“Spiritual Body Cameras”

A Homily for the Mass of Jubilee
Honoring Priests Celebrating 60th, 50th, and 10th Anniversaries of Ordination
June 5, 2017
Cathedral of St. Peter
His Excellency
The Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.
Bishop of Belleville

Dear Jubilarians, Dear Bishop Schlarman, Dear Brothers in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, Dear People of God:

The body camera has rapidly become a requirement by many police departments in the United States. It helps police officers and citizens to have a more objective record of what actually happens when there is a conflict between members of the community and law enforcement. Often, both police and citizens are surprised when the body camera video contradicts their subjective memories of events. Recent news reports say some individuals (not police) have been wearing body cameras just for fun on vacation to the consternation of the people they meet on the streets!

But, what if, what if there were invisible “spiritual body cameras”?  What if we priests wore these “spiritual body cameras”? And, what if our jubilarians, here present, had been wearing them throughout their Priesthood? What if?

What if:

• Reverend Monsignor Vincent A. Haselhorst wore his “spiritual body camera” for 60 years? (1957-2017)?

• Reverend Monsignor William J. Hitpas, Reverend Richard G. Mohr, and Oblate Father George Knab wore “spiritual body cameras” for 50 years (1967-2017)?

What if Reverend Steven L. Beatty and Reverend Benjamin J. Stern wore “spiritual body cameras” for 10 years (2007-2017)?

And, what if Bishop Stanley Schlarman, our venerable Bishop in Residence, who is with us for this Mass of Thanksgiving for the Priesthood, had been wearing a “spiritual body camera” for 59 years (1958-2017)?

What if, at the end of the day, every priest could review the video from his “spiritual body camera” and see how effectively he served as a priest?  What if, at the end of every week, priests reviewed the video with his spiritual director?  What if, once a month, he reviewed it with his parishioners, and once a year with his bishop?

And, what if we Bishops regularly reviewed our “spiritual body cameras” video feedback with a representative group of priests, deacons, religious, and laity? What would we learn from this hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year review of our ministry?

During the first viewing of our “spiritual body camera”, we priests and our jubilarians would see much of the same things. An amazing schedule of activities: prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, Holy Hours, scripture readings, celebrations of the Eucharist, visits to the sick, discussing Catholic faith with children in our parish schools, baptisms, weddings, funerals, consoling the grieving in the face of the mystery of death, rejoicing with the parents of new life, teaching, counseling, attending parish gatherings, studying, sermon preparations, writing, administration, raising money, resting, recreating, visiting families, going to confession, meeting with spiritual directors, packing and moving from one assignment to the next, greeting parishioners gathered to thank us and wish us well, and much more!

However, this routine is somewhat superficial. It may wrongly give the impression that the Priesthood is a job (which it is not!). Only a second or third viewing of the “spiritual body camera” video would reveal the deep, theological, spiritual, and human meaning of the Priesthood. This would take us into an intimate dialogue of the heart and soul of each of our jubilarians on his journey from God to God! These scenes from the “spiritual body camera” would reveal the thousands and thousands of the Christian Faithful whose lives have been and continue to be profoundly touched by the priests for whom we pray in thanksgiving this afternoon.

If we return to the “spiritual body camera” and attend closely to the interior video, we will learn the truth about why we priests do what we do, the truth about what the Priesthood is: an all-consuming ministry, the story of a man whose life is not his own, a passionate, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled commitment, which should never be compared to a job.

With an even more attentive viewing of the video from the “spiritual body cameras” of our jubilarians, you will see what can only be seen with eyes of faith. You will see that for priests, every day is Pentecost! Yesterday’s great Feast of the Holy Spirit is a feast day for priests and for all of you who share in the Priesthood of the Baptized, the Priesthood of all the Faithful.

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, enkindle in us the fire of your Divine Love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be recreated and you shall renew the face of the earth.”

Thus, you will realize that you, yourselves, are present in every scene you view on the “spiritual body cameras” of your faithful priests. The Holy Spirit is the dynamic, divine energy that gives life to the Catholic Church and meaning and purpose to everything priests do each day in union with all of you, the People of God.

