Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reflections on 25 Years of Priestly Service

(This homily was given on October 17, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Exodus 17: 8-13; 2 Timothy 3: 14-4:2; Luke 18: 1-8.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fifth Anniversary]

I hope you don’t mind if I get “a little personal” in today’s homily, given the fact that just a few days ago I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.

It’s providential that we have these three Scripture readings this weekend, because each of them relates to the priesthood—and my priesthood—in some way.

Let me begin with the second—that text from 2 Timothy 3. There Paul says to Timothy, the young priest, “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it.”

Yes, I do, St. Paul—I definitely know from whom I first learned the truth of the gospel—I definitely know from whom I first learned the message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ—I definitely know from whom I first learned that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ and “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3: 15).

I was blessed to learn those and similar truths from the many faith-filled men and women whom the Lord put in my life during the days and years of my youth—including good priests like Fr. Francis J. Giudice. But first and foremost I learned those lessons at home: from a father who never went to church in the early days of my life, but who ended up a daily communicant before he died (he taught me a lot about conversion); and, of course, from a mother who took her faith very seriously and who taught me, by word and example, to love both the Eucharist and the Sacred Scriptures.

I can definitely relate on a personal level to the words of St. Paul’s here when he says, “From your infancy you have known the Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Now please don’t misunderstand, I didn’t come out of the womb 53 years ago spouting passages from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—but I did learn early on that the Bible was a very special book, and that it was filled with a lot of important insights that could help me in my life. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I sought comfort and strength from reading the Scriptures after my father died of cancer in 1971.

I really believed there was stuff in there that could help me cope with my pain at the time. And I was right.

And I’ve been reading the Scriptures ever since.

Let me also add at this time how grateful I am for the support my family gave me in my journey to the priesthood. That was a great gift. I say that because not every priest is blessed with support and affirmation from the people who are closest to him.

And let me distinguish here “support” from “pressure”. I always felt my family’s support for my vocation, but I never felt any pressure from them to become a priest—or even to enter the seminary.

My mother said it best: “If God wants you to be a priest, then I want you to be a priest; but if you discern that God doesn’t want you to be a priest, then neither do I want you to get ordained.”

The decision was always between God and me—which is precisely the way it should have been.

That’s the way it should be for everyone, regardless of what their vocation is in life.

I’m also glad that in today’s gospel we have this parable about, as Jesus says, “the necessity of praying always without becoming weary.”

Every vocation—the vocation to the priesthood, the vocation to marriage, the vocation to the single life—has its joys, its struggles, its challenges and it disappointments.

And so in every vocation perseverance is needed (many of you have already discovered that, I’m sure): the perseverance that comes from God’s grace, and is rooted in prayer.

I thank God for helping me to persevere joyfully in his service as a priest for the last 25 years. I ask you to pray for me, that he will continue to grant me that grace until he calls me home at the end of my life (which, God willing, will be a long time from now!).

And speaking of prayerful support—what a great first reading this is for a priest celebrating a special anniversary! Here we have Moses interceding for God’s people as they battle the Amalekites: as long as he keeps his hands up, Israel fights well, but when he lets his hands drop, the people of God begin to lose.

It reminds me of how a priest fulfills his sacred duties. Jesus Christ, Scripture says, is the one mediator between God and man, in the sense that his sacrifice—and his sacrifice alone—has brought salvation to the world. But priests act in the person of Christ when they administer the sacraments, so they have a mediating role in the Church, in the sense that they bring God to people and people to God through their ministry of word and sacrament.

But it’s not easy for us, as it was not easy for Moses. Fighting the good fight of faith is not always a picnic! Moses needed his Aaron and Hur to support him in the battle, and we need people in our lives to support us, especially through their prayers and sacrifices.

I thank God today for all those good men and women who have prayerfully “held my hands up” (so to speak), for the last quarter century—especially those from this parish and community—since I’ve been here for 22 of my 25 priestly years. To a great extent, I am the priest I am today because of you. May God reward you for helping to keep my hands “raised” for so long.

Let me close with this thought: I suppose the ultimate question for any person in any vocation is this one: Would you do it again? If you could go back in time and had the chance to start over, would you choose the same path?

My answer to that would be: Without question! In spite of all the difficulties and challenges, I’m glad I made the choice I made.

Hopefully you are also glad. And if you are, then please pray for me and for all priests every day, that we will always be faithful to the awesome call that we’ve received from Jesus Christ.