ASKED to give the homily at the Thanksgiving Mass of a newly ordained priest, I was wondering what to say to a person who I know must have received a deep and thorough formation for the priesthood. It’s like preaching to the choir, talking to someone who is already in the same league.
I immediately thought that what I should do is just to give him some simple but basic reminders and to encourage him to be most faithful and generous in his ministry, as well as to encourage those attending the Mass to pray for the fidelity of the young priest.
We cannot deny that the priesthood is a great divine gift for the Church and for the people. It enables the presence and the redemptive action of Christ to continue in our midst. With and through the priest, Christ becomes alive again. With and through him, Christ continues to teach, sanctify and guide the people toward their ultimate end—that is, heaven.
It is no joke to be a priest. With all the baggage of weaknesses and human miseries that all of us carry, the priest has to learn to be everything to all men and women, just like what St. Paul said:
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
“To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor 9,19-23)
The priest therefore always has to remember that he is Christ the priest. He has to have the same sentiments and desires of Christ. In all his actuations, he has to make sure that it is Christ who is manifested and glorified, nor just himself.
He has to be ready to have the same fate or destiny as Christ. He has to be prepared to stay the course even if he is misunderstood, insulted, mocked, humiliated, crucified.
Like Christ, it has to be clear and firm in his mind and heart to have the attitude of wanting only to serve and not to be served, going all the way to washing and kissing the feet of the people. He has to live all the virtues—poverty and detachment, humility and the art of passing unnoticed, fortitude and patience, and above all, charity, the mother of all the virtues.
Like Christ, he has to be a man of prayer, of tangible sanctity such that with his mere presence, people would get inspired. Yes, he has to be identified with the people without compromising his identity with Christ. And the secret for this is simply to follow closely the example of Christ.
With Christ, the priest would know how to be immersed in the world without being swallowed by the world. He would know how to pursue his eminently spiritual and supernatural mission, how to carry out his redemptive and sanctifying work without getting entangled in politics or business and other temporal affairs.
The priest should study and take care of his ongoing and never-ending formation with the view of becoming more and more like Christ. A priest can never say he is already fully like Christ. He can still be more like Christ till his last breath.