Today is a day of particular importance for you and for the whole church, in which the priesthood and the Eucharist are unified in your lives, in your vocation.
The first aspect on which I would like to meditate with you is the priesthood as a preference, a choice of Christ. Genesis speaks clearly of a strange character: Melchizedek. It underlines some aspects that remain central in the tradition of Scripture: he is the king of peace, he does not have a genealogy, he offers bread and wine.
But Melchizedek is also a priest. And it is precisely this characteristic that will be taken up by the psalmist and then, finally, by the Letter to the Hebrews. This priesthood is the fruit of a choice, of an absolutely unique and gratuitous predilection on the part of God. If the Levitical priesthood appears to us more like a service, a ministry, a service for the good of the community (and to guarantee it will be handed down from father to son there will be a tribe designated for this), the priesthood of Melchizedek focuses on the gratuitousness of choice. “I chose you because I chose you, I loved you because I loved you,” God says. And its time span, its everlasting quality indicated in the psalms, and its eternal quality indicated in the Letter to the Hebrews, is as if to say that the priesthood, the predilection, was in God’s plan before the beginning of time. “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” the Lord says to Jeremiah. “You loved us, Lord, from the depths of time,” says an old song of the movement.
Now, I think that the awareness of being chosen, the certainty of being beloved, is decisive for you who will be ordained today (as priests or deacons, from the point of view of God’s preference, the distinction is not of importance). The awareness of predilection has two aspects. It is a strength in weakness, it is the humble ability to always start again, it is a source of continuous amazement. But it is also comfort in tribulation, direction in persecution, sweet company on days that are sometimes grey and without apparent exceptionality. Fr. Massimo once told us that the memory of the predilection, of the vocation, is the content of the instant, it is the rock capable of stopping the sea, it is the flame that can miraculously light up a whole night.
A second aspect is Tradition. Paul has no doubts in speaking of the awareness to transmit what we have received and not created ourselves. For him it is a humble certainty of being part of a history, in a people which precedes us, and which will continue after us. Without bitterness or pride he refers to himself as an apostle, a person chosen for a unique mission. He is not a lone wolf, or a hero without ties. In his final letters he places the fraternity with his brothers in the foreground.
Tradition has this purpose: to insert you into a history, the history of the church through the prism of a charism, of Fr Giussani, of the CL movement, with your particular face, with your vocation, with you as priests in the Fraternity of St. Charles.
The awareness of Tradition is therefore that of belonging to this people, to this history. We’re not inserted into this history as potatoes in a bag, but as living stones, aware of belonging, I would say humbly proud of belonging, to this people, to this history.
A third aspect that today’s liturgy mentions is mission, which I would like to take up again with you according to its accent of priestly service, of expansion of communion, of the life that we live. The old Italian translation of this Gospel passage is accidentally and ironically ambiguous, and reads: “date loro voi stessi da mangiare,” meaning, “You give them something to eat.” In the Italian, there is a linguistic possibility that the “something” being given is actually “you yourself.” This would literally translate as, “you give them yourself to eat.” It is clear from the original text that the “You” is the subject and not the object complement, but I found this ambiguity interesting when I heard it interpreted thus. We can only give ourselves, can only give that which constitutes us, what makes us what we are. Therefore, you will be missionary priests, if you keep the fact of who you are always before your eyes, and if the house, the life lived together, is not just a pretext, a premise, or, even worse, a tax to be paid, a duty, to be able to then do what you want. No. Communion, living together, is what constitutes us. And it is therefore what you can and will have to grow, if you do not want the river of the Church to dry up. Your mission depends on your fidelity, which relies entirely on the fidelity of God: I have preferred you and will continue to prefer you.
And here we understand the place that silence, this monastic structure of our life, can have, must have. Fr. Massimo called it the “monastic backbone” at the beginning of our mission in Siberia. In his document on holiness, Pope Francis tells us that one day Saint Bernard addressed his monks with these questions: “so let me ask you: are there moments when you stand in His presence in silence, stay with Him without hurry, and let yourself be looked at by Him? Let His fire set your heart aflame? If you do not allow Him to feed the warmth of love and tenderness into your heart, you will not have fire, and so how can you ignite the hearts of others with your testimony and your words? “(See Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exultate; and Saint Bernard, Homilies on the Song of Songs). I think that each of you can let yourself be provoked by these questions not only for your spiritual life, but also for your pastoral dedication, because the first risk of division between prayer and external reality, between spiritual life and pastoral life, is within us.
For me personally, those questions of St. Bernard led to the remembrance of my years in seminary, when one day I realized that prayer was no longer separating me from the reality that surrounded me.
I was “keeping the silence,” as we said in the seminary. That is, in silence, I contemplated the Face of Christ, and I remember that I said perhaps for the first time in a conscious way “You” to Christ. I was in front of a reproduction of the icon of Christ the Savior of Rublev, which is at the origin of my rediscovery of Christianity. Fr. Massimo and Fr. Giussani often called us to risk saying “You” to Christ.
I realized that day, praying on my knees in front of the icon, that all of reality, all of history, including my story, my successes and my defeats, the encounters made, the beauty of the world and human faces, the ugliness and the pain of evil in the world, were mysteriously, but truly, embraced, brought into that relationship. Because contemplation is not an escape from reality, but the possibility of carrying forward the whole of reality towards destiny.
Thus I began to love silence, not because I could isolate myself from the world, but because it allowed me to bring the whole world in. The material, so to speak, of my relationship with Christ is constituted by the memory of awe of the vocation that You, or Christ, gave me and give me now. You, O Christ, have chosen me, choose me now, you have called me, you call now, all my unworthiness has not stopped you and it does not stop you, you have reassembled and put my humanity together again in unity through the memory of my vocation, you have purified it and you purify it from every ugliness of sin through the wonderful and unimaginable gift of forgiveness, of confession.
Dear ordinands, today we turn our hearts to the mystery of the presence of Christ in the life and history of the Church: the Corpus Domini. Eucharistic adoration is precisely the relationship with Christ in the Church. I learned to let myself be looked at by Christ in the time I spend before the Blessed Sacrament, each morning before Holy Mass. That very sweet and tender Presence, absolutely defenseless and powerful at the same time, is the heart of the world, and carries within it all of created reality, my vocation, and my mission.
St. John Paul II wrote this in his letter Mane Nobiscum Domine in 2004 on the year of the Eucharist: “Let us take the time to kneel before Jesus present in the Eucharist, in order to make reparation by our faith and love for the acts of carelessness and neglect, and even the insults which our Saviour must endure in many parts of the world. Let us deepen our personal and communal contemplation through adoration.”
Amen. Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni per Mariam.