Father Juan Jose's First Mass at Saint Joseph's, Trinity Sunday 2011
We were privileged yesterday to attend Juan José Teran's ordination to the preisthood yesterday at the Cathedral. He is a member of our parish and is now serving in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Join me in expressing our warm congratualtions to Juan and his family who are present today.
And now Juan, you are a priest. Who would have thought it? Well, let me tell you this: God thought it, for he not only called you to the priesthood, he gave you the grace to respond to his call. And I am sure that I echo the thoughts of all here today when I tell you what great joy it gives me now to address you as “Father.”
Well, Father, what I’d like to do is this: I’d like to propose for you a few models for your priestly ministry.
1. The first model, I propose, is our patron, St. Joseph. Cultivate a strong devotion to St. Joseph, because I believe he will help you in many ways. It is no coincidence that Catholics call their priests “Father”, for a priest must have the qualities of a family man. St. Joseph’s example of hard work, humble service, and self-sacrificing dedication to others will help you to be a “Father” to the people in your parish. So, model your ministry on St. Joseph, the family man.
But, St. Joseph also helps you in another way, for like you, he was called to and accepted the gift of celibacy. Now, as you and I both know, celibacy is something that is often misunderstood or looked down upon in our culture today. I’m reminded of what St. Paul said towards the end of his ministry: (2 Tim. 4:6), “For I am already being poured out like a libation.” In the ancient world, a libation was something precious, like fine wine or sacred oil, which was poured out on the ground in sacrifice as an offering to God. In the eyes of men, it appeared to be wasted, but in the eyes of God, it was a precious act of sacrifice which showed trust and dependence on Him.
And now, Father, you are that libation. In the eyes of the world, the call to celibacy you have accepted will appear to be a waste. But in God’s eyes it will be a precious gift. You will pour out your life in service of others, sacrificing your own desires for a family, so that you can be a father, brother, and son to all of God’s people - part of a much larger, spiritual but very real family - the Church.
But you know what else St. Paul would say? (Philip. 2:17-18), “But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.”
So, Father, rejoice in your call, share your joy with God’s people. And for all of you, rejoice as well in Father Juan’s call and give thanks to God that he responded.
2. Now, the next model for your priesthood that I would like to propose is Moses (first Reading). Now, Father Juan, I’m not talking about the Charleton Heston version of Moses in the movie - where he comes down from the mountain, with the glory of God showing on his face, his gray hair and beard blowing in the wind with thunder and lightning all around, and the two tablets of the commandments in either hand. (So, I’m not telling you to grow a beard and add a touch of gray...)
No, I’m talking about the Moses we find in Scripture. When he went up to Mount Sinai to be with the Lord and was gone for forty days, the people lost faith, sinned, and fashioned the golden calf to worship. God was going to punish them so that they would never reach the promise land. But, you know what Moses did? He implored the Lord, pleaded with the Lord, and begged the Lord to have mercy on his people. As the Israelites would sing for a thousand years afterwards in the psalm (106), he “stood in the breach before him.” And God heard his prayer, had mercy, and they reached the promised land.
And Father, that is your job: to get on your knees every day and pray for God’s people, to stand in the breach between God and man. Pray that they come to know his mercy, that they set their sights on heaven. We live in a confused world, Father. The golden calves being worshiped are many, it seems that few people seek the promised land of heaven, and you must help them to find Jesus Christ. And we live a very broken world, Father. So many of God’s people carry burdens they are afraid to carry, weaknesses they fear cannot be overcome, sins they believe cannot be forgiven. And your job, Father, is to be a healer not a judge, a source of strength not of despair, the flame of God’s mercy not the instrument of his wrath.
And Father, you will do this especially in the confessional, where people will come to you with these burdens. And take that duty very seriously, Father. For God himself wants you to stand there in the person of his Son, offering his people hope, consolation, pardon, peace, and the forgiveness of their sins.
3. As the next model for your priesthood, Father, I offer you Saint Paul. Follow his example and preach the truth no matter what the cost.
That great preacher St. Paul would say three things about preaching, which I would like to give you. First he said, (1 Cor. 9:16) “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” You have been given a very serious obligation by God himself to preach, and woe to you if you do not carry it out. Next, St. Paul would say, (1 Cor. 9:14) “In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.” So you have the duty of not only proclaiming the Gospel, but also of living it as an example to others. Archbishop Gregory said yesterday that this means you may be held to a higher standard - the people expect it of you, as well they should. And this Gospel that you preach, this Gospel that you live, what is it? Well, finally, St. Paul would say, (2 Cor. 4:5), “For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.” Your call to the priesthood, Father, is not about you, but about Jesus Christ. At my ordination, they sang “Non Nobis Nomine Domine”. That’s the first verse from Psalm 115, “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory.” Your service, your priesthood, your very life is for His glory, so that people may come to know His name.
So, Father, like Stephen, preach Jesus Christ, preach the truth as handed down in his Church since the time of the apostles, preach it no matter what the cost, and preach it with mercy, like Stephen. His attackers would cover their ears so as not to hear what he was saying, but even as they stoned him, he prayed for them, “Father, do not hold this sin against them.” Preach the truth with mercy, Father. Preach what St. Paul would call “the inscrutable riches of Christ.” (Ephes. 3:8)
4. And so finally, Father, model your priesthood on him, the great high priest, Jesus Christ our Lord. And how appropriate it is that today’s Gospel is the high priestly prayer of Jesus from John 17. Look what he says, “I do not pray for my disciples alone. I pray also for those who believe in me through their word.” Who is he praying for? He’s praying for you and the people you minister to. What a great obligation you have been given - people will come to believe in him because of you - because of the witness of your life, the mercy you show, and the word that you preach. Model your prayer on Jesus’: “That they all may be one” - that the world may know the love and mercy of God - that our unity may be complete by living in him, and he living in us.
Now, Father, I have been telling you about all the great obligations you have accepted: celibacy, forgiving sins, preaching the Gospel, praying for God’s people. But, your greatest obligation is why we are gathered here today: the Eucharist. I’ve told you already that your call to the priesthood is not about you, but about Jesus Christ. As a priest, you stand before us “in persona Christi”, in the person of Christ. You are so identified with him through your ordination that when you act in the sacraments, Jesus Christ acts through you. And in a few minutes, when you lift up that host, you will dare to say, “This is my body”, and that simple host will become the Body of our Lord, so that we may be one with him and he may live in us. And when you lift up the cup and say, “This is the cup of my blood”, you will be lifting up the cup of salvation, and that precious chalice will be filled with the Blood of our Lord, the price paid for our redemption. How can you dare to say those words? Because it will be Jesus Christ saying those words through you, with you, and in you.
And so Father Juan, I’ve said enough. These people didn’t come here today to hear me preach, they came here to meet Jesus in the Eucharist, through you, our priest. So I’ll end with the words of St. John at the end of the book of Revelation, “Amen! I am coming soon. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”
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