Thirty years ago I knelt before Bishop Flanagan and he laid his hands on my head and made me a Priest of Jesus Christ. Thirty hours ago, Father Nicholas Desimone, who concelebrates this morning’s Mass, knelt before Bishop McManus, who laid his hands on his head and ordained him to that same Priesthood.
I am honored by your presence, Father Desimone, for you are a sacrament for us...you remind us of Christ’s presence and action in his Church in every age, in every place...And you remind me of me, just thirty short years ago. Little did I suspect what God had in store for me. And here I stand, surrounded by as many memories as you have dreams...
....of Christ healing sinners and drying tears, of Christ offering his perfect sacrifice through your hands, of Christ proclaiming his good news through your lips, of Christ Baptizing into his death and resurrection, of Christ burying the dead...
And all through our hands. Simple, human hands, still moist (in your case) with Holy Chrism. It is a wonder, a miracle, and a perfect joy.
Yesterday, following his ordination by the laying on of hands and the Prayer of Ordination, Father Desimone was vested, anointed, and finally knelt before the bishop, who, for the first time, handed him a chalice filled with wine mixed with water and a paten with the bread for the Eucharist. As he received these gifts, the Bishop said to him:
Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him.
Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate:
model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross.
Notice that as these ancient words were spoken, it is the gifts of the holy people of God, your gifts, that were placed into Father’s hands. For in a just a few minutes, a few of you will bring forward gifts of bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. Mixed in with those pieces of bread are the sacrifices of your lives. And with the wine in that cruet are mixed the joys and sorrows, the longings and holy desires of each member of this gathered assembly. At this presentation you are like the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child. But your gifts are of an even greater value than gold, frankincense and myrrh, for these are the gift of our very lives. For “your prayers, and your faith, and your blood, [are mixed]with His in the chalice. These, like the water and wine, form the matter of his sacrifice.”
The Priest receives those gifts in the person of Christ. He places them upon the altar in the same way that Christ placed his body upon the altar of the cross in a perfect sacrifice of praise. And these gifts are transformed by the great Eucharistic prayer into the very Body and Blood of Christ, and then returned to us as our nourishment that we might have the strength to continue to join ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice every day of our lives.
That is why the Bishop first tells the Priest to know what you are doing: to know that you take into your hands the sacrifices, the souls, and the very lives of the people of God to be joined to his perfect sacrifice of Praise and to be transformed into his own Body and Blood. He carries them in their victories and in their defeats, in their joys and in their sorrows, in their strength an in their brokenness. He kneels down and begs God’s mercy on them with his whole heart and soul.
Two years ago, Bishop McManus called me to serve this good Cathedral Church and the seminarians of Saint John’s; A dozen or so years before that, Bishop Reilly sent me to Washington to serve the Bishops’ Conference; Five years before that Bishop Harrington made me pastor of the newly formed parish in Spencer, before which, on the tenth anniversary of my ordination, he had sent me back to school.
Before that I had been sent by Bishop Flanagan to Saint Leo’s in Leominster, and before that to my first parish, Sacred Heart in Webster, and even before that, to my first temporary assignment in West Boylston, where the beloved Father John Burke, once of this great Church, was recuperating.
Father Desimone has just been sent by Bishop McManus to one of the new parishes in Fitchburg and then he will return to studies in ecclesiology at the Greg. Only God knows the wonders which will await him in the years to come. But one thing is certain. God has called us both to a great adventure, filled with more joy and peace than a human heart can contain. And each day for the past three decades, God has looked on this lowly servant and shown a mercy of which I am totally undeserving. And all I pray is that for the next thirty or sixty years, Nick, God does the same for you.
When I think of this Priesthood which we share, I think of a simple scene I witnessed during my sabbatical several years ago. As I sat at my desk in Assisi looking out across the piazza in front of the Cathedral, there were a dozen kids playing soccer. The twelfth century stone lions served as goal posts and the door of the Church was the goal.
The Pastor walked by the kids on his way to Mass and stopped. He puzzled over whether he should yell at them about possibly doing damage with their games. And then he smiled and went into Church.
They looked on with amazement at Father, this little incarnation of mercy. They wondered about him and about who he was. And as they played their games, they trusted that he was inside praying for them; that that when they would get lost in the coming years, that he would help them get home; and that when the pain would get like the cross he would help them to understand.
They need him to be their Priest, and to lead them to Jesus. And, with the grace of God, he will try.
Monsignor James P. Moroney