"...giving God permission."
Hello everyone. I hope you are well and keeping safe. Yesterday I meant to share with you my homily for Fr Silva's Mass of Thanksgiving. Not that I think its a masterpiece but I enjoyed putting it together with (hopefully) the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Enjoy the day!
How wonderful for all of us to be here at this Mass of Thanksgiving with Fr. Luis Silva the main celebrant, having just been ordained this past Friday morning. Fr. Luis, I want to thank you for your “yes” to God and in the words of Mother Teresa, “for giving God permission,” in allowing God now to be in the driver’s seat for the rest of your life. Also, on a personal note, I want to thank you for this extraordinary and humbling privilege to preach at this Mass of Thanksgiving. It is a daunting yet an enriching task. Daunting because I preach before the people of God and so many priests, not to mention a bishop. They will hand in their scorecard at the end of Mass! Enriching because for so many of us, your ordination to the priesthood lifts us up in days when we have been so impacted and hit so hard with the pandemic that has changed all of our lives.
Our Scripture readings speak so wonderfully today to the gift of hospitality. There are many virtues to speak about when it comes to the priesthood and what we strive to do as priests and who we strive to imitate. Hospitality might not immediately come to mind as up there with prayerfulness, chastity, charity, sacrifice, holiness, surrender. Yet, today hospitality is front and center in our readings from the second book of kings and from the Lord himself as given to us by the Gospel of Matthew. To say that a priest must be hospitable is quite simply to say a priest must be another Christ. Because that is who Jesus is. He is hospitality incarnate. As Pope Benedict once remarked, “Jesus gives everything and takes away nothing.”
I think many of us in our lives, have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of others. We stand so grateful to them in the way they have helped us, welcomed us, given so much of themselves so freely and beautifully to us. And it is also probably true that we might have been underwhelmed with others who have not been hospitable or welcoming, who have measured things, who have self-imposed limits to their hospitality. In a way, we thank them too because we have learned from them and we ask God to bless them.
A number of years ago, I learned a great deal about pushing the limits of hospitality and I often smile because of this strange experience. I was returning back to the Bronx in the middle of the day on the 4 train to Kingsbridge Road. It was unusually crowded. As I got off the train, I noticed in the middle of a rushed crowd an elderly man with a walking stick he used as a guide as he obviously couldn’t see. He reminded me of an image of pinball being bounced around, side to side to side, as people shoved and passed him by. I remember enjoying the thought that I might be able to help him, even felt a little pride about it. But of course, pride goes before the fall! Very important lesson!
So I helped him down the stairs and to the street corner and I wished him a good day. He grabbed my arm and said, “Wait a minute, I need you to help me go to the Veteran’s Hospital. I thought, well okay, you can hold onto my arm and we could walk there together. Now going to Veterans’ Hospital on Kingsbridge Road from Jerome Avenue is like walking to the North Pole, the Hospital is like an island on to itself! I was not looking forward to this and I was afraid of how long it would take. But then the man surprised me, he said, “I am not walking, I need you to get me a cab.” I said, Ok fine, and I hailed down a cab and told the driver to take him to Veteran’s Hospital. As I was about to close the door, he said, “No I need you to take me inside the hospital.” I thought again, OK. Then when we arrived and the cost was $7, he said to me, “You don’t expect me to pay for this cab, do you.” I said , “Of course not!, why would I?”I paid the fare and then brought him to the hospital door and again wished him well. He then said, “no, no, no, now you have to bring me in and have them call the floor to get somebody to take me upstairs.” “All right,” I said, “Anything else?”!” I was then left off the hook. As I walked home very surprised at this experience, I had to laugh as I became grateful for this gentleman who turned my ideas of hospitality into something more authentic and certainly more costly and I am not just talking about the cab fare! Granted of course, there will be times in our lives when for one reason or another, we might not be able to help as much as we want or a situation might call for other kinds of help. But sufficient to say, that authentic hospitality costs and of course, the Lord loves a cheerful giver.
Fr Luis, may I offer a few more words on this challenge of Christ to be a priest after his own heart and a priest that is well acquainted with hospitality. Perhaps the first place to start is the hospitality you give to Christ. I once heard a wise spiritual director say to seminarians on the evening of their ordination: “As a new priest, You will give yourself to Christ, don’t spend the rest of your priesthood trying to take your life back.” Isn’t that another way of repeating those words of Jesus in our gospel today: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Whoever spends his days looking after his own interests, especially a priest, is lost indeed. Whoever daily looks for ways to give his all to Christ will be never be lost. He knows where he is going.
I find these words of a prayer from Father Karl Rahner very inspiring to this very beautiful lesson.
“Lord, we have given ourselves and you the pledge to become your priests: just priests and nothing besides, priests in undivided service. You look at us, Your eyes pierce through our conscience, Your love touched our heart. And you say, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” But we dare to look up to you humbly and trustingly and to say: by Your grace we will be what you have commanded us to be.”
Yes, Fr. Luis the more and more you give to the Lord in your ministry, your prayers, your sacrifices, your joys, your sufferings, your fears, your worries, above all your love, the more Jesus finds a home with you because of your hospitality in welcoming him and serving him so well and so often, no matter the cost.
Speaking of the cost, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that we have to take up our cross and follow him or else we will be “unworthy of him.” Of course, he is not talking about daily burdens and inconveniences such as having your ordination date changed a hundred times! No, he is speaking specifically about dying to oneself and we all need the cross to help us do that so that we can live more fully in Him. Indeed, Jesus is calling you Fr. Luis to follow his example, whatever the cross or crosses may be. To carry them faithfully and trust, as John Henry Newman prayed,
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me that he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”
Finally, Fr. Luis, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Get ready for the joy that will lift you and God’s people to new heights. Every day will be different and the calling you have heard, you will continue to hear from God as you stay faithful to your prayers, as you baptize new Christians, as you celebrate the Eucharist, as you forgive sins in the beautiful sacrament of confession, as you preach God’s word to God’s holy people, as you anoint the sick and as you serve God’s people faithfully in their spiritual and physical needs. This holy adventure will welcome you to imitate the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. This holy adventure will shape you and teach you that you forever belong to Christ as his priest.
Look at your priestly friends here in this church. They will also share with you the joys of this holy adventure that is the priesthood of Jesus Christ. They will also join me in sharing some of its pitfalls, some of the difficulties, some of the challenges and some of the problems that may come your way. And yet, I know they join me today in saying “It’s all worth it!” however costly it is, to give oneself so freely to Christ as his priest.
And the people you will serve, Fr. Luis, trust them wholeheartedly. They too will have a share in shaping your priesthood, teaching you how to listen and best serve them. You were ordained on the feast of St Josemaria Escriva, a modern day saint for all. Listen to his words to this very point:
“As Christian faithful, priests and lay people share one and the same condition, for God our Lord has called us to the fullness of charity which is holiness: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. There is no such thing as second-class holiness. Either we put up a constant fight to stay in the grace of God and imitate Christ, our Model, or we desert Him in that divine battle.
God invites everyone; each person can become holy in his own state in life.”
Fr. Luis, once again thank you for saying yes. I pray your “yes” will actively resound for many, many years to come.
Be assured of our love, our prayers, and our support for you in this beautiful ministry of priesthood that will save souls beginning with your own.
Ad Multos Anos
on Tuesday, June 30 at 11:41AM