'Open your heart to Jesus, the Great Priest'
Following is the homily delivered by Bishop Robert P. Reed at the concluding Mass of a retreat for prospective seminarians of the Archdiocese of Boston, Feb. 12.
"What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart...is what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Cor 2:9)
I really appreciate those words. What St. Paul calls: "God's wisdom, a hidden wisdom." In other words: yes, there is a heaven and, sad to say, there is a hell.
Last week I dropped what I was doing and drove over to Brigham and Women's Hospital. The mother of one of our staff at CatholicTV had been sick for some time. Now she was near death and the family was with her. When I arrived there were about 15 people standing around the perimeter of the room -- all of them in their 20s or early 30s. I immediately knew that this was one of those solemn moments that we enjoy as priests, one that will be remembered -- but not only that but, it was (to steal an expression from the 1970's): "a teachable moment." I became emotionally involved, of course, because I too have stood at the bedside of my dying parents and many others as well. It is part of the wonderful life, the deep joy, the privilege of being a priest.
Again, I was well aware of the demographic of the room that day. Perhaps standing around that bed were some of the so-called religious "nones," people raised as Catholics, but who now consider themselves "scientists" and don't necessarily believe in grace, who don't really think of heaven -- or hell. I am aware by experience and from recent studies that some people have lost perspective. I know that some have never heard the good news that our lives are willed by God from all eternity and in the depths of God's love, he waits for us to return to him in eternity.
What of the eternal? Are we so worried about the storm today and what we must do tomorrow that fail to see what is to come? Is our hope for the future limited to what small successes or achievements we can pull off in this life? The temptation to think this way is great.
There is more to life than meets the eye! It is of these deep realities, this hidden wisdom that, as priests, we preach by word and hopefully by example. It is these deep realities that, as priests, we touch with consecrated hands!
"Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on the human heart what God has prepared for you, who seek to love him."
So, I guess following the commandments is pretty important! I guess examining our consciences frequently, daily, is critical. I guess discovering what God wants of our life is paramount. I think of Joe Flynn and his family from Needham: he got out of the car to in that ice storm the other day and lost his life trying to help his son. You just never know what a morning or the day will bring. And unless our righteousness, our virtue, surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:20).
It is my suspicion that many of those who were in that hospital room the other day did some "soul-searching" after the fact -- including yours-truly. It's difficult to witness the dying of someone you know and love and not consider your own mortality -- and the eternal!
Today, the Lord's Day, we came to this altar. And the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is made present and effective for us again. By this cross, by his grace we have been saved.
But we have this life, this earth, this wonderful Church, her sacraments, his grace, his patience: to learn how to be righteous -- not just how to "look" righteous.
What a intense challenge it is to be a priest in this historical moment. What incredible courage it takes! It calls forth from us a lived holiness, common sense, a spirit of self-sacrifice, patience with others and ourselves. It is such a challenging life that I can tell you from personal experience, it is impossible -- without constant prayer, without frequent confession and this Holy Eucharist.
You are perhaps being called to the most wonderful life of all!
St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests, was a notoriously bad student. He had major troubles in the seminary. The story is told about one of his more gifted classmates who gave John Vianney a hard time in seminary, all the time, for being so clueless. The story goes that John Vianney went and knelt at the desk of his more intelligent classmate and begged forgiveness for having made him so impatient with his ignorance.
That classmate went on to be a bishop; John Vianney went on to be a saint! (Let that be a lesson to me and to all of us!) John was saintly precisely because he was up to the challenge of being a good parish priest.
We really need good parish priests -- trust me! -- men who deeply desire holiness of life and who have the goods to lead people to heaven!
We are here together in this beautiful chapel as priests or seminarians or prospective seminarians because someone said to us something like, "You should be a priest, you'd make a good priest."
Why would someone say that to us? To make us feel good? I think not. What was said to us was said out of love for the Church. That person saw in us what makes for a good priest. Somehow, someway, someone recognized in us an individual in touch with eternal realities; they saw in us the virtue, the courage and compassion to live this near impossible call.
And so we discern that call. The question to ask in discernment is not: what's best for me? Vocation is not about me -- although, again, there's a temptation to make it such.
The real question to ask is: what is best for the Church? We do not become priests because we cannot think of anything else better to do with our lives. We become priests because we have courage and we have something to offer.
If you one of those in this chapel discerning your vocation, make a commitment here and now, at this Mass, just to open your heart to Jesus, the Great Priest. This cross is his altar. The priesthood is our altar -- upon which we offer ourselves.
Jesus calls you his friend, he offers you hope in all of your struggles, he offers you the fullness of life in heaven. Commit yourself to him, open your heart -- to his heart. He will not leave your side and he, the Good Shepherd, will lead you down the correct path.
Let your yes be yes, to him, today!
- BISHOP REED IS REGIONAL BISHOP OF THE WEST REGION OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON, PASTOR OF GOOD SHEPHERD PARISH, WAYLAND AND PRESIDENT OF ICATHOLIC MEDIA.