DECEMBER 15, 2002, FIRST MASS OF FR. GERARD:
1Thes. 5:16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28 

REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS; AGAIN I SAY REJOICE. LET YOUR KINDNESS BE KNOWN TO ALL MEN. THE LORD IS NEAR (Phil.4:4,5). The first word of this text gives the  liturgical name to this day which is known as Gaudete Sunday. In St. Paul=s view we as Christians have reason to live continuously in a state of joy. In today=s epistle, he not only exhorts us to rejoice always, but also to pray continuously; moreover, he admonishes us to cultivate a lasting sense of gratitude. Paul enjoins these three in a very concisely worded sentence that conveys the urgency he felt in getting his message across to his audience. He writes: >Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all things (1Thes. 5: 16 , 17).= Today as we participate in the first mass of our Father Gerard we all have some experience of all three of these recommendations urged upon us by St. Paul. Prayer, joy and thanksgiving all come readily as we unite here at the altar at the first Eucharistic offering of our newly ordained Father.   

Paul, to be sure, desires us to make these activities and attitudes constant in our lives. Can we carry them over into the whole of life? In order to put into effect the program outlined here by Paul we do well first of all to recognize that we are not being told to do three altogether different things all the time. The fact is that praying, rejoicing and thanksgiving are in actual life very closely joined together. There is a way in which they become but three aspects of a single reality as we strive to put them into practice. Nothing fixes in  the depths of our heart more firmly the sense of a quiet, profound joy than the experience of belonging to the risen Lord Jesus. This experience depends on grace, to be sure, and it is a grace that the Lord desires to bestow on us. Nothing makes us more ready to receive this favor than a life dedicated to frequent, even constant prayer.  

Thus praying at all times leads to a profound and steady joy in the interior of our soul that accompanies us even in times of activity and work. Constant prayer, as the early Fathers of the Church came to understand, does not entail saying prayers all the time. What it does require is maintaining alive our intent to be united with God in all things by carrying out his will. It also includes our preserving a measure of consciousness of his loving presence to us. In view of intensifying this awareness of living and walking in the presence of the living God we need to spend some time alone with him in interior prayer repeatedly during the day. This is the way St. Paul urges all the believers in Thessaloniki to live, not just those who were ministers of the Gospel and of the Eucharist. 

The priest, however, does have a more pressing invitation to abide constantly in prayer and to maintain a spirit of thanksgiving and joy as a result of a faithful dedication to union with the God of love and life. For the priest, by virtue of representing Christ, is a mediator between God and the human family, in particular those committed to his pastoral care. It is above all at the Eucharist that he fulfills this function of intercession and of praise on behalf of the Christian people. Here too he gives the fullest expression of that act of thanksgiving for God=s salvation which is alone fully worthy of him in so far as Christ himself acts through his minister.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is another striking instance where the priest acts in the role of mediator. Here Christ acts in and through him as absolution takes its full effect of cleansing of the soul from all sin that separates from God. In the counsel he gives to the penitent the priest=s efficacy will depend in large part on the purity of his own heart and the understanding and compassion that he learns through his prayer and efforts to cultivate those virtues needed to draw near to God. 

The priest, in order fruitfully and faithfully to fulfill his function in the Church, must be a friend of Christ. St. John tells us that it was in his discourse at the Last Supper that our Lord said to his apostles AI no longer call you servants but...I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (John 15, 15).@ Knowledge of God learned  from experience in prayer and from study of Christ=s words and those of his saints is essential for the priest. By it he too becomes a friend of Christ and is able to speak and act with spiritual authority in his name. This loving knowledge is given only to those who labor at attaining to the purity of heart that alone can know the deep things of God. Seeking it and receiving it when offered by the Spirit of God, far from being a selfish concern for one=s own soul alone, is the priest=s best gift that he can give to the Church and to those whom he serves in his ministry. 

May the Spirit of the Lord Jesus bestow this gift on you today, Brother Gerard, and on all of us priests and lay members of the Church as together we offer this Eucharist and participate in this ordination mass. For this grace is not only for you alone but for all who approach the Lord with sincere faith and offer him the homage of our constant prayer in a spirit of joy and giving thanks to Him for His great glory and His goodness to us all. Amen.+

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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