WASHINGTON — At a Mass commemorating the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington expressed thanks to God for his vocation, and he encouraged Catholics to open their hearts to hearing and responding to God's call in their lives.
At the Dec. 18 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Cardinal Wuerl said that just as the angel told Joseph in a dream not to be afraid, people today need to take that promise from God to heart.
"When you respond to whatever call God has given you," remember God's promise, "I am with you," said the cardinal.
God's grace helps people be open to his call, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for people to follow that call, Cardinal Wuerl said.
On Dec. 17, 1966, the future cardinal was ordained to the priesthood at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Fifty years to the day of his ordination, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated Mass for the seminarians and priests at St. John Paul II Seminary, which he founded for the Archdiocese of Washington five years ago.
To publicly commemorate his 50th anniversary as a priest, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated a regular Sunday Mass the next day at St. Matthew's Cathedral.
In an earlier interview with the Catholic Standard, the archdiocesan newspaper, the cardinal said he thought the best way to mark his anniversary would be to do what priests do — celebrate Mass with their people, and he decided to do that at the cathedral because as the archbishop of Washington, that is his parish church.
In his homily at the Dec. 18 anniversary Mass, Cardinal Wuerl noted that all people are called to a vocation. For some, that might involve a call to married life or religious life. The cardinal said the call might be to a profession of service, such as in the fields of teaching, medicine, government work or the military.
And some are called to the priesthood, to follow Jesus the high priest and share in the redemptive work of Christ in today's world, the cardinal said. He noted that as he installs new pastors at parishes, he emphasizes the work of priests in building up church unity, celebrating the Eucharist, passing on the Gospel through the church's teaching, and trying to unite oneself to Christ.
"This is the lifelong challenge of every priest. It is the challenge of every believer as well — to try to draw as close to Christ as possible," the cardinal said, adding, "But it all begins with the call."
Remembering his ordination 50 years earlier, Cardinal Wuerl said that everyone has a special moment of grace, involving the opportunity to hear and respond to God's call.
For the Mass at the cathedral, Cardinal Wuerl wore the same purple vestments that he had worn at his first Mass as a priest 50 years earlier, and he used the chalice from his first Mass that his parents had given him.
After Communion, he noted how the church's two recent Synods on the Family showed how family life is a central focus of its ministry, and he said that chalice from his parents offered a personal reminder of his family's love for him.
On behalf of the Church of Washington, Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout presented the cardinal with a special gift — a pectoral cross similar to the one worn by Pope Francis.
"Through these years of priestly ministry, Your Eminence has shared abundantly that perfect gift of Jesus Christ that you received — which is the gift of love — in your pastoral service, charity, teachings, celebration of the sacred mysteries and in your service to the new evangelization," said Bishop Knestout.
The bishop noted that "a pectoral cross, as the name suggests, is worn close to the heart, just as the love of Jesus is in our hearts." Then he added, "Your Eminence, from our heart to yours, we give you this gift."
After receiving that gift, Cardinal Wuerl said Pope Francis has continued to use the same pectoral cross as a pope that he had as a bishop, one depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, tending to his flock. "It's been a sign of his great pastoral care," the cardinal said.
Cardinal Wuerl noted that Pope Francis had recently closed the Holy Door in Rome to signify the end of the Year of Mercy, but he noted that the pope encouraged the faithful to open the doors of their hearts to Jesus, and to seek God's mercy in Confession and then to share that mercy by bringing Christ's love and compassion to others.
This has been a year of milestones for Cardinal Wuerl. In January, he marked his 30th anniversary as a bishop. He was ordained as a bishop by St. John Paul II in Rome in 1986, and served as an auxiliary bishop in Seattle before being appointed as bishop of his native Pittsburgh two years later.
This past June, Cardinal Wuerl marked his 10th anniversary as archbishop of Washington. He was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to lead the Archdiocese of Washington in 2006 and was elevated to the College of Cardinals four years later.