Follow Christ to Love His Priests and His Priesthood
by Father Peter Iorio
High point of my day is when I lift my arms high and say “Behold the lamb of God.” I echo the words of John the Baptist in the Gospel today who says these words to his disciples when Jesus walks by. He points the way to the Messiah. John the Baptist is the bridge prophet between Old Testament and New Testament. He knows the longed for promised Messiah to the Jews is Jesus.
One of the earliest heresies that the Christian church fought was Marcionism, the conviction that Jesus should be interpreted separate from the Old Testament. But the categories that the Gospel writers used to present Jesus as the Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek were, almost exclusively, drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus will play the role of the sacrificial lambs offered in the temple, and through a sacrifice, take away the sins of the world.
According to Bishop Robert Barron, one reason that people today have such a difficult time appreciating Jesus is that we have become, effectively, Marcionites. To really understand the Christological language of John, we need to understand the great story of Israel. There is a continuity of the great Judeo Christian story up until today.
Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice and He is also the priest who offers the sacrifice.
Going back to the first reading, we encounter a priest of the temple whose name is Eli. His young student is Samuel. They are sleeping in the temple before the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant is located. We connect that Ark of the Covenant to the Tabernacle in our own Church. The Eucharist is our New Ark of the Covenant in the person of Jesus Himself.
It is in a particular religious setting, in a holy place and by a holy teacher, that Samuel is able to hear his own call to be a priest. Thinking that the old nearly blind Eli is calling to him in the middle of the night, Samuel comes to know that it is really God who is calling him directly to serve as prophet.
When I reflect back over my 24 ½ years of priesthood, I can connect to this very story from the Old Testament in asking questions about whether or not God was calling me to be a priest of His Church. I was involved in faith formation which really intensified when I was in a Catholic School… NDHS in Chattanooga.
I can connect to the New Testament story of Jesus calling the first disciples in the Gospel of John. Jesus asks everyone as He asked those first disciples, “What are you looking for?” A life which has purpose and meaning, a life which desires to know, love and serve God… this was and is my answer still today. His invitation to Come and See demands a response: To follow or not to follow. He gives us the freedom to say YES and go with Him or to say NO and go our own way.
In my YES to follow Christ and to learn and understand the greater purpose, I had to surrender my own will to His. The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. This is the great inner dialogue we call prayer. We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must be deliberate about praying for discernment to do God’s will and respond to His call in our lives.
When I look back over my own life and in particular over the years of serving as a priest, I have a grateful heart. I am filled with joy because I see and understand God’s greatness working in me and in the community of faith. I also realize that I don’t get it all. God is greater than my understanding. I am thankful for my YES and for you as members of the Church affirming and loving me as your priest.
The greatest gift each and every one of you can give not to me, but to God is a love of Christ and His Church by supporting religious vocations in the Church. We need to have more holy priests serving His Holy people.
One of my priorities as pastor is formation of our Catholic youth. We have a wonderful Catholic school. I wonder why aren’t more of our Catholic families sending their children to St. Mary’s. I say, if money is one of your concerns, remove that obstacle because our finance council and school board will work with you to provide a Catholic education for your child.
We do not have a Catholic high school here, not because it has not been sought after, but because there is not enough support in TriCities…yet. St. Mary’s does have a thriving dedicated youth ministry program. This was NOT the case when I arrived here 6 ½ years ago. Thanks to our youth ministry team, young people are given regular opportunities to encounter Christ… to be in a setting like Samuel was to be open to hear the voice of God…. to have mentors to help young people understand that God is calling them and not to be afraid to say YES.
Catholic people of St. Mary’s, I know you love us your priests… (at least I think you do by the gifts and words of gratitude you give us), Do you love the priesthood by praying for more priests and religious men and women from our parish? Do you love the priesthood by supporting young people in their process of formation with your generous gift of time, talent and treasure? Yes, time. When our youth at school and youth group invite you to participate in events, do you go? When our youth at school and youth group invite you to support them with donations, do you give?
I tell this story from my youth. When I was in college, I was not in seminary. But when I returned home for one of the breaks, a parishioner asked me: Peter, how is it going in the seminary? I was embarrassed, but I responded that I was not studying for the priesthood….yet! However, his interest in me and his question all challenged me to follow Jesus even more intensely and see if that was what He was inviting me to do.
Do you support priesthood in the Church by investing your time and talent by serving in different ministries? Many times, I lament that few people come out for our parish family meetings/town halls or help when we ask for volunteers. But I do not stay stuck in that disappointment. I know that Jesus Himself had just a few and look what they were able to accomplish.
Again, my heart is so very grateful for all of those who have given of yourselves to follow Jesus with courage and trust and even risk to go into the unknown of this grand adventure with Christ.
In this my Jubilee year of ordination to priesthood, I take you with me in a special way. As I give thanks to God for 25 years, I recommit myself to sacrificing myself “in persona Christi” as the Lamb of God out of love for God’s people. I ask you to recommit yourselves to follow Christ. Young people, is God calling you to be a priest or brother or religious sister? Do not be afraid to say YES to God. Mothers and fathers/grandmothers and grandfathers, are you willing to support your children by helping them to discern God’s call? Faithful parishioners of St. Mary’s parish, are you willing to recommit yourself to Christ by saying YES to give of your time, talents and treasures to show your love and support of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and His Church?
Let us all truly say from our heart and soul, as we did in the psalm: Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.