Those are the beautiful sentiments that conclude this 1990 ordination homily from Cardinal John O’Connor, which was published recently in the Catholic Review:
As your bishop, I give you but one mandate: love our Church, love God’s people. Love them for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Love them until death, after which both you and they will be transfigured in glory.
You will share intimacies with your people, but the intimacies will be your administering to them the Holy Sacraments of the Divine Bridegroom. You will heal, you will reconcile, you will pour out love upon them. You will baptize their children, you will gently anoint the pained, the suffering, the dying. You will bury the dead, and above all you will enter into that most intimate of intimacies with your bride, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass you will lay down your life as Christ laid down His. Your body will be broken, as His body was broken. Your blood will be poured out as His blood was poured out. “Greater love than this no one has,” and truly you will lay down your life for your bride, the Church, God’s people. And never, never will you find God’s people wanting in generosity, wanting in sacrifice, refusing to lay down their lives for you.
Love God’s people, be kind to them and gentle. Urge them to be what God wants them to be but forgive them when they fail to become what God wants them to become, as they, your bride, will forgive you for your sins, for your weaknesses. And if you love your bride, if you lay down your life for your bride each day, then you will find that your love will grow deeper and stronger as the years go on, just as we are told at the marriage feast at Cana, the bridegroom has saved the best wine until last. In the silver and the golden years of your priesthood, despite the sufferings you may have endured, the temptations you may have experienced, the pressures, the conflicts, the loneliness, the solitude, despite the fact that there will be days that you will ask, “Is this really what God wants of me?”– despite all of that, you will find that indeed, your love of God’s people and your priesthood will be richer, sweeter than even on this day of ordination.
My final word to you my brother priests: preach the truth always. God’s people deserve nothing less. There are ears itching for new teachings, as St. Paul tells us, but we have the teachings of Christ, of the gospel, of our Holy Father, of the bishops. Preach and teach courageously. Serve God’s people truly as their servants, never as their masters. Above all, love the Church which today you have taken as your bride.