25th Anniversary of Priesthood Homily
Fr. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D.
Provincial Emeritus and Director of St. Rita Shrine
November 11, 2018
I know you are all here to recognize and thank me for my 25 years of ordained ministry and service to you, as a Priest of Jesus Christ in the Augustinian Order, and I am honored and humbled by your presence here, but that's not why I am here. I am here to thank you, Members of the Priesthood of All Believers, who have helped to shape me into the person, priest, and leader that I am today. And, while I have hopefully served you in some positive way as a priest, I am keenly aware that I am here because of you. Each one of you and our encounters, and those who could not be here, and those who have gone on before us to the Kingdom who have been models of faith to me. All our encounters, whether, great or small, positive or challenging have had an influence on me. Yes, we really do affect each other by our words and actions.
So, you are each part of who I am, and I am a part of you, and for that I am eternally grateful! Today, I ask you to allow me to break my own rule about the length of a homily and allow me to speak a little longer on this special occasion!
The Priesthood of All Believers and Ministerial Priesthood. Each is different, but they are interrelated! One builds on the other and in turn serves the other! We are all called to be a priest, prophet and king by our baptism, and then some are called from within the Church to ordination to be a spiritual leader in worship, witness, and service! There are so many examples of faith in my journey of life thus far:
Mom and dad, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, brothers and in-laws, cousins, nephews and niece, classmates, teachers and formation directors, religious sisters, brothers, and priests, colleagues, students, and friends; many here present today and many here in spirit, but All connected! We are the Priesthood of All Believers. We are the Church!
My call to serve you as an ordained priest then allowed me to serve you in many ways (baptisms, confessions, First Communions, a few special confirmations, graduations, Kairos retreats, weddings, professions, anniversaries, counseling, anointings, funerals, Masses at cathedrals, shrines, parishes or on the porch at the lake or in homes, all these sacramental or Kairos moments have been a sacred privilege--to participate in your lives! Education, teaching, board meetings, administration of school and Province, federation and order, this ministry that I have been called to within the priesthood has been fulfilling and rewarding, at times challenging and tiring, but always feeling the love and support and encouragement of God through You!
St. Augustine warned us that the “Call to Leadership” is a burden and a challenge. It comes with great responsibility and accountability, and at times we do not live up to this calling as individuals and as an institution. In 1993, on the night of my ordination, Cardinal Bernardin was accused of sexual abuse. At the beginning of that Mass 25 years ago, Bishop McNabb simply said, “I'm sure you have all heard of the news involving our Cardinal [. . .] Let us remember him in prayer.” While I was planning for my 25th, this issue has once again been prominently present in the news. Some have asked me if I was still planning to have a big celebration of priesthood. So how do you celebrate priesthood when throughout my entire 25 years of service, this issue has plagued the Church? Will it never end?
I believe the stark awareness and bitter hurt and deep anger and grave mistrust caused by this issue will never go away. We, the leaders and believers, unfortunately must suffer with this and always have it at the forefront of our Church, striving to protect the lives of the vulnerable, which is the very reason why Jesus came to this earth and what the priests and leaders should have done and are still called to do: protect, guide, teach, serve, love. Many of my personal and leadership experiences have been deeply affected by this issue, and one that I must admit that, at moments, has led me to the edge of despair both personally and institutionally.
But, it has been you, the Members of the Priesthood of All Believers, who have helped to keep me on the path of hope! When you cared for me, allowed me to visit, fall asleep on your couch, talked to me about things to get me through difficult moments, gone with me to a baseball or hockey game where I could redirect my emotions at the Cubs or Hawks, or to a concert, taken me for a drink or a pizza, or a dinner, gone fishing, or simply affirmed one of my homilies after Mass. Whatever you did for me, a least, little one, you did for the Lord. These simple encounters have helped me to work through and keep on serving, working, loving, living as a priest of Jesus Christ! And to show me that there still is faith and hope and love for Jesus Christ and His Church!
