At 11 am yesterday Saturday, September 28, at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, celebrated Mass to mark the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination and the 40th of his ordination as a bishop. Scores of cardinals, bishops and priests concelebrated with the cardinal.
I was privileged to attend this very beautiful and meaningful Eucharist and to be present after Mass in the Paul VI Hall for the reception to which Cardinal Sarah invited his friends and colleagues. It was a joy to meet him, even if briefly, and to thank him for his life, his priesthood and his consistent defense of the faith.
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, one of the concelebrants at Mass, joined the festivities at the Paul VI Hall and I felt blessed to have a few minutes with him as well.
I had a copy in Italian of Cardinal Sarah’s homily and followed along as he gave it during Mass. I was so moved by his extraordinary words about the priesthood, about the Eucharist that I decided to translate the entire homily into English and I offer it to you today to read and savor and share. You surely know a priest or two who would benefit enormously by the cardinal’s beautiful thoughts on the priesthood, and perhaps see his own priesthood in a new, almost divine light.
(photos by Evandro Inetti CNA-EWTN)
You might want to look at one or all of these books by Cardinal Sarah: The Day Is Now Far Spent, The Power of Silence, A Conversation on Faith, and God or Nothing (three of which are book-length interviews with Nicolas Diat)
A PRIEST IS “A MAN WHO STANDS IN THE PLACE OF GOD, A MAN CLOTHED WITH ALL THE POWERS OF GOD”
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are here in St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate the Eucharist, that is, to give thanks to the Lord on the occasion of my fiftieth anniversary of priestly Ordination and the fortieth anniversary of the Episcopate. The heart of this celebration is Jesus Christ, the Heavenly High Priest … “holy, innocent, without blemish, separated from sinners and raised above the heavens” (Heb 7:26). But also the Virgin Mary, our Most Holy Mother, finds herself among us and invokes upon us the outpouring of the Spirit of Love, of Truth and Holiness.
Before having the joy and the privilege of offering you a brief meditation on the priesthood, starting from the biblical texts we have heard, let me first of all thank you, each and every one, from the bottom of my heart, as you have gathered here to surround me with your affection, your prayer and the strength of your Faith: I really need your Faith, the support of your friendship and your Christian fervor, to help me raise my gratitude to the Lord on this blessed day.
In fact, alone, I am too inadequate, too covered with miseries and sins. Alone, I am a no one who dares to present myself before God and express my immense gratitude for having called me to the priesthood and for the countless wonders that he has worked in me, in the course of my whole life. God amazes with his choices. He is wonderful and surprising in his generosity and in his love for each of us. This fiftieth is actually the anniversary of us all. Listen to what he says to each of us today: “Before forming you in the womb, I knew you, before you came out into the light, I consecrated you; I have made you a prophet of the nations”(Jer 1: 5).
Here is what the Lord has been for me: I was born in a humble and poor environment like that of Nazareth and in an animist and pagan culture, and He made me a Christian, a priest and a Bishop. Through baptism and priestly ordination he transformed me from nothing into his humble servant, into his beloved son. What I have become is truly the work of God and the fruit of the enormous sacrifices and heroic renunciations of Spiritan missionaries.
What I have become I also owe to my parents: Alexandre and Marie Claire. The priest – here is the most magnificent work, the most generous gift that God has given to humanity – is the most precious and inconceivable treasure that exists on earth: the Curé of Ars, Saint John-Mary Vianney was deeply convinced of it.
He said: “If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind the glass, like wine mixed with water. How great is the priest! If he really understood (this), he would die. … God obeys him: he says two words and Our Lord descends from heaven at hearing this voice and closes himself in a small host.” The priest is “a man who stands in the place of God, a man who is clothed with all the powers of God. …Look at the power of the priest! His tongue makes God of a piece of bread!”
However, this happens only if we priests agree to be crucified with Christ, if each of us is ready to say, like Saint Paul, in the concrete web of our existence: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (cf .Gal 2.19-20). Christ, the Son of God, only through the Cross and at the end of an extraordinary descent into an abyss of humiliation, comes to confer on priests the divine power to celebrate the Eucharist and to tear men, his earthly brothers, from the slavery of sin and death, to make them partakers of his divinity.
