Put Out into the Deep

The Meaning of Our Priesthood

Jesus at the Last Supper is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Greenlawn. (Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the full text of Bishop DiMarzio’s video message on Holy Thursday for the priests of Brooklyn and Queens.

At the beginning of Lent, I read something in a spiritual book, which I cannot find now. However, one of the Fathers of the Church said, he who does not know how to feast, does not know how to fast. This is good advice for Lent. We can fast, but unless we know the greatness of feasting, we will never be able to understand how to really fast.

Yes, it is a good Lenten sermon but it may be an appropriate lesson for us as priests, because now, in a certain, sense we have been fasting and we have not been able to truly celebrate the Eucharist as we would like to as the sacrificial feast that it is. This lesson we have learned from our enforced fasting, perhaps it will make us more conscious of the beauty of the celebration of the Eucharist with a congregation, since we have been celebrating with just a few of us or with no congregation at all. We were not meant to be hermits. Rather, we are parish priests meant to celebrate the sacraments for the faithful and with them.

This time of enforced fasting perhaps will give us the lessons that we need to return with a new vigor and appreciation of the Eucharist, which is the source and center of our holiness and lives. Doing without sometimes makes us appreciate more what we really prize. Hopefully, this time of seclusion will assist us in making sure that we have found the true meaning of our priesthood. In this regard perhaps just a summary of the homily I had prepared for the Chrism Mass might be helpful to you.

The meaning of our priesthood on this day of its institution is truly something to meditate upon. I suggest that you read the 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel, commonly known as the Priestly Prayer of Jesus. As I, myself, meditated upon it and wrote a homily about it, I really believe that it is an ordination homily, because it was spoken by Jesus to the Apostles at the Last Supper.

Or, at least it is John’s recollection of the things that Jesus said to them, which appropriately would have been words they heard as they were commissioned as Apostles and disciples. Read it. Meditate on it before this Easter comes. What does Jesus say in this 17th Chapter of John?

Well, basically, He has four wishes — four desires for His Apostles and disciples, meaning all of us. Jesus wishes us perseverance, joy, holiness and unity.

Yes, Jesus wishes us perseverance. He said clearly, “Keep those you have given to me true to your name.” Yes, we must persevere in the mission entrusted to us. What we do, we do in the name of Jesus. And we must be sure that we remain faithful to His name, even though we find ourselves in difficult times.

And then Jesus said, “While I am still in the world, I say these things to share my joy with them to the full.” Yes, joy is the infallible sign of discipleship in following Jesus who understood that His words brought them much happiness. Words that they memorized. Words that come to us in the Sacred Scriptures. Because they knew every word that He said was important, our joy comes from the Word of God. And then Jesus says to them, “I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth.” That is the call to holiness; to be consecrated in the truth, to be separated from the world so that we speak only what is true to the world, true in our experience and true to the Gospel.

And finally, Jesus says, “May they all be one.” Yes, He speaks these words prophetically perhaps knowing that some day we might need Christian unity. But also, Jesus speaks it to those who are called to Orders, that they may be one. That is my prayer for you, as Jesus prayed, that our Presbyterate may be united in the joy and the holiness that truly makes us one together.

Unfortunately, today we are not able to communicate with one another. But next week we will see if we can set up a type of conference call where we all can be united together. We are hopeful that during that time you might share with us some of the most moving and memorable experiences that you have had during this time of confinement and limited service to your people. Also, it will be an opportunity for us to hear from those of you who have been sick and have recovered from the coronavirus.

At this time, we cannot help but remember those who have died. Unfortunately, we cannot even mourn properly. And we mourn with all of our parishioners who have experienced the death of loved ones during this pandemic and have not had the opportunity to have a real funeral where their loved ones can be properly mourned.

I, myself, was particularly close to Fr. Jorge Ortiz, as we traveled together to Mexico not too long ago. I had the chance to spend time with his family and could personally recognize the wonderful work he was doing, especially with his ministry to the Mexican people.

Also, I knew Father Gioacchino Basile when he first came to the United States from Italy as a seminarian to the Archdiocese of Newark, when I was still ministering there. I watched Father Gioacchino grow among us to be a wonderful apostolic priest.

Unfortunately, both of these priests lost their lives due to the coronavirus. We know that each will not be easy to replace among us. In fact, in my words to the congregation of Father Ortiz, I asked that someone would come forward to replace him, some vocation to the priesthood for the Spanish-speaking people that we need so desperately today.

In the near future, when the crisis of this pandemic is over, I think that we will be able to celebrate one memorial Mass for all our priests and deacons who have died during this pandemic, and then have individual celebrations in the various parishes. We do need to mourn. We do mourn during these days of Holy Week, recognizing that the mourning will be taken from us as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.

I thank you, my brothers, for your faithfulness. I wish, as the Lord wished for His first disciples and Apostles, that you persevere, that you be happy in the Lord, that you find your call to holiness in your service of your people, and that we preserve the unity of this Presbyterate here in Brooklyn and Queens.

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