Bishop Virginio Bressanelli, bishop of Coadjutor Bishop of Neuquén Patagonia-Comahue, Argentina, ordained 11 Indian SCJs to the priesthood in two ceremonies last week. The bishop was superior general of the Priests of the Sacred Heart when the community first began its presence in India.
The following are the homilies he gave at the two ordinations.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Two days ago, in Kumbalanghy, I presided over the priestly ordination of six SCJs. Today I have the grace to do the same in this Cathedral of Guntur.
This is a memorable day for our Congregation: the 86th Anniversary of the Passover of our Founder, the Venerable Fr. Leo Dehon. I put this celebration, and all of the SCJ District of India, under the special protection of Fr. Dehon. With him, and in light of the love he had for the Catholic priesthood, I want to transmit to these young people the gift of the Spirit which will anoint and associate them to the priestly ministry of Christ.
But first of all, let me thank heartily the local Church of Guntur who, with much love and trust, received us and allowed us to establish here our formation house and our novitiate. Today Guntur opens the doors of the cathedral to consecrate to the service of God’s Kingdom this beautiful group of new Dehonian priests. For this I say “Thank You” to this Church of Guntur and to her Bishop.
In the year 2000 I had the grace to visit this place for the first time on the occasion of the groundbreaking ceremony of the formation house “Dehon Prema Nilayam.” I asked the bishop what he expected from the SCJs. He, in turn, asked me to talk about the charism and the mission of our congregation. I told him what Fr. Dehon expects from his sons. The bishop then said, “I ask only one thing: provide the best formation to your religious and priests. They will be the ones to transmit to this diocese and elsewhere in India “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3.8). They will be the ones acting out in this land the apostolic ideal of Fr. Dehon, along the lines of your own constitutions as you told me (cf Cst 30-34).
With the hope and the desire to respond faithfully to the Church of Guntur and to the Catholic Church across the world, today I lay my hands with the consecrating words upon you, beloved young brothers, that you may become priests of the Sacred Heart, and like the Sacred Heart, for the sake of His Kingdom.
Therefore, I invite you to think and want your future ministry as the church intends, as the present world needs, and as Fr. Dehon dreamed for his children.
Priests as the Church wants
You will be ordained to be priests of the Church, in the Church, and for the Church, according to the heart of the Church. Remember always that you are children of the Church. You were born to her, she confirmed your call, and she today makes you sharers in the priesthood of Christ. Love the Church with all your heart. You are not meant to be priests on your own and for your own purposes, you will be ordained as parts of a body whose head is Christ and we are the members.
Pastorally you must work as members of a clergy united to the local bishop. This body you must educate to feel and act ecclesially. This includes real love for the Holy Father, firm obedience to the teaching of the Church, and full integration in the pastoral plan of the diocese where you live and work. In this body you have the mission to preserve the faith’s content with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (cf. 2 Tim 1, 14, 1 Tim 6.20). Convey faithfully the Catholic teaching. Don’t waste time in academic lectures not suitable to nourish people’s faith.
Since he was young, Fr. Dehon felt pain for the pastoral inadequacies of the Church of his time and felt called to actively remedy them (cf Cst. 5).He wanted his life to be an offering of love and reparation for the sin and lack of love in the Church (cf. Cst 7). He was an example of dedication to the Church, conscious that Christ loved her and gave Himself for her (cf. Eph 5, 25). He invites us to love her as she is, in her visible head, in her ministers, in her teachings, in her liturgy, in her laws. Let’s revere her as our mother (Sp. Dir. VI, 24)
Priests as the world needs
Each of you is a proof that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that the world might have eternal life and be saved by him (Jn 3: 16-17). Your ministry renews God’s dream and Christ’s mission in the world.
The thirst for life and happiness of humanity finds its answer in Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14.6). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gave his own life, for mankind to have fullness of life. He inaugurated his Kingdom of life that includes everyone.
You, through the ministry of the Word and sacraments and educating people to charity justice and solidarity, are Christ’s instruments for this fullness of life to reach many. Open your eyes to see the needs of your brothers. Look at all human reality with compassion to recognize and serve Jesus in the poorest. Don’t be afraid of any possible challenges!
The fullness of life offered by Christ embraces the whole human person in all its dimensions: individual, familiar, communitarian, social and cultural, physical, affective spiritual and supernatural in this life and trough eternity.
Priests according to Fr. Dehon’s dream
Fr. Dehon struggled hard to become a priest and lived his priesthood fully in line with an ideal that he passed onto his sons by his life and his words. I summarize this model with four words. In Fr Dehon’s view, a priest must be: healthy, holy, wise, and an apostle.
1. Healthy in the broad meaning of striving for human wholeness to be achieved through a sound relation with nature, the world, people, history, culture, temporal duties, social concerns, and politics.
He must be a man who is not afraid to face the challenges of his time but seeks in everything God’s Kingdom and its justice.
He must be a man of dialogue, tolerant, respectful of diversity, proclaiming with courage the Word of God and fighting for the dignity of all.
He must be a man who is cheerful and optimistic because of his faith and critical awareness of reality.
