As an older brother whom you have called Father, I have been particularly touched by the wondrous ways in which Christ has conformed you to his own image. The words spoken by the Bishop as he placed the chalice and paten into your hands a mere 30 hours ago have been lived by you since that your mother first carried you in her arms. Through all the years, on all the many roads, you have sought to know what you were doing, to imitate the mysteries you have celebrated and to conform yourself to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.
I am also touched by the appropriateness of the wonderful Gospel which the Church has chosen for this day on which, for the first time, the sacrifice is offered at your hands for our good and the good of all his holy Church.
For after thirty years of Priesthood, I can understand Elijah, to whom God gave the grace to know Elisha, the one who would succeed him.
Notice it was not Elijah who chose Elisha, it was God. Like Bishop McManus calling Father Desimone to the Priesthood yesterday morning, Elijah chose this young disciple because God had told him to.
And just as Elijah threw his cloak on the new prophet’s shoulders, so did Father Rose place a chasuble over his head. And as Elijah anointed the prophet Elisha, so did Bishop McManus smear Father Desimone’s hands with the holy Chrism.
For just as Elisha responded to the call of the Lord and followed Elijah, so does Nick
You are not unlike the mysterious figure in today’s Gospel, whom Saint Luke only refers to only as someone. This unknown figure goes up to Jesus on the road and says with all your enthusiasm: “I will follow you wherever you go” (Lk 9:57).
The figure is a sort of type, a foreshadowing of the Priest who yesterday knelt before his Bishop and folded his hands between the Bishop’s palms, as if between the hands of Christ, and promised obedience for the rest of his life.
It’s an act which the world finds laughable and totally beyond belief. To give up your own will, for the will of another? Can’t you think for yourself?You’re bright. Don’t you want to be success? Didn’t you hear Jesus when he says follow me to a life with no place to rest your head? Didn’t you hear Jesus when he promised that they would revile and persecute his followers as they reviled and persecuted him? Follow me? Follow him to what? To poverty? To pain? To sacrifice? To the cross?
No wonder there’s a vocation shortage. Sounds like we’re lacking a very good marketing strategy.
And if we were selling a commercial product, that would be ever so true. But what Father Desimone has given up his life for is not a product, but a person. A man who hangs upon a cross.
And when, as a little kid, that man first started whispering in your heart: follow me...And when on Mount Saint James, at the strangest times, you would hear him whisper: follow me...and when even on the Janiculum Hill he would smile down at you and whisper, follow me....he was calling you to a life of perfect joy...a sacrifice of praise...which leads to the heart of the meaning of life.
To the cross. To the place where there is no control nor desire for control, no decisions to be made, no problems to figure out or programs to plan, but only you and Christ and the cross and the people to whom he sends you.
The disciple tells the Lord to whom he has promised obedience that he wants to go bury his father, and say good bye to him family, and the Lord says no. “Let the dead bury their dead. You...you do what I tell you, and go out and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Only God’s will matters, no matter what your head or your heart or your gut tell you. It is God’s will and the will of his Church to which you totally give your life.
The last thing Maximilian Kolbe wanted to do was to starve to death at the bottom of a pit. But it was God’s will. The last thing Damian of Molakai wanted to do was to go work with lepers on an island half way across the world. But it was God’s will.
Of all the promises a Priest takes, perhaps the most counter-cultural is the promise of obedience. But perhaps it is also the most important. For it says there is something greater than me here...a mystery of God’s love in which dying is more important than living, letting go more important than clinging on, surrender more important than control, and obedience more important than being right. As the Lord Jesus hung upon the cross, in perfect obedience to the Father, he let go of everything, to his last breath in perfect fulfillment of God’s will. Conformed to that perfect obedience, the Priest is called to do the same.
So when the world looks at that man in black with the funny white collar who has given up striving for success, career, and family and even his own will in the name of God they will see not Nick Desimone or Jim Moroney, or Charlie Armey, or Mike Rose. They will see Christ.
For in the end, that’s what it’s all about.
We’re here today because we love you, Father. We love you as a son, as a brother, as a friend, and now, as a Priest.
You will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the Lord for us, you will offer his perfect sacrifice for us, joining us to him and making sense of our lives. You will baptize us into his death and resurrection, feed us with his Body and Blood, seal our covenants, heal our sick, forgive our sins and bury our dead. You will be Christ for us.
Not because we chose you, but because he chose you, and sent you to be our shepherd and our Priest.
Saint Francis of Assisi used to say that if he met a saint and a priest on the road he would be nice to the saint, but he would kiss the hands of the Priest. We venerate those hands which you have placed into the hands of Christ and which will touch us with the mysteries of his love for many many years to come.
Monsignor James P. Moroney