Ordination to the Priesthood: Patrick William May
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist | Savannah, Georgia
Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
June 1, 2019
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.”
Today is a day of great joy for the Church of Savannah. One of her sons, your relative and friend, will be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ.
Your prayers have been answered in many ways. You have gone before the harvest master and begged him to send workers into the field.
And, Patrick, my son and brother, has responded to the call that Jesus gave to him.
You will minister with authority and power but remember Patrick, as Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel: “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.”
I think that you know that very well. “Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be the last.”
Every priest and bishop knows the truth: That it is God who has chosen us. For we know our own weakness, we know our own sinfulness, and yet, just as Jesus spoke to the twelve …. the words “Come, follow me”, so too, does Patrick hear those words in his own heart.
Patrick, I remember when we first met. It was shortly after I came to Savannah as bishop. Fr. Brannen brought a group of guys over to my house to meet me. You were a part of the Melchizedek group that was meeting regularly to discern a priestly vocation.
You were quiet, but you listened intently. I could sense that there was a burning desire in your heart to know what God wanted you to do with your life. You entered the seminary at the end of the summer and began your studies for the priesthood. For the past seven years, I have been praying for you twice a day and meeting with you every year.
You are the first young man that I will ordain who went through seven years of seminary formation during the entire time that I have been bishop. So it is with confidence, that I can say that I know you well and believe that you have been chosen to be anointed.
Patrick, in responding to that call you must do so with a total gift of self. As Jesus tells us, “if you wish to be my disciple, you must leave everything: mother, father, brother, sister, home, and follow me.”
Jesus must be your first and best friend. And that is true for all of us who call ourselves disciples of Christ. You make yourself a total self-gift to Christ and to the Church.
Not only do you leave home and family to serve Christ and the Church and exercise pastoral charity as Jesus himself exercised it, but you also must embrace the gift of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.
And it is only with deep prayer that you can enter into that gift. Hopefully, over the years of your formation, you have encountered Jesus, you have received him as your friend and you have learned to love as he loves.
Pope Francis, in the recent ordination of priests, reminded them “the Sacred Doctrine you will minister, you will share in the mission of Christ the only teacher. Your doctrine, which is not yours, can be the nourishment of the people of God. You are not masters of the doctrine.”
Every priest needs to hear that. We are not to make up false doctrine, but rather, as Pope Francis reminds us, it is the Lord’s doctrine and you must be faithful to the Lord’s doctrine. You must teach as Jesus teaches, as the Church teaches. You are to hand on that gift of faith.
In sanctifying the People of God, you will be called to make them holy through the sacraments of the Church. You are to embrace the celebration of every sacrament with great humility. You will anoint the sick, you will hear confessions, and most importantly, you will celebrate the Eucharist.
Patrick, in hearing confessions, you will be called to exercise the mercy of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of Christ. Pope Francis again reminded the newly ordained priests….” with the Sacrament of Penance, you will remit sins in the name of Christ and of the Church. And I wish to pause here and to ask you, for the love of Jesus Christ never tire of being merciful! Please!”
Pope Francis continues, “You have the capacity of forgiveness that the Lord had, who did not come to condemn, but to forgive. Have much mercy! And if the scruple comes to you of being too forgiving, think of that priest about whom I spoke to you, who would go in front of the tabernacle and say: “Lord, forgive me if I have forgiven too much. But it is You who gave me the bad example.”
My son, in celebrating the Eucharist we are reminded by Pope St. John Paul the Great that the Eucharist is the center of our lives as priests. It is the place in which we are nourished in our priesthood to make a total self-gift to Christ and to the Church.
When you pray the words, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you,” Patrick, those must be your words too, spoken with Christ, that you give your body and your blood for the salvation of souls.
In governing, you are called to lead the people of God. Don’t push or pull them. You are called to shepherd them after the Good Shepherd. Your days of learning and your days of formation are not done with the sacrament of Holy Orders or being ordained a priest. You are beginning the ministry of Christ. You will be challenged and you will be hated. You are called to lead as Christ leads. Keep your eyes always fixed on the Good Shepherd, on his love for his sheep, on his tenderness.
My dear brother, in your ministry, as you go out to anoint the sick, before you hear confessions, before you celebrate a wedding, open your heart to the Holy Spirit and pray to the Spirit to help you to bring Christ to those with whom you celebrate the sacraments.
Patrick, there is nothing worse than a cantankerous, angry, bitter priest…at any age. He does not know Jesus nor the joy that Jesus alone can give. Because even in the midst of trials, when you have experienced Jesus, your joy and the peace that only he can give will remain. Look at Justin, the martyr on whose feast you are being ordained. He will now be your patron. Call on him as an intercessor when you feel persecuted and falsely judged.
Jesus desires you to have Joy, but always remember it is on his terms, not yours. Only in your surrender to him will you be led to that joy, to the joy of the priesthood no matter where you serve, whether it is the rural areas of our diocese or the city or in the missions. Every priest is to be that joy of Christ and will be that joy if he recognizes he is exercising the ministry of Christ no matter where he is.
Finally, Patrick, turn to Mary and Joseph in your prayer life, for they too surrendered greatly to the Lord. But first look at the trust of the Father: the Father entrusted his only Son to Mary and Joseph.
Ask Mary and Joseph to teach you. They formed Jesus in his humanity: ask them to continue to form you so that you may form others. Ask them to help lead you to Jesus and ask Joseph how to exercise celibate fatherhood, because he will teach you and he will guide you if you turn to him.
I pray, my son, that your ministry will bear much fruit. Jesus anoints you today, using me as his instrument, as his apostle, so that through my hands the Spirit will fall upon you.
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon you, because the Lord has anointed you.”
May the Lord grant you his peace.