"Today you will become Missionaries of Mercy": Bishop Hartmayer at ordination of two new priests
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist | Savannah, Georgia
Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Ordination of Thomas Brian O'Shaughnessy and John David Wright
June 4, 2016
Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
This is a day of great joy for the Church of Savannah. I welcome to this most solemn occasion, Bishop Emeritus J. Kevin Boland, priests, deacons, consecrated Religious, seminarians and the family and friends of Brian O’Shaughnessy and John Wright.
Brian and John, today is a day of great joy, for, in the presence of those who have nurtured and supported you over the years, your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, friends, classmates, seminary faculty and staff and priests. I will ordain you priests of Jesus Christ for ministry in the Diocese of Savannah.
As we just heard in John’s Gospel, I say to you, what the risen Jesus said to his apostles huddled in the upper room: “Peace be with you”.
In the first reading we heard that God anointed the prophet Isaiah to “announce a year of favor from the Lord”; a Jubilee. Pope Francis has announced that this year is also a “year of favor”; the Year of Mercy.
Today, you will become Missionaries of Mercy with the mandate to transmit the Christian message by embracing those in difficulty, by embracing the outcast, the marginalized and the sinner.
In my years as a priest and as a bishop, I have learned that, while people may be different on the surface, deep down, we are all pretty much alike. Whether we live in a trailer in south-central Georgia or an inner city housing project or an affluent mansion on one of the islands off the coast of Georgia, people often share the same needs: purpose in life, hope, dreams, affirmation, inclusion, reconciliation and mercy.
Whether someone is the CEO of a great corporation or a messenger at an office, whether someone is a famous doctor or a homemaker, whether someone is old or young, from another culture or speaks a different language, we all share the same basic human condition with its wonderful possibilities and its frustrating limitations.
So beneath the surface, our deepest joys and concerns are very much alike: we all search for friendship, respect, and understanding.
It is the unique privilege of the priest to be with so many people during special moments and experiences in their lives.
When a new baby is born, what happens? The family calls the priest to arrange a baptism. As a priest, you can see this as merely another baptism, perhaps one of seven or eight that you celebrate on a weekend. Or you can see it for the very special moment it is in the life of that family.
When it comes time for the children to receive their First Holy Communion, you can see it is as very hectic time or you can rejoice with the families who come to share this milestone in their child’s faith life. On this occasion, the manner of the priest in celebrating the Eucharist and the words he shares in his homily can touch hearts and rekindle faith in people who may have been away from God for years, or unfortunately, it can be only a routine for us; a run-of-the-mill ritual.
The same is true of weddings, confessions, illnesses. All these can be truly grace-filled encounters with the living God or they can be stale, dull, routine, listless ceremonies for us. That is a danger and a red flag that we need to address.
The credibility of Christianity is undermined by “’religious leaders” who preach one thing and do another. One cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, and the Gospel of Mercy, without the tangible witness of one’s own life.
People come to us at the pivotal moments of life. As a young pastor, I used to regard emergency calls as interruptions to my schedule that I carefully planned for the day, until I realized that those “interruptions” were a call to serve. That is the reason I was ordained. When a call came in to go to the hospital, I thought how I would hope that my mother’s pastor would respond if she was the reason for the emergency call.
My dear brothers, as a priest, you are called to be salt for the earth, a light in the world, and a Missionary of Mercy. You can really make a profound difference in the lives of many, many people.
You can also make a positive difference in the life of our society by your witness to social justice. You will be exercising priestly ministry in a mission diocese where there are small pockets of Catholics spread throughout middle Georgia who long to hear the Gospel of Joy.
Many of our immigrant Catholics are afraid to be seen. They are living in the shadows. Many are working hard to provide a better life for their family but do not always feel welcome. They must feel welcome in our parishes and missions. This is where they encounter Christ and we, as priests, as missionaries of Mercy and Good Shepherds, must make that happen.
John and Brian, you must bring the values of the Gospel to bear on this situation, imbuing it with an ethic that says true riches come from hard work and being responsible and that true greatness consists not in narcissistic opportunism but genuine self-giving for the good of all.
It will be an important part of your ministry to build a sense of pride in your people and show the world that there is beauty and goodness in their lives.
We live in a world in which many people deeply appreciate the Church and the priesthood. But there are others who have a difficulty understanding why two talented, intelligent, energetic men, like you, would want to spend their lives as priests?
The priesthood is not the kind of position which provides much opportunity to become a mover and a shaker in our society. You are choosing a life of service in order to build up the kingdom of God.
Why are you taking this step today?
Why? Because you have become increasingly aware of the deep hungers of the human spirit. You are aware of people who try to have it all, only to discover that possessions do not satisfy the profound yearnings of the human heart.
As you await the moment of ordination, you may very well be pondering the mystery of it all, as the prophet Jeremiah did so many centuries ago. “Why me, Lord?” I am so unworthy, I am too young. There are many others who are more capable.”
In reply, the Lord God says to you both, as he said to those of us who have preceded you in this marvelous and mysterious vocation: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will give you the words to say, I will not leave you alone in the desert.”
A second thought that may enter your mind as you await the time of ordination may well be: “What am I getting myself into?” That question has merit! These are challenging times in the Catholic Church. There is no question, there will be challenges.
The Church has never been a community without problems and challenges. Jesus faced problems, Peter faced problems, Francis of Assisi faced problems, Teresa of Avila and Mother Teresa faced problems. You will do well to remember that God did not promise us a life without challenges, He assured us, though, that He will not abandon us during these difficult times.
My dear brothers, you are being ordained in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. That fact should resonate in your heart for the rest of your life. You should be known as the “priests of the Year of Mercy” and not by any other definition or label.
My dear parents of the ordinandi: Thank you for the faith that you have shared with your sons. You have taught them well. We have built on the foundation that you provided your sons in your home. Thank you for supporting their call and for your constant prayers during their years in the seminary. Thank you for giving the gift of your sons to do God’s work in the Diocese of Savannah. May God bless you a hundred fold.
And so my dear brothers, my prayer for you this day is that you will find great joy in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and that you will be a messenger of joy and mercy to the people of this local church who so hunger and thirst for God.
On this feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we pray: Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you, and for those who do not have recourse to you, especially the enemies of the Church and those recommended to you.
O Mary, mother of priests, pray for us. Amen.