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Extraordinary adventure of love

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

June 14, 2017

Homily for Father Michael Jablonski’s ordination to the priesthood May 27

“Simon, Son of John, do you love me?  Feed my sheep.” Love of our Lord precedes any fruitful service in His Jablonskiname.  This is the lesson which Jesus teaches in our familiar Gospel story from St. John.  Here the Resurrected Christ reinstates Peter to the apostolic office from which he had fallen.  Jesus addresses him as Simon, reminding him of the critical moments when Christ had first given him a new name and a new authority and had warned Peter of his impending fall.  The Lord asked for a love of devotion, and all He got was a love of emotion.  But even that Jesus does not reject.  It is not enough, Jesus says, but it is enough to start. 

Your priestly vocation, Deacon Mike, is a love story.  After hearing Fr. Lucia’s attestation on behalf of the People of God and in light of my own personal observation, I know you love Jesus and His holy people.  Right now, though, Jesus might be saying “It’s not enough” (It never is, considering our sinfulness!), but it is enough for you to start to share that love as an ordained priest of God.  God’s love story must be told.  And the very life of the priest is, or should be, a hymn of God’s love.   Even if your vocal chords don’t provide you with perfect pitch, your priestly life is to be a song of praise to God in the midst of the cacophony of this world’s noise.  Deacon Mike, make your priestly life a song of praise to God.  Let those whom you meet and serve join in the refrain of your priestly song of praise to God.

When love goes out of our heart, we begin to hate the things we are obliged to do, or at least we cover up our deep feeling of indifference with the metallic ring of formalism or the harshness of rigidity.  We become mere functionaries, doing what priests are expected to do, and our folks, God’s fragile, yet holy people, suffer through such superficiality.  Our people know when their priests are not in love with God.  Our homilies become scoldings, dissertations or entertainment time.  The doorbell becomes an interruption to my leisure, to my time.  We greet the visitor with a sigh.  Our non-verbal communication screams: “unwanted, unwelcome intruder!” Our parishioners are not disturbers; they are our heart, our body, our blood.  They call us “Father.” 

That must mean something. To minister at the altar of love with an unloving heart; to belong to a vocation of self-sacrificing love while seeking our own comfort is to offer hollow, scandalous words from the pulpit and in the public square. You see, love begins when duty finishes.  It is a giving of a shirt after the coat is taken.  It is walking the extra mile, blisters and all.  Ask your parents.  They can tell you the meaning of love and the sacrifice it entails and the joy it brings.

It is by contemplating the face of Christ in prayer that a priest can acquire the generosity to give himself, body and soul to his priestly ministry, as Christ lived and died.  Deacon Mike, you are about to enter a presbyterate, a fraternity of priests whose lives have been spent walking the extra mile.  The joy these men exude in their priesthood reflects a love story whose pages continue to be turned with such pastoral zeal and loving faithfulness.   For that, this bishop and the Church of Ogdensburg are so very grateful!

It is through the power of prayer that a priest’s ministry is truly a labor of love.  Jesus’ self-giving love is meant to become yours and mine.  Pray well so as to speak about God better, for I can find words about God only after having encountered Him and established personal ties with Him.  In the priesthood, prayer is always the first thing.  Without the vitality of prayer, the priest’s motor idles and, therefore, the parish’s, as well. 

As I’ve stated on other occasions, when it comes to our faith, ordained or lay, we cannot be idling, in a holding pattern or running in place.  The faith life of those entrusted to your care must continually be fed and nurtured by your personal encounter with Jesus, your love story with the Divine.  Because, Deacon Mike, as a priest, you are not your own.  You are a link in a chain that extends from the Cross to eternity. Do not be a lone ranger priest. Ordination to the priesthood does not bring with it a license for private practice, but a bridge, with a mission to communion.  Ordination sanctifies you for this role. The Eucharist will help transform your innermost being.

Christ-led, Christ-fed, and Hope-filled, your priestly ministry will not be without its challenges and personal sacrifice in this time and place.  But, we will never be more overwhelmed than the apostles were!  What matters is the qualiy of your heart, the strength of your faith and the substance of your interior life.  All make way for God’s grace.  Priests lacking in zeal in their ministry are tired in mind and spirit before they are tired in body.  Eucharistic devotion and strong faith can only return to the faithful if priests are filled with zeal and love for the Christ who lies hidden in the sacrament.  The Eucharist transforms us down to the inmost depths of our being.  Jesus’ self-giving love is to become mine. As one author noted, the priest who has not kept near the fires of the tabernacle can strike no sparks from the pulpit. 

In collaboration with our consecrated Religious, deacons, and pastoral staff, let the holiness of your life build up the house which is God’s Church.     To build the Church, we must labor, we must suffer.  There is no pastoral success without sharing in Christ’s suffering.  Your own embracing of the Cross gives needful witness to our sisters and brothers who have grown up in an anesthesized culture that seeks to avoid suffering at all costs. 
Of course, the life of a priest is inconceivable without a filial bond with Mary.  May Our Lady of Fatima support you in your fidelity to her Son.

I extend my deep gratitude to your family, Deacon Mike, particularly your mother and father, all your loved ones who are rightly very proud individuals this day.  Rachel and Joseph, your own faith, love and guidance have brought us to this day.  Thank you for your son.  We are grateful, also, to all those who have been important facilitators of Deacon Mike’s intellectual, human and spiritual formation.  We extend words of appreciation to the faculty, staff and community of the Pontifical College Josephinum where Deacon Mike has called home these last six years.  We, particularly welcome Fathers Louis Iasiello and Michael Kelly who have trekked to the North Country and are present with us this day representing the Seminary community.

And now, my brother, Michael, please rise to declare publicly your desire to become a priest and to serve the Church of God in our Diocese of Ogdensburg.  Let your extraordinary adventure of priestly love begin!

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