Dear Friends and Family of those to be ordained, dear Brothers and Sons:
Each of you comes to this moment with your life story, with your sense of Gods will for you, with your love for Christ and the Church. Your life now becomes forever entwined with the life of the Church, to which you give yourselves as a husband gives himself to his wife. Your life now becomes part of the life story of those whom Christ wants you to bring to him.
Holy Scripture in this Ordination Mass gives us words from three priests: St. Peter, St. Paul and Jesus himself. Before considering their words, let me tell you stories of three priests who have been part of my life both as seminary companions and as members of my religious family, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
One of these priests was buried last Wednesday in Guatemala. His name was Fr. Lawrence Rosebaugh. He was born in Missouri, and he spent his life witnessing to Christ among the very poor, with whom he identified himself because he knew that Christ was poor and loved the poor in a special way. He worked as a priest among poor people in Brazil, in this country, in El Salvador and in Guatemala. He spent some years in prison. When I became the Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the Midwest in the early 1970s, Fr. Larry came to me and asked that he not be covered by the Oblate health insurance policy, because he wanted to preach to poor people as one of them, and they were not insured. His life was of a single piece, inside and out. What he did and who he was were the same. He was a quiet, soft-spoken man, but his witness was effective. Blessed are the poor, Christ said, and Fr. Larry Rosebaugh believed him. Go, sell what you have, give it to the poor and come follow me, Christ taught, and Fr. Larry took Christ at his word. A man who had nothing of his own was shot and killed by robbers a week ago on a stretch of road in Guatemala. The robbers, if that is who they really were, took almost nothing, because Fr. Rosebaugh had next to nothing materially, in life and in death.
The second priest witness I want to tell you about died over thirty years ago in Bolivia. His name was Fr. Maurice Lefebvre. As a newly ordained priest, he was sent to Bolivia to work among those who mined silver in the mountains. Then he was sent to work among university students in the city. He was an intelligent man, and he taught his students not only about Christ but also that Christ loved them and did not want them to live under the oppressive military regime that then ruled Bolivia. During an attempted overthrow of the government by opposition forces, Fr. Lefebvre drove a Red Cross ambulance to bring to safety those who had been shot. Government troops were watching for him and fired upon the ambulance as he drove the wounded to a hospital. The troops surrounded the ambulance as he bled to death and permitted no one to come to rescue him. It took him three hours to die on the street, and he forgave those who had shot him before he finally died.
The third priest witness died a few years after Fr. Lefebvre. His name was Fr. Raynald Beauregard, and he had been sent as a newly ordained priest from Quebec, Canada, to Lesotho in Southern Africa. He was appointed pastor of a parish high in the mountains. He told the people who Christ is and how Christ had conquered the spirits in which they had previously believed and that they should no longer be afraid. God is love, he said, and God does not want us to live in fear. Some of his new converts, his own parishioners who had not yet understood the new life given by Christ, killed Fr. Beauregard with knives two days before Christmas, 1976. They admired his great physical strength and thought they would share in it if they killed him. Before he died, he said that he had been in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a long time and that he gave his life to God. Twice he said that he forgave those, his own parishioners, who had attacked and killed him.
St. Peter, preaching to a Roman soldier, Cornelius, and his family in the city of Caesarea, gave witness to what Jesus had said and done before he died on the cross. Peter said that Jesus, after rising from the dead, commissioned the apostles to testify that Jesus is appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him, all the prophets also bear witness, so that everyone who believes in him will receive the forgiveness of sins. The message is consistent and constant, and the messengers are to be true o it in their own lives.
St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, bears witness to Christs resurrection from the dead and explains to them that they are called to share in Christs new life, a life built upon forgiveness: Godhas reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation. He urged the often quarreling Corinthians, as an ambassador, a witness to the love of Christ and on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God, to enter into the new life of the risen Christ.
Jesus himself, speaking to the apostles the evening of the day he rose from the dead, bore witness to himself: he showed them his hands and his side. It is himself, but now visibly united to the Holy Spirit, clearly both God and man. Then Jesus tells them: As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. The apostles are commissioned with authority from Christ to bring forgiveness and peace to sinners and to a sinning world.
Dear Brothers called to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, you are to witness to Christ among those who will be given to your care and to the world at large. You are to preach forgiveness and work for peace. You are to govern Gods people, to judge sinners and to forgive sin. You are the instruments, the Fathers, that Christ will use to bring people to new life, in this world and the next. You are to live the sacrifice you offer; you are to be priests of Christ in all that you are and all that you do. Your life is to be one with Christ and his Church.
As you step forward now with joyful hearts to be ordained priests of the Church, mediators of Gods grace, know that Christ loves you and is pleased with you. Know that the Church rejoices with you and is grateful to you. Remember as well that Christ was crucified, as was St. Peter, and that St. Paul was beheaded. The world that resists conversion and rejects forgiveness will push back. If you live with the poor, you may be shot by robbers. If you tell the truth, you may be killed by those whose position you threaten. If you give your life to people for the love of God, they may betray you. It is all part of priestly life. You know this; your formation has prepared you to live this life. Now it is your life. All of us are proud of you, and I ask you to come forward and declare your intentions before this family, united by the love of Christ.
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago