I know you probably thought this day might never come when you first started, and now it is here. You are now to be ordained a priest.  

You can rightly say in some ways that this your sacrament. You might rightly say, “I am being ordained a priest. I am receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders.” And in this sacrament, you’ll be marked by God as his servant for all times in a unique role as priest. And you can say that it is yours rightly so because God has chosen you, and that is not unimportant. He has chosen you because of your unique place in the body of Christ, your unique talents and gifts, maybe even more than that – your insight, your view of the world. You each carry with you a certain history, challenges, successes and culture, and you will bring to your priesthood a unique, creative even, presence of that priesthood in the world. Not creative in the sense that you will be creating new things – there’re a lot of old things first, so get though the old stuff first and then you can start with the new (laughter). But creative in the sense that you will bring your own flavor, your unique insight into proclaiming the Gospel. But also, in addition to your talents, and certainly just as important, it will be your weakness from which you will draw the greatest and deepest wisdom as long as you are not afraid to let that weakness be shown to the people and let them gain from the wisdom you have learned of what it means to be weak so that Christ can be strong. So rightly you can consider this  your ordination, priesthood,  sacrament. 

But in another way it’s not your sacrament at all, for you are called to the service of the people of God. You are given this gift not as just a benefit, but also a responsibility to take the people of God into your heart and to bring Christ to them, first of all, through the sacraments and then, just as important, by your pastoral presence. To this vocation of service God did not call you once many years ago and you have simply been making that one call come to life. I hope that you see in your spiritual life God calls you every day to be faithful to his call, and when he calls your name from now on, he’ll be calling you forth as priest, and in that you will find your greatest joy, but perhaps I should say it this way: When Archbishop Sambi called me the first time to tell me I was going to be the bishop in Shreveport he said, “Well, Monsignor Duca, this will be your greatest joy and your heaviest cross.” I said, “Thank you, I think, Bishop, thank you?” But it will be in that kind of living of the sacrament that you will come to discover who you most deeply are, and you’ll discover also the deepest nature of your priesthood as a priesthood for all. 

Duca, Michael color.pdf

Pope Francis has given us some powerful imagery. In a talk a few years ago he spoke about the anointing of the hands and how important it is to understanding the mission of the priest. Your hands are being anointed because it is through your hands that you will minister to the people of God. And why is it important that the hands be anointed? Well first of all, it’ll be hands that will pour the waters of baptism; hands that will be raised in absolution; hands that will take the bread and the wine and proclaim, “This is my body. This is my blood.” It is your hands that will anoint the sick; it is your hands that will hold the hands of the dying. They are being anointed because hands of the sacrament. 

Every sacrament involves a touch and there is even a more important reason we anoint your hands: You cannot minister to the people only from the pulpit. You have to minister to them them by touching them. We’ve all been baptized into this ministry of Christ’s priesthood in some way through our baptism. We talk about helping he poor, and one of the questions we ask is, “Where do we touch the poor? Actually touch them? Greet them? Hold them? Support them?” 

Your hands are being anointed because it tells what kind of ministry you are asked to give. Pope Francis says, “unction, not function.” It’s not about fulfilling a job description. It’s about a loving presence to your people as sacramental minister, as priest, as the presence of Christ who reaches out to touch them. People will say that it was so important that “a priest touched my heart.” He didn’t touch it just with words. He touched it by the presence of his heart that they felt through his words or they felt through his touch at their sickbed, when they were sick, at their marriage, at their baptism, in the confessional, at the Eucharist. Your hands are being anointed because they will be the hands of Christ. 

This year Pope Francis also talked about how priests are to be close to their people, close enough to touch them. People will say, “That priest is close to his people; that priest is close to us” – meaning that when they call at two o’clock in the morning he is there. When they need his help, he is there. Pope Francis also said in his talk when someone goes up to a priest who is close to his people they will say, “Father, can you help me? Father, help me.” If someone goes up to a priest who is too busy or is not too close to his people they will say, “Father, if you have time, can you help me?” as though they are an imposition on the priest’s life. Never let that be the case. The people of God must always be first in your panorama of love. 

