With great joy I welcome all of you to the Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus this morning; with great pleasure I thank all of you who have come from the Archdiocese or from elsewhere in this country, from Latin America, from Poland, from Africa, for this priestly ordination of fourteen deacons to serve God and his people in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The passages from Holy Scripture just proclaimed tell us first what it means to serve the Body of Christ that is the Church. Listening to the Acts of the Apostles, we hear St. Paul telling the priests of Ephesus who they are: overseers, elders, rulers who tend the Church of God that Christ acquired at the cost of his blood. They are guardians of the people and of the truth revealed by Jesus. They are sanctifiers, priests who admonish and pray daily for the people, content to wait for God’s action, but attentive to the signs of his presence.
The Apostle in his own letter to the Ephesians tells us that this authority to govern is given to priests in order to unify the people. No priest is ordained without a title, without a flock that is his to care for; but there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God. Diversity there may be, but it is to contribute to the unity of our common life in Christ Jesus. Ordained priests are custodians of that unity.
The Gospel according to St. Luke tells us what it means to serve the Body of Christ that is the Holy Eucharist. Dear sons and soon to be brother priests, for the first time in your lives you will consecrate during this ordination Mass the bread and wine that becomes truly the body and blood of Christ. Unlike the apostles, who after receiving the Eucharist immediately began to argue who should be regarded as the greatest among them, you inherit two thousand years of history and have had four years of theology to help you understand the Holy Eucharist. You will not be arguing about who is the greatest among you today, and I hope you will not be arguing about it in years to come. Just as governing the Body of Christ that is the Church imposes a discipline of waiting for God’s grace to make itself manifest, so celebrating the Body of Christ that is the Eucharist trains you to wait until Christ returns in glory to make the meaning of our lives and all of history clear at last. As priests, we are officers of a Kingdom not ours and not yet perfectly realized; everything about priestly life falls into perspective behind this belief.
Dear Sons and Brothers, having heard St. Paul and St. Luke, listen to me tell you now what it means to live and serve here, as a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Each of us brings many brothers to our ministry, priests who have shaped our life in Christ and our life together. Each time I baptize, I thank God for the priest who baptized me at Our Lady Help of Christians on Chicago’s west side, Fr. Patrick Hunter. At each reception of Holy Communion, I remember Fr. George Heimsath, who gave me communion for the first time, a moment when I also first felt called to the priesthood, and Fr. Matthias Fischer, who explained the faith so well to grade schoolers at St. Pascal’s on the northwest side. When I confirm, I think of Archbishop Cousins of Milwaukee, who confirmed me when he was an auxiliary bishop here. And today, as I ordain you, I remember Bishop Raymond Hillinger, another auxiliary bishop of Chicago who ordained me a priest in 1963. These men are now also part of your lives, part of the network of relationships that continue to shape the presbyterate and the Archdiocese. Each of you has names to add of priests who have been part of your journey here from your home dioceses and from Chicago itself. Bring them forward at this Mass as my hands are placed on your head; join them to you again and bring them to the rest of us—with their faults and virtues, weaknesses and strengths. Each has been a vehicle for God’s grace in the Church and for the world.
During this universally celebrated Year for Priests, we in Chicago have brought forward our relationship to Fr. Augustus Tolton, a priest of the Archdiocese over a hundred years ago. You know his story. He was born a slave and was brought to freedom in Illinois, but to become a seminarian he had to go to Rome. You know as well his constant cheerfulness in the midst of soul numbing adversity; such joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence. God was present to Fr. Tolton, and God is present here among you and us today. We watch for the signs of God’s presence in our day and we listen to God as we listen now to you. Tell us of your resolve to serve as priests of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Please come forward.
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
May 22, 2010