The road to the priesthood for the six new priests of the Archdiocese of Washington ordained today wound through different places but began at the same spot, as each one opened his heart to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and followed God’s call to serve as a priest for Christ and his Church.
At the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice, he also established the ministerial priesthood and called on priests then and now to “Do this in remembrance of me.”
The six men who stepped forward today at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to be ordained for our archdiocese include men who grew up nearby in Waldorf and in Bethesda and far away in Florida and Brazil, as well as two young men who discerned the call to priesthood while serving together as teachers at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville.
The Holy Spirit that touched their hearts on this journey to the priesthood leads each of these men to step forward at the beginning of the Mass of Ordination and say “present.”
Earlier this year, I prayed to the same Holy Spirit to guide me during the Conclave that elected Pope Francis as our new Holy Father. Shortly after returning home to Washington, I celebrated the annual Chrism Mass, where more than 200 priests renewed their priestly promises, and where I urged them to make Christ visible and present through their ministry just as Pope Francis is doing. The priesthood we share and celebrate is made real and present in the Church by individuals with names, faces and hearts, each with a special role.
Priests are called to teach, lead and sanctify. Every priest makes the kingdom of God visible by how he lives, by what he says and how he serves others. Through proclaiming God’s word, administering the sacraments and leading the community in works of charity, priests reflect the power of the Holy Spirit working in Christ and unfolding in his Church. Therefore, in the essential act of ordination, in a gesture of apostolic origin, I lay hands on the head of each candidate as he kneels before me, as a sign that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them.
During the call to priesthood and in the living out of that vocation, no priest walks alone. Pope Francis himself demonstrated the need for prayerful support when, on the night of his election, he asked the crowds gathered in the square below to pray for him before he offered them his papal blessing.
At the end of each Ordination Mass, I always offer special thanks to the family members and friends who supported the new priests along the way. After standing together before the altar to offer a final blessing to the congregation, each of the new priests goes to a different chapel at the Shrine and personally blesses those who have walked with them and prayed for them on this journey.
From apostolic times, priests have been icons of Christ to succeeding generations of Catholics. Now our six newest priests face a special moment to bring Christ’s love and hope to their own time. They will celebrate their first Masses during this Year of Faith, facing the challenges and opportunities of today’s world. As priests of the New Evangelization, they will repropose the Gospel and reignite the faith in Catholics who may have drifted away and in others who have never heard the Gospel. They will help the people they serve gain a greater knowledge of the faith, grow in confidence in its truth and joyfully share it with others. At a time when our materialistic and secular culture causes many people to lose their way, our priests can help them find another way, Christ’s way.
The journey of their vocations took winding paths but has brought these six men to the same place, united with Christ as his priests, and dedicating their lives to helping others know, love and serve the Lord. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit that touched the hearts of these new priests will continue to guide them as they help build God’s kingdom in our world.