Throughout Eastertide, we have all been attentive to the adventures of the early Church, watching it through the “spiritual body camera” of St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. We have heard the testimony that the risen Christ ascended to the Father and poured out the promised Holy Spirit on His followers. We have heard Jesus telling each of us that if we love Him and keep His commandment to love God with whole heart and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, then Jesus and His Father will dwell within us and empower us with the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Thus we, priests and people, can be witnesses to Jesus Christ all over southern Illinois and to the ends of the earth. But, the living gift of Divine Love that impels us can only be seen if we go beyond the surface and gaze through the window of the soul!

Gazing through that window, you will see these jubilarians pondering the Word of God just proclaimed. From the Letter to the Hebrews, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. A High Priest is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people…You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” offering sacrificial gifts of bread and wine.

What an awesome ministry we priests are called to exercise, to represent the members of the Christian community before God, NOT because we, ourselves, are sinless. Obviously, we are not. Our “spiritual body cameras” makes that clear. We are acutely conscious of the fact that WE ARE ALL REDEEMED SINNERS!

To an ever greater degree, our jubilarians and every priest frequently turns over in his heart Jesus’ words in Luke:  “Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which will be given for you.’ And, likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be shed for you. Do this in memory of me.’…Remember I am in your midst as one who serves.”

Every priest must ask: Do what? Do this memorial, sacrificial meal? Yes, of course, to be sure. But Jesus’s instruction is to do more than that! Jesus is telling priests to do the entire life of Jesus’s self-emptying in memory of him. St. Paul teaches every priest and every Christian to put on Christ. We priests must strive to conform the pattern of our lives to that of Christ. We each must become the man for others, leading and guiding our people with servant leadership. This is obviously very difficult. We priests may fail more often than we would like.

Our “spiritual body camera” records our interior spiritual world, including our struggles to be faithful priests. It records the times when we may seem lazy, impatient, domineering, irritable, and indifferent to the needs of our people. At times, we may even take out our human frustrations, discouragement, loneliness, and doubts on our people. This is, of course, when you, the People of God, must minister to your priests by your support, patience, loving forgiveness and, when necessary, the challenging reminder of Jesus’s words to His priests, “Do this in memory of Me!”

St. Gregory the Great taught that priests must become “artists” of doing all things in memory of Christ in our pastoral ministry; artists of the journey of the soul, artists of spiritual direction. Many priests have exemplified this spiritual artistry of putting on Christ. Examples include: Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint John of Avila, Saint Jean Marie Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, Saint John Bosco, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and the Servant of God, Augustus Tolton of Chicago, and the Martyred Stanley Rother of Oklahoma who will soon be beatified, and many others.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, we know you have great and high regard for the priests for whom we pray this afternoon. We know you will continue to support them with your friendship and your prayers. But you must also support them with your honesty. When necessary, remind us that our ministry is not a job, that we must prepare well for every celebration of the Sacraments, that we must keep the Faith first of all by our personal example, that we must take good care of our physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Yes, we know that we do not really have “spiritual body camera” lenses through which to observe our priests and each other. Therefore, sometimes we priests may give the Christian Faithful the impression that the Priesthood is only a job. All we need to do is be nice to people, laugh with them at parish picnics, smile at their children, and enjoy their company. And because you know your parish priests so well, the Priesthood lived by these good men may, at times, not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. But, as you leave this Cathedral, I want you to think of yourselves as, in fact, wearing “spiritual body cameras” that make it possible for you to see these priests as what they are, alter christus. See them as true and powerful ministers of Grace, as ministers of the living gift of Divine Love, by the fiery power of the Holy Spirit.

See us who are ordained priests as the Holy Men we are called to be. And when we are not, remind us that Jesus of Nazareth has taught us to do our whole lives in memory of Him. The great Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins has rightly called us “Other Christs”:

“I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—

Christ—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

–As Kingfishers Catch Fire

Dear Jubilarians: How we admire you! How we thank you! How we appreciate you! How we love you!  To each of you, we say:

Ad multos annos Vivas, Vivas. Ad multos annos Gloriosque annos, vivas, vivas, vivas!

Ecce sacerdos magnus, qui in diebus suis, placuit Deo.

“Behold! Behold a Great Priest, who in his day was found pleasing to God!”

Praise be Jesus Christ!

Both now and forever. Amen