An Ordination Homily from Romanus Cessario, O.P.
June 4, 2014
Romanus Cessario, O.P., recently preached at the mass of thanksgiving of a newly ordained Dominican priest, Cajetan Cuddy, O.P. The text of this homily can be found below.
Grace and Orders
First mass of thanksgiving of Cajetan Cuddy, O.P., at Caldwell Hall Chapel, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., May 25, 2014
“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them” (Ac 8:5). This Holy Scripture evokes the geographical expansion of Christ’s saving mission that began at Pentecost. Today believing Christians everywhere acknowledge the trans-political reign of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, they work to restore all things in him, the King of the universe. Within this context of the Church’s missionary efforts, the Catholic priest finds his proper place and purpose. Everything that the priest does extends Christ’s reign so that, as the Catholic liturgy for the feast of Christ the King prays, he may present to God “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” Mr and Mrs Cuddy, you named your only son Christopher, which means “Christ bearer.” Nomen est omen. The name is a sign. From his earliest days, Christopher Cuddy, true to his name, has been drawn to serve the apostolic, expansive mission of Christ’s Church. Today, then, we thank God for Cajetan Cuddy’s insertion into the presbyteral order. Friday’s ordination at the hands of Archbishop Di Noia commits your son definitively to the glorious reign of Jesus Christ. Indeed even now at this Mass, his Mass of Thanksgiving, Father Cuddy drinks the new wine of the Kingdom (see Mk 14:25). Catholics consider a man’s participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ a special gift of God. They apply to their priests what is said in Hebrews: “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God just as Aaron was” (Heb 5:4). And so it has become customary to thank the parents of a new priest; they have brought up the son whom God has called. Today, this happy duty falls to me. The Church thanks you, Jim and Debbie Cuddy and your daughters, Jamie, Jennifer, and Lisa, for the donation of your only son and brother to service in the Church. Without the sacrifices that you have made for him, the love that you have shown him, and the faith that you taught him, Father Cajetan Cuddy would not exhibit the personal qualities that render him apt for priestly ministry. You yourselves undoubtedly realize that behind your generosity, your love, and your Christian faith, there stands the gentle urging of the Holy Spirit of God, who initiates everything that turns out good in the world. The Cuddy and Repine families share your sentiments of gratitude. They behold one of their own a consecrated minister of divine truth and worship. Because God bestows this blessing, Father Cuddy’s consecration lasts forever. It even unites him with those who have gone before us, especially his dear sister Bethany, for whom he offers this Mass. Father Cuddy will require those gifts of character that he developed at home and at school. A big job awaits him. The world needs sound men to extend the reign of Christ over creation. To achieve this goal, however, requires, as the Church herself instructs us, “a loving exercise of strength on the part of priests.” Father Cuddy will require every bit of his native strength of character when he cries out to the inhabitants of the twenty-first century, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1Pt 3:15). Today, Jim and Debbie, your son stands before us as another Christ, as one who represents Jesus Christ, “eternal Priest and King of creation.” And the Church rejoices.
Creation needs a priest like Father Cuddy. The world displays its own divinely instituted order. Some sophisticated people like to point out the randomness of the universe, but they never succeed in persuading others. The patterns of creation appear too familiar to even the most unsophisticated of observers. Seasons follow seasons. Each living kind produces others of its own kind. No one expects to find a dog giving birth to a duck. Human community requires free persons to serve the common good. Order appears everywhere. Priests do not occupy themselves with climate changes or animal husbandry. They do, however, concern themselves with communities, with communions of benevolent love. In order to flourish well, civil societies require more than what sound political principles can supply. True enough, the Greeks built the Parthenon, but the cathedral at Chartres required grace. Civilizations have brewed mead and ales for centuries before Christ, but only the redeemed have produced Chateauneuf du Pape or the red burgundies of Beaune. Aristotle achieved masterful insight into the order of things, but Thomas Aquinas perfected and elevated Aristotle’s teaching within the perennial synthesis of sacra doctrina. Priestly headship restores a principled order to the universe. Remove the graced Head, chaos reigns. As even the ancient Greeks realized, it takes a strong man to restrain chaos.
Creation needs a priest like Father Cuddy. Priests are ordained to accomplish many things. Each aims at reconciliation. Only the priest can reconcile everything. Lawyers can reconcile disputing parties. Politicians can reconcile opposing viewpoints. Enemies can reconcile with each other. God’s creation, however, requires more than lawyers, politicians, and other instruments of human reconciliation. Creation requires reconciliation with the God who made it. Why else did Christ die on the cross? The First Letter to Peter explains: “Christ…suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God” (1Pt 3:17). In an act of consummate reconciliation that only he can perform, the Catholic priest leads people to God. He leads like the Good Shepherd. From this day forward, an awesome task befalls Father Cajetan. He must seek after the straying sheep. When Jesus said that the Good Shepherd goes after the lost sheep and leaves the ninety-nine behind, he relied on his hearers’ acquaintance with the natural cohesiveness of the flock. Today a strange inversion occurs: Father Cajetan must go after the ninety-nine while at the same time sustaining the one sheep who remains within the sheepfold. Without shepherds to lead them, God’s people scatter. They do not cohere. Without priests to reconcile them, people suffer alienation. They do not flourish. Without Father Cuddy to welcome back the lost sheep, sinners perish.
