This Sunday I celebrate the 24th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. It has been a beautiful 24 years. I have to honestly say that when looking back over the years it is clear that I had no idea what lay ahead for me, and what had been prepared for me, when I began this journey. In the beginning I set out to change the path my life was taking, to give my life new meaning and purpose, and I knew that there would have to be some adjustments in my life if I was to follow this particular path to the priesthood. There would be some things that I would have to sacrifice and surrender and there would be some new responsibilities that I would have to assume. Still, I figured that I would be the same person that I had always been. I put all the things that I had accumulated over 32 years into storage and I figured that I would return for them later. My first real concern was returning to school and taking on the studies of philosophy and theology that would be required. I was concerned about whether I would be able to learn the new things that would be required to be a priest. I had always done well in school and I figured that I could still learn new things. At that time I was thinking that being a priest was just something new to learn and to add to the things that I had already learned. Like I said, I had no idea what lay ahead for me. Being a priest was not just something that you learned. I thought that the challenge of Jesus “to be worthy of me” was something that I could accomplish through hard work. It really wasn’t about the studies and the training. It was about a new life. I accepted the invitation of Jesus to give myself to him in a new way of life.
Jesus accepted my offer but he had something totally new in mind. The life of discipleship begins with a simple invitation: “Follow me.” The next 30 years I would try to learn what those two simple words really mean. If I was to follow him more freely and fully I must let go of the “self” that I had fashioned and I must accept a totally new way of being in life. As Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis points out, “I must lose my self to him in order that he may unite it with his own as he lays down his life that the world may have abundant life. He is asking me to do only what he has himself already done. If I let go of my self for his sake, I will gain it back, because the self that remains alone, for all its splendid vanity, withers and dies but the self that is given away to the Master of Life is transformed from coal to diamond by the hot press of his embrace.” “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt. 10,39)
“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10,38) To serve Christ I must be willing to take up the cross in my own life and sacrifice one life to receive another. As St. Paul says, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Rom 6,8) The road of radical discipleship called for me to let go of all prior ways of understanding my “self”, including all family relationships. To be worthy of discipleship in Christ I must be fully united to Christ in offering my self in a sacrifice of love that is represented by the cross. St. Paul tells us in Romans, “We are indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Rom 6,4)
To follow Christ means a new life. I could no longer live for my self or any other person but I had to learn to live for God in Christ. As St. Paul says, “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6,11) I am still discovering what it means to truly “live for God.” As St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2,19-21) To take up my cross did not mean merely enduring some difficult situations in life but truly means to be “crucified with Christ”, to sacrifice the old “self” for a new identification with Christ Jesus, the true High Priest. Living a life of radical discipleship in the priesthood of Christ has certainly meant more than simply “making room” for Jesus in my life. It is a totally new life. It is a “living for God”, a living for love, in everything that I do and with all that I am. I thank God that I get to do it with all of you!