Ordination Mass Homily of Archbishop Di Noia

May 20, 2017

On May 20, 2017, seven Dominican friars were ordained to the priesthood at St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, DC by Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, O.P.: Fr. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P., Fr. Thomas Davenport, O.P., Fr. Joachim Kenney, O.P., Fr. Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, O.P., Fr. Luke Hoyt, O.P., Fr. Alan Piper, O.P., Fr. Edmund McCullough, O.P. During the Mass, the Archbishop preached the following homily:

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” This is our faith, dear brothers and sisters: that these seven friars—our brothers, and your beloved sons—have been chosen by Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, to carry out publicly in his name, and on behalf of the human race, a priestly office in the Church. “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” For just as Christ was sent by the Father, he in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the Bishops, he might continue without interruption to exercise his office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd. Indeed, priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God.

This Holy Priesthood is an extension of the mystery of the Incarnation itself. The only begotten Son of God, who came to us in human flesh as our Savior, did not leave us as orphans after his passion, death and resurrection.

After he had ascended to the right hand of the Father, he willed to remain with us always, first of all by his presence in the Holy Eucharist, where he shares with us his body and blood, and remains present for our loving adoration. Christ ensured this by giving to his disciples, and through them, to their successors, the power of the priesthood to commemorate, in persona Christi, in his Person, this very sacrifice of his love and his friendship for us as if we had been present at the Lord’s Supper on that Thursday evening centuries ago. Of this sacrifice,  St. Justin Martyr wrote: “For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (First Apology, 66). Priests are the instruments of this Eucharistic mystery. Through them God wills to pour out his grace—his friendship and love—on us in the Church through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments.

In this way, the Son of God continues to be in our midst in a manner adapted to our human nature—by sending his only Son who in turn commissioned the Apostles and their successors—so that we might receive his word and his grace from other human beings. The hand of another human being blesses us, pours the water of Baptism on our heads, offers the body and blood of Christ to us in the Eucharist, and is raised in absolution unto the forgiveness of sins. Through these visible and tangible sacramental actions,  God bestows his invisible grace on us, drawing us into a participation in the communion of love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are the fruits of the Paschal Mystery for whose service you have been chosen. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

After mature deliberation, dear brothers, you have shown your readiness to embrace the service to which you have been called, and are now to be ordained to the priesthood so as to serve Christ the Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd, by whose ministry his body the Church grows into the people of God. In being configured to Christ the eternal High Priest and joined to the priesthood of the Bishops, you will be consecrated as true priests of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate the sacred Liturgy, especially the Lord’s sacrifice.

This configuration to Christ is an interior transformation of your very being. When, during his first appearance to the disciples, Our Lord breathe upon them, it was to show, according to St. Cyril of Alexandria, “that the gift of the Holy Spirit necessarily attends those who are ordained by him to be apostles of God….Transforming them into something other than they were before, Jesus consecrates them by actual sanctification, making them partakers in his nature, through participation in the Spirit and in a sort of strengthening of the nature of humanity into a power and glory that is superhuman” (Commentary on the Gospel of John 12, 1).

You are to be raised to the Order of the Priesthood. For your part you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher, and in imitation of our blessed founder, St. Dominic. Impart to everyone the word of God which you have received with joy. Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach.

What is more, you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. By your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the altar, in union with the faithful, in the celebration of the sacraments. Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate. As celebrants of the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection, strive to put to death whatever in your members is sinful and to walk in newness of life.

When you gather others into the people of God through Baptism, when you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church in the sacrament of Penance, when you comfort the sick with holy oil and celebrate the sacred rites, when you offer prayers of praise and thanks to God throughout the hours of the day, not only for the people of God but for the world—remember that you have been taken from among men and appointed on their behalf for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ.

As you receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders today, recall that the priesthood is at the heart of your Dominican vocation: “Made cooperators of the episcopal order by priestly ordination, we have as our special function the prophetic office by which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed everywhere both by word and example, with due consideration for the conditions of persons, times, and places so that faith is awakened or penetrates more deeply all life in the building up of the body of Christ, which is perfected by the sacraments of faith” (LCO 1.v).

St. Dominic was a priest himself who had exercised his priestly ministry as a canon of the cathedral of Osma where he also lived in community under a religious rule. This model of the religious priest or the priestly religious was at least in part the inspiration for his new foundation: “The Order’s nature as a religious society derives from its mission and its fraternal communion. Since the ministry of the word and of the sacraments of faith is a priestly function, ours is a clerical order, in whose mission the co-operator brothers too share in many ways, exercising the common priesthood in a manner specific to them” (LCO 1.vi).

Dear brothers, your years of priestly formation unfolded in the setting of the fraternal communion of the Dominican Order. In effect, you were preparing for the priesthood at the same time you were learning to be Dominicans. This twofold formation intertwined at every point until today when, by the laying of hands, you will be made sharers in Christ’s work of mediation through which, as St. Thomas says, you will, with Christ, both communicate “divine things to the people” and offer to God the prayers of the people and to some degree “make reparation to God for their sins” (Summa theol. 3a, 22,1). The abundance of divine grace you have received in your Dominican and priestly formation has brought you to this wonderful moment.

Finally, dear brothers, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.  May your lives be marked especially by the same fervent zeal for souls that was manifest in our Holy Father St. Dominic and in countless other holy priests and bishops of the Order of Preachers. May you always remember Christ’s words to you, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” and serve him faithfully through the grace and the merciful love of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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