On the eve of his execution, Jesus, before surrendering to his own fears and anxieties, presided over his Apostles graduation ceremony. Instead of a handshake and a degree in philosophy, theology, psychology, social work or education, he first of all showed his respect for them by washing their feet and then he commissioned them as life giving instruments, providers of nourishment, and proclaimers of truth. The life that these fathers would henceforth transmit would not be of the natural order, designed, as it were, to be sustained by bread and wine. It would be of the supernatural order, designed to be sustained by sharing in his own flesh and blood, a sharing made possible, acceptable, and practical by a process whereby Jesus becomes totally identified with the bread from heaven and the wine of eternal salvation.
This dimension of fatherhood is known to us as priesthood. It is a fatherhood through which the seed of supernatural life is implanted in baptism and cultivated and restored by family, church and sacrament; with the bread and wine of the last supper and Calvary being its uniquely intended nourishment.
The fatherhood associated with priesthood cannot stand alone. Just as is the case with the more familiar image of fatherhood, its only significance is found within the context of motherhood, childhood, sisterhood, and brotherhood. That some are drawn to one expression of fatherhood and some to another and still others to both is just as much of a mystery as that surrounding Jesus' choice of the twelve. It has been said, and with some reason, that most of us, if put in His position, would not have chosen them for a softball team. Well I don't have to tell you that His mysterious ways are evident to this very day. And most of us who are called "Father", are very conscious of our own shortcomings and as a consequence, we are sensitive to the instrumental nature of our ministry. Indeed God can and does accomplish great things with vessels of clay or, if you prefer, with minor league softball players.
The priesthood is God's gift to all of mankind. The name of the person wearing the vestments ought to be very much of a secondary consideration. In our society the common denominator of priesthood remains the celebration of the Eucharist and the administration of the sacraments, but most of us fulfill that role within a more specific context. Some are administrators at the diocesan or at the religious community level. Some are specialists in canon and civil law. Some are teachers, psychologists, social workers, institutional chaplains ...the list goes on. All of us, aside from our personal sanctification, and our administrative, sacramental and liturgical responsibilities, are in place to help people of all ages to view life through a particular perspective and to support them in every way as they try to order their lives in harmony with values and priorities which reflect that perspective.
The ministerial priesthood, this spiritual fatherhood, has, over the centuries, as has the culture and structure within which it functions, presented many faces to the world. Sometimes Christ-like and sometimes not. Whereas Christ has always remained constant, His ministers have not always done so. We have seen officially sanctioned racism and bigotry. We have seen venal and corrupt Popes. We have seen bishops who sought little else but power and wealth. We have seen pastors for whom the gospel has been replaced by rules and regulations. We have seen Religious in whose company children are not safe. We have seen the most awesome, the most sacred liturgical actions vandalized by a spirit of pseudo intimacy ...and yet we are still here! We are still the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic church ...still children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ ...begging Jesus to wash our feet, to confirm us in our belief in his true presence in Holy Communion and to unite us in spirit with the good and the great who have preceded us as well as with the equally good and equally great with whom we currently share this planet, this country, this archdiocese, this priesthood, this Eucharist, this happy and well deserved celebration.