Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Homily for the ordination to the priesthood of Jeff Core, Jason Hiner, Jeff Lewis, and Tyler Smedley - May 26, 2011"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the July 21, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
In these Easter days, the liturgical landscape is dominated by the image of the Good Shepherd who feeds his flock. It would be enticing to speak to you Jeff and Jason, Jeff and Tyler about the qualities of the Good Shepherd that would serve you well as you begin your ministry of service to God’s people. However, the readings you selected for tonight open for us another direction. They speak of how the Lord on this day of your ordination promises to nourish you on the journey he sends you. We hear that his nourishment comes in knowing him more intimately and through the faith you will witness in others.
There is a story about an elderly priest who was invited to a celebration by a couple whom he had married 25 years earlier. Also in attendance was a famous Shakespearean actor, who was a childhood friend of the husband. At one point, the couple prevailed on the actor to provide a bit of entertainment with a recitation of one of his favorite passages. Out of deference to the old priest, the actor asked him to choose some passage. The priest suggested that he would like to hear the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The actor agreed but insisted that the priest recite it after him. The actor began reciting the famous passage in a commanding, resonant voice, captivating everyone. As soon as he had finished, the quiet voice of the little old priest could be heard. A deep silence spread throughout the gathering as the priest recited the Psalm….and when he had finished there was a hush that enfolded the room, and a number of guests had tears in the eyes. The Shakespearean actor, seeing this, turned to the priest and said, “Father, I am an actor, and a very good one, and I know I have the skills to hold people’s attention and capture their imagination, but the difference between us is that I know the words, but you know the Shepherd.”
Jeff, Jason, Jeff and Tyler, your nourishment will come in knowing the Shepherd, knowing intimately the one who sends you. Is that not the sense we get from the scene in the reading from Jeremiah? Yes, the words are important, but notice how the Lord feeds this reluctant prophet. He does so as a parent would a child. With a tender touch on the lips, God puts His words in Jeremiah’s mouth. Jeremiah of course must take the risk of being open to this intimacy and so must you. But if you do, the promise is that like the old priest, you will be a credible, convincing witness as people see that, in addition to knowing the words, you know the Shepherd. Pope Paul VI of happy memory said it so well when he noted that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
Jesus in the Gospel from Luke continues this theme of the Lord nourishing those sent. The 72 will be fed, but this time by those to whom they are sent. Twice he tells them: “eat what is set before you.”
The message is clear. Keep on the lookout for how God will nourish you by what others set before you in their practice of the faith and how they trust in God. It will come as you listen to the anguished voice of one who just received a deadly diagnosis, and yet trusts deeply in a God who does not abandon. It will come as you gather with a family around the death bed of a parent, and witness a love that brings peace and forgiveness. It will come as a penitent comes humbly to ask God’s forgiveness and you will be the one truly humbled. All of this will be your nourishment. Eat what is set before you.
You will be in good company if you reverence people’s lives in this way, for Jesus did the same. Recall Luke’s account in chapter 21 of the widow’s mite. Amid the crowds at the temple he spotted this otherwise anonymous simple woman, and was inspired when he saw that she generously gave all she had to live on. So do the same, eat what is set before you.
Of course, we know from your years of formation that all of this is not unfamiliar to you. We know that you already have found nourishment in knowing God intimately in your prayer, and that you know not just the words but the Shepherd. We know that already you have found inspiration and food for the journey by attending to the deep faith of simple people, who end up feeding us when we have been sent to feed them. We know that all of this rings true in your experience. So hold on to the truth of the promise spoken to you on the night of your ordination. We will pray that you do so, so that God, who has begun this good work in you, may bring it to fulfillment.
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