Mystery of the Priesthood

(Feast of Presentation, Feb. 2, 1997)

Photo by Linda Bloom
Concelebrants (L-R):
Fr. William Treacy (former pastor of Stanwood),
Fr. Matthew Williams, O.C.D. (pastor of St. Cecilia, Stanwood),
Fr. Thomas Marti, M.M. (Maryknoll Development Director, Seattle),
Deacon Donald Hanika (St. Cecilia, Stanwood)
Fr. Joseph "Jay" DeFolco (pastor of St. John Vianney, Kirkland),
Fr. Richard Oulette, M.M. (Maryknoll Development House, Seattle),
Fr Tim Sauer (pastor of St. Joseph, Ferndale; St. Anne, Blaine and St. Joachim, Lummi)

First of all, I wish to thank you for coming tonite. I would like to publicly express my gratitude to Fr. Matthew Williams for allowing me to have this Mass here in my home parish. And thank you to the people of St. Cecilia's for the music and hospitality in general.

As you know, the original twenty-fifth anniversary Mass on December 29 was snowed out. A few people did trudge through the slush to get there, but all in all it was a great disappointment. Still, I did not want to wait another 25 years, so I decided to try again, but closer to home.

Twenty-five years is a good point to stop, to look back and look ahead. It is a whole generation. When my mom & dad came to my ordination in December of 1971, they were about the age I am now. In fact, my brother Mike is actually older today than my folks were then. Mike and my other three brothers, Greg, Louis and Lawrence were also at the ordination. My sister could not come because of her new baby, Tonya. And two weeks ago Tonya herself became a mother. We are talking about a new generation.

As I look back on twenty-five years, I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. In the last few months people have told me I did or said something which made a difference in their lives. I have those people in mind tonite. I would like to offer this Mass for them—and for the ones who have touched my life so deeply by their trust and faith.

There is a tremendous mystery in being a priest and it is talked about in tonite's readings. This is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord and it always falls on February 2, exactly 40 days after Christmas, because Jesus was presented in the temple 40 days after his birth. That presentation foreshadows the unique priesthood of Jesus. The prophet Malachi in the first reading looks forward to the day a pleasing sacrifice will be offered to God. And in the letter to the Hebrews we see that Jesus alone offered the perfect sacrifice, his death on the cross. That sacrifice takes away the sins of all who come to Jesus. He is the great high priest.

Now, Jesus wants His one sacrifice to be continued in time and space. For that reason He chooses certain men to be his priests of the new covenant. Our main job is to offer the sacrifice of the Mass which is like being at Calvary, at the foot of the cross with Mary and John. The Mass, as Vatican II teaches, is the "source and summit of the Christian life." Our life as Christians flows from the Mass and the Mass itself is the high point of being a Christian.

When I celebrate Mass, I try to do the best I can, but I have to admit I take a lot of comfort from the fact that it isn't so much me who is doing it, but Jesus. He uses the priest as his instrument. I saw that many times here, but perhaps most powerfully in the years I was in Peru. I remember a Mass I offered in a community after lightening had destroyed a home and killed a child. The parents were crying for their daughter who had died, but also for their adobe home which was leveled, blankets burnt and some farm animals killed, a sheep, some chickens who were near the house. I did not have words to console the parents; in fact, the mom, an Aymara Indian, understood very little Spanish and I spoke practically no Aymara. But in the Mass when I lifted the host, the Body of Christ and the chalice, the Blood of Christ that woman knew her sorrow was joined to the sufferings of Jesus.

And something more happened at that Mass. Lightening destroying a home and killing a person was taken as sign that something is out of place in the relationship with God and one another. The people want reconciliation. So at the beginning of Mass during the penitential rite a catechist had us all kneel down, remember our sins and ask God's forgiveness. Then we stood up and each one went to the other to ask forgiveness. "My brother, please forgive me. My sister, I have treated you wrong, give me your pardon."

When it comes to reconciliation, the poor are our teachers. We have so much can often avoid the issue. After all, I have my car, my home, my job, my bank account. If my brother does me wrong, the heck with him. If my sister offends me, I can live without her. The poor cannot take that attitude. They need their family, their community just to survive. They will die without their family. But the truth is, brothers and sisters, so will we.

The poor have much to teach us about forgiveness. And of course forgiveness is at the heart of the priesthood. One of the wonderful aspects of the priesthood is the sacrament of reconciliation where the priest acting on behalf of Christ extends His healing forgiveness. Even though Confession has been on the decline, I notice indications that young people are being drawn back to it again. And the priest is an instrument of forgiveness not just in the confessional, but many other contexts, above all the Mass.

And we priests also need forgiveness. I know that I have not only helped, but in fact hurt people in the last twenty five years. Sometimes I have really lost it. I remember getting so mad at this guy once that I grabbed his shirt and shouted at him. I am standing here today because he did not strike back; he was much bigger than me. And while I am making a public confession, I need to mention that once, when I was doing a blessing with holy water, this kid irritated me so much (he was jumping up and down, saying "Bless me, Father, bless me") that I took the sprinkler and whacked him on the head. Please don't call the Child Protective Agency. I pray that I did not do any permanent damage, but probably to other people I did. At this Mass I would like to ask publicly for forgiveness, especially if there is someone here whom I hurt.

All of us do need forgiveness and healing. I am no exception. That is an aspect of our lives where we can learn so much from the poor and the poor in heart, those who know their need for God. I believe that is why it is so important for us to maintain our bonds with the poor. That is something I have tried to do since returning to ministry here in the Archdiocese.

As part of the Mass tonite, I am going to ask you to express that solidarity in a special way. Fr Matthew has graciously allowed that the collection be taken up for the Mary Bloom Center in Peru, which is named after my mom who is here tonite. Thanks to the generosity of people in the past months we have been able not only to meet basic expenses, but have enough to purchase an overhead projector. It costs about $800. Very timely because the Mary Bloom Center is now holding a four month course on Natural Family Planning with 35 participants, including local health professionals.

We would like to raise enough to buy a fetal monitor, about $1400. Maybe someone here tonite could write a check for that amount—or half of it, $700. Last month the Mary Bloom Center helped a small boy get treatment to save his eye; it cost $100. There are families too poor to send their children to school because they cannot buy notebooks, pens, shoes, school uniforms; it takes between $20-50 to equip a child for school, which in Peru starts up again in April. Whatever you can give will be deeply appreciated and well used. You can simply make out a check to St. Cecilia Parish with Mary Bloom Center or Peru in the memo. Fr. Matthew will make sure it gets there. We do this thru our Archdiocesan Missions Office which takes out nothing for administration, so 100% of your gift arrives in Peru.

Tonite I am deeply grateful for your presence. I am thankful to God for 25 years of priesthood. I would like to invite you to join me in expressing that gratitude by sharing with people in Peru. They taught me so much about the meaning of Mass and forgiveness.

Dec. 29 Homily

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