Dear deacons: As priests, you will be totally consecrated to Christ, set aside for him, so that through the gift of yourself he can make use of you as shepherds of his people. As we heard the Apostle Paul say to the presbyters in our First Reading, your mission is “to shepherd the Church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” With the imposition of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, you are charged with representing the Good Shepherd. In ordinary language “representing” usually means being delegated by someone to be present in his place, to speak and act in his stead because the person represented is absent. But as priests you do not represent the Lord in this way, because in the Church, Christ is never absent; the Church is his living Body and he is the Head of the Church, present and active within her.
In the celebration of the sacraments you will represent the person of the Risen Christ, who makes himself present with his effective saving actions. He really acts today through you and brings about what a human being could never do without ordination. You, dear brothers, are being welcomed into the circle of those disciples to whom he spoke in the upper room, his friends. He grants you the awesome power to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: “This is my body, this is the chalice of my blood. I absolve you from your sins.” He enables you – with his authority – to be able to speak and act in his name in ways which bring about these changes at the deepest level of being. This is the highest exercise of your spiritual and pastoral fatherhood, being the instrument of giving the “new life” of grace to your people. “The mystery of the priesthood of the Church lies in the fact that we, miserable human beings, by virtue of the Sacrament, can speak with his ‘I’: in persona Christi. He wishes to exercise his priesthood through us.”
At the Last Supper, Jesus told the disciples that the world would hate them for keeping the teaching he had received from the Father. But this opposition was not to deter their mission. He “sent them into the world,” just as the Father had sent him. Dear ordinandi: you are to preach vigorously the kerygma: the merciful love of God as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Never preach yourselves, but him and his Word, and always only in communion with his body, the Church. And do not hesitate to teach the whole truth. Fear must not prevent you from presenting the Word of God in its integrity, even those things that people are less willing to hear or that arouse protests or derision. Be under no illusion. An incomplete teaching of the Catholic faith is a contradiction in itself and cannot be fruitful in the long term. The proclamation of the full Gospel goes hand in hand with a love that encourages – one that teaches that with God’s grace even what often seems impossible by our own efforts truly becomes possible.
A good shepherd, as Pope Francis reminds us, has the “smell of the sheep” because he is close to them. He knows his sheep with the heart. Not aloof, and never on a pedestal, he knows their wounds, above all their spiritual wounds, and strives to heal them with a pastoral charity that knows no bounds. To preach in a way truly fruitful for the sake of the Kingdom, dear brothers, your heart and mind must be pervaded by the word of God, which must be the nourishment of your life, even more than bread. Ponder the word, love it, and be engaged with it to the point that it leaves a mark on your life and shapes your thinking. I have one last piece of advice: You are being ordained to be spiritual fathers and shepherds. As fathers, you are to give life to others, above the life that comes from the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments. Always remember that offering the Eucharist is at the heart of your spiritual fatherhood of sanctifying. Live your priesthood as a good shepherd, for it is through your ministry that the Lord reaches souls, instructs, guards and guides them. Have an unconditional love for your flock, like that of the Good Shepherd – full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to you, ever ready to go out and meet those who are distant, and always bringing the good news of the infinite mercy of God with your reassuring words of hope.
+ J. Michael Miller CSB, Archbishop of Vancouver