I believe that there is not a problem with the Church. It is the Church of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, and Brother and Savior who came to show us the way to the Father and the Kingdom, but there is a problem with leadership! We, believers and leaders must deal with this and never accept: problems and predators, cover-ups and clericalism, arrogance and animosity. These must end! They must be rooted out at their deepest levels! They must never be covered up! But we can and we must celebrate all that it good about the priesthood. All that is holy and happy and healthy. And, there are many, many examples of this for us that do not get the attention they deserve.
My Formation Directors: Bill Sullivan, Jerome Sysko, Jerry Nicholas, Joe McCormick, Jim Halstead, as well as Tom Martin and John Fitzgerald who have gone home to the Lord. I couldn’t have had a better bunch to teach and guide me!
My Classmates: Tom McCarthy and Blessed Sacrament Priest JT Lane;
My Friends: John Merkelis, Rich Young and Jack Hibbard Brad Zamora and others;
My Colleagues in Leadership: [Bob Prevost, Joe Farrell, Tony Pizzo, Michael DiGregorio and Kevin Mullins, Don Senior and many others;
We didn't and don't always agree on everything, who does? But, we still love and respect each other. We have argued, fought, offended, and then forgiven and reconciled. We have different styles of leadership, some are more traditional others more progressive, but we share the same Goal and Mission: that of Jesus Christ! Having their example and support and encouragement has seen me through many wonderful and difficult times! And so, I ask all my Brother Priests and religious and indeed all believers to reconfirm along with me, our commitment to holiness and credibility, to leadership and humility in building the Church of Jesus Christ!
To any victims of abuse of any kind -especially by a priest- I offer not only my sincere apology and prayers for healing, but also a commitment to address this issue in any way that I can:
God of endless love, ever caring,
ever strong, always present, always just:
You gave your only Son to save us by his Blood on the Cross.
Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,
join to your own suffering the pain of all who have been hurt
in body, mind, and spirit by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.
Hear the cries of our brothers and sisters who have been gravely harmed,
and the cries of those who love them.
Soothe their restless hearts with hope,
steady their shaken spirits with faith.
Grant them justice for their cause,
enlightened by your truth.
Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, heal your people’s wounds
and transform brokenness into wholeness.
Grant us the courage and wisdom, humility and grace, to act with justice.
Breathe wisdom into our prayers and labors.
Grant that all harmed by abuse of any kind may find peace
in justice through Christ, our Lord.
Let us realize that life is fragile, and that we don’t always know what another is going through, and that we really do have an affect on the lives of each other! And as the Gospel that we heard reminds us, it is what we will be judged on how we treat one another, especially the poor and vulnerable! It really comes down to the “Golden Rule” that we learned when we were children, “Do unto others as we would have done to us!” Let us strive to live this Golden Rule! And like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Rita of Cascia, both known as peacemakers, strive to be instruments of God’s peace and presence in our world and Church that desperately needs it!
The Readings for this Sunday, have Elijah encountering the widow who is at the point of despair and believing that the jar of flour will soon go empty and the jug of oil will soon run dry, and then she and her son will die. But God’s minister, the Prophet, still insisted, “Bring me a small cup of water, and O, bring me a bit of bread!” The poor woman must have thought, “Is this guy crazy! I just told him that I have nothing more to give to my own son or for myself, and he wants me to take care of him?” Yes! That is the way it is. God wants us to give even when we think we have no more to give. God will provide. And so, she does offer him hospitality and the jar did not go empty nor the jug run dry! And so, as I said earlier, thank you to all of you who have generously offered me hospitality, encouragement, support and love especially in moments of difficulty and despair.
I have tried to do the same and always try to offer hope in God's providential care for us especially when things seem hopeless as they sometimes do! I can say, that the jar has not gone empty nor the jug run dry, but they were close at times, and I am grateful for this time of sabbatical to replenish them to carry on in priestly service for the next 25 years!
The second reading warns the leaders to beware of getting caught up in the trappings of the office, and for the times that I might have, I ask for forgiveness. The office of priesthood must always be one of joyful service and we must always remember that it is for the Church of Jesus Christ, not mine! And the Gospel for this Sunday, is of the widow putting in her last two cents. All that she had and counting on God to provide. All of you know, that I never hesitate to put in my two cents! But, most importantly we are all called to give our all and trust in God! St. Augustine summed it up well when he said, "Trust the past to God's Mercy, the present to God's love and the future to God's providence!"
