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Mass of Priestly Ordination - Robert Lee

St. Joseph’s Basilica
28 June 2018

[Acts 3:1-10; Galatians 1:11-20; John 21:15-19]

In a few moments, I shall ask Deacon Robert some questions. This interrogation forms part of the ordination rite, and aims at having the candidate declare before the Church his intention to exercise the priestly ministry. Each of the questions pertains to a distinct aspect of the life and ministry of a priest, and seeks to know if the candidate is resolved to carry it out with fidelity.

Taken by themselves, these questions might seem to place all emphasis on the candidate himself, on his intentionality and resolve, for the successful living out of the priesthood. We know, though, that this is not the case. In the mystery of the Church, all depends upon grace. We can do nothing apart from the Lord and his saving help.

This inescapable truth is underscored by means of another interrogation, the one that we heard unfold between Jesus and St. Peter. In point of fact, the full significance of the ritual questioning of the candidate for priesthood can be grasped only in the light of the examination that Jesus makes of St. Peter. 

In this beautiful encounter between the Risen Lord and the first of the apostles, attention is drawn not to the intentions of Peter but to the plan of Christ. The Lord's own purpose comes to light not by means of many distinct queries but by one question posed three times: "Do you love me?" Its threefold repetition underscores something of immense importance. 

What are we to see here?

First, that God's intention is centered upon the mystery of love. His plan, revealed in Jesus Christ, is to save the world from sin and its consequences precisely by restoration of humanity to a communion of love with Himself. "Do you love me?"

Second, we observe that it is Jesus, the Risen Lord, who poses the question. The divine salvific purpose was fulfilled in his paschal mystery, meaning that God's plan can find fulfillment in us only by means of our response to Jesus Christ. "Do you love me?"

Finally, Jesus establishes this communion of love between himself and the disciple as the originating foundation and abiding force of all ecclesial ministry. "Do you love me? Feed my sheep?" 

In the context of this mass of ordination we seek to know the implications of this encounter for the life and ministry of a priest, and they are profound.

To begin with, we learn that the priest can do nothing on his own; all depends upon the gifts that flow from his personal communion of love with the Lord. St. Peter would later demonstrate his own awareness of this when, to a beggar who sought from him some monetary assistance, he replied that he had nothing of his own to give. What he did have was the power he received from the Lord himself, the power of the name of Christ acting through him as via an instrument. Here we touch the very reason a priest can be priest only by ordination. Through this sacred act of prayer and the laying on of hands the priest is enabled to do by Christ's power what he could never do by his own. (cf. CCC, 875)

In addition, the Lord's questioning of Peter underscores that it is the Lord who takes the initiative in choosing and empowering men for the priestly office. One does not, one cannot, assume this of his own volition. In the mystery of grace, even one's own intentionality is moved and shaped by God's prior action. It is the Lord who chooses. With love and mercy, he addresses and heals our weak human wills so as to bring them into accord with the divine purpose. 

This brings us full circle to the ritual interrogation I will momentarily exercise in the name of the Church. Robert, for many years now you have sought to know and respond fully to the Lord's call.

As St. Paul puts it, the Lord has set you apart from before your birth, and his call has echoed throughout the myriad events and relationships that have marked your life. 

With you, the Church has discerned, and tonight confirms, that this vocation is to follow the Lord as his priest. The expression you are about to give of your resolution is your definitive "yes" not only to the examination of the Church, but also, and fundamentally, your answer to Christ's own question, "Do you love me?".

Offer that answer, express your resolve, in the full awareness of your poverty and need for grace, and in complete confidence that the Lord who calls you will not fail to grant all the gifts you will need for the fruitful accomplishment of the priestly office, to the glory of God and for the good of his people.

✠ Richard W. Smith
    Archbishop of Edmonton

28 June 2018