Clark Lenz and Bryce Lungren were ordained priests for the Diocese of Cheyenne on Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We had a wonderful celebration with St. Mary’s Cathedral filled to overflowing. When Clark and Bryce were introduced to the congregation, they received a standing ovation! Please pray for them as they begin their priestly ministry. The homily from their ordination is below.
Bryce and Clark, many people will ask you why you became a priest? So I want to begin with a similar question. Why are you being ordained? It might seem like it is little too late to ask that question. But why are you being ordained? What does it mean to be ordained a priest?
The ritual for today gives us a concise summary in the first paragraph of the homily which it provides. It says, “Christ was sent by the Father, and he in turn sent the Apostles into the world, so that through them and their successors, the Bishops, he might continue to exercise his office of Teacher, Priest, and Shepherd. Indeed, priests are established co-workers of the Order of Bishops.”
As co-workers with the Bishops, priests are ordained to continue Jesus’ ministry of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd. This textbook description of the offices of Teacher, Priest and Shepherd offers us fitting images. But I want to offer a simpler, more powerful image. Priests are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father. That was the purpose of Jesus’ life. He came to reveal the heart of the Father.
His last act on earth was to show us the heart of the Father. Everything about his Passion went according to God’s plan, so he saved the best for last. The Father had a soldier pierce the side of Jesus to show us his heart. To open his heart and pour out the riches of God’s grace.
Think of it. In God’s providence, the very last act of Jesus was to have his heart pierced with a lance “and immediately blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34). His heart was emptied to fill us with his life. This is the source of the sacraments. So the sacraments should, first of all, be an experience of the Father’s heart.
Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father. Priests are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father.
Everything you do – as Teacher, Priest, Shepherd – must reveal the Father’s heart. The reading from the prophet Hosea describes how the Father’s heart beats with tenderness for his people. He says, “I drew them with human cords . . . I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks” (Hos. 11:4).
This is why Pope Francis often speaks of God’s ‘closeness’ or ‘tenderness.’ Jesus’ mission was to draw us into the tender embrace of the Father. He insists that God is a Prodigal Father who runs out to embrace selfish and wayward sons (cf. Luke 15). It is much like Hosea who hears God say about the rebellious people of Israel, “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred [for them]” (Hos. 11:8).
Let’s take a few minutes to remember how Jesus revealed the Father’s heart. Matthew’s gospel summarizes his ministry in this way. “Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Matt. 4:23).
Seminaries focus so much of priestly formation on teaching and preaching, but how much of it is about healing? There are a few seminary faculty members here today. How does your approach to formation incorporate this healing dimension? Even in the preaching practica, are seminarians trained to preach on healing and forgiveness like Jesus did?
Virtually every description of Jesus mentions healing as integral to his mission. Because God desires to heal us; it weighs heavily on the Father’s heart. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter says, “God anointed Jesus . . . with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).
By the way, God chooses wounded healers to be priests. People often think that priests do not have problems like other people, but that is not true. Yet, God uses priests who have wounds to bring his healing to others. Bryce and Clark, watch how God will use your own weakness to help others.
When people think of the Church, often they think of RULES before HEALING. Yet, for Jesus, healing trumps even the Sabbath rules. When he was criticized for healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath, he said, “This woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years, was it not right to untie this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk. 13:16).
In everything you do, ask yourself, “How am I revealing the heart of the Father?” Am I continuing the healing ministry of Jesus?
In your homilies, speak not only to those who have a strong journey with the Lord, but also to people who feel barely worthy to darken the door of the church. All of us who preach, should ask ourselves, Does my preaching speak to the outsiders? Do I relate to the broken with my examples or stories? Jesus was criticized for eating and speaking with sinners and tax collectors. If people criticize you for merciful preaching, then you are right on target.
As you prepare for Mass, ask your musicians to choose music with Jesus’ attitude in mind. Are the songs sung at Mass something only a trained choir can sing and understand? Or do they speak to the multitude, to the lost sheep, to the sinner for whom Jesus heart was pierced?
St. Paul described his ministry by saying, “To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Gentiles were the outsiders. Yet, now they are to be graced with the “inscrutable riches of Christ.” That seemed odd to faithful Jews of Paul’s day. If your priestly ministry seems odd to Catholic insiders, then you’re probably in sync with Jesus.
Pastors: Does your receptionist have Jesus’ spirit? Is he or she hospitable to the immigrant or stranger? How about the leaders of RCIA? Are they tuned into the heart of the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost one? First of all, as priests and bishops, we need to model this attitude. If we treat people this way, it will be contagious to other parish leaders.
Two years ago, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Pope Francis said, “The fundamental question of priestly life is this: Where is my heart directed? Our ministry is often full of plans, projects and activities: from catechesis to liturgy, to works of charity, to pastoral and administrative commitments. Amidst all these, what is my heart set on?”
Our hearts can become cluttered….. disoriented ….. fatigued.
According to Pope Francis, the two greatest treasures of the Sacred Heart were his heavenly Father and us. He says, “Encounter the Father in prayer and be open and available to others.” Bryce and Clark, you are ordained to reveal the heart of the Father. “Encounter the Father in prayer and be open and available to others.”
This day, ask the Father to bless you with the inscrutable riches that flow from the heart of Christ.