St. Paul, in his great treatise on love as the greatest force in our lives, reminds us that love is more than just an emotion, it is a choice and a commitment each and every day: to be patient, kind, understanding and of humble service to all people even amid the tensions and tragedies of our lives. And, we are also reminded by St. Luke in the readings from the Acts of the Apostles, that we are called to “build community, to pray with and for each other, to share our lives at the family table and the Eucharistic table and to live with joy and sincerity of heart!” Ups and down, joys and sorrows, good times and challenging times. As Frank Sinatra said, “That’s Life!”
I'm reminded of a piece by Fr. Carlo Carretto, Italian priest and poet, that I've reflected on many times, and I now share it with you:
"How much I must criticize you,
my Church and yet how much I Iove you.
You have made me suffer
and yet I owe more to you than anybody else.
You have given me much scandal
and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised,
more false and yet never have I touched anything more pure,
more generous, more beautiful.
Countless times I have felt like slamming
the door of my soul in your face,
and yet every night I have prayed
that I might die in your sure arms.
No, I cannot be free of you for I am one with you.
Then too, where else would I go?
To build another Church?
But, I could not build one without the same defects
because they happen to be mine.
It would then be my Church, not Yours.
No, I am old enough to know better!"
And so, we live with the contradictions and within the tensions of humanity, to fight the good fight, to run the race and to keep the faith! Who are the Saints of the Augustinian Order, the Feast we celebrate today but officially on November 13th, the birthday of St. Augustine and Vocation Day for the Order?
I believe that some of the men whose funerals I was honored to preside at as Provincial such as: Ted Tack, David Brecht, Jack Gavin, Ray Ryan, Henry Spielmann, and John McNabb, none of them perfect but all who tried to live the Christian faith and the Priesthood of Jesus Christ in the Augustinian Order are examples to Me. And as I have mentioned (my directors, my parents, my friends), you who are all part of our Augustinian family are saints in the making. Sinners who keep on trying, all of us, on the way, together! My mom and dad, who by their faithful Christian marriage of 57 years have helped me to remain faithful. They have taught me to accept others, for better or for worse, whether sick or healthy, black or white, straight or gay, rich or poor, that all are welcome at the table! And who are we to judge? That all of God’s children have a place in the Church!
What an amazing lesson. Thank You! So, let us all, continue to heed the call of God to love, build community, encourage vocations to Catholic family life, professed religious life and the ordained priesthood so that we have more good marriages, families, religious and priests to carry on the mission and message and ministry of Jesus Christ!
St. Augustine himself wasn't perfect (far from it), but eventually he got it! Nor were the saints, nor are we, but we are on the way! On the journey together, of mind and heart and soul, as priests, prophets and kings by our baptism and ordination! St. Augustine also encouraged us to learn to live harmoniously in our house! Not uniformly (that would be boring), but harmoniously. Not easy, but possible. The imagery of music and band has always been important to me: Practicing can lead to beautiful music! To know that all God’s children have a place in the choir and are called to be an instrument of God’s love and peace! I have learned that diversity does not have to bring division, but a concert of charisma can actually bring harmony if we work at it! If we practice patience, understanding, and love! And, I will never forget the closing words of the homily by Bishop McNabb 25 years ago, “Above all, strive to Live a joyful life!
Music, song, and dance bring joy! So, sing your songs, tell your story, dance your dance, always striving for harmony to live a life of holiness, to be priest, prophet and king as you have been anointed to be at your baptism, confirmation and ordination! Because in the breaking of the bread at the family dinner table and at the Eucharistic table, in the living of our lives, in the telling of our stories and the singing of our Songs, we see Him! Jesus Christ, whose priesthood we remember and we celebrate because we believe!
So, continue to build and positively influence the Kingdom of God by caring for and loving each other. Thank you for loving me, and may God continue to bless us and our families, His holy Church, and bring to completion the great work He has begun in each one of us!
- Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D.