Sunday 11 May 2014

Joan-Maria Vernet's homily at the golden jubilee of his priestly ordination

On every anniversary of my priestly ordination, I propose to reflect about the greatness of the priesthood, about the responsibility of a priest today, about priestly holiness and the challenges for a priest in our time.  I try to do this, but I am not able to continue. Suddenly another fulfilling and happy thought enters my mind: the thougtht and the fullness of joy and gratefulness to God for the gift, the great gift of my priesthood.

This happens now as well. The joy and the thankfulness to God for the gift of my priestly vocation is so great that any other thought is necessarily put away.  I found an explanation for this in the beautiful homily of Pope Francis during Holy Thursday Mass this year: “The Lord anointed us in Christ with the oil of gladness”. The Pope analyses this gladness and paradoxically sees its roots in the existential poverty of the priest. It seems a contradiction. Yes. But it is true.

Pope Francis says that the priest is the poorest of men, the most useless of servants, the most ignorant of men, the frailest of Christians. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices;

The priest has willingly accepted his own poverty: no family, no career, no personal realization. He has given God all, present and future.

The priest is like the ancient Levites of the OT, the poorest of the Israelites, without a piece of land, living on the donations of his brothers the Israelites. But, for the Levites there was this theology: “Dominus pars hereditatis meae”: “The Lord is my allotted portion”.

The same happens to the priest. His inheritance is the Lord, and the Lord totally fills his very existence. He accomplishes the word of Jesus: “The one who loses his life will have it”. The initial vacuum of his life is immediately filled by the fullness of Christ, who is the inexhaustible gladness of his heart and of his life.

The priest can be defined by the words he pronounces in the Mass regarding the Bread: taken, blessed, broken, given. His life is really taken, taken by Christ, blessed with innumerable graces, broken to  more easily reach a great number of brothers, and given, given up without measure, out of love. The important thing of his total donation is that such a generosity is made out of love.

Today’s gospel reflects the priestly mission very well. Although sometimes the priest can represent one of the disciples of Emmaus, discouraged and sad, normally the priest, because of his vocation, has the role of Christ, encouraging others, lifting up their spirit, returning their joy and strength, and the others can acknowledge him in breaking the bread. To have personally met Jesus, to have known him and to have loved him is the treasure of the priest, the root of his gladness and of his total dedication do him. The spiritual poverty of his heart has been filled to the brim by the joy of becoming a friend of Jesus, his coworker in the abundant harvest of God’s kingdom. With Jesus, the poorest of men becomes the richest of all: his treasures are always present, in his hands, in his soul.

Even on the level of a simply human vocation, the catholic priest can be the most satisfactory of jobs. Modern statistics show that the priestly vocation is the one that can reach more happiness, more interior freedom, more joy and sharing satisfaction than any other human job. It is enough to see the vocation of St. John Bosco, the saint of young, always smiling, happy making happy his young people. Speaking now of don Bosco, today I consider my Salesian vocation as well. I belong to the Salesian family, founded by the Saint of the young. I was enchanted by the spirit of don Bosco, perfect radiance of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, and saying: “Talita kumi” raised the daughter of Jairus, giving life, freedom, full development of all human possibilities to those two young persons. This is the Salesian vocation, to help young people to live, to hope, to walk.

Dear brothers and sisters, we are in the month of May, I received my priestly ordination in this month traditionally dedicated to our blessed Mother Mary. I must say a very clear and sweet truth: Mary has  always been at my side. She has guided me and sustained me, filling my heart and my days with joy.

As a concluding expression of my joy and gratefulness to God, allow me to express to the young students of Ratisbonne this wish: courage, love Jesus, trust Jesus, focus Jesus, ask continually for a deep intimacy with Jesus. Believe in his faithfulness, always alive, always loving. He never deceives, he leads his friends to the completion of their happiness. And to all, brothers and sisters, I thank you very much for coming to this celebration and I say to you all: “Praise the Lord with me!”.

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