A priest must be a man of God, a man of prayer, in love with Christ, subject to the will of God.
All Christians, and more so priests, are called to holiness (cf. Cst 13), to the fullness of Christian life, to perfect charity.
The Second Vatican Council reminds us that for a priest holiness is doubly necessary: because he administers God’s grace and because his personal sanctity increases the efficacy of his ministry (cf. PO 12). Both reasons are sustained by the priestly prayer of Jesus: “Father, sanctify them in truth” (Jn 17: 17); “I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17: 19).
Holiness for a priest means first of all to “abide in Christ” (cf Jn 15: 4-10) with the grace and with love made ever stronger by responding to the friendship offered by Christ to his disciples (cf. Jn 15 13-15). This unity will reach the point where we will be able to say with St. Paul: “I am crucified with Christ. Now it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me. I still live in the flesh, but I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me “(Gal 2, 19-20).
This was a passage which inspired the life of Fr. Dehon, one of the most quoted by him. He closed his life with these beautiful last words: “For Him I lived, for Him I die.”
Through your ministry, your mission is to sanctify the people of God in the name of Jesus. You will achieve it celebrating the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which for us Dehonians is the summit of our faith and our vocation as Priests of the Sacred Heart (Cf Cst 80).
In the Eucharist we partake in the oblation of Christ to the Father with the spiritual sacrifice of our own lives (cf Cst 81). I hope that the Eucharist will be always at the center of your lives.
For the faithful, the priest is a man who lives by God and with God. Therefore the priest must always show Christ and his presence and guide to him all faithful. The priest must be the model (form) of his flock, as we read in the breviary (Office of the Pastors): “Pastor and form of the flock, light to the blind, staff of the poor, common father, providential presence, all for all”.
3. Wise. Fr. Dehon struggled to ensure that his religious priests had a serious intellectual formation that was updated and continuous. For this reason on November 6, 1891, he founded the House of Rome with the explicit purpose to form in the Roman universities the future chaplains for factory workers.
A priest should keep studying during all his lifetime to be able to express his faith and hope and nourish solidly the People of God.
And yet a priest must grow especially in the Gospel mentality and in the wisdom of the cross.
A vocation like ours demands a sound spirituality, theologically well grounded. Keep in mind what Pope John Paul II recommends in his exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis”: he insists that priests must take care of themselves through a good ongoing formation (cf PDV 70): “By doing so, you will save yourself and your listeners” (see 1 Tim 4: 14-16).
4. Apostolic. The priest must possess the same thirst of Jesus for the salvation of his brothers.
From his love for Christ and the Church he will draw energy, appropriate reasons and ways, and the needed creativity to evangelize.
As an SCJ you must announce the Gospel in the same way that Jesus did. It is therefore necessary that you have the same attitude and act by the same criteria.
The Heart of Jesus, as we know Him in the light of the Gospel, is our absolute model of apostle.
You are a blessing to the Church. Be a blessing especially for India and the local churches wherever you will be sent to serve the Kingdom of God.
In the current circumstances of the SCJ Indian District, we hope that you keep always a good spirit and full availability for whatever the congregation might need from you. According to Fr. Dehon the warranty for growth and apostolic fruitfulness lays in your fidelity to Eucharistic Adoration, in a good spirit of fraternity among yourselves, and in a simple and poor lifestyle.
In particular, you are entrusted with the task of deepening, preserving and faithfully passing on the charismatic and spiritual heritage of Fr. Dehon, consolidating the SCJ presence and work in India.
To make these wishes come true, I entrust you to the maternal protection and care of Mary. She will help you to have a happy, faithful and fruitful priestly life.
May she also take under her care all your friends, relatives and faithful Christians, who today are here to accompany and pray for you. I heartily embrace and bless all of you in the Heart of Jesus.
In a very special way I want to congratulate your parents, siblings and other family members who today celebrate this gift of the Lord for the Church.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are gather by the Lord in this celebration of the priestly ordination of five young Dehonians. It’s a day of joy and thanksgiving. For me, it’s also a privilege. When I was General Superior I was involved in the beginnings of our work in India. Today we harvest some beautiful fruits of the seed that sowed the priests and brothers that started this Dehonian presence. They did it with great faith and hope, giving way to the dreams of Fathers Andrew Prevot and Leo Dehon.
1. Through the imposition of my hands and the consecrating word these young men will receive the gift to be associated in a special way to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Through their baptismal incorporation to Christ, they were already made part of the Holy, priestly and prophetic People of God destined to bring all the universe to God. By the sacrament of holy order they will participate more fully not only in the mystery of Christ, but also in his priestly ministry.
The saving Grace of Christ, God made man, who died and rose for us, will begin to flow and reach many people through their priestly ministry. They will enjoy not only the grace that will transform themselves, but also of the fact that they will become a bridge and a channel of that same grace for many people.
They will act in the very name of Christ. Better said, it’s Christ who will act through them. That’s why they will be able to say with authority ‘I baptize you”, ‘This is my body”, ‘This is my blood.”