Creation needs a priest like Father Cuddy. Because they promise to live as chaste celibates, the world does not think of Catholic priests as lovers. In fact, the Church charges her priests to love especially well. She even identifies a kind of love that only priests can extend to others. We call the priest’s love pastoral charity, the love of a true Shepherd and Bridegroom. Since our weary world no longer looks for the “new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” so also this generation no longer seeks the Bridegroom and his love (Rev. 21:21). Still, Christ’s priest must love with Christ’s love. Without agape, eros triumphs. God, however, made the human person for a love greater than the body alone can sustain. Father Cuddy has not walked away from loving. Today he starts loving in a new and awesome way. He takes the whole Church as his Bride. The project challenges, even as it exhilarates. To those without love in their lives, Cajetan Cuddy must demonstrate how Jesus loves them. To those whose loves are disordered, Cajetan Cuddy must explain a moral order whose first principle is truth. To those who have abandoned love for its countless ersatz substitutes, Father Cuddy must expose the vicious blackmail of the devil who whispers in the ear of poor sinners, “Don’t bother changing; you are already hooked.” Pastoral charity imposes heavily on today’s priest. People are persuaded that the unbridled pursuit of eros makes them freer. In fact, untruthful eros binds people to those things that destroy them. Scoldings may deter, but only the love of a Bridegroom heals.
Today, the fashionable diminish the standing of the Catholic priest. The best-intentioned people want to make him a religious social worker; the worst consider the priest an outlaw. Christ’s priest in fact enters the world as a father, a spiritual father. Like a human father, the Catholic priest stands at the start of a procession, not of human offspring, but of spiritual sons and daughters, a procession of saints. Within this context, one may understand the Dominican vocation that God has graciously given to Cajetan Cuddy. Dominicans generate new offspring for the Church. They take up this high vocation in the only way possible. They preach the Truth. As the architecture of the first Dominican priory in Toulouse, Saint Romain, illustrates, Saint Dominic himself united cloister and school. The labor of study was placed at the service of preaching “as a principle”—to cite the earliest Dominican legislation—“to make us capable of being useful to the soul of our neighbor” From this day forward, Father Cuddy becomes a principle of divine truth and grace for those whom God draws to his priestly care. When the Spirit of Truth arrives, people rejoice. We have Jesus’s word for it (see Jn 16:13-22).
Throughout the Christian centuries people have wondered about the efficacy of the priesthood. Many engage in a kind of naive sociological calculation: Priests baptize, but those whom they have baptized continue to sin against the commandments. Think of some of the major genocides of the twentieth century. Priests absolve the sins of penitents, but the forgiven sin again. The priest absolves them again, and the forgiven sinner sins again. Read The New York Times or any local gazette. Priests consecrate the Eucharist, but those who receive the Eucharist fall short of the unity and love that the Eucharist creates. One need only to examine his conscience. So the perverse wonder what difference priestly ministry makes. The response is easy: imagine what things would be like were there no Christians in the world. What would our world look like without people who follow Jesus when he says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). Not if you follow me, kill those who don’t. Not if you follow me, that’s enough, and so do what you will. Not if you follow me, my theologians will find a way to make it easy for you. Jesus rather declares, since you follow me, observe the two great commandments of love. Without the Christian Gospel and the baptized who profess its creed, the world would not be a better place. It would succumb to the weight of sin. Without priestly teaching, governance and sanctification, people would not sin less, they’d sin more. Without the unconquerable love that stands behind the exercise of priestly authority, the world would revert to a perpetual state of deadly encounters between Cains and Abels. When the just shall have disappeared, only the murderous Cains remain.
The world indeed needs Father Cajetan Cuddy. The world needs Catholic priests. The world needs the guidance that only those instructed in divine truth are in a position cheerfully, accurately, adroitly and abandonedly to surrender to it. Dominican priests take a new name when they enter the Dominican Order. Father Cajetan took a name forever ennobled—in the Order and throughout the world—by its derivation from an eminent theologian of the sixteenth century: Thomas de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan, the man from Gaeta, a city located along the Mediterranean coastline of Italy, about fifty miles above Naples. This Cajetan’s theology and philosophy are of such importance that Pope Leo XIII famously commanded that his commentary on the Summa theologiae be included in the Leonine Commission’s publication of that work. Whatever one may think of Cardinal Cajetan’s views, no one can dispute his intelligence. Nomen est omen. True to his name, Father Cajetan Cuddy—signed now with the character of the priesthood—will provide the Church with sound, incisive, coherent instruction in matters of divinity. Sustained by the whole organism of grace, illumined by the contemplation of the sacra doctrina, Father Cajetan’s priestly and theologal life will be a cause of divine reconciliation and restoration. And those whose names appear in the Book of Life will rejoice.