Bishop Glen John Provost, D.D., M.A
Bishop of Lake Charles
Saturday, June 27, 2020
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
“He will lean upon her and not fall; he will trust in her and not be put to shame.” Sirach 15:4
In Sirach’s inspired personification, Wisdom is a Mother opening her arms to her child or a bride embracing her husband. This Wisdom is a maternal and spousal gift which when imparted, brings to the recipient eloquence, joy, and gladness (cf. Sirach 15:5-6). Wisdom transforms those She graces.
On this ordination day of four priests, one for each decade of the diocese’s history, we remind you of the Wisdom which you are called to live in your priesthood. As St. Paul instructs St. Timothy, “Proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (II Timothy 4:2). The task is formidable. A priest must be humble enough to admit his weakness, courageous enough to act on the truth, prudent enough to judge when he must speak, and patient enough to know when he must be silent. All of this requires Wisdom, a Wisdom which you do not possess, that comes from God, and that remains a gift.
A priest needs this Wisdom in abundance, especially in this challenging world. The reminder of St. Paul is as relevant today as it was in the First Century. “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (II Timothy 4:3-4). As the world becomes increasingly secular and materialistic, your commitment to knowing and preaching the Truth of Jesus Christ must exceed the minimum requirement. The greater the challenge, the more is required of your response. This is the work of Wisdom.
In what fertile ground is this Wisdom planted? Where does God’s Grace open the blossom of Wisdom’s flower? Of course, the answer is prayer. Cardinal Müller in his excellent book on the priesthood, You Shall Be a Blessing (Ave Maria Press, 2019), recalls his seminary days and the admonition of his bishop. He told the seminarians that “the priest is the first pray-er in the community” (p. 178). If the Church is the Body of Christ, then She manifests Her communion with God in prayer, just as Her Master did. We have become accustomed to hearing the priest referred to as the “presider.” Those who prefer this terminology enthusiastically quote ancient sources in justification, but centuries of use always nuance words. I must confess I find the term cold and impersonal. A judge presides in a court of law. The Vice-President presides over the Senate. A marshal presides over a parade. However, the faithful are not summoned to render a verdict or pass laws or be entertained. They are called to pray.
As Pope Benedict in the Year for Priests reminded us, people look to the priest to be an expert in prayer. In the words of Cardinal Müller’s bishop, the priest is the first at prayer. He witnesses to the world a close relationship with Jesus Christ and a knowledge of the workings of God in his life. Through his example of prayer and personal relationship with God, the priest informs us that God is not some philosophical abstraction but a deeply personal God who touches our hearts, minds, and souls.
In this dynamic life of prayer, the priest shows himself to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14). He is not some sterile “presider,” a fabricator of rituals or a mechanical repeater of words. No, he is a living link to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the ultimate prayer of the Church, the supreme gift of the Living God, as the priest allows himself, by reason of his consecration in Holy Orders, to offer the one and only Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. St. Cyprian of Carthage, who in 258 became the first bishop martyr of Africa, speaks of the priestly mediation of sacrifice when he writes: “For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered” (Epistle 62, 14).
A priest cannot approach such a mystery without Wisdom flowing from love. The offering of the Church, which our Lord commanded be offered to all the world, is a pure sacrifice to God. The celebration of this sacrifice is not a repetition, as though God needs some further sacrifice from us. The offering of the Church is the one and only perfect sacrifice of our Lord made accessible to us and to all ages. And the priest, in the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, is “himself glorified in what he does offer” (Adversus haereses. 4, 18, 1). In this sense, he is acting in persona Christi capitis.
The priest is the living sacrament. For this reason, he must cloth himself in the evangelical counsels. Of supreme importance is his chastity. And if this age of self-gratification rejects chastity, then the chaste celibate is even more perplexing and the object of ridicule. He is in the world but not of it. He is not the “bachelor priest” or the “professional” too busy for a family. These approaches are erroneous, short-sighted and, in fact, dangerous. They miss the point of celibacy entirely. All are called to be chaste, but you are called to chastity as a celibate for the sake of the Kingdom. Your celibacy is an image of the eschatological union where “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:35). These are the words of our Lord Himself. You are not exalted because of this image. You are an image of what is exalted. What others in the world might find odd and curious, you become to show them the reason for their hope and the cause of their joy. Your celibacy witnesses to God who “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).
The more God makes you a partaker in His Wisdom, the more you will live your calling and that calling will become who you are. Is this not vocation? Approach the altar of God, not as a presider or an actor on a stage, but rather as Christ. Walk as He would walk, turn as He would turn, kneel as He would kneel, lift your prayerful hands as He would lift them. See Him not at your side but within you, living His actions, speaking His words, thinking His thoughts, following His movements. Be attentive to every word spoken in the sacred liturgy, because through them Christ is speaking to you, in each moment of your life. Then, you will be the priest “who imitates that which Christ did” (cf. ibid. St. Cyprian of Carthage). You will offer to the Father that most perfect Sacrifice which is our Lord Himself. You will lean upon Him and not fall. You will trust in Him and not be put to shame (cf. Sirach 15:4).
Today is a happy day for the Diocese of Lake Charles. Forty years of Grace climaxing in this moment of God’s love! The Evil One has attempted to rob us of our joy, but God has prevailed, as He always does. This is Wisdom at work as well. United with family and friends, bishop and priests, deacons and religious, we all rejoice in the graces that will flow at the opening of Wisdom’s arms and the embrace of Christ, the bridegroom of His Church. May God grant you and the Church in Lake Charles the eloquence, joy, and gladness of Wisdom’s sweet gift (cf. Sirach 15:5-6). Amen.