2. This is a gift of incomparable greatness and beauty which God gives first of all to all the Church. The priest is ordained for the service of the People of God, to edify the Body of Christ, to bring about the communion of God’s Family. He is not ordained for himself.
Through the hands, the lips and the service of the priest passes the New Life that God bequeaths to humanity; the dignity and deep peace is restituted to persons hurt by evil and sin; broken hearts are healed; the Word of God is proclaimed; the people are fed with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation; the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to inhabit in the heart of the faithful is transmitted; the sick are consoled with the anointing that heals their souls and soothes the pain; new couples are blessed; fraternity, communion, charity and solidarity are fostered.
For those ordained it’s also a special grace and a sign of the trust the Lord has to whom He has called to this ministry. That’s why you, who are to be ordained, can say since today with Paul: “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry” (1Tim 1, 12-13).
It’s a precious gift they will bring always in their human weakness, as if it were in earthen vessels (2 Cor 4,7). That’s why they must take care of it with humility and enliven it constantly, strengthened by the Holy Spirit (2Tim 1, 6-7). Take care always of your prayer and of the deep communion with Jesus. Be watchful, simple and humble in serving God’s People. Try that each celebration be for you a motive of growth and so it might strengthen your faithfulness to Christ and your union with Him.
3. To be a priest of Dehonian spirituality, I would suggest you hold fast to the following aspects;
- Remain always in the condition of Disciples of Christ. Nourish your life with the Word of God every day at the feet of the Master. Let yourselves be molded by the Divine Master, by the Good Shepherd, by the one and only High Priest. Believe what you read, teach the doctrine of the Church, live out what you teach. Tend with care to your experience of God and to that first love that seduced you for Christ, which you found in the mystery of his pierced heart (Rev 2,4; Jn 1,35-39). Be men of prayer; and in your times of trial pray even more.
- Being one with the Good Shepherd, feel the urge of the love of Christ (2 Cor 5,14) which calls you to be his missionaries, that is, sent to evangelize all creation (Mk 16,15). “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9,16). We SCJs see in missionary activity “a privileged form of apostolic service” (Cst 31) and a “a sign of friendship to men and women” (Cst 33). Feel Fr. Dehon’s insistence to “go to the people,” to leave the comfort of the sacristy, to face all the challenges of today’s world, making yourselves “everything for all’, to gain all for Christ so that salvation may reach at least some (1 Cor 9,19.22). Tend to the flock that will be entrusted to you; go to search those who are far. Be available to give up your lives wherever it may be the occasion, even beyond the boundaries of India.
- Be Servants of Full Life in Christ, especially among those who are “small and humble, the workers and the poor” (Cst 31), with whom Christ identified himself and to whom he proclaimed the Good News (cf. Cst 28). Attentive to their needs, committed with the rights of those who are the weakest, you should promote a culture of human dignity and solidarity. Defend life, which is threatened in all its stages and circumstances. Sustain the value of family, promote the fullness of life in Christ; evangelize the youth. Work for justice and the efforts for the Reign of the Sacred Heart in souls and societies; these were the great passions of Fr. Dehon (cf. Cst 32). Help so that nobody, especially youth, may ever lose meaning and the direction of their lives.
- Be prophets of love, servants of reconciliation and MINISTERS OF MERCY (cf. Cst 7. 25). I am ordaining you so that you may be priests and men of mercy, full of compassion before any human reality. Offer always with joy the gift of forgiveness. Before any person, make your own the care of the Father who so loved the world that hesent his only Son not to condemn the world but to save it through him (Jn 3,16-17). Do not fear to love and abase yourselves in order to bear witness to God’s infinite love to every human person. Always overflow the measure of charity. (cf. Fr. Andrew Prevot).
- Love the Church with all your heart in its concrete reality of a holy and sinful people which journeys in history. Love the Church in its persons and service structures: show your adherence to the Holy Father and to his Magisterium; pray a lot for him and for the bishops; have for him a real love, sincere and visible, taking always good care for the unity and communion with the universal and local church (cf Cst 34). Fr. Dehon was a living example of love for the church. Our Rule of Life places our religious life and our apostolate in the very heart of the Church. (in Const 30.34, there are eight explicit references to our insertion in the Church).
4. All this is possible if we take care of our priestly holiness and reparation, as Fr. Dehon reminds us in our Spiritual Directory cf. Sp Dir. I, 7.9).
Your district is entering into a new stage. Due to the refusal of the visa to foreign missionaries, you who are still young have to take up the responsibility and leadership of our new work and presence in India. This is a great challenge; but it is also a moment of grace, which demands of you a greater holiness of life, a good fraternal spirit among you, a deeper knowledge of our congregation spirit, a fluent communication with the general SCJ government, and human maturity in the District administration.
God’s grace won’t be absent for you. You must not lack in your desire to unite yourselves tightly to the Heart of Jesus, to Mary. You must have availability of the faith (cf. Cost 85), and model the heritage of Fr. Dehon (cf .Cost 112). May you have a solid communion with the general government and the other entities of the congregation. A good relationship among you, and simplicity of life, will help you to form yourselves well and to grow strong. Let’s pray that it will be so with the Grace of God.