Reflections long ago still ring true

As so many of you are aware, I am celebrating the 50th anniversary of my priestly ordination on December 18, 2015. I am deeply grateful for the many expressions of prayer and congratulations which I have received from you in recent weeks.

As I reflect with you on these 50 years of priestly life and ministry, I do so through the prism of the homily I preached on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, during the retreat which the other deacons in my class and I were making in preparation for our ordination to the priesthood at the Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. As I reflect on what I said then, I see how several themes which I considered very foundational then have remained constant these past 50 years of priestly life and ministry. I began the homily with this opening reflection:

God's Word in today's Liturgy stresses again and again just one point: rejoice, be happy, be joyful. "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice … the Lord is near" (cf. Phil 4:4-5). Joy - a fundamental attitude, not only during these days of reflection and prayer, but for all days - because joy is intrinsic to the Good News of Christianity.

Yes, joy is intrinsic to the Good News of the Gospel. Pope Francis himself repeatedly turns our attention and focus to the joy of the Gospel, the joy that is anchored in the person of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. And, in truth, all that I ever wanted to do as a priest is to lead people to Jesus, the source of our hope, joy, love, and life. I then went on to ask my brother deacons how we could be joyful:

And yet - can we be joyful? As we attempt to answer the same question asked of John in today's second reading: "What do you have to say for yourself?" we seem to hesitate. Our reply made with the same frankness as John's may not seem too joyful. At the end of these years of preparation for the priesthood, we find that we are neither so holy nor so learned as we hoped we could be. As we come to the end of this training, our hands seem so empty, our talents so few and still so undeveloped. Looking ahead to the future and its challenge, we can only repeat with the Prophet: "How can Jacob stand when he is so small?" (Amos 7:5).

Dare we then, be joyful? That question was real then and has often been repeated since. Why is it that a priest should experience inner joy when, realistically, he encounters his human frailty and limitations and those of the people to whom he is sent? Because of the fact that God chooses those whom He wills to be His priests and empowers them to do what He wills them to do precisely as His priests. So I encouraged my brother deacons:

We can be joyful - we must be joyful: Because despite our insufficiency, the Lord has chosen us to share in His priesthood. The Lord is near - within a few days He will pour upon us the fullness of His Spirit. And this is why we must be joyful: the Holy Spirit will be given to us as a continual and abiding pledge of strength and powerful: The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My Name will teach you everything and remind you of everything I have spoken to you" (cf. Jn 14:6). Within a few days these words from Scripture will be fulfilled in us: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." This then is the reason for our joy.

Yes, as I look back on these 50 years of priestly life and ministry, I see so clearly the abiding assistance of God, the Holy Spirit. Of course, these years have seen achievements and failures, joys and sorrows, times of struggle and disappointment, but also times of deep joy and genuine fulfillment. Throughout every moment of these 50 years, God has been ever so faithful. As I have repeatedly said over the years, "I know now more about living the priesthood then I did on the morning of December 18, 1965. But knowing all I know, I would be a priest all over again in a heartbeat!"

Please join me in thanking God for His great kindness and mercy shown to this human being whom He chosen to be "a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (cf. Ps 110:4). Join me, too, in asking of Him forgiveness for not always responding to His graces and well as I should. Join me as well in seeking from Him the continual assistance of the Holy Spirit, so that I may live each day as a priest according to the Heart of Jesus Christ, making present that loving kindness and mercy which flow so abundantly from Christ's Heart. I thank you for your support of prayer each day as I assure you of mine for each of you!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015