Homily: Priestly Ordination and Christ the Good Shepherd
Unfortunately, my time here in Boulder has come to an end. I find the gospel of the Good Shepherd a fitting one to conclude my ministry at St. Toms, because it gives me an opportunity to meditate on what I am about to receive this summer in my priestly ordination, and what I have received from you in my time here. The final verse of this gospel is one of my favorites. Christ proclaims, “I came so that they may have life and have it to the full.”
The road God has marked out for me in the 10 years since I entered the Church have been wild. Honestly, it’s nothing I would have ever considered for myself. In my senior year of high school, when I more or less awoke to the world and first began seeking the ever-elusive Truth, I imagined my life as a Christian being me-minus-all the fun things I do. “Life to the full” did not seem to equate with Christianity, especially the Catholic Church. Yet as I came to know God — both in history and in prayer — I found myself ever more certain that the Catholic Church was his true Church. So, although I was still afraid of what my life may look like, I felt like Peter in the Gospels saying, “To whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.”
And since that time, I can truly say my life has been full of joy. I’ve fought forest fires all over the western United States. I have explored many wildernesses, either on a mountain bike or on skis, or floating with a flyrod in my hand. I have gone on pilgrimage all over the world, and I been given an incredible education. Who am I to deserve all these opportunities? I honestly feel pretentious even listing them off. But I feel obliged to bring it all up in order to make clear that all this, as amazing as it is, it is all straw!
For the greatest and most unexpected joy of my life has been the call to priesthood. That God would call me, an entirely unequipped, average dude who is intensely introverted, prefers not to be in large groups and hates speaking in any public context (and still can’t without the words); that God would call me to do exactly those things on a daily basis for the rest of my life, honestly just didn’t make sense.
But then to think that following this call has been the source of my greatest joy has been a paradox I cannot explain. None of us are worthy of the gifts God gives us, none of us are worthy of our vocations. I love to hang out with married couples just after they have their first baby and just experience their feeling of total inadequacy. That is how I feel going into my ordination.
Hundreds of people who don’t know me are about to entrust their spiritual lives to me. Who am I to receive such an honor? Who am I to forgive sins? Who am I to say the words of consecration over the bread and wine, to speak the words Jesus Christ spoke at the last supper?
The gospel today gives us comfort in our inadequacy, for we are but the sheep, and Jesus is the shepherd. God calls us to an impossible mission, but he is also the one who shepherds us in that mission. So, my mission after my bishop lays his hands on my head — Father Peter’s mission as your priest — is to remind you that God has a specific plan for your life; he has a mission for you right now. Because we all know that in the end it’s not a matter of a successful career, or epic adventures with Instagram pictures to prove it, or an incredible education with massive student loans to prove it. It’s only in Jesus Christ that we know the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life. When we look elsewhere, we fall short.
This parish has been such a powerful witness of Christian holiness. I know being Catholic in Boulder in difficult, and I don’t mean to be cliché, because I know you hear that all the time- “There are Catholics in Boulder?” But I have seen it this year. This is a difficult place to witness your faith, for everything the world has to offer is in display here. If you just look on the surface, it seems like everyone is beautiful, wealthy, athletic, and never working.
Father Peter had a party for the seniors on Friday night, at which he reminded them, “If you can keep your faith in Boulder, and not only keep it but grow in it, you can do so anywhere.” It’s true that secularism of Boulder can sharpen you for mission, but more than that, it’s Christ’s faithfulness on display. Our shepherd will never send us into any mission without an abundance of grace to live it out. So, I thank you for bringing life to my final year of seminary, and for proving to me Colorado is actually a worthwhile place, despite the horrendous traffic.
I beg your prayers as I approach my ordination to priesthood. Pray that I joyfully embrace Christ’s cross, that I may be a holy priest who will lay down my life for my flock as Jesus did. Pray that I never waver in my faithfulness to prayer, that I especially love the poor- that I let them teach me to live poverty. Pray that I never grow tired of placing the needs of my bride the Church before my own, and that my parish may love me the way you have loved me.
And know that I will pray for you, that you remain faithful to the mission Jesus Christ has given you. I pray that Father Peter leads you well and you trust him as your shepherd here on earth. It took less than 300 years for our seemingly tiny, inconspicuous Church to conquer the Romans. What’s keeping you from establishing the kingship of Christ in Boulder within our lifetime? That is your mission, to conquer Boulder with the love of Christ, and I pray that you never waver in carrying it out. Being a Christian is the most difficult endeavor any man or woman can ever undertake on this earth. But who of you would not choose a difficult life full of true joy over an easy life full of mediocrity? If you let Christ be your shepherd, you will have life, and have it to the full.