2015 Priest Jubilarian Mass

Published: June 30, 2015

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Bishop Taylor

A first reading taken from the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah seems wildly inappropriate for this jubilee celebration of priestly ordination, but that is what the liturgy of the Church provides for us today. Except that this story is not only about destruction. It's also a story about God's intervention to save his people — in this case Lot and his family, and through Lot's intercession, also the people of Zoar.

Our Gospel reading follows the same pattern: danger, intercession, salvation. God intervenes through Jesus' intercession to save his disciples caught in a storm. It follows the same pattern, except that here the story points beyond the storm to the person of the Savior himself: "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the seas obey?"

I'm sure that in the course of many years of priestly ministry, our jubilarians have had to face situations that resonate with what we find in our Scripture readings today. Many people in our increasingly pagan society now accept many of the same behaviors that led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — and not just same-sex marriage, but many other things as well. And the destructive consequences are evident in our parishes.

Jubilarians, I want to thank you, in the name of the Church for your faithfulness to Jesus all these years.

Even among those raised in good Catholic families who have every reason to know better. And in the midst of these many dangers, the Lord has used you to intervene, sent you as an Alter Christus to intercede and thereby bring salvation to the people entrusted to your care. And you have strived to do so, saving some, but also saddened by the choices of those who insisted on remaining behind.

And not just dangers in other peoples' lives. We also face storms in own personal life too. Over the course of your ministry and mine, our Church has often felt like a ship tossed by the waves. Some of you remember all the emotional ups and downs following the Second Vatican Council: delight at the reforms of the council and then dismay at how resistant some otherwise good Catholics were — and indeed still are — to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.

Post-Vatican II storms still linger. Delight at the opening up of lay ministry, empowering people to live out their baptismal promises and then dismay at so many fellow priests abandoning their vocation, men you cared about and with whom you had expected to share ministry for a lifetime. Priestly morale is still recovering from the disillusionment wrought by these defections.

Our own struggles: normal midlife issues, which if managed poorly can lead to real storms that are as personal as they are dangerous and disorienting. We also have to face the trauma of losing our parents, and family members who left the Church and worst of all, the clergy sexual abuse crisis that has left us all deeply wounded.

Our boat gets hit by wave after wave of troubles and at times it seems like Jesus is asleep. And so what to do? Remember the pattern: danger, intercession, salvation. Wake him up. Take it to prayer. Cry out: "Lord, save us! We are perishing." And when we do so, he says to us the same thing as he said to our predecessors in ministry 2,000 years ago: "'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?' Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm."

I think anyone who has true inner peace after many years of ministry has to have experienced personally this saving intervention of Jesus because the storms we face are often more than we can handle on our own. And out of this experience we come to understand much more deeply just "what sort of man this is, whom even the winds and the sea obey."

Jubilarians, I want to thank you, in the name of the Church for your faithfulness to Jesus all these years. I thank you in the name of the people entrusted to your care whom you have brought to salvation, rescuing some from situations as destructive — at least figuratively — as the Sodom and Gomorrah of our first reading. And I thank you hanging in there amid all the troubling storms that the Church in Arkansas has faced during your lifetime, and above all for your trust in Jesus, whose Alter Christus you became on the day of your ordination.