In addition to the anointing of the hands and being close your people, Pope Francis says you are supposed to smell like a sheep! So you have to get close enough to see what the sheep smell like so you can take on their smell, you might say. I love to see a priest that walks so close with his people that they feel like he’s one of them. Wow! What a great compliment: one of them! But not so close that he cannot also be strong to lead, but also close enough that he allows them to see his weakness. Often times, I say it’s important that a priest not only love his people, but he allows them to love him. Allow your people to love you. Show that vulnerability that sometimes you need their help and support, but also know that sometimes you are called to be strong when they need your strength. You bring a unique strength to the sacrament for you not only bring yourself, you bring the whole church with you. 

The last thing you must learn in your life as a priest is obedience. You will promise obedience today to me and to my successors. You will be asked to be obedient to your bishop, obedient to your bishop, obedient to your bishop (laughter). But I’m talking about something more than obeying your bishop. That should be the fruit of a deeper obedience in your life, and the deeper obedience is being obedient to your vocation. When you get that hospital call at two in the morning, being obedient to what it means to be a servant. When you’re asked to be a mediator in a difficult conflict in your parish, being obedient to that call to be the peacemaker. When you are called stand up for some strong truth, a difficult truth, being obedient to your call to the priesthood. When you are called to give your people Mass at a time when it’s inconvenient for you but convenient for them, well, consider that option and be obedient to the call of needs of your people. That is a deeper obedience, your ability to hear God’s will in your vocation. 

And in being obedient you begin to be stretched by God, because there will come a time when the people will tire you out. Pope Francis said the other day about being close to the people, “The people are great, but they can sometimes be very tiring.” I’m sorry, but you can be very tiring (laughter)! So when you as a priest are tired at the end of the day, you could be sitting down in front of the TV because you are too tired to pray. Or you are obedient to God’s call to pray and say, “Lord, I’ve got nothing to give you but trust that you are with me now.” And you sit down in front of the Blessed Sacrament, or in a place of prayer, to gather your thoughts together at the end of the day. Be obedient in that call to prayer. 

In the Gospel reading, Jesus questions Peter three times, “Do you love me?” He’s asking this to see how deep his love is, because he says, Peter, when you were a child, you went about as a child. When you were a seminarian, you went about as a seminarian. You could be a great seminarian. People loved you. Not too much responsibility. You know, you were the person everybody loved when you came into the room. That’s good. That’s good to have that. But he then tells Peter, I tell you there will come a day – and most married people or anyone who has made a commitment of love will know this – “there will come a day when someone will come and tie you up and take you where you do not want to go. Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” 

But I think the same holds true in your obedience to your vocation. There will come a time when God will stretch you beyond your comfort zone. In fact, one time a priest told us at a vocation conference, “A vocation is a call beyond your own self-understanding”. Your life as a priest will call you beyond your own self-understanding of yourself and your own self-understanding of your priesthood. Don’t bring your priesthood to the people as though you know what it is, as though your learning is finished and you are going to save them because you know what a priest is. Until you have walked through those moments where God tells you, “I want to take you where you do not want to go. I want to take you to face your pride. I want to take you to face failure and live through it trusting in me. I want you to follow me in difficult times. I want you to pray when you don’t want to pray.” When you have walked through those moments you will begin to see the priesthood that God has called you to. It will include something of what you know. It will include the best of who you are, but it will be beyond your self-understanding right now. It will be better, deeper, but you will have to cast off things that are superficial in order to walk that deeper path, just as Jesus was stripped in his final passage to the cross. He died on the cross. 

As Archbishop Sambi told me being bishop would be my greatest joy and my greatest cross. But the cross is not defeat. The cross is the gateway to resurrection. If we die with the Lord in our priesthood, we will rise with the Lord. And there in the dying and rising you experience the heart of the priestly ministry. There you live the paschal mystery. There you are joined to the cross and you are lifted up at the resurrection. There you understand the Eucharist. There you will understand what it means to be a priest. And you will be humbled, and you will be freed. I pray that you find that in your priesthood, and that you discover the deeper joy that comes with being a priest. 

My brothers, if you are ready to accept this joyful vocation, have your hands anointed for ministry, pledge to be close to your people in love, and promise to be obedient to Christ in his call to priesthood, then come now and be questioned about your intentions to be received into this order of presbyter.