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‘Missioned to lead God’s people’

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

June 5, 2024

Editor’s note: The following is Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily from the May 25 ordination Mass.

“Hope does not disappoint” is the central message that Pope Francis offers for our reflection as we prepare for Jubilee Year 2025. The Holy Father writes that “everyone knows what it is to hope. In the heart of each person, hope dwells as the desire and expectation of good things to come, despite our not knowing what the future may bring.” The Pope desires that this Jubilee be “an opportunity to be renewed in hope.” Surely, this local Church is brimming over with hope and joy as we gather to see two of our sons ordained to the ministerial priesthood. Because we are Christ -led and Christ-fed, we are hope-filled. We are blessed!

Deacon Douglas Schirmer and Deacon Carter Pierce, soon you shall be consecrated priests, handed over to God forever to bring glad tidings to the lowly, earthen vessels bringing the light of Christ to a world searching for enlightenment. The grace that dwells within you can give you the strength to live in a society which is undermined by unbelief and religious indifference, even hostility. Your mission is not to save a fragile world or even to rescue a battered Church. There is but one Savior. Your mission is to live out with fidelity and without compromise the faith you received from Christ. It is not a matter of influencing opinions. It is a matter of living the Gospel passionately. It’s that simple. It’s that difficult.

As pastor of souls, you are missioned to lead God’s people. These are God’s people, not yet a fully risen people, not yet a perfect people. Today you shall take them unto your heart as their priest, as their loving shepherd.

Deacons Carter and Doug, know your people, as Christ, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep and they know Him, as we just heard Jesus say in the

Gospel passage you selected for your ordination. Be with them, rejoice and mourn as one of their own. As the Holy Father urges: Smell of your sheep. Make “Father” Carter and “Father” Doug more than a title of respect but, also, a term of endearment. Wear the title as a badge of proof of your Christ-like bonded-ness with your people. To be conformed to Christ is to go out of oneself. The priest who seldom goes out of himself misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Going out of ourselves is where our priestly hearts find joy, where the word “Father” truly describes who we are and becomes more than a courteous greeting. Yes, the Good Shepherd went out to tend to His sheep. You cannot tend to another from a safe distance.

Be kind to them and gentle. Urge them to be what God wants them to be but forgive them when they fail to become what God wants them to become, as they will forgive you for your sins, for your weaknesses. Courageously, always preach to them the truth and be its credible witness.

As Bishop Sheen once preached, “The priest is not only the shepherd who cares for his sheep; he is also the lamb who is offered in caring for them. Our parishioners are not disturbers; we commit to them our heart, our body, our blood.”

Let your holiness of life be a delightful fragrance to Christ’s faithful. God’s people deserve nothing less from their priests. As Pope Francis recently exhorted some men he was to ordain: Do not be a mere functionary who does priestly things, be a true pastor of souls. God’s people know instinctively that we priests are called to be holy for them. We strive to be holy not instead of their own holiness, but we strive to be holy for them, as part of our priestly sacrifice. Everything about the priest, everything, is to be for them in Christ.

The fervor of a priest’s life depends entirely upon the Mass, where the priest 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. Every time we bow humbly at the altar, we remind ourselves that a priest never belongs to himself. Daily celebration of the Eucharist helps transform the busy priest’s life from a surface activism into a focused and unified life of pastoral service.

Following Christ in the priestly ministry with a clear awareness of whose you are brings a transparent joy and evangelizing zeal. A faithful priest shines out and attracts people to Jesus if his life and his ministry is a joyful expression of his love for Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. The priest’s life is a continuation of the life and action of Christ Himself. Therein lies your joy, your Cross, your hope, your sense of fulfillment.

In the continuation of Christ’s life, you will administer the Holy Sacraments. You will baptize. You will heal and reconcile. You will extend the tender mercy of God in the Sacrament of Penance and experience it personally through your own confession of sins. Deacons Carter and Doug, you will anoint and console the suffering and dying.

Know that, with your ordination, Jesus does not suppress the beautiful qualities of who you are as a unique child of God. No, He uplifts them, He ennobles them. He makes them His own, using them to serve His mystery and His work. Each of you, who is so beautifully unique and gifted, will become, as a priest of God, a true instrument, mediator of Jesus’ merciful love and compassion. The world needs God and will therefore always need people like you who live for Him totally and proclaim Him to others.

Deacon Doug, Deacon Carter, live your priestly life to its fullest! Through your ministry may God be praised! I extend my deep gratitude to your family, particularly your parents—all your loved ones who are rightly very proud individuals this day. And now, my brothers, rise to declare publicly your desire to become a priest and to serve the Church of God.”

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