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Cardinal Gregory’s homily at the Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ

After the June 15, 2024 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where he ordained 16 new priests for The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory at center stands with the new priests. From left to right are Father Stephen Wong, Father Isaac Sagastume, Father Benedict Radich, Father Joseph Thong Van Nguyen, Father Joseph Heisey, Father Joseph Gonzalez, Father James Fangmeyer Jr., Father Fidele Bimenyimana, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Father Benjamin Bralove, Father Christopher Feist, Father Conor Hardy, Father Joseph McHenry, Father Dylan Prentice, Father Nathaniel Roberts, Father John Winslow and Father Gregory Zingler.

The following is the text of the homily delivered by Cardinal Wilton Gregory during the June 15 Mass he celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where he ordained 16 new priests for The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington:

“When did you first receive your calling?” Over the next few weeks or so many people will probably ask that very question of these soon-to-be new priests for the Archdiocese of Washington. Maybe many of them have already heard these questions and may have attempted to answer them before.

This popular query suggests that some people consider priestly vocations to be the result of direct and specific communications from the Lord that can be pinpointed with a certain chronological accuracy. It might appear as though God uses the Internet to communicate His designs for each one of us and that we just need to check the log-in data to ascertain the exact moment God sent the message and when we might have opened that spiritual text message.

Our newest priests will probably respond to those predictable inquiries with rather imprecise categories that will describe their discernment process rather than to identify any precise moment when God spoke directly and unambiguously to them.

Priestly vocations always develop over a lifetime, and they typically begin within the intimate circle of a family or a close network of friends who encourage, support, and urge candidates to think about what God may be saying to and asking of them. Equally important, our priestly vocations must continue to develop and to deepen long after the ordination ceremony is complete – they will do so in the prayers that our new priests must maintain to foster in their own spiritual lives and through their generous exercise of the ministry that they soon will receive.

I welcome to this splendid Basilica Shrine dedicated to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary all those family members and friends who have helped these men to hear God’s mysterious voice and who in turn gave them the courage to answer yes. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, neighbors, and college friends thank you for helping these men to find God’s will for them.

My dear brothers, today you come to this church in anticipation of soon leaving this building as our newest priests. You enter this Marian sanctuary with many thoughts, aspirations and prayers that have crowded your hearts over the years. You also come to this sanctuary filled with an awareness of the mystery of God’s love for you – a love that has drawn you to this moment, although you may not be able to determine exactly when it began nor how it continues to grow within your hearts.

Nevertheless, through the selection of the Church, I now confirm this calling, and we all join you in praising God for placing it within your hearts.

A priest is a man who constantly lives with Mystery – the Mystery that is God Himself – this God who loves each and every one of us unconditionally in spite of our unworthiness and then calls us into His friendship. Priests are called to mediate the Mystery that is God for his brothers and sisters. Oh to be sure, many of these same men and women also encounter God within their own lives and often at even more profound levels than do we. Yet Christ chooses us to stand in His place and to offer the Sacramental and Ritual invitations that make Him present to His people through us.

My brothers, your greatest and most important encounter with God’s People will be through the Eucharist wherein you will stand at the altar and in the very Person of Christ make present the One Perfect Sacrifice of Calvary. Jesus will use your words and your actual person to make present this unique act of His love.

Each day you must strive to allow the words that you speak to shape your very person. You must not only speak sacrificial words; you must attempt to surrender your very lives in imitation of the One who willingly poured out His life for each one of us.

It is that effort to identify with Jesus Christ that must fuel your celibate commitment. Celibacy is not simply a futile attempt to live without companionship or carnal knowledge, it is the endeavor to live the same life as did Christ and in that way to point out the Kingdom of God that is being born all around us each day.

My sons, we are all sinners – as you must obviously be fully aware. Today, however, you are being commissioned to assist your sisters and brothers in their journey from sin to forgiveness. As confessors, you must take upon yourself the very compassion of Christ who always seeks to extend to the broken and the sorrowful the mercy and forgiveness that can come from God alone.

You will be even more effective and much more pastorally successful confessors if you frequently kneel yourself to receive that same forgiveness in the Sacrament that you will extend to others because the awareness of your own sinfulness and your need for forgiveness will soften your hearts and make them more accommodating for others.

As you have prepared for this day of your ordination to the Priesthood, you have been introduced to the importance of prayer in your life as the very essence of ministerial service. Your seminary formation programs have striven to help you become familiar with and to practice the Church’s forms and heritage of prayer.

Now you must pray without the rector, the dean of formations, or another faculty member checking on your progress. Today, you take the training wheels off. You must become a man who prays because he realizes that without a constant and deep conversation with God, you will be an ineffective and meaningless priest. Now you must choose to follow and listen to a spiritual director of your own selection who will assist you in this important dimension of your life of faith.

The Church entrusts you today with the Mystery of the Triune God to be shared with all others in our sacramental life. Please care for that precious Mystery with sincere and true reverence. Anoint the sick with a tenderness that reassures them that Christ Himself is still in our midst healing the sick and strengthening those who are heavily burdened. Care for those who seek your counsel and guidance, as would Christ Himself always with gentleness and compassion.

We begin a new chapter in our relationship today as you renew your promise of obedience and respect to me and to my successors. I must now consider you among my closest collaborators in the ministry of the Church. Moreover, I gladly do so.

Such a relationship is also a challenge for both of us. You need to be able to trust that I will love and care for you as my brothers and I need to trust that you will be truthful, cooperative and authentic in your encounters with me. We each must take a chance with each other in our futures because we believe in faith that Christ desires this relationship for the life of His Church.

It takes an entire lifetime to complete a Priestly vocation – from those first moments when a man begins to sense the call of the Lord until his final breathe when he achieves his lifetime identity in Christ. When those initial moments might have begun is usually shrouded in mystery, but how they will end is grounded in faith, hope, and love. May the Lord who has begun such a good work in you bring it to fulfillment. Amen.