This homily was given by Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Advent and for his 40th anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington on December 18, 2005.
Two weeks ago, as I gave the homily on the Second Sunday of Advent, I reflected on the fact that God the Father sends us messengers during Advent. And the messengers that God sends us during Advent are two: first, Saint John the Baptist, whose message came to us both on the Second Sunday and on the Third Sunday of Advent. Today, the messenger is different, it is our Blessed Mother.
Today's alternative Opening Prayer describes how Mary is God's messenger. I quote: "Your eternal word took flesh on our earth, when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan." What a powerful message! What a powerful image! Placing one's life at the service of God's plan! Recall that God desires that we be drawn into deeper union with Jesus. In other words, He desires that we be holy, and in Mary's example of life, in her message, in her image, we find the basic key or outline for becoming truly holy, for deepening our union with Jesus, placing our life at the service of God's plan. And this is true for each one of us, for each of us is truly a disciple of the Lord.
Mary's words tell us of her placing her life at the service of God's plan. Did we not hear at the end of the Gospel reading: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your Word!" There, she placed her life at the service of God's plan: "Your will be done in me." Notice, she and we must place our life at the service of God's plan, not ours. Now often, in our human weakness with all good intentions, we propose to God our plan, like David in today's first reading: "Let me build a house for you." A wonderful thought! It was his plan, not God's. And so God told King David, as He tells us: "It's not your plan that must be done, but Mine." And holiness, true union with Jesus comes about only in being one with God's plan – His will. Now, another way to say this is to say that we give to God the obedience of faith. Saint Paul used those very words in today's second reading.
Yes, sisters and brothers, God sends us messengers not only during Advent, but all through the Church year, messengers like St. John the Baptist, like Our Blessed Mother, like the saints. But, this God Who loves us so deeply wills to send us as well messengers present among us in visible ways. And so He sends us priests, who act in the Person of Christ, Head, Shepherd and Spouse of the Church. The purpose of every priest's life and ministry is, to use the words of St. Paul in the second reading, "to bring about among God's people the obedience of faith." And how does the priest do this? Through his preaching and teaching; through the celebration of the sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Eucharist; through shepherding the flock, yes, in the parish setting and in other ecclesial settings; and by his presence and witness among God's people. But, the priest can only do this if simultaneously, while he is acting in the Person of Christ, he also places his life at the service of God's plan. After all, every priest is called in accord with that mysterious plan of God: "You did not choose Me, I chose you to go forth and bear fruit, fruit that will last."
Today, is the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the sacred priesthood in Saint Peter's Basilica at the hands of Bishop Francis F. Reh. This is an occasion for all of us to give thanks to God for the gift of the ministerial or ordained priesthood within the Church and also to give thanks for the many, many faithful and dedicated priests here within this diocese and throughout the Church in the United States. It is an occasion not only to give thanks for the gift of priesthood and for our priests, but also, to invite families to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life from among their number. For it is within the family that the seed of a vocation is first planted. It is for the family to encourage vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, but especially to the priesthood. And why do I say that? Because we cannot have the Church without the Eucharist and we cannot have the Eucharist without the ordained priesthood. It's also an occasion to invite men to be open to God's call, those men whom God, in His mysterious love, is calling so that they too, may place their lives at the service of God's plan.
Personally, in your midst this evening, I give thanks to God for calling me, unworthy as I am, to be a priest. That call came to me through those who had already placed their lives at the service of God's plan: through my parents; through my cousin, who was a priest in Buffalo, Father Mike Giovino; through the priests who served in my parish and through wonderful religious sisters and brothers and faith-filled lay people. Words fail to express my profound gratitude to the Lord. I invite you with me to say to Him a joyous "Te Deum."
I would like to repeat what I have said and will continue to say so often, especially at Confirmations at the end, when I always talk about God's call to priesthood and to religious life. I know a lot more now about being a priest after forty years, than I did when I was first ordained on the Eighteenth of December of '65, just like the married people know a lot more about being married later than they did the day they walked up the aisle. But, knowing all I know for forty years, I would be a priest all over again, in a heartbeat, because it is a life of deep fulfillment! So, I do give thanks to God with you, I give thanks to God for your prayerful presence this day.
Finally, I have a request. This only do I ask, pray for me. Pray for me to be drawn ever closer to Christ the Priest. Pray for me that I may be and live as a priest after the Heart of Christ, a priest who is faithful, dedicated, generous, always placing my life at the service of God's plan. And that plan has brought me here to be the Shepherd of this Diocesan Church of Arlington.
Yes, placing ourselves at the service of God's plan involves our being lead by the Holy Spirit whose role it is to form us into the image of Jesus, to make us truly holy. Allow me to close with the Scripture verse which was printed on my ordination card forty years ago and then repeated at the Mass of Thanksgiving some months later when I returned to the States: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me, He has sent me to bear glad tidings to the afflicted, to encourage the broken hearted." May I live always in the spirit of those words. Thank you, O God, for your gift of the Priesthood, thank you for calling me to share in that priceless gift, the pearl of great price. Amen!