Earlier this month, I was privileged to celebrate Jubilee Masses for the priests and religious sisters of the Diocese of Arlington, who mark their 25th or 50th anniversary of ordination or final vows this year.
St. Mark tells us, “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mk 8: 35). Consider these words in the context of the men and women who celebrate their anniversaries in 2008. At ordination or at the profession of their vows, priests and religious “lose” their lives for Christ.
In the Rite of Ordination, this is symbolized by the ordinandi lying prostrate on the ground during the litany of the saints. By this act, he humbly submits himself to God and to the Church (some religious institutes have a similar act of lying prostrate during the Mass of Final Profession of Vows). Priests and religious brothers and sisters experience joy and peace in knowing that they have answered God’s call by choosing a life devoted to the service of others.
Indeed, during his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict encouraged priests and those living the consecrated life and thanked them for their contribution to the Church. He said, “By your personal witness, and your fidelity to the ministry or apostolate entrusted to you, you prepare a path for the Spirit. For the Spirit never ceases to pour out his abundant gifts, to awaken new vocations and missions, and to guide the Church, into the fullness of truth” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Cathedral of St. Patrick, April 19, 2008).
Joining my own gratitude to that of the Holy Father, I would like to recognize the Diocese of Arlington’s priests and women and men living the consecrated life. We are truly blessed and enriched by their presence and give heart-felt thanks that they have answered the Lord’s call. The priests and religious of our diocese sacrifice daily to build up and enrich this local Church (Our permanent deacons also collaborate in building up and enriching the diocese, and in future reflection, we shall focus on them).
The Catechism teaches us that praying is the lifting up of our minds and hearts to God. While we are each called to a life of prayer, our priests and religious dedicate many hours a day to praying for our diocesan Church. From the rosary to the Liturgy of the Hours, and, most of all, through adoration and reception of the Eucharist, they ask God to give us the graces we need to live the universal call to holiness. What a great gift to know that so many priests and religious sisters and brothers are praying on our behalf.
In a very particular manner, those living the contemplative and cloistered life are spiritual powerhouses for all of us. These include the Trappist monks in Berryville, the Poor Clares in Alexandria and, soon, the Dominican nuns in Linden.
Another gift we are given by priests and religious is their leadership and witness. It is through their example that we learn how to dedicate our own lives to God, for they are often the “first friend of the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the sick and all who suffer” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Cathedral of St. Patrick, April 19, 2008). We know that true leadership does not only come from words, but also from example. Our diocesan and religious priests are servant leaders who themselves answer the call to holiness and urge their parishioners to respond as well. Our religious brothers and sisters likewise respond and help others to recognize and to answer this call from the Lord.
My dear brother priests and religious brothers and sisters, thank you for answering God’s call and for your many years of service, prayer and leadership. As the Holy Father reminded us recently, you “contribute greatly to the mission of the Church” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address at St. Joseph Seminary, April 19, 2008). I am also grateful to your families, who nurtured your vocation and supported your discernment. Yours is a mission that shapes Christian life and transforms society.
Our diocesan Church is thankful for your willingness to imitate Mary’s “fiat” to God in saying “yes” to His call. Dear members of our diocesan family, as this Marian month comes to close, let us each strive to imitate Mary’s discipleship in the vocation to which we are called, be it marriage, the single life, the priesthood or consecrated religious life. With her, let us say – and live – a joyful “yes” to the Lord everyday.