2018 Priest Jubilarian Mass

Published: June 26, 2018

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. It is based on the Gospel of Matthew 7:6, 12-14.

Bishop Taylor

We are gathered here today to celebrate our jubilarians' priesthood, their "pearl of great price." Do you remember Jesus' parable that the kingdom of heaven is like a man searching for a fine pearl who upon finding it "goes and sells all that he has and buys it?"

Well, we priests spent years searching for the pearl that God has chosen for us, discerning our vocation. And upon finding it, we gave up everything to make it our own. This pearl is truly "of great price" — celibacy is costly, obedience is costly, death to self is costly, which is why it is also so valuable.

Thieves steal what is valuable and so Satan tries to steal our priesthood. Hence Jesus' warning in today's Gospel: "Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn and tear you to pieces."

"Jubilarians, we thank you for responding to the Lord’s call and for treasuring the pearl of great price, which the Lord has entrusted to you for our benefit — and your own benefit — so many years ago."

We have seen this drama played out in the scandals of recent years, devastating the lives of vulnerable children and adults. Not only did those criminals trample what is holy, their own priesthood ended up torn to pieces.

Hence the importance of protecting this pearl from all that might put it at risk. It is helpful to notice that a pearl is the product of irritation, which reminds us that faithfulness to our priesthood is not always easy. You know how pearls are made: a grain of sand enters the oyster when the shell’s valves are open for feeding and becomes imbedded between the shell and the soft skin of the oyster. The oyster then secretes a substance which coats the irritant, forming a pearl.

Many of us experienced a call to the priesthood that was like that: Jesus wouldn't leave us in peace — especially when our shell was open and we let down our guard. He kept tugging at our heart. Sometimes this was pretty irritating. But the Lord persisted and began to form a pearl within us.

This process began before entering the seminary and has continued since ordination. Jesus turns every new challenge into an opportunity to make our pearl more beautiful. Even our stumbles, once we learn from them.

Hence the importance of availing ourselves of all the spiritual help available to us: a good confessor and spiritual director, a daily Mass and holy hour, healthy friendships and avoidance of the near occasion of sin, etc. Today we thank God for the opportunities he gives us to grow in holiness — and also for the challenges he uses to form us into the kind of priests he wants us to be.

This experience equips us to help others search for their "pearl of great price." And also for them, it is precisely amid irritating things — the crosses they bear —  that their pearl is to be found. They open their shell to us and let down their guard, sharing very private matters with us. Their trust and vulnerability is not only deeply touching, it also challenges us to serve them with a love that is ever more pure and innocent, and thus our own pearl grows more beautiful.

We priests have the honor of serving the people Jesus entrusts to our care, which is why the Church asks us to die to ourselves as a condition for ordination. That was the great price Jesus paid for us. We lay prostrate before the altar during the litany of the saints as a visible sign that through ordination we die to this world so that, like Jesus in whose priesthood we share, we might bring life to others.

In baptism we died sacramentally so that we might live. In ordination we die so that others might live. And then Jesus sends us out into the world with a mission to redirect people to the narrow path that leads to life, which will only happen if we remain on that narrow path ourselves.

As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few."

Jubilarians, we thank you for responding to the Lord’s call and for treasuring the pearl of great price, which the Lord has entrusted to you for our benefit — and your own benefit — so many years ago.

Sixty year jubilarians Father Hugh Assenmacher, OSB, serves at the monastery in Subiaco; and Father Tom Keller, is a senior priest at St. John Manor. And 25 year jubilarians Father Les Farley serves at St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Mercy Crest Nursing Home in Barling and St. Leo Church in Hartford, and Father Aby Abraham, IMS, and Father Patrick Watikha, AJ, are missionaries sent by the Lord to serve him here among us in Charleston and Center Ridge, clear on the other side of the world from where they first responded to his call. Jubilarians, thank you so much! 

And also this year we mark my 10th anniversary of serving here as your bishop. We’ve been through many things together these last 10 years and I am grateful for all of it. Even the difficult things we’ve had to face — the Lord has used these to work on my pearl — and I suppose, on occasion yours as well!

But what a blessing it has been to me personally to be your bishop as we work together to build up the Kingdom of God in Arkansas, the most lovely part of God’s vineyard. I could list many accomplishments, but these were covered nicely in a recent special edition of the Arkansas Catholic. And anyway, all the glory goes to God, who is the only one who ever enables anything ever accomplished in our midst. We are simply instruments through whom he works.

So let us praise the Lord for the priesthood we share, thank the Lord for all the blessings we have received through our jubilarians and pray that the Lord will enable our pearl — the pearl of our shared priesthood — to continue to grow ever more beautiful in the years that lie ahead!