Next Saturday, June 23, our Diocesan Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio will ordain six men to the priesthood. We join together in thanking God for calling these men to this estimable ministry, one that is certain to be a challenge to love in depth and in breadth and in that most authenticating way called sacrifice. It is, after all, through the Way of the Cross that Christ became our King. No servant is greater than the Master.
The life of a priest is – as it should be – intimately bound to the cross of Christ. It is the call of every Christian, baptized in Christ, to live in Him in whose death and resurrection we are immersed. Nothing conforms the ordained priest to Christ more iconically than his daily celebration of the Mass, which is, effectively, the closest on Earth that we come to heaven. Jesus, the Word of God, the Incarnate Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, lives as our daily bread, for which we pray whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer. He feeds us with His own eternal life through which alone we live forever.
It is worth remembering – in fact, we need to be reminded each day – that Jesus is alive! Is it our faith that God the Son merely entered a human body, spent a few years on this planet living “in” it, then died and somehow “escaped” it to return to heaven? No! We believe – and we know with the certainty of faith – that Jesus rose in his human flesh! The dead Jesus is the living Jesus, as truly with us today as on that Easter Sunday when He rose and appeared to frightened, disoriented disciples who thought His life was over. This is the Jesus present to us at Mass and with us in the Church community that draws its identity from our union with Him.
The radical message of the Gospel from which we draw all our hope is that we are better off – in fact, saved – because Someone suffered and died for us! Leaving aside for a moment that the death and resurrection of our human and divine Lord is our salvation, we admire human beings – not at all divine – who give their lives in sacrificial service. We call them heroes, martyrs, even saints, because they live their lives so selflessly.
Some of those people are among us today, perhaps known only to a few. Yet, we know their love and dedication. They might be priests, deacons and religious sisters or brothers. They might also be parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, or neighbors who literally spend their lives on others, strangers and friends alike. And we are better off for their sacrifice.
Jesus, however, is the One alone among all those who give their lives for us who actually went into the grave and came out the other side. He did not simply go back to heaven to be what He was before. Instead, He rose in His human flesh and, in so doing, took all of humanity with Him into the eternal presence of God. More than a memory, He is also our present and future. Where He is, we are! If we die with Him, we will live with Him – forever. This is what the Mass celebrates. This is what every priest is called to lead us to remember. This is what identifies us as one in the risen Christ.
To appreciate what this really means, go see the movie “For Greater Glory,” about the Cristero rebellion in Mexico in the late 1920s. It is a reminder that if persecution could happen there, it could happen anywhere, even here.
Remember Jesus Himself was killed by those He came to save! Whoever takes up the call to be a disciple of Jesus – whether priest or layperson – will only know the Lord by meeting Him at the Cross. Yet, it is only by witnessing the victory of Christ’s Cross over death that we travel the Way of Life. Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!