The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on May 16 during the Priests' Jubilee Mass at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
I offer three words to you, dear brother priest-jubilarians and, indeed, to all of you, my brothers in the priesthood: a word of congratulations and gratitude, a word of encouragement and exhortation, a word of perseverance.
Dear jubilarians, congratulations to each of you! (This year, our jubilarians include: Father Thomas Bourque, TOR, 25 years; Father Jerome Fasano, 30 years; Father Arthur Johnson, SA, 30 years; Father Vincent Collins, OSCO, 35 years; Father Joseph Giordano, CICM, 35 years; Father Daniel Hamilton, 35 years; Father Donald Howard, SA, 35 years; Father Robert Menard, OFM, 35 years; Father Ronald Gillis, Opus Dei, 40 years; Father Robert Richter, 40 years; Father Clarence Watkins, 40 years; Monsignor Thomas Cassidy, 50 years; Father Francis Hull, SSJ, 59 years; Father Louis Gagnard, 55 years.) Yes, all of us here congratulate you on reaching these significant anniversaries; together, you have given 535 years of service to the Church!
To these congratulations we add gratitude. With you, we thank the Lord Jesus for choosing and calling each of you to share in His ministerial priesthood, so that you could act "in the person of Christ" as His priest! The mystery of His election! The wonder of His love! He chose and called you to proclaim the Gospel of salvation. Indeed, Saint Paul's words in today's first reading from his first letter to the Thessalonians could also be your words. "We drew courage through our God to speak to you the gospel of God with much struggle … but as we were judged worthy by God to be entrusted with the gospel, that is how we speak, not as trying to please men, but rather God, who judges our hearts."
Our brothers here join me in thanking you for saying that first "yes" — adsum — to the Lord and for repeating that "yes" countless times since, in good times and in not-so-good times. Gratitude also comes from all the people whom you have served in your priestly life and ministry from ordination up to this very day. Through the years, you have striven to imitate St. Paul in his ministry to God's people. His words in today's first reading could well be yours: "With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us."
My second word is one of encouragement and exhortation. Brother priest-jubilarians, you have been a priest these past 25, 30, 35, 40, 50 and 55 years! The Lord Jesus has been at your side and from this day forward He will continue to be at your side. He not only intercedes for you before the Father and is with you as your Advocate, He also send you another Advocate, the Holy Spirit with whom you were anointed — the third time — on ordination day. Stay with Him! Remain in His love! Reach out for His hand! Pope Benedict XVI, speaking to the seminarians at the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary on Feb. 17 of this year, said: "learn that what counts before the Lord is not an ecclesial position, but what counts is to be in His love and to make His love shine forth" (L'Osservatore Romano, no. 9, 28 February, 2007, p. 9). Yes, remain in His love!
To this encouragement, I add fraternal exhortation. No better exhortation could I offer than what we just heard proclaimed in today's gospel. Three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" and three times, Peter responds, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." And in reply to this affirmation, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says, "Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep." In other words, Jesus was saying to the first pope, and now to us His priests, "If you really love Me, then you will really love each person whom I entrust to your priestly pastoral care, because I trust you." Brother jubilarians, continue to love the Lord Jesus by loving those He gives you to shepherd.
My third word is one of perseverance. Each of you — all of us — must remain faithful to the end, whenever and however that end comes. Recall what Jesus said to Peter after his triple profession of love. "Peter, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish," and then Jesus said to him, "Follow me," (cf. Jn 21: 18-19). Yes, my brothers, follow Him, no matter where you are taken! Persevere!
Pope Benedict XVI, in that same address to the seminarians to which I referred earlier, also spoke about the gift or grace of perseverance. He told them that on that very day, Feb. 17, he had received "a beautiful letter from Cardinal Martini," to whom the pope had sent congratulations on his 80th birthday. Pope Benedict XVI quoted Cardinal Martini's words to him: "I thank the Lord above all for the gift of perseverance. I pray each day that the Lord will grant me this grace. The Lord has given me the grace of perseverance until now. I hope he will also give it to me in the last stage of my journey on this earth," (Ibid.). The pope then added: "The gift of perseverance gives us joy, it gives us the certainty that we are loved by the Lord and this love sustains us, helps us and does not abandon us in our weakness," (Ibid.).
Three words I have offered to our jubilarians: a word of congratulations and gratitude, a word of encouragement and exhortation, and a word of perseverance. My brother priests, in the presence of these jubilarians, I offer also to you these same words. As your father, brother and friend — this is how the Second Vatican Council describes the bishop's bond with his priests. I thank each of you for your fidelity and dedication to your priestly life and in your priestly ministry. I exhort you to allow the Holy Spirit to deepen your love for Christ and for His people. In Eucharistic prayer, above all, that is, in the sublime prayer of the Mass and in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, this love will truly be deepened and, then, because it is love transformed by the Lord, our love for His people will likewise be strengthened. In the power of that transformed love, we will kneel before our people in self-emptying service, giving ourselves to them and for them to the end. I pray, too, that the grace of perseverance will be given to each of us, so that we may reach the finish-line and cross over to be with Him forever.
I entrust each of you, jubilarians and brother priests all, to Our Blessed Mother, using the words of our Holy Father in his homily to the 22 priests he ordained on April 29. "May Mary, the heavenly Mother of Priests, accompany you. May she who beneath the Cross united herself with the Sacrifice of her Son and after the Resurrection accepted together with the other disciples the gift of the Spirit, help you and each one of us, dear brothers in the priesthood, to allow ourselves to be inwardly transformed by God's grace" (L'Osservatore Romano, no. 18, 2 May 2007, p.3).