Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society

Giovanni Gasparro, Cuore Castissimo di San Giuseppe, 2013
Giovanni Gasparro, Cuore Castissimo di San Giuseppe, 2013
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent
14 March 2015
Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society

I was invited to address yesterday the Dublin Congress of the Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society, an association founded 120 years ago by Olivia Mary Taaffe for the support of young men not having the financial means to undertake studies in preparation for the priesthood. Follow this link to read about the Saint Joseph’s Society for Young Priests. Here is the homily I preached at Holy Mass:

Never Forget All His Benefits

The first issue of The Sheaf appeared 120 years ago on the Feast of Saint Joseph, 19 March 1895. Since that time how many priests have gone to the altar with the prayers and support of the Saint Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society behind them? The Introit of today’s Holy Mass is wonderfully suited to the gift and mystery of the priesthood that the Society still sustains and supports:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, 
and never forget all his benefits; it is he who forgives all your sins. (Psalm 102:2–3)

Praying with the Church

One who allows one’s prayer to be shaped by the sacred liturgy can pray boldly and with the certainty of being heard. Saint Paul tells us that, “we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God” (Romans 8:26–27). We know not how to pray as we ought, but the Church, our Mother and the Bride of Christ, gives us, in the sacred liturgy, the perfect articulation of the Holy Spirit’s unspeakable groanings. And so it happens that the Introit of today’s Holy Mass, a prayer rising from the heart of the Church and coming to flower on her lips, is precisely the prayer that the Father is waiting to hear:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and never forget all his benefits; it is he who forgives all your sins. (Psalm 102:2–3)

Thanksgiving for the Priesthood

Holy Mass opens today on this note of thanksgiving. In the context of this congress of the Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society, however, it is a thanksgiving for the priesthood in the life of the Church.  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all his benefits”. What benefits? The benefits that flow sacramentally from the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the benefits that only a priest of Jesus Christ can give, the divine benefits without which the Church would be no more than another merely human agency doing a little good in this valley of tears. What benefits are these? Saint James describe them in his Epistle: “Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above”, he says, “coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17).

Gifts from Above

There are gifts from above that, by the will of Jesus Christ, are in the giving of none but His priests: the preaching of the Word of God; the forgiveness of sins; the making present of the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross in an unbloody manner upon our altars; the divine sustenance of Holy Communion by which the Church is gathered into unity and built up; the healing of ailing minds and bodies; the union of a man and woman in the sacramental covenant of Holy Matrimony; the accompanying of souls across the threshold of death. And I have said nothing of that powerful and mysterious sacramental that the faithful of Christ cherish and seek eagerly in all the circumstances of life: the blessing of the priest.

They Will Search for Me in Their Misery

At certain dark hours in the history of the Church, marked by persecution, ignorance of the faith, and a creeping coldness of heart, Christ’s faithful have suffered a cruel deprivation of the benefits of the priesthood. The penury of priestly vocations is, at every moment in history, an invitation to conversion of heart: an invitation addressed to the parish, to the diocese, to peoples, and to nations.

The Lord says this:
They will search for me in their misery.
‘Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us;
he has struck us down, but he will bandage our wounds. (Osee 5:15 — 6:2)

“They will search for me in their misery” (Osee 6:1). There is no better place from which to begin seeking God than the pit of one’s misery. “God, be merciful to me a sinner” — the publican’s magnificent prayer — can become the magnificent prayer of the whole body of the Church brought low by human weakness, the Church wounded and disfigured by those of her own household.

Wounded Hands

There is in the the thirteenth chapter of the prophet Zacharias a mysterious dialogue that the Fathers and the liturgy apply to Christ and to the Church: “And they shall say to him: What are these wounds in the midst of thy hands? And he shall say: With these I was wounded in the house of them that loved me” (Zacharias 13:6) 

Christ is wounded in his hands when He is wounded in His priests. The priests of the Church are the hands of Christ: hands raised in supplication and in praise; hands lifted in blessing and in absolution; hands holding the mysteries of His Body and Blood; hands feeding the faithful with the Bread of Angels. The world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to wound the hands of Christ again and again, but there is no wound so deep and so desperately infected that it cannot be cleansed by the mercy of God and, thus, become a channel of healing grace for others similarly wounded in spiritual combat.

God Be Merciful to Thy Church

The body of the Church, no less than the individual members of that body, can suffer long winters, hours of darkness, and disfiguring afflictions. It is precisely in such long winters, in such dark hours, and in the grip of such afflictions, that the Church can begin to utter a prayer that God finds irresistible: “God, be merciful. God be merciful, for the Church, the Spouse of Thy Son, holy with His holiness, and lovely in the reflection of His countenance, is, nonetheless, made up of sinners”.

Praying Out of the Depths

The Church in Ireland could, at one time — and that time was not terribly long ago — boast proudly of sending more priests to distant shores than the Church in any other nation on earth. Then there came a great humiliation. Such great humiliations can be the occasion, on the one hand, of temptations to despair, and on the other hand, of an immense surge of confidence in the mercy of God, a prayer de profundis, out of the depths.

The Voices of a Great Cloud of Witnesses

There are, here and there, strident voices proclaiming the imminent death of the Church in Ireland, the demise of the priesthood, the end of wonderful works such as the Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society. Listen again. There are other voices, strong and gentle voices, the voices of a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) saying, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14), and again, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never forget all his benefits; it is he who forgives all your sins (Psalm 102:2–3). As for me, I shall incline the ear of my heart to these strong and gentle voices, the voices of the saints, and say, again and again, with an irrepressible hope, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). And to you, dear friends, I say with the prophet:

After a day or two he will bring us back to life,
on the third day he will raise us
and we shall live in his presence.
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord;
that he will come is as certain as the dawn
his judgement will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth. (Osee 6:3)

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