July 3, 2012: Msgr. Steenson's Homily at California Ordination and Reception
Becoming Men and Women of Communion
Thank you to Bishop Brown and Bishop Flores for your presence and support, as our brothers and sisters are brought into full communion through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, and as Deacon Andrew Bartus is ordained to the sacred order of priest. The Ordinariate depends on these collegial relationships with the local diocese, and I thank you all for your enthusiastic support for this work, so close to the heart of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
Perhaps you will allow me to take a moment to breath deeply the air of this holy place. One weekday morning some 20 years ago, I came from a nearby conference and sat quietly in this place to pray. The breezes were blowing through the windows, the birds were singing, and I asked Fr. Junipero Serra for a prayer. I was struggling with a vocational decision, whether to stand for an ecclesial office in the Episcopal Church. It would have meant years of conflict in an ecclesial community undergoing profound changes. And the answer that I was given here that day? Be careful to do nothing that might take you further away from full communion with the Catholic Church. You want this mission church to be your church: to be incorporated in its faith and life. I cannot begin to tell you what a joy it is for me to be a part of this holy work today.
On this feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, who carried the Gospel to lands far off, as blessed Junipero Serra did here, this desire for authentic apostolic life continues to move the hearts of Christian people. For those who are not in communion with the Catholic Church, this desire for apostolicity is certainly present as well -- it just needs to be awakened and nurtured. This important element in the mission of the Ordinariate is part of Pope Benedict's vision for the new evangelization.
In our second reading, Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus to encourage them: because of your faith in Christ and the Cross, you have been given the gift of communion. You really belong now! "So you no longer are strangers and sojourners ... you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors. You are citizens like all the saints, members of God's household" (Eph. 2:19). By grace you have been included in this house of salvation, whose firm foundation rests on the eternity of the blessed Trinity; its cornerstone Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who holds everything together; the stones of its walls made up of the Prophets and Patriarchs and the Apostles and the Saints. This house of salvation stands, an impregnable fortress, for all of time; it is anchored in the mystery of God's being; it reaches out to welcome all who seek to make it their home. We call it the Catholic Church.
The church father Marius Victorinus (Rome's most famous convert) commented on how St. Paul cleverly changed the tense of the verbs in this lesson to make it an exhortation to the Ephesians. They have not yet fully entered into this unity, but are still being built up, "growing into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:21). This is to put the dynamic in Catholic life: we zealously make it our aim to continue on this journey to full communion, the destination being the blessed Trinity, and our companions along the way all who bear the name Christian. Thus we rejoice over this gift of communion, but we must remember also its obligations.
There is a remarkable passage in Pope John Paul II's great letter, Pastores dabo vobis (43), which serves as the foundation for the formation of priests. I offer this to our brother Andrew, who is to be ordained a priest. But I invite all who are coming to full communion this morning to let these words speak to them:
“In order that his ministry may be humanly as credible and acceptable as possible, it is important that the priest should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity.” He is called “… to be a ‘man of communion.’ This demands that the priest not be arrogant, or quarrelsome, but affable, hospitable, sincere in his words and heart, prudent and discreet, generous and ready to serve, capable of opening himself to clear and brotherly relationships and of encouraging the same in others, and quick to understand, forgive and console.”
Pope John Paul went on to suggest that we should consider these words from St. Paul as a seminary in a verse, so to speak: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil. 4:8).
These words, of course, are meant for all of us. And in them we can see the challenge of becoming men and women of communion. At so many points in our common life we encounter forces and attitudes which have the effect of dividing God's people. Because of sin, it is all to easy to fall into those habits and behaviors which are completely antithetical to the blessed, priceless gift of communion that we celebrate this morning. You know, dear brothers and sisters, that it is by grace we have come to this moment. Our hearts are full of joy and thanksgiving. But let us be careful of each step we take, from this time forward, so that our lives will bear witness to this gift of unity. Always remember the Church, this household of faith. Do your part to build her up and guard her unity. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to your new home!