Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the Ordination of Father Jay Alexius &
Father Ruben Villarreal
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
June 27, 2015
“We do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” II Corinthians 4:5
With these words St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is preaching the truth. God is his witness that he acts openly and truthfully. At the heart of this transparency is his desire to preach Jesus Christ, purely and simply. Only in this way can the light of Jesus Christ shine in all its brilliance. The reason the light can shine through his human frailties is because St. Paul has removed any obstacle of self. There is no pretense to veil the sunlight of Christ’s truth. St. Paul concludes, “[W]e hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). St. Paul never speaks in detail about his specific weaknesses. Even the exact meaning of his proverbial “thorn in the flesh” (II Corinthians 12:7) remains a mystery. Yet, we are never in doubt that St. Paul knows the sort of clay from which he is made and that in this self-knowledge the preaching of the Gospel becomes even more eloquent in his life.
The flock deserves to hear the truth preached. The debate, arguments, and opinion that we regularly encounter and are so necessary in intellectual circles or in administrative deliberations are not for the pulpit or the confessional or the counseling room. When Moses in our first reading pleads with God to kill him because he is overwhelmed with the complaints of the people (Numbers 11:11ff.), God asks Moses to choose seventy elders to assist him. God gives two criteria for these elders. They must be “true” and real “authorities” (Numbers 11:16). One could almost say that truth and authority go hand in hand. If you are false, the sheep will know it. If you prevaricate, the sheep will disperse.
Speaking with authority and preaching the truth have nothing to do with arrogance. The true shepherd never lords anything over anyone, just as Jesus reminds His apostles in our Gospel reading. “[L]et the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant” (Luke 22:26). Instead, the true shepherd allows the truth to speak for itself, in all humility and simplicity.
Truth at the service of the Church—this is the mission of the priest. He is to know well what it is the he believes, for you cannot love what you do not know and you cannot give what you do not have. The words of Igor Stravinsky come to mind, while he was composing his Symphony of Psalms: “The more you cut yourself off from the canons of the Christian Church the more you cut yourself off from the truth. These canons … are the only place where order is practiced to the full; not a speculative, artificial order, but the divine order which is given to us and which must reveal itself as much in the inner life as in its exteriorization in painting [and] music…. [It is] the struggle against anarchy, not so much disorder as the absence of order.” We struggle against this chaos, this darkness which only God’s truth can penetrate. Our duty, as priests, is a blessed one, because God has already won the victory. All we need do is open ourselves obediently to the order of God.
It was to this order that Moses and his elders knew they were called. They gathered around the “tent” and there God “taking some of the Spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders, and as the Spirit came to rest on them they prophesied” (Numbers 11:25). God commissioned them to build up the People of God, to be of service to them as they journeyed on their way. The Spirit of God was a gift bestowed on them, not to tear down but to build up, not to spread chaos but to foster order, not to share their opinion but to speak the truth.
Be good priests. Consider the rich treasure of Spirit that God bestows on you today. Cherish that gift, nurture it with prayer, share it with the faithful, let it shape your lives, and, in the words of St. Paul, “do not preach [yourselves] but Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Bishop Glen John Provost