(Earlier this month, Archbishop Gomez presided at the opening Mass of the academic year at St. John’s Seminary. The following is adapted from his homily.)
Recently, we had our convocation of priests, about 350 of us gathering for prayer and reflection. It was a time of grace, a time of fellowship, renewal, and inspiration.
I gave each of the priests who was there a copy of the recent letter to priests from Pope Francis.
It is a beautiful reflection, with the Holy Father thanking priests for their ministry, for giving their lives to God completely.
He encourages priests to be grateful for their vocation, to reflect often on those moments when we first knew in our heart that the Lord was calling us to be with him, calling us to serve him and his kingdom. Pope Francis wrote: “Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call.”
And I was thinking about this, as I was praying over the words of St. Paul that we just heard:
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
These words speak to us in a special way at the start of this new year.
Brothers, you have been called “according to his purpose,” called from the loving heart of the living God. Your vocation is a gift of God’s generous love, a sign of his mercy and love toward you. Your vocation is a call to be “conformed to the image” of Jesus. And that is the work of a lifetime.
Seminary is a time of conversion. More than the theological and pastoral training you receive, these years are a time of growing in your likeness to Christ.
That means learning to live in his presence, learning to belong entirely to Jesus. This time of conversion also means being intentional about detaching ourselves from the ways of thinking in our society, some of the habits that even we grew up with.
To be a priest is to belong to Jesus, and to “be” for others. For that, it is not enough to be a good person who works hard and cares for others. To be a priest means we need to be “another Christ,” a man of zeal, a man whose soul is on fire to share the Gospel and to bring others to Christ.
And in many ways, that means standing against the trends in our culture today.
You are called to live with humility and obedience in a culture that says “do your own thing.” You are called to live chastity in a culture of aggressive sexuality. You are called to be poor of spirit in a consumer culture that says happiness and success means having many possessions.
So, let us pray for the grace today to continue this work of conversion, to be joyful in giving our lives for the love of Jesus and to imitate him and consecrate ourselves to him.
This is a prayer for our seminarians, but really it is a prayer for all of us — priests, deacons, lay people, religious, faculty, administrators, benefactors, and supporters of this great seminary.
All of us are entrusted with this mission of the Gospel. The whole Church is missionary!
Each member of the Church is called to bring others to friendship with Jesus Christ and to do our part in the renewal of our politics, our society, our culture.
And, my brothers, as seminarians, as men training to be his priests, you are called to follow him in the most intimate way. So in these years of training, stay close to Jesus. He will never leave you alone. Open your heart to do his loving will.
As Jesus did, you need to stay close to Mary, who is the mother of Jesus and the mother of all of us in our priesthood.
Our Gospel today was the story we all know very well — the miracle Jesus performed at the wedding of Cana.
The words that Mary speaks today to the servants are the heart of her spirituality: “Do whatever he tells you.”
These are good words for you, my brothers. As you begin this new year, I pray that you will renew your dedication to living in the presence of Christ, especially in the Eucharist.
I pray that you will listen closely to his word, study his example, and continue this beautiful work of conforming yourself to his image.
Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to be with us on this journey. May she inspire all of us to bear witness to Jesus and to the new life that he longs to bring to every person! Amen.