The Eucharist takes place only if our life is marked by the Cross. According to St. Josemaría Escrivà, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the vital motivation of the priest, the pillar on which his priestly existence is built. In his motto he wrote it this way: “in laetitia nulla dies sine cruce: in joy, no day without the Cross”. The priest lives joy in its fullness in the Holy Mass, which is the raison d’être of his existence, what gives meaning to his life.
During the Mass, on the paten and in the chalice, the priest is close to the Host, he is truly before and together with our Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus looks at him and he looks at Jesus. Are we really fully aware of what the real presence of Christ himself really means before our eyes, under the Eucharistic species? During daily Mass the priest comes face to face with Jesus Christ and at that precise moment, he is identified, he becomes identified with Christ, becoming not only an Alter Christus, another Christ, but he is really Ipse Christus, Christ Himself. He is conscious of being invested by the Person of Christ himself, configured in a specific sacramental identification with the High Priest of the eternal Covenant (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia n.29).
St. Josemaria says again: “All priests – whether we are sinners or saints – when they celebrate Holy Mass are no longer themselves. They are Christ who renews his divine Calvary Sacrifice on the Altar.” In fact, on the altar I do not preside over anything, not even this Eucharist that gathers us here today. Although unworthily, Jesus is truly in me, I am Christ: what a terrifying statement! What a fearful responsibility! It makes me tremble with terror, but it is true: I am at the altar in His name and in His stead. It is in persona Christi that I consecrate the bread and wine, after having given him my body, my voice, my poor heart, profaned so many times by my many sins and that I ask him to purify.
On the eve of every Eucharistic celebration, the Virgin Mary, who welcomes us as children in her arms, prepares us herself and urges us to consign ourselves, soul and body, to Jesus Christ so that the miracle of the Eucharist may be fulfilled. The Cross, the Eucharist and the Virgin Mary shape, structure, nourish and consolidate our Christian and priestly life. You will understand why all Christians, but especially priests, must build their inner life on these three realities: CRUX – HOSTIA and VIRGO; Cross, Eucharist and Virgin Mary. The Cross makes us born into divine life. Without the Eucharist we cannot live and the Virgin watches over our spiritual development as a mother and educates us to grow in faith. Jesus reveals to us the secret of this heavenly food, in which His very flesh that nourishes us allows us to live in his own life, in the unheard-of intimacy of friendship with him. Priests and faithful Christians are truly Jesus’ friends.
The term “friend” introduces us to today’s Gospel. Jesus addresses these wonderful words to us: “You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I no longer call you servants … but I have called you friends, because all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”(Jn 15,14-15). Of course, we often have the feeling of being useless servants (cf. Lk 17:10), an absolute and incontestable truth, but the Lord calls us his friends, he makes us his friends, he generously offers us his friendship.
Note that the Lord defines friendship by emphasizing two essential aspects. First of all He teaches us that among friends there are no secrets, friends say it all, with the utmost confidence and transparency. Precisely because we are his friends, the Lord told us priests what He learned from his Father. He then explains to us that friends trust each other blindly: Jesus therefore has complete trust in us and for this reason offers us a perfect knowledge of Himself and his Father, reveals his face and his heart to us, shows us his tenderness and his passionate love that will reach the folly of the cross.
He trusts us completely, giving us the power to speak on his name and in his place: for this we can say: “This is my Body … This is my Blood. Take it and eat it all … Take it and drink it all …”. He entrusts in our hands his body, his Church, the unfathomable mystery of the One and Triune God, the God who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son as a ransom for many (Cf. Jn 3, 16; Mk 10:45).
If God has loved and chosen us, are we able to understand all the consequences that derive from being his friends and therefore introduced into his intimacy? Do we understand that if he has loved us and chosen us as priests, it is to go and bear much fruit? The Love, Friendship and Faith received from God must be revealed to others: we have received the faith to pass it on to others. We are priests to be humbly at the service of God and our brothers and sisters up to the oblation of our lives.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Pray for priests, pray for me, because today the priesthood is going through a deep crisis. In this Eucharist we entrust the Church and all priests to the maternal goodness of the Virgin Mary, our Mother and Mother of the Church. Once again, thank you very much for being present at this Mass of thanksgiving and God bless you. Amen.