Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul 2015
40th “Ruby Jubilee” Anniversary of Priesthood
June 29, 2015
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Matthew 16:13
When I invited Archbishop Aymond to attend this celebration, I was quite conscious that not everyone observes, what is sometimes called, a “Ruby Jubilee” of ordination to the priesthood. But the Archbishop was reassuring. He said, “I think we should take every opportunity to celebrate priesthood.”
It was on that Sunday afternoon forty years ago today, when Blessed Pope Paul VI gathered 359 deacons in St. Peter’s Square to ordain us priests. Later in the week, L’Osservatore Romano gave front page coverage to the event, including the Pope’s homily, and the story was the only one reported on that cover page, except a one-line report at the bottom. The Soviet Premier had visited the Holy Father that same weekend. No doubt the Holy See had wanted to make a statement. Such things were done with considerable subtlety in those days. I suppose this might still be the case.
The world confronts the priest, and the priest confronts the world—just as Christ did, just as the Church does. In 1975 there was a great enthusiasm for what many termed a springtime for the Church. However, as with the coming of spring, allergies and hay-fever can result, and in those heady days of the immediate post-Vatican II era, many did not see the broad picture, the vast horizon, or the comprehensive landscape. If they had, they would have seen an approaching storm, provided for shelter, and given heed to our Lord in the Gospel. “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). Only the sign of Jonah would suffice.
The sign of Jonah, of course, is the sign of conversion. And every Holy Father since those days have reminded us of this truth—St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now our own Francis, with his Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Just as Blessed Pope Paul VI had reminded a Soviet Premier that the Church was not dead, so St. John Paul II in a far less subtle way would take his statement challenging the forces of totalitarianism to the very doorsteps of the Soviet Empire. But Pope St. John Paul II knew, as does Pope-emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis, that there is as much to challenge the truth of Christ within as there is outside. The house requires some housekeeping. And the Church has seen her great Pontiffs remind us of what in our personal lives requires pruning, what lamps need oil for the coming bridegroom, and where the thief may enter the house.
These are truly exciting times. Some would view them as a curse. But if you seek a challenge, you need look no further. An ever-increasing encroachment of the government on religious freedom, the fruits of secularism and relativism, the decomposition of the family, and the disillusionment of youth—these are to mention only the first that come to mind.
We must never forget that the Church was planted being watered in the blood of martyrs. The saints whom we honor today—one beheaded, the other crucified upside down—were some of the first to witness to the faith in a long line that stretches from the Tower of London to the guillotines of the Terror, from Nazi and Communist concentration camps to the beaches of Libya in our present day.
It is not for nothing that Jesus chose common bread and a chalice of wine to be his abiding presence. The bread that we break is it not a partaking in the Body of Christ? The cup that we drink is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? (cf. I Corinthians 10:16). For the faithful it is a sharing and for the priest it is not only a sharing but his identity. I repent because as a young priest I knew this intellectually but did not absorb it internally as fully as possible.
The Gospel of today teaches us a great deal, because it continues with an additional episode. Soon after Jesus has given Simon a new name to befit the mission to which He is calling him, Simon Peter takes exception to the Divine Will that Jesus should suffer and die. “God forbid, Lord!” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus reprimands him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Matthew 16:23). Taking on the mind of God is no easy task. As a matter of fact, it is a constant struggle—distinguishing between the worthlessness of worldly thought and the wisdom of God’s way of thinking.
But to such a challenge is every Christian called and to the priest, the ultimate test. While painfully aware of my faults, I pray God’s mercy to make up for what is lacking. As St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, “[T]he Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen” (II Timothy 4:17-18).