Our Diocesan Day of Prayer for Priests

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First Tuesday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21-24

Bishop Slattery invited me to preach at Holy Mass in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family on the occasion of the Diocesan Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, observed annually on the First Tuesday of Advent. It was wonderful to see all the priests of the diocese and a good number of deacons assembled around our Bishop. Here is the homily I gave:

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

Some of you, brothers, after completing your Morning Prayer today, may have glanced ahead at the Magnificat Antiphon. I, for one, did -- and I found there why we are here this evening: "Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while he is near" (Is 55:6).

Saint Bernard, especially in his darker moments, used to ask himself, Bernarde, ad quid venisti? "Bernard, what are you doing here? Why have you come?" Given that it was Bernard's custom to find answers to his questions in the Scriptures, he may well have replied to himself: "You've come to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call upon Him while He is near" (Is 55:66). This is why we have assembled in our cathedral this evening; to seek the Lord while He may be found and together, with one another and for one another, to call upon Him while He is near.

Times and Places Fragrant With Grace

Our Lord can, without any doubt, be sought anytime and anywhere. One can call upon Him in any place, at any moment, and out of any situation. And yet, there are times and places that are especially fragrant with His grace. There are moments when the veil hiding His Face seems less opaque, when His voice seems to strike the ear of our hearts more clearly

To call upon the Lord is to engage Him in conversation. The Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, tells us just how we are to go about calling on the Lord. (This is an example of how the liturgy, taken just as it is given, makes all prayer extraordinarily simple. It is the indispensable primary school of prayer.) Look for a moment, if you will, at today's Collect: the prayer that pulls us together, the prayer that, from the very beginning of Mass, imparts the radical God-ward orientation without which there is no prayer.

The Collect

Using a prayer that comes from the 5th century scroll of Ravenna, we say today:

Lord God, be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your paternal care;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now,
by the contagion of our former ways.

This prayer, with the realism that characterizes our Roman Rite, just assumes that we are in tribulation. Of course it would. These 5th century Roman prayers emerged out of real life pastoral situations, often marked by crisis, by animosities, persecutions, and weariness.

Pietas Auxilium

And then we ask for the help of God's pietas -- auxilium pietatis. Pietas is a translator's conundrum. It is God's provident, strong, reliable, paternal love. His pietas is the bedrock of what Saint Paul calls the "household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Pietas is what makes a man dutiful and tender in caring for his wife and children, a reflection of how the Father, in Christ, loves the household of the Church.

Consoled Ahead of Time

The prayer goes on to say that because the Son is coming again, we are consoled ahead of time. "That being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come. . . ." There is consolation, brothers, even in the apparent absence of God, because waiting engenders hope, and hope is, in the uncertainties and losses of this life, the one thing that consoles us.

Old in Sin

Finally we come to point of the whole prayer: the famous ut clause: so that. "So that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come, we may be untainted, -- the Latin even more pointedly says unpolluted -- even now, by the contagion of our former ways." The contagious pollution of our former ways! I told you the Roman liturgy is realistic.

Sin is the great unseen pollutant. It ages us prematurely. It robs us of that joy of our youth that we go to the altar in search of, day after day. It is easy, brothers, to be reinfected by ancient patterns of sin, by the contagion of what is old. Such is the plight of the "old man" in me and in you, the decrepit man who, so often as he sins, becomes more decrepit.

The Child

The Son who is to come in the Collect is the Child of the First Reading. . "And a little Child shall lead them" (Is 11:6). We are led by One who has the Face of a little Child, a Face at once open and full of mystery. This is the image of a healthy presbyterate: men of all ages content to be led by a little Child.

The Anointed One

This same Child is the Father's anointed Priest. The Anointing poured over His head runs down even to the hem of His garment (cf. Ps 132), covering each of us, His priestly members, and steeping us in the fragrance of His sacrifice. This too is the image of a healthy presbyterate: one in which the seven gifts of the Divine Anointing are in operation: "the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. . . and the spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2-3).

His Prayer to the Father

The Gospel brings us back to the mystery of the Child-Priest. We surprise Him in the very act of praying to His Father. So intimate is the tone of this prayer that it has been compared to the most sublime pages of the Fourth Gospel.

The Magnificat of Jesus

Saint Luke shows us the Son filled with gladness in the Holy Spirit -- this is the Magnificat of Jesus, an echo of His Mother's exultation in the first chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel. It is, at the same time, Saint Luke's transmission of the uninterrupted priestly prayer of the Heart of Jesus. It is Eucharistic --"Father, I give you thanks"-- corresponding in its own way to Chapter Seventeen of Saint John.

The Great Thanksgiving

This prayer of Jesus is, in essence, the model of the Preface of every Mass. Listen to it in a liturgical key:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
that you have hidden all this from the wise and the prudent,
and revealed it to little children.
Be it so, Lord, since this finds favour in your sight.
Therefore, with Angels and Archangels, Thrones and Dominations,
and all the warriors of the Heavenly array,
we raise a ceaseless hymn of praise, as we sing . . . .

The Delight of the Child

The Child-Priest praises the Father who has entrusted everything into His hands. None knows who the Child is, except the Father, and none knows who the Father is, except the Child, and those to whom it is the Child's delight to reveal Him. Be certain of one thing, brothers, this Child-Priest is most at ease in conversing with other children because among them He runs the least risk of being misunderstood.

Blessed Are the Eyes That See What You See

And just as in John 17 Jesus addresses His friends, His chosen disciples, so too in today's Gospel, His final words are for us priests. Although Our Lord mentions prophets and kings, He does not mention priests, and this because He is addressing His priests, those of the New Covenant. "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see; I tell you, there have been many prophets and kings who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it" (Lk 10:24).

The Joy of Our Youth

This is the affirmation of our priesthood. We need look nowhere else. This is the consolation of our priesthood in the face of our every experience of humiliation and weakness. This is the joy of our priesthood, joy offered by a Child. Welcome it today at the altar, brothers, and there recover, not for ourselves only, but for the sake of the whole Church, the joy of our youth.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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