Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Last Mass as Rector)
Today, Jesus grows up and leaves home. Saint Matthew tells us that he left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, where he began, for the first time to preach the Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
It is there that he calls Peter and Andrew to be fishers of men and James and John. to be his disciples.
And so began the Church, as Christ sends out Apostles and their successors the Bishops, and we Priests, their helpers to proclaim the good news: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
That’s what I’ve been doing here at our beloved Cathedral for the past two and a half years, proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
To the extent I have been successful, I thank God for using his unworthy servant’s few talents. To the extent I have failed, I ask his mercy and your forgiveness.
And now we will go on, you and I, leaving Nazareth once again and trying to discern what God is asking of us in Capernaum.
There are two great pieces of advice which God gives to you and me as we move on. They come by way of the words of our own Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. It seems that the rector of Corinth has recently completed his term as well. His name was Apollos. And some really like Apollos and others really liked Cephas and others really liked Paul. And now they’re fighting about who was really the best rector that Corinth ever had. Some are saying “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas.”
Paul excoriates them: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” No. Apollos and Cephas and Paul and Msgr Mongelluzzo and Father Reidy and Monsignor Moroney and Monsignor Johnson are not sent by God to be admired, but to proclaim: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
And that is all a Priest is: A man, taken from among men, just like you. Just as strong as you and just as weak as you. Just as talented as you and just as ignorant as you. As Jesus was a man in all things but sin, Priests are men in all things, sin included.
So why does God choose Priests from among such as us? Why not send angels to be his Priests? Because his love for us is so great that he chooses us, handfuls of dust to be temples of his glory and forms us in his image to love.
Indeed, the greatest Priests I have ever known have founded their ministry on this truth: that we are weak and only God is strong. I once heard a paraphrase of Saint Paul at an ordination: May you be strong, loving and wise. Strong enough to know how weak and broken you are, but a channel of God’s strength on your best days. Loving enough to know how selfish you can be but ever trying to empty yourself so that God’s love might flow through you to those most in need. And wise enough to know how foolish you can be so that it is God’s wisdom you preach and not your silly ideas.
The first and most fundamental characteristic of the good Priest is to know that he is not God.
2. And the second is like unto it. He must be willing to offer sacrifice.
From ancient times, the offering of sacrifice has been a messy business. It originally entailed the slaying of bulls and goats, the sprinkling of their blood and the anointing of the horns of the altar with their entrails. By the time it was over the Priest was covered in the sacrifice from head to foot.
The Priesthood of Christ is quite the same. It requires the total self-sacrifice of the great High Priest upon the altar of the cross. It is kenotic, with nothing held back. Not one drop of blood, not one ounce of life, not one final breath. All is given in a definitive sacrifice in obedience to the Father’s will.
And that is the Priesthood into which I have been ordained. As a Priest in the second order, I share a part of the fulness of the Priesthood of Christ to which the Bishop has been ordained. He has ordained me to Priesthood in the presbyeteral rank to offer sacrifice: to offer the saving paschal sacrifice of Christ upon this altar in your name, so that joined with you and on your behalf I join the sacrifices of your lives to the perfect sacrifice of calvary and thus transform the bread and wine you have offered into the Body and Blood of the Lord, the perfect sacrifice of praise which has redeemed the world.
This Priesthood into which I have been ordained and the Priesthood of the Faithful into which you have been Baptized call us to something more than the performance ritual acts, or the pronouncement of ritual words. For the saying of empty words and the making of distracting gestures is something a magician does. It’s usually an illusion and make believe.
But what we do on this altar is anything but make believe. It is the most real thing any of us will ever do. For it is the joining of the sacrifice of our lives to the sacrifice of the cross, the source of every authentic human value and the summit of every good thing we will ever done. This is the center of our lives!
So whether in Nazareth, or in Capernaum, Worcester or Boston, Lancaster or Rome: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Whether the one leading you is Power or Goggin, McGann, Slattery, Kavanaugh, Ellwood, Daley, Burke, Kelleher, Manahan, Mongelluzzo, Reidy, or Moroney: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
For in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
Monsignor James P. Moroney