A First Mass Homily and The Gift of a New Priest

This was a glorious weekend.  On Saturday, my diocese saw five men ordained to the priesthood!

My good friend, Fr. Andrew Garnett asked me to preach the homily at his first Mass.  It was a tremendous honor and privilege.

Photo courtesy of Ed Casey
Photo courtesy of Ed Casey

Here below is the homily as prepared for delivery.

The readings can be found here.

Your Excellency,  Father Kevin, Father Garnett, Brother priests, Dear family of Fr. Garnett, Friends all,

It’s a remarkable thing.  That an ordinary man would be chosen by God to make his presence known among us.  That yesterday, as the bishop laid hands and invoked the Holy Spirit this man would be changed forever.  But changed not for himself.  Father Garnett didn’t lay down on that floor because it was comfortable, or because he was tired!  He didn’t make those promises because he would gain anything in return.  He did all that, first and foremost because God asked him to.  It is God’s will, God’s choice, God’s Gift that we are here today.  And how we rejoice in that gift.  After so many years of study – in Queens, Washington and finally in Rome, after so many courses and degrees!  After so many years of preparation, we rejoice in this gift of Father Garnett’s priesthood to us, because we need it so!

This world desperately needs the priesthood.  The world needs this witness, it needs to be taught how to love.   To be Christ’s witness is not easy – to love is not easy either.  St. Paul reminds us that Christ died for all, so that all who live might no longer live for themselves but for Christ.   Christ teaches us how to love, his cross is the greatest example of love this world has ever known.

Andrew, Yesterday at exactly 12:05 (yes, I looked at my watch!) your whole identity was configured to Christ.  You now speak in his voice, at Holy Mass, in the confessional, his “I” is yours.  You, Fr. Garnett are called to love Christ totally, and in a particular way to totally love as He did – usque ad finem, even to the end.

While this new reality is Fr. Garnett’s in a particular way because of his ordination yesterday it’s all of ours too, isn’t it?  By virtue of our baptism we are all called to love as Christ does.  To seek the good for the other, even at a cost of myself.  The world though, rejects this kind of love – a love that is not self serving, in which nothing is received in return.  The world doesn’t understand this love, just as it doesn’t understand the priesthood.  That a young, happy, normal man would give his life away for very little in return confuses the world.  The reality though, is that we receive much more than we give.  The Cross teaches us that too, that it is in giving our lives away freely, that we are ultimately made free.  The world desperately needs the witness of love, of people willing to die to themselves, to lay down their lives so that others might have life and have it to the full.  Father Garnett’s priesthood, is that symbol to the world.

That when the waters get rough, when the boat starts to toss and turn, the only clear option is to turn to Jesus Christ.  The apostles turned to Jesus, desperate for help, fearful for their lives.  And our Blessed Lord stood and immediately calmed the seas.  He has dominion over the sky and the sea.  The question for us today is, does the Lord have dominion over our lives too.  So often in our lives we feel the toss and the turn of the boat. So much of our lives becomes confusing and difficult.  Life becomes painful and difficult, we are faced with tremendous challenges – sickness, poverty, death, loneliness, confusion.  Even in priesthood.  Especially in the priesthood.

Our opening hymn today told us to lift high the cross.  But before we lift it high, we must accept it.  Fr. Garnett, the priesthood is a total gift, but there will be many crosses.  There will be many who don’t understand what happened yesterday.  There will be those that hate you because of the collar around your neck.  Turn to the Lord in those moments of darkness and need.  Do like the Apostles did in the gospel we just heard and ask Christ to help.  Make sure he has dominion over your priesthood.  And lift high that cross.  Embrace the Lord’s Cross.  Because it’s only in doing that, that we are made free.  That we can better be a living witness of Jesus Christ in the world.  Christ didn’t leave this world unscathed, neither too shall we.  But how glorious, how awesome that we could help the Lord carry His cross.  That we can be partakers of his ministry and become his instruments in salvation.

Father Garnett, I want to take you back for a moment, to 2007, when the incorrupt heart of St. John Marie Vianney visited our diocese and we went to an evening prayer during which Monsignor McDonald preached.  We’ve talked often about that homily.  I’ve turned to it over and over again myself.  Hear what Monsignor said eight years ago and remember how much if affected us then.  I want to quote a part of it for you to Hear it anew today:

The devil wants you forget the majesty and the grandeur to which you are called – to incarnate the presence of Jesus Christ to the world from the moment of your ordination to the instant when you see him face to face.  Even after you are ordained, he will tempt you, he will urge you to work less.  He will urge you to give up, enjoy life more, while people are going to Hell.  John Mary Vianney knew the reality of Hell. He was always focused on the supreme goal – the salvation of immortal souls.

That is why you give your life, that is why you do everything you can to bring people to God forever.  You, when you are 40 years ordained, you will get up and you will go to the sick in the middle of the night and you may be tired and you may be exhausted but you will go, every time you are called because you believe that you are the bearer of the salvation of Jesus Christ.  To many you will open the gates of heaven, when there seemingly was no chance you will give them the words of comfort and forgiveness and peace and heaven will open for them because of what you did. never forget that.  In the midst of all the illusions, all the distractions, all the nonsense all the worries that you have, keep before you the heaven that awaits you and the lord Jesus and His Mother who will be waiting to thank you for what you did for his brothers and sisters forever.

As brand new seminarians we heard those words and they struck a cord in us.  And now as priests, how much more so.  Always remember the glory of this weekend.  The glory to which you’ve been called and now, finally, been given.

On this Fathers Day, your first, Father Garnett, we are reminded of the beauty and the necessity of good fathers in our world.

Today we give thanks to God for the men that became cooperators with God and gave us the gift of life.  But today in a most special way, that god would give us a priest to celebrate his first Mass of Thanksgiving on Fathers day is a particular blessing.  Andrew, for the rest of your life you will be called Father.  It is among the greatest joys of the priesthood.  As a father looks forward to coming home at the end of each work day to see his children, so too do we priests look forward to each Sunday, to see our families, the parish, our spiritual children.  We laugh with our families and we cry with them, we enjoy their successes and we mourn their losses.  We have no family so that we might be family to all.  It’s always weird hearing an elderly person call me father.  Or to have friends or even some distant relatives insist on calling me father.  Who am I, who are we to be worthy of that gift.  But priesthood is never something we can be worthy of.  Truly, it is pure gift.  Fr. Garnett, it was the love you have for the Church and for Jesus Christ that has brought you to today.  May that same love of Christ keep your priesthood holy and filled with many blessings.  And may we all never forget the blessing of this fathers day, as today, we give thanks to God for another father!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Ad Multos Annos, Fr. Garnett!

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