At the priestly ordination of deacons of the Prelature, St. Eugene's Basilica, Rome (May 27, 2006)
At the priestly ordination of deacons of the
Prelature, St. Eugene’s Basilica, Rome
My dear brothers and sisters,
my dear ordinands:
The fact that the priestly ordination of thirty-four faithful of the Prelature coincides with the solemnity of the Ascension illuminates in a special way some aspects of your future ministry, and also touches upon the life of all the faithful in the Church. I would like to speak especially about the Eucharist, about preaching, and about the working of divine mercy.
1. “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). These words from the first reading relate the mystery of our Lord’s Ascension. Jesus has left them, but his disciples can’t quite convince themselves of this fact. The Acts of the Apostles continues: “they were gazing into heaven as he went” (Acts 1:10). At first, the Ascension meant for the disciples that Jesus had disappeared, that he was no longer physically with them.
At the same time we know that our Lord had promised, as Matthew writes in his Gospel: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). Right here we can see a link between our Lord’s Ascension and today’s celebration, in connection with the mystery of Christ’s absence and at the same time permanent presence in the Church. This ceremony is, in fact, simultaneously the celebration of the Eucharist and your priestly ordination, my sons. Jesus has gone away, it is true, but he remains with us in a unique, ineffable, real way. He is really and substantially present in the Eucharist, and this is possible thanks to the gift of the ministerial priesthood which you are about to receive. Immediately after your ordination, in this Mass, you will celebrate the Holy Sacrifice with me. Acting in persona Christi capitis Ecclesiae (in the person of Christ, head of the Church), we will repeat the words of the institution of the Eucharist: “This is my Body,” “this is the chalice of my Blood.” Jesus will descend upon the altar. In this supreme act of worship to God the Father, the paschal mystery will be made present for the salvation of the world.
Each day Jesus comes to us in the Holy Eucharist. Benedict XVI said that Jesus “gives himself through our hands, he gives himself to us. For this reason the Holy Eucharist, in which the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross remains continually present, truly present among us, is rightly at the center of priestly life. And with this as our starting point, we also learn what celebrating the Eucharist properly means: it is an encounter with the Lord, who strips himself of his divine glory for our sake, allows himself to be humiliated to the point of death on the Cross and thus gives himself to each one of us.” And the Pope further remarks: “The Eucharist must become for us a school of life in which we learn to give our lives. One’s life is given not only at the moment of death, and not only in the manner of martyrdom. We must give it day by day…giving life, not taking it. It is in this very way that we experience freedom.”
This experience teaches us what love means, a true love, and therefore a love that lasts forever. You yourselves, deacons now, will be sacerdotes in aeternum, priests forever! I am certain that you can count on the prayers of everyone present, not only for each one of you, but also for seminarians and all those God wants to call to the ministerial priesthood. This is an intention that should be present in every Christian heart.
2. On that momentous day, when he was about to leave, Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). To preach and proclaim the good news of salvation will from now on be your task, although everyone is called upon to do the same. You have to transmit Christ’s teachings faithfully, also by your behavior. These teachings fill the soul with joy and peace. Therefore you can count on the infusion of the Spirit, to announce to all mankind that they have been called to love God and other men and women in their daily lives and professional work. As St. Josemaría tirelessly repeated, with a special light from God: all human realities can be turned into an act of love for God. Thus, by uniting work and prayer, we become divinized. This too is a lesson we learn from our Lord’s Ascension. In the opening prayer we read: “through the glorious Ascension of your Son, our humanity is exalted.” Yes, Christ’s created humanity now enjoys the glory of heaven, and therefore our humanity too is already reaping the benefits of this glory.
Preaching echoes, in a certain way, the angels’ invitation to the apostles: we mustn’t remain inactive, looking up towards heaven as though something were about to happen. Rather we should direct our attention to the Eucharist and fall on our knees to adore our God, Jesus Christ, present under the appearance of bread. My sons, that is what you should do: adore and invite others to adore, also with one’s body, the Most Blessed Sacrament, mystery of faith and love. Thus your preaching will have its source in the reality of the Eucharist and prayer, that is, in personal and intimate contact with Jesus Christ.
I would like to greet now with great affection the families of my deacon sons, especially their parents: your sons owe their vocation to you! I pray for those who have not been able to be here. I unite myself to your deep emotion when, on the altar, each new priest will make present the paschal mystery, placing you on the paten, next to Jesus who offers himself to his Father.
3. Today’s Gospel also contains words that might strike us as mysterious. The evangelist St. Mark says: “The Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19). What does this final statement mean? It simply seeks to remind us that Jesus, that Christ the King, governs the world at the right hand of the Father. In other words, it means that God’s providence can never fail.
I said earlier that we are called to adore, and we cannot forget that it is the Holy Spirit himself who leads us to pray. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, never leaves us, never abandons us at any moment. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, has shown us God’s loving fatherhood. It is everyone’s duty, and especially that of priests, to reflect this fatherhood of God in the exercise of spiritual direction, and in the case of priests, also through the administration of the sacrament of Penance. In this way priests will give hope to souls. They will listen patiently to everyone, knowing that each person is unique before God: each is a son or daughter of God.
Every soul, St. Josemaría joyfully repeated, is worth all the blood of Christ. Through this Blood which redeemed us, our sins are forgiven. Forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance is a manifestation of God’s merciful goodness, which we should let everyone know about. These are the true wonders that so many people daily hope for from you, my dear ordinands: your availability to administer the sacrament of reconciliation, which St. Josemaría called “the sacrament of joy.” Thus you will help many people to carry out, day by day, little interior “ascensions.” Ascensions that normally take place in one’s family life, in work, in the world that we love as the place of our encounter with God, as the Founder of Opus Dei taught. We will attain little by little the “serene confidence” that someday we will be with Christ in our eternal dwelling place, as we say in the Preface. And there we will be in “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23), that is, in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
It is clear that our Lord’s Ascension is expressed in his presence in the Eucharist, in the preaching of the Gospel by the priest and in the merciful gestures he carries out. The Church is the prolongation of Jesus’ presence in time. In communion with his Body, participating in the Holy Spirit, united to the Holy Father Benedict XVI, to the Cardinal Vicar of Rome and to all the bishops, we form the Church of Christ, called to reconcile the world with God. As St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote, the eternal Word confers upon men “his Spirit; he grants them every form of holiness—affinity and familial relationship to his nature and that of the Father.” And St. Josemaría never failed to stress with great joy that thus we are “brothers of God and heirs to his glory.” We know very well that we owe this incomparable treasure also to our Lady’s fiat: “be it done unto me according to your word.” During these days as we prepare once again to celebrate the solemnity of Pentecost, we will find certainly ourselves close to Mary. May our Lady watch over us, as the Seat of Wisdom, in the glory of her Son. Amen.