Thanks to the generosity of the Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who presided at the Ordination of Fr. Matt Kuczora, C.S.C., today, we are able to share with you all the amazing homily that he gave at the Mass. It is a powerful reflection on the ministry of an ordained priest. A huge thanks to Bishop Rhoades for sharing it with us so we could share it with you.
Today we celebrate the priestly ordination of a young man, chosen by the Lord like the apostles and all their successors in the priesthood throughout the ages. The Lord Jesus will consecrate Deacon Matthew to be His priest, to speak and teach in His name and to act in His person. The Lord will consecrate him to continue His saving mission and will send him, as He sent the apostles, to bring His Gospel of grace to the men and women of today.
This mission was explained by Pope Benedict in a homily at the ordination of new priests in Rome a few years ago. He said the following and I wish to address these words of the Holy Father to Deacon Matt today: "The Sacrament of Orders, which you are about to receive, will make you a sharer in the very mission of Christ; you will be called to scatter the seed of His Word, the seed that carries in itself the Kingdom of God; to dispense divine mercy and to nourish the faithful at the table of His Body and Blood."
To scatter the seed of God's Word; to dispense His mercy; to nourish the faithful with Christ's Body and Blood – these are three aspects of the priestly mission that I wish to reflect on with you in this homily.
#1 – The mission to scatter the seed of God's Word, the seed that carries in itself the Kingdom of God. Already as a deacon, Matt has exercised the ministry of the Word. The first task of priests is to preach and teach the Catholic faith, to bring the Gospel of Christ to others. The Risen Jesus said to the apostles in today's Gospel: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature."
Again, allow me to quote our Holy Father speaking at an ordination of new priests: "This is your mission as priests: to bring the Gospel to everyone so that everyone may experience the joy of Christ … What can be more beautiful than this? What can be greater, more exciting, than cooperating in spreading the Word of life in the world, than communicating the living water of the Holy Spirit? To proclaim and to witness joy; this is the central core of your mission."
Matthew, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God was at the heart of the mission of Jesus and the apostles. It is at the heart of the mission you receive today. Think about the bold and courageous preaching of Saint Peter and Saint John in today's first reading. When ordered by the Sanhedrin not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they replied that it was impossible for them not to speak about what they had seen and heard.
When we think about the priest's ministry of the Word, we know that it necessarily involves not only teaching sound doctrine, but also living the Gospel, witnessing to it through one's deeds and actions. To effectively preach God's word, the priest must first live on the Word of God in his own life. This necessarily means the priest is a man of prayer.
Notice how the leaders, elders, and scribes in our first reading recognized Peter and John as "companions of Jesus." This must be at the heart of our life and ministry as priests: our identity as companions, as friends, of the Lord Jesus. Our ministry only bears fruit if we abide in Christ, as Jesus himself told the apostles at the Last Supper: "abide in me," "remain in my love." Our priestly ministry is totally connected to our abiding in Christ and in His love. Otherwise, we can become consumed in frenetic activism, lose our evangelical zeal, and no longer produce good fruit.
This abiding in Jesus was a favorite theme of Blessed Basil Moreau as he reflected often on the image of the vine and the branches. Your holy founder applied the figure of the vine and the branches to the Holy Cross community. We must also apply it to priestly life and ministry. Jesus said: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from me you can do nothing."
The time we spend in prayer is not wasted time. It is the most important time of our day. We have so many wonderful means that help us to abide in Jesus every day: daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the holy rosary, etc. The divine grace we receive in prayer is what makes our ministry fruitful. Yes, we are called to scatter the seed of the Word of God. That seed must first sprout and be watered in our souls through prayer!
#2 – The priestly mission to dispense divine mercy. This was the core of the mission that Jesus received from the Father: the salvation of the entire human family through reconciliation and forgiveness of sins. These gifts come to us from the merciful heart of our Redeemer. Saint Paul described this priestly mission when he wrote: "God … has given us the ministry of reconciliation. … This makes us ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us." Paul went on to implore the Corinthians: "In Christ's name, be reconciled to God!"
Matthew, today you are consecrated for this ministry of reconciliation. It is hard for me to put into words the beauty and the power of this ministry of reconciling sinners to God. The love of Jesus Christ prevails in the struggle between good and evil present in the human heart when, through the priestly ministry of reconciliation, sinners are converted by the power of God's grace.
In your priestly ordination today, the Lord imparts to you the sacred power to forgive sins in His name. He says to you as He said to the apostles on the first Easter night: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them." Through ordination, you are configured to Christ, the merciful and compassionate High Priest, the Good Shepherd who left the 99 to seek and find the lost sheep. Jesus makes you His instrument in the diffusion of God's mercy, in imparting the forgiveness that drives away evil and restores grace.
"In persona Christi," in the person of Christ, you will say to sinners in the sacrament of Penance: "I absolve you from your sins." By God's grace, these words are efficacious. They bring to the person peace and hope and joy, the fruits of God's merciful love. Matthew, I encourage you to devote much time and energy to your holy task as confessor. In so doing, strive always to imitate the love and compassion of the Good Shepherd and to seek out those who are alienated from God and from His Church. Then, welcome with open arms the prodigal sons and daughters who seek to return to the Father's house.
#3 – The priestly mission to nourish the faithful at the table of Christ's Body and Blood. Matthew, today in the rite of ordination, you receive the awesome gift and sacred power to celebrate in the Lord's name and in His person the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist. This is the most awesome gift of the priesthood and will be the center of your identity as a priest.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for his sheep. On the cross, He loved us to the end. This sacrifice for the salvation of the world becomes present on the altar by the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of Christ spoken by the ordained priest. Matthew, this great miracle of love will be renewed in your hands, the hands that I will anoint with the sacred chrism today.
At Mass, you will take up the bread and the chalice of wine and repeat the gestures and words of our Lord at the Last Supper. The gifts of bread and wine will become Christ's Body and Blood. At that beautiful and awesome moment, you will then genuflect in humble adoration at the mystery made present through your hands.
How important it is that we priests celebrate Holy Mass in a spirit of fervent prayer, that we truly contemplate the mystery we celebrate! We must never seek to take center stage when we celebrate Mass. We are servants when we celebrate the Eucharist, servants of the liturgy who point to the great High Priest, to Jesus, who gives himself to us ever anew in the Blessed Sacrament.
Matthew, the Eucharist is our school of life. It teaches us, priests, to make of our lives a total gift of self, as Jesus did, to our Bride, the Church. Every time we stand at the altar, break the bread, and lift up the chalice, we learn from Christ the meaning of our vocation: to give our lives; to be men of self-giving, sacrificial love, men of the Eucharist!
Matthew, in a few minutes you will become an ordained priest of Jesus Christ. God calls you to follow him in a new way as he makes you the living instrument of his Son, the Eternal High Priest. May the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the mother of priests, the woman of the Eucharist, intercede for you always!