Ordination homily for James Melnick and Eddie D'Almeida
By Anthony B. Taylor
Diocese of Little Rock
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered the following homily at the priestly ordination of Eddie D'Almeida and James Melnick at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Saturday, July 11, 2009.
James and Eddie, we presently have 141 priests in Arkansas, half of whom are priests of the Diocese of Little Rock and a third of these are retired. We also have 24 priests from other dioceses and 47 religious order priests, half of whom are Benedictines — and today is the feast of St. Benedict! Early on you had to discern whether your vocation was to a religious order or to the diocesan priesthood.
For monks, the monastic vocation is primary and includes a certain withdrawal from the world. The abbot decides later whether a given monk should become a priest. But for diocesan priests, the priesthood itself is primary. We used to be called “secular priests” because unlike Benedictines, our vocation is in the world, but that was before the word “secular” took on the negative connotation of meaning “worldly”— “of” the world, the opposite of what Jesus says in the Gospel you chose for your ordination. Our job is to infiltrate the world, to change it from within! In the world but not of the world. And how will you do that?
First, you must be “consecrated to the truth”. If you preach the full truth of the Gospel — not just the easy parts — the world will hate you for it because it hates the truth but don’t worry: “God will guard you from the evil one.” People can recognize the truth even when they don’t like it. What makes us so angry is that to embrace that truth we have to change, repent, leave behind what is comfortable but false. It is only by changing hearts that we change the world and that requires us to grapple with evil … and it isn’t always pretty. But be assured, if people complain because you’re “consecrated to the truth” and really are preaching some part of the Gospel that they need to hear but don’t want to hear, I’ll back you up!
Second, you must be men of prayer. Our vocation as diocesan priests may be in the world, but we need to withdraw from the world too, for at least one hour of private prayer every single day, including on vacation! How else are you going to learn from the heart of Christ those truths that the Lord is trying to reveal to you and to your people? Otherwise you’ll just end up preaching your own ideas … or else just what you think will please the hearers, but not the challenging Gospel of Jesus Christ! Besides, where else other than in prayer will you find the patience you need to be Christ for your most high-maintenance parishioners?
Third you must die to yourself. That is, you must live God’s challenging truth yourself first, leave behind all that is comfortable but false in your own life first; otherwise your words will not be credible … and that will require getting rid of everything that is not compatible with your vocation as a priest. I’ve got some bad news for you, if you don’t know it already: we’re a lot weaker than some people think and ordination does not change that.
Today’s reading from Hebrews is right on target when it says, “we are able to deal patiently with erring sinners because we ourselves are beset by weakness.” The silver lining is that knowing our own weakness makes us more compassionate confessors, but still without dying to this world — in the world but not of it — unless you do that, you will not grow into the holy priests God calls you to be — and your parishioners need you to be! There are things out there which are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but which are nevertheless incompatible with a life of holiness in the priesthood.
For instance: diocesan priests don’t vow poverty like a monk, but not taking a vow of poverty doesn’t mean that it’s therefore okay for us to accumulate a lot of material possessions. Remember what Jesus said about the camel and the eye of a needle! If it looks worldly it probably is, and such a priest is secular in the wrong sense of the term when what started out as a vocation turns into a career and the desire to serve is replaced by a feeling of entitlement … people expected to serve their pastor rather than the other way around!
So … how about it? Are you ready to join all these other men of prayer consecrated to the truth in Jesus’ work of salvation: infiltrating the world and changing it from within, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable because you have consecrated your life to God for the salvation of his people? You will now be an Alter Christus — specially conformed to Christ — such that every time you celebrate the Eucharist, you offer up to the Father your own body and blood too, united to that of Christ — your own self-sacrifice along with that of Christ.
You know, even as Christians, apart from whether one is a priest or not, we don’t just admire Jesus (even Jews admire Jesus) and we don’t just believe in him (because faith without works is dead), no, all Christians are called to follow him, live like he lived — according to the heart and mind of Christ! And for us priests, that means being especially conformed to Jesus the priest, to Jesus who as both priest and victim offered himself on the cross, to Jesus who in us as an Alter Christus continues to offer himself in our person on the altar of the cross in the unbloody sacrifice of the Eucharist over which we have the privilege to preside.
It also means being conformed especially to the Jesus the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and to seek out and rescue those who were lost … following him — and living like him — who died to himself so that we could be saved!
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