The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 16, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Essential to church's existence

Priesthood brings heavy responsibility, but the burden is not heavy

By Bishop Robert Banks

(The following is the homily prepared for the Ordination of Father Jim Lucas on June 10.)

The purpose of the homily in an ordination ceremony is to explain the office and ministry to which the candidate is being ordained.

So let me talk about what it is that a priest does, or rather what the Lord does through the priest.

First of all, the priest is a co-worker of the bishop, ordained specifically to help the bishop because the bishop cannot by himself serve all the people of the diocese. So the priest shares, in a very intimate way, the ministry of the bishop.

Now the first task of the bishop, and therefore of the priest, is to preach the Word of God.

*It is through preaching that people come to faith and know the love of God.

*It is through preaching that the people come to appreciate the importance of the sacrifice of the Mass and their role in it, especially that they join Jesus in offering the gift of themselves to the Father.

*It is through preaching that the priest helps people to recognize their sinfulness and to seek forgiveness in the sacrament of penance.

*It is through preaching that the priest opens up the Scriptures to the people so that in hearing the priest's words, they hear God's word.

Need I say to you, Jim, that preaching is important?

It is also the privilege and duty of the priest to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation. It is in these two sacraments especially that we see Jesus at work in the ministry of the priest.

Finally, the priest is to be a leader in the church, bringing the people together in the community of the church. And the priest is to do this, not by coercion, but by love that shows itself in humble service.

All of this is what the priest does, or what Jesus does through the ministry of the priest. Now it would be easy to look at the Church's ministry as a ladder. Fifty years ago I was the janitor in our parish church. Today I am a bishop. Some might think I climbed a ladder in the church's ministry.

But ministry in the church is more like concentric circles, with ordained ministry at the center of those circles. And this ordained ministry is so essential to the very existence of the Church that Jesus promises that he will be present in that ministry, no matter how unworthy the minister, as long as the ministry is done in accord with the mind of the Church.

So Jesus is present when the priest says, "This is my body." Jesus forgives when the priest says, "I absolve you." Jesus insures that the teaching of the Church is true by giving the guarantee of infallibility to the Pope and college of bishops. And all this whether or not the ministers of the Church are worthy.

But the ordained minister is called to be worthy. And by the grace of this ordination, the priest is called to share so intimately in the priesthood of Christ that his life will somehow show forth that sharing in Christ's priesthood.

At the core of Christ's priesthood is Jesus' gift of himself, of his life, out of love of the people. So at the core of your sharing in Christ's priesthood should be the gift of yourself, of your whole life, out of love of God's people. Jesus' relationship to the Church is described in the Scripture as a marriage, a life given in love. It is to be the same for you. That is why there is no real retirement from the priesthood, any more than a husband or wife can retire from their marriage. Priesthood is a life given to Jesus and to Jesus' people out of love.

It is this intimate sharing in the priesthood of Christ that, from the beginning and over the centuries, has led the Church to see a particular appropriateness in the celibacy of the priest. And, with God's grace, you will experience how celibacy does enable you to give yourself more generously to the love and service of God and God's people.

This is heavy talk, but the priesthood and the priestly life are not heavy.

How could the priesthood be heavy when we know that we are carrying on Jesus' work?

How could it be heavy when every day we stand at the table of the altar to celebrate the sacrifice that saves the world?

How could it be heavy when Jesus has promised to be always with those who carry on his mission, until the end of time?

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