in knowledge and grace. Yes, a day of great gladness and joy has arrived and the Church of Ogdensburg, indeed the whole Body of Christ, is so very blessed!
Tom, as you know, the most important dimension of the whole of our priestly lives is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The priest is not the leader of a sort of association whose membership he tries to maintain and expand. No, he is God’s messenger to his people. He wants to lead them to God and in this way to foster authentic communion between all men and women.
For this to be realized, you must live in constant intimacy with God: your day must begin and end with prayer, particularly, attentive listening to God in Sacred Scriptures. Prayer is the occupation of the priest. God’s people have a right to a priest who is deeply in love with God, whose life gives evidence of that love.
Of course, the fervor of a priest’s life depends entirely upon the Mass, where the priest also offers his own life in sacrifice. Each time you kiss the altar as you begin the celebration of the Eucharist, consciously make it an intimate gesture which expresses the joining of your own self-sacrifice with that of the High Priest, Jesus Christ. Daily celebration of the Eucharist helps transform the busy priest’s ministry from a shallow activism into a focused and unified life of service.
The foundation of your priestly service is an intimate communion with Christ whose food was to do the will of the Father. It is important that you consciously remember that all that you do you are doing in communion with Jesus. All your activities constitute one vocation: to be together with Christ acting as an instrument in communion with Him. Only in this way can you commit yourself wholeheartedly to your family of faith. The essence of the priesthood is configuration to Christ.
Tom, your priestly ministry makes a special claim on you not to conform yourself to this world, yet requiring at the same time that you should live among women and men in this world. As a good shepherd you should know your people, constantly seeking to bring back those who have drifted from Mother Church so that all may hear the voice of Christ and there may be one fold and one Shepherd, one family of faith.
The Church cannot remain immovable and indifferent to the changes in the human scene around her which in many ways influences her ministry and imposes limits and conditions upon her. The Church is not isolated from the human community, but is situated in it. So, her children are impacted and guided by it. We imbibe the culture of our day, obey its laws, adopt its customs. The Church and her priests must never neglect, engender fear, nor tease contempt for our society.
Priests could not be the servants of Christ unless they are witnesses and dispensers of a life other than that of this world. Yet, they would be powerless to serve people if they remained distant from life circumstances. Parishioners are never disturbers of a priest’s life. They are our heart, our body, our blood, our family. Just a few weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI told the priests gathered at the Chrism Mass in Rome: “We are concerned with the salvation of all. As priests of Jesus Christ we carry out our task with enthusiasm. No one should ever have the impression that we work conscientiously when on duty, but before and after hours we belong only to ourselves. A priest never belongs to himself.” No priest is sufficiently equipped to carry out his own priestly service alone and, as it were, single-hearted. Nurture a special love and respect for our Holy Father and for your bishop.
As you know, here in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, we are blessed with an extraordinary presbyterate. Our priests care deeply for one another. Young and not-so-young, we invest much of ourselves in our support of each other’s priestly vocation.
The Lord is about to add your name to this priestly body that has established a legacy of faithfulness and fraternal care for one another. Invest yourself into this fraternity and its tradition of pastoral charity for all of God’s people and fraternal support for one another.
Ordination to the priesthood is not a license for private practice. Under my leadership, as your bishop, you must invest time, energy, heart and soul collaborating earnestly with others equal in dignity: that is, women, the consecrated religious, the deacon community, parish council members and staff personnel. Our baptismal responsibility, Christian dignity and pastoral planning demand that priests enable and entrust our lay sisters and brothers in fulfilling their rightful place in parish life, building up the Body of Christ.
Last fall, in his address to the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Dolan reminded us that “the Church we passionately love is hardly some cumbersome, outmoded club of sticklers, with a medieval bureaucracy, silly human rules on fancy letterhead, one more movement rife with squabbles, opinions, and disagreement. No. The Church is Jesus Christ—teaching, healing, saving, serving, inviting. The Church is Jesus often ‘bruised, derided, cursed, defiled.’”
Tom, you have so generously responded to the Lord’s call to follow Him as priest in this Church which you must passionately love. You will soon enter the priesthood to serve Jesus’ Body. Our God assures you, as He assured the prophet Jeremiah, “Have no fear…because I am with you.” Be that eager example of passionate love and tireless self-giving to the flock entrusted to you, as St. Peter exhorted the presbyters of his day. May your holiness of life and passionate love of Jesus and His Church be a delightful fragrance to Christ’s faithful and a powerful instrument for the New Evangelization.
Pope Paul VI, in his document on evangelization in the modern world wrote that “the Church exists in order to evangelize, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass.” Always be about this charge, Tom, with a zeal and passion as one who knows intimately that he is loved by God and seeks to share that love with joy and hope.
Tom, again, know that you are never alone in living out your priestly vocation. Let Mary, the Mother of Priests, be your cherished companion on the journey before you. Know and rely upon the prayers and loving support of your family of faith, so many who have joined us for this festive occasion today.
Finally, words of deep gratitude to your family, particularly your mother and father who are so rightly very proud individuals this day. Your own faith, love and guidance are the reason why we are all here today. We are grateful to all those who have been important facilitators of your intellectual, human and spiritual formation. We especially extend words of thanks to the faculty, staff and entire community of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary where Tom has spent his last eight years. We wish to acknowledge and thank its rector, Fr. Shaun Maloney who is here present with us this day representing the Seminary community.
And now, my brother, Tom, please rise to declare publicly your desire to become a priest and to serve the Church of God in this Diocese of Ogdensburg.