Father O’Connor’s Homily for October 26, 2014
Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday – A
National Priesthood Sunday
Exodus 22: 20-26
1 Thessalonians 1: 5c-10
Matthew 22: 34-40
This is Priesthood Sunday here in the United States. It is a day that we give thanks to Our Lord for the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
The second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians told us about the effect that Paul had on that community. They turned from idols to Jesus the Son of God. Paul celebrated the Eucharist with them and ordained some of them as priests. Many of these new converts went out to other areas of the world and did the same thing: they shared the message of Jesus Christ and, as His priests, they celebrated the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is at the center of our Catholic life, and so that we can have access to this great gift of Himself, Jesus gives His ordained priests a share in His own priesthood.
Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders we are doing right now what Jesus did at the Last Supper when He took bread and wine and said, “This is my Body, this is my Blood. Do this in memory of Me.” We are doing this in memory of Him.
I thought today I would share a little bit about my own calling to the priesthood. It has been thirty-nine years since I was ordained as a priest. Where did my calling come from?
My vocation really came from God. But He used my family as His instruments. There were five boys and one girl in our family and I am the oldest.
In our family life, my parents cooperated with God in creating an environment of faith. We went to Mass EVERY Sunday. It was not an option. The only excuse that one could use not to go to Sunday Mass in our family was that you were very sick. And believe me, you needed to be sick enough to be in bed even after the 12:00 Mass was finished on Sunday. Mass was the center of our family life.
My parents went to Confession regularly. Whether or not we went along with them, they went and set the example. Prayer was in our family life: grace at meals, the family Rosary every day – I grew up with that practice and it’s still a practice in my life. Night prayer – when it was time for the youngest of us to go to bed, we would all kneel on our favorite step going up to the bedroom level of our house, and we would say night prayer together, led by my mother and father.
My own calling to priesthood, I believe, happened when I was about four or five years old. (We moved a lot as a family, and I can associate different ages with different houses we lived in.) I was attending Sunday Mass at St. Jude’s in Elyria. I was in the third row on the main aisle. (I liked to sit there so I could see). It was the Offertory of the Mass, and I was watching the priest, Father John
McCaffrey. I was looking at the altar, and at the cross that was above the altar. And then I said to myself, “I could do that! I could DO that!” I believe, as a four or five year-old, that’s when God first gave me the vocation, the calling, to be a priest.
There is a line in Graham Green’s novel, The Power and the Glory, that goes: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” That was the moment when the door opened and let the future in for me.
St. Jude’s in Elyria outgrew their original church and built a larger one. Father Frank Kosem, the pastor of St. Jude’s in Elyria, knew the story about that cross over the altar in their original church, and when their new church was completed, he delivered that cross to me.
I had it restored and placed it in the fellowship hall at Saint Joseph’s in Avon Lake. The people of Saint Joseph’s all new this story, and when I said good-bye to them to come to serve you here at Saint Vincent’s, they insisted that I take this crucifix with me.
And so the next time that you are in the cafeteria in Corrigan Hall, please notice that large cross on the wall. It was before that crucifix that the Lord gave me my calling to be a priest. That is when the door opened and let the future in – for me as a four or five year-old boy.
I went to the seminary after eighth grade, when I was fourteen. I was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-six on June 14, 1975 with twenty-five of my classmates.
In these thirty-nine years of priesthood, I’ve been stationed in many places. My original idea was to be a parish priest – that’s what I always wanted to be, but God had some other ideas for a period of my life. I taught in our seminary – at Borromeo Seminary College. I did some diocesan work at St. John’s Cathedral, in the Diocesan Liturgy Office, and for nine years I was Bishop Pilla’s secretary – although I always continued to have involvement in a parish somewhere.
I was appointed as the pastor of St. Joseph’s in August of 1995, and then as the pastor of Saint Vincent’s in June 2013. I love doing full-time what I always wanted to do: to be a parish priest. And I am very, very grateful to be here at St. Vincent’s as your pastor.
As parents, you want your children to be successful. That’s the mark of being a fine parent. But I would ask you as parents – as grandparents – do you see being a priest, a deacon, a sister, or a brother as a successful way for your children to live? I do. I had other opportunities. I could have entered a number of other professions, but I am still thankful today that God called me to be a priest.
If I had it to do all over again, thirty-nine years after ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, would I still do it, even knowing what I know today? The answer is, “Absolutely. Yes, I would!”
All of us are ambassadors of Christ for vocations to priesthood and religious life in the Church. If you know a young person that you think might have that calling, let them know. Tell them you think
they have what it takes. Encourage them! Pray for them! I am convinced that many of our future priests, deacons and religious are right here – right here in the pews of our own parish.
And so I am going to ask everyone right now to pray along with me – for someone in our parish – for someone here today – who thinks God may be calling them to the priesthood, the diaconate or the religious life. If God is calling you, listen now: we are praying for you:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
St. Vincent de Paul, our patron, pray for us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.