If you missed the delivery yesterday on the radio, here is the printed text used for my homily yesterday for Sacred Heart Radio:
As we gather today to celebrate this Mass, there are many things that are happening in the Church’s cycle of prayer. Not only do we gather on this First Friday of December, but we are making our way through this great season of Advent, plus we celebrate an early Doctor of the Church, one of the four great Latin Patriarchs in St. Ambrose, not to mention that tomorrow is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, you may be wondering how we’re going to tie all this together, or even if they might somehow be related to a theme of Vocation as well. Hmm… Let’s give it a shot, shall we? It is this last aspect, the theme of Vocation that underlies all that I do, is one aspect that I see that unifies all of these various themes and venues that we celebrate today.
First, let’s begin with the Season in which we find ourselves: Advent. This is, as we have been hearing, a season of Preparation, a joyful season of anticipation of Christ’s coming, not only at the great Feast of Christmas that ends this season, but also an acknowledgement that Christ is coming that the end of time. However, if we look at it this way, there may be a temptation to think that Jesus has left us orphans somehow. He is currently off enjoying the richness of Heaven, exploring the endless mansion that His Father has up there. But we all know that this is NOT the case. During this season of Advent, we have such moving passages, especially from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, that show how God is intimately concerned with what is going on ‘down here.’ God wants to turn our world which can be full of hatred, jealously and tyranny, into a world of peace, full of orchards, where the poor rejoice in God’s presence and the lion and the lamb lie down together, in peace.
We hear in the moving announcement to Mary that she will ‘conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him: Emmanuel; which means: God is with us.’ So we know, fundamentally, Christ is present here with us, leading us deeper into the mystery of his very self, and drawing us ever closer into His heavenly home.
But, how does he do this? How is His presence made known to the world today? Obviously, there are many and varied ways, but a primary way that he enters the world is through the life and ministry of His priests, whom he calls to do His bidding in the world.
As a priest, I have to be very conscious of the fact that what I do in this world is not about me, rather I am to be a doorway for others to come to know Christ, in whose presence, in whose persona I act, that we do represent Christ to the world. I am reminded of this continually as I walk downtown and am asked repeatedly if I am ‘a reverend.’ “Nope, I am a Catholic priest.” Even the homeless guys respond: ‘Pray for me, Father.’ You betcha!
The priest stands as a constant reminder that Jesus is still present to us, that he gives his life for His people, just as the priest does in celibacy. The priest is also a reminder that all of us live in anticipation of the world to come, and not just for this world. The priest is an eschatological sign of our hope in heaven.
But interestingly, as he stands arranged to the world to come, he also focuses on this world, on the here and now, which is part of the lesson that we have today from St. Ambrose, the great teacher and doctor, Patriarch of the Latin Church and founder of the Ambrosian Rite in Milan. While I admittedly do not know as much as I should about Ambrose’s thought and theology, there is always a connection between him and another great Patriarch of the Latin Church: Augustine, whom he baptized. This connection points to the fact that the priest is not to be concerned with his own salvation, per se, but with the salvation of the souls entrusted to his care. He is to give his life so that others may live. He is to draw others deeper into the mystery of Christ, so he is to not only be a witness, but must also be a teacher of the mysteries which he celebrates. The two great Patriarchs, along with Gregory I and Jerome, help us even yet today to understand the mystery of Christ’s presence in the world, and give especially the priests of today the example to follow of preaching Christ, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Finally, and most importantly, we come to Mary, whose presence is inescapable during this great season. She is the mother of all priests, for she is the mother of the Great High Priest, Jesus Himself. But she is also first and foremost a disciple, who gives those who follow in her footsteps the pathway to come to know her son better.
But, she is also the extreme example for her priests to follow, for everything that she does points the way not to herself, but to her Son, just as everything that a priest does should also point to her Son. In a sense, she is the first priest because she bears Christ to the world, she makes Him known through her deeds and actions. Yet, she is also the model of humility because she never sought the glory for herself, even as she recognizes that ‘All generations will call me blessed.’ But this is only because of her connection with the Almighty, ‘who has done great things for’ her; and ‘Holy is His name.’
Because of her example, because of her connection with her Son, every priest is to be Marian in his devotion, and I am convinced that my vocation to the priesthood was marked by her gracious intercession and guidance. I was baptized and raised at Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Botkins, I was formed as a disciple of Christ under Mary’s patronage in this very chapel and at Her Farm in Falmouth, for which I am very grateful. I attended Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, which celebrates her Patronal Feast tomorrow, and I was first assigned to Our Lady of the Visitation on the West Side upon my Ordination. She guides not only her priests, but all the disciples of Her Son, closer to Him.
One final note regarding Mary’s life: she also teaches us that to follow Christ, to bear Christ to the world, is not a pathway for glory, it is a pathway of humility. She knew whom she was bearing in her womb, yet she submitted and gave birth in a manger, with the animals to keep her company. The Shepherds in the fields were the first to come and visit, and the kings only came later. She experienced persecution and ridicule when she ended up pregnant before she and Joseph came to live together. Through all this, though, God refined her and made her a more perfect dwelling place for Christ. In the same way, God brings us through our own sufferings that we too might become more perfect dwelling places for Christ, too.
During this Advent season, as we make our journey to Christ, coming not only at Christmas, but also at the End of Time, let us embrace this journey, that in following the footsteps of Mary and the Saints, we may make Christ known more perfectly in our lives, and that through our faithfulness, Jesus may transform this world of suffering and pain, to a world that recognizes that Christ is always with us. And with that knowledge, we have the true freedom that comes to His Son’s and Daughters.