Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pearl of Great Price

Homily from the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

A number of years ago, long before I entered the seminary, Fr. Bernie Galic, my parish pastor at Holy Family and our diocese’s Vocation Director, was our guest for dinner.  And he asked me if I would be interested in going with him to an “Andrew Dinner.”

I had heard of these “Andrew Dinner’s” before.  The parish priest will invite young men he thinks might make a good priest someday to come have dinner with the bishop, other priests and seminarians to hear from them about the life of a priest and seminarian.

They’re called “Andrew Dinners” because the Apostle Andrew was the first of the twelve to meet Jesus and afterwards he immediately brought his brother Peter to meet Jesus too. So, the priest brings young men to encounter Christ.  You have a nice meal, hear talks from the bishop, priests and seminarians about their vocations and so forth.

So when Fr. Galic asked me if I wanted to go I responded, “Absolutely not!”  I had my life all figured out.  I had a career, my own apartment, money, a car and a girlfriend.

So I rudely told Fr. Galic “No.”  And he said, “O.K."  And then he waited.

I was somewhat agitated when he asked me that question.  Why would I give that life up?  However, it also got me started thinking, “Why would Father ask me if I wanted to be a priest?”  It was a very small seed that was planted in me against my will to which I initially reacted very negatively.

I reacted much in the same way an oyster reacts when one tiny grain of sand sneaks its way into its shell.  When a foreign body, like a grain of sand, enters an oyster’s shell, the oyster reacts by protecting itself and covering up the foreign body with the same substance that makes up their shell.  They bombard the grain of sand with so much of the substance that it eventually becomes a pearl.  What was once an agitating, invasive foreign body becomes a precious treasure worth giving everything up for.  Thoughts of the priesthood were initially agitating and invasive, but soon became something worth giving everything up for.

Obviously, when you enter the priesthood, you do give some things up. But you don’t lose everything.  I still have a car and I’ve got all the money I need.  I don’t have a career.  Instead I have a vocation.  My work isn’t just something I do, it’s who I am.  When I wake up in the morning and come home in the evening I am “Father.”  But when I go to my office or out on appointments, I’m still “Father.”  I don’t have my own apartment anymore.  Now I share a home with two great, holy priests.  I don’t have a girlfriend anymore.  Instead, I have a bride. You.

The Church is the bride of Christ.  You are called the “Mystical Bride.”  And since I’m a priest of Jesus Christ, and act in his person, I have you for my bride.

A couple of weeks ago was my 1-year anniversary as a priest.  And that particular Sunday, I walked back into the sacristy following the Life Teen Mass.  And there on the counter was an envelope addressed to “Father Andrew – My Beloved Spouse.”  I opened the envelope and inside was a card. Not a card congratulating me on the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  But a wedding anniversary card that a bride gives to her groom.  And inside, was handwritten a thank you for the union of our love and a prayer that this love would continue to grow in Christ.  And it was signed, “Your Mystical Bride.”

So, I want to thank you, my mystical bride, for that card, for the love you’ve shown me and for being such an awesome and beautiful bride.  I have to say thank you to all of you because in reality, that card did not truly come from one person, but from all of you.

And I want you to know that it’s not really me who thanks you.  Because in reality, it is your beloved spouse, Jesus Christ, who thanks you and loves you.

We often think of Jesus as being the pearl of great price for us.  Have you ever stopped to think that maybe we are the pearl of great price to him?  The pearl of great price is worth giving everything up for.  And Jesus has given everything up for you – he has given up his life for you, his Mystical Bride, so that you might dwell with him in the Kingdom of Heaven.  A couple of weeks ago, I heard an incredible quote: “God would rather die than risk spending eternity without you."

So, I want to say to the single gentlemen out there, if you think God might possibly be calling you to be the beloved spouse of his mystical bride  If you think there’s just one sliver of a chance that the priesthood could be your vocation.  If there’s just the tiniest grain of possibility, I want to invite you to an “Andrew Dinner.”  Our diocese’s next “Andrew Dinner” is next Tuesday, August 2nd, 6PM at St. Martin de Porres parish in Syracuse.  If you’re a young man who’s going to be a high school freshman or older this coming fall see me after Mass and I’ll save you a spot at the table.

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