Homily for priestly ordinations in St Savior

By: Pierbattista Pizzaballa - Published: June 28 Tue, 2022

Homily for priestly ordinations in St Savior Available in the following languages:

Most Reverend Father Custos,

Dear brothers and sisters and dear ordinands,

may the Lord give you peace!

To know Jesus is the deep desire not only of those here among us who have chosen religious life, but – in different forms and ways – also of every believer. It is the basis of every choice. Or at least it should be. And if you are here today to receive the priestly ordination, the underlying reason is Him alone, "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16), who is to be followed and served.

Today's Gospel passage questions us by suggesting an implicit but fundamental question, "What does it mean to know Jesus? How do we know Him?"

In this sense, this very Gospel we have just heard also gives us some indications.

The first indication comes from the place where this episode takes place. The Gospel is very precise on the subject; it mentions Caesarea Philippi, in northern Galilee. Caesarea is far from Jerusalem, the city where Jesus will be definitively revealed as the life-giving Son of God and where the answer to our question about Him will be full and final. Caesarea is also a place marked by a history of idolatry, of schisms, a pagan place...

This is where Jesus' journey to Jerusalem begins: in the Synoptics, this passage is a kind of watershed and link between the two parts of the Gospel, one dealing with Jesus' years in Galilee, and particularly in Capernaum, and the other focusing on his journey to Jerusalem.

It is important to start from here and from this distance. To know Jesus is to start from where we are, from our "Caesarea Philippi," and to head from there to Jerusalem. There is always a distance preventing us from fully knowing Jesus; the answer to His question is never given once and for all. We are always experiencing this journey, going through it. Now that you have finished your studies and are finally about to become priests, do not think, dear ordinands, that your journey is over, that you have reached your destination. On the contrary, it begins now. It will be precisely from today that, with your ministry, with your life, with a clear testimony, you will be called to say who Jesus is for you, whether he is really the deep Desire of your heart. You will do many things, you will be engaged in many initiatives, but remember that at the end of the day people will first of all want to understand from you whether Jesus is your reason for living or not. Every day the ministry you will carry out, if lived seriously, will take you back to the different stages of the journey that Jesus began in Caesarea and that will inevitably be yours as well. Sometimes you will feel as if you were in the pagan Caesarea of Philip, sometimes you will go up to Tabor and feel the consolation of Christ’s presence, sometimes you will feel in Jerusalem, alone and misunderstood while facing the cross, or joyful for having experienced the newness of the resurrection, or waiting for the gift of the Spirit. In every step of this journey, however, may the "Son of the Living God" be your reference and support. Let the question asked by Jesus to Peter stand at the basis of your prayer. This will be the real key to success in your ministry. Nothing else.

St. Peter's response is another indication. Peter not only realizes that the Man before him is different, but also goes so far as to make an extraordinary claim: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And Jesus tells us that this profession of faith does not simply come from Peter, but that it is the Father himself who has revealed it to him: to know Jesus is a gift that comes from God.

For all other knowledge, we just have to engage, read and study. To know Christ, however, we must surrender to the Father, asking Him for the grace of faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit that opens us to His knowledge.

Peter too will have to make his own journey, to fully understand the meaning of his confession of faith, to experience Christ as Messiah, Son of God. It is not enough to affirm that Christ is the Son of the living God. Peter, too, will have to go up to Jerusalem and experience his failure, his betrayal, face Jesus' own failure and discover that He is truly the Son of God, because the Father does not abandon Him in death, but restores Him to life through the resurrection.

This will also be the case for you. In your ministry you will undoubtedly experience joy and life and many consolations, but you will have to learn to come to terms with your own small and great betrayals, with the contradictions in the life of the Church, with your own or others' infidelities... In short, your knowledge of Christ will gradually become less and less emotional and more and more concrete, vital. Jesus' question in today's Gospel, "Whom do you say that I am?", if taken seriously, will lead you to focus more and more on your relationship with Him, to refine your feelings by measuring them against His, to give yourself more realistic life goals, to feel more and more deeply your desire to know Him. It is important, then, to carry this question in your hearts, with a desire to know the Lord, knowing that we will be able to see the answer from Christ's presence in the events of everyday life. However, one can also be tempted to get tired of this journey, to stop, to stop insisting on that wonderful and compelling, but also tiring, laborious, intriguing question. Inwardly living this question and letting life produce the answer, which is the revelation of the Face of Christ, will be an essential part of your ministry, not an simple bonus. It will not be time stolen from youth activities or pre-cursory catechesis.

Another indication comes to us from Jesus Himself, for at a certain point the question is reversed, and Jesus comes to tell Peter who he is, giving him a name, a new identity: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of hell will not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18).

Jesus is the One who tells us who we are. We can find one another, know ourselves and ultimately meet each other in Jesus. To know Him is to let ourselves be known, to not let ourselves be defined by anything other than Him, to let ourselves be renewed, to let ourselves be given a new name. We know ourselves better when we engage with others, agree to let ourselves be challenged, and are willing to listen. This will be a key aspect of your ministry: letting yourself be questioned, listening, letting yourself be defined...I was saying at the beginning that people will want to understand if Jesus is your reason for living. It will be understood precisely by this attitude of yours. If the question about Jesus, little by little, sculpts and shapes your priestly identity, then your relationship with the people you meet will also acquire the same dynamics of listening and formation. In short, if you continue to let Jesus question you, the same will happen with your communities. You will really meet people and yourself, you will shape the communities you serve, you will be bearers of a life that remains forever.

Finally, today's occasion gives us another valuable indication.

To know the Lord, we must somehow go through Peter. His primacy in proclaiming the faith becomes a service to the faith of all those who come after him.

And so it is necessary that you undertake this journey of yours with Peter and with the whole Church. Your relationship with Jesus is not just a personal matter between you and Him. It inevitably passes through the Church, this Church. The Church is the Place where the encounter with the Lord becomes real, concrete, visible. The Sacraments you celebrate, together with the Word you proclaim, and your life witness, will be the nourishment of your communities. The relationship of obedience with your superiors, with the bishops, with Peter, also build your relationship with Jesus. They are not excluded from it; on the contrary they are a constitutive part of it. You cannot say "yes" to Christ without saying "yes" to the Church. The ministry you are about to receive will not be yours, but the Church’s, which entrusts it to you. The Church today delivers herself into your hands, and entrusts herself to you to continue in the world the work of Redemption. Be aware of what a precious gift you have received today.

The path of Peter and the Church, as then and as always, is turbulent, never linear, never simple. This does not surprise us, but neither does it frighten us because "the powers of hell will not prevail against it" (Mt. 16:18). Therefore, do not be disturbed by the many voices that want to turn us away from communion with the Church. At the same time, do not become "owners" of your ministry, but always remain servants of the Gospel, and servants of the Church, without taking possession of anything, in complete gratuity.

We pray to the Blessed Virgin, that she may intercede for you, assist you and accompany you with her maternal protection at the beginning of this new journey of your life and in the life of the Church.

Where you will be called to serve, finally, do not forget to pray also for this little Church of ours in Jerusalem, that it may in this turbulent context of ours continue to bear joyful witness to Christ, the Son of the living God. Amen.