Bishop W. Shawn McKnight preached the following homily on June 2 during Evening Prayer and Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of St. Joseph, as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination:
The reason why Christ died was that He might lead us to God.
The vocation of a priest is one of spiritual leadership, a share in the mission of Christ, the Son of God, our High Priest and head of the body, His Church.
Today, the leadership provided by the clergy in our Church is a matter of great concern, as it should be.
The authority given to the Apostles to tend and feed the Lord’s flock and to serve as ambassadors of Christ’s mercy is meant not for the personal gain of the individual priest or of the clergy as a whole but to benefit the whole people of God, for whom God gave His own Son.
Priestly ministry — that is, priestly leadership — is not an easy task, though our devotion to the Sacred Heart reminds us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
As spiritual fathers of our community, we are called to be present to the soul in need, and to keep the flock of Jesus together in our beliefs, in our celebration of the sacraments, and in living the Gospel virtues.
Above all else, the priest is one who makes sacrifices so that his people may be led to heaven.
And there is no leadership in Christ’s Church without some kind of suffering, some kind of dying.
As I reflect on my 25 years of priestly ministry, I find my heart full of gratitude and peace.
There is no greater joy, no greater peace than that of knowing you are fulfilling the call of God in your life.
God calls each one of us to a particular vocation, and the more we respond to His voice, the greater our spiritual joy.
I first had an inclination for the Priesthood while on retreat at the University of Dallas, during the fall semester of my junior year.
I’ll never forget that moment when I remained in the chapel alone after the conclusion of a conference by the retreat master.
It began as an internal desire within my heart — as I remember, a warmth in my chest, as if my physical heart was heating up.
During that time in my life, I was terrified even to read at Mass or engage in any kind of public speaking.
I was an introverted science major.
At first, I wasn’t sure God knew what He was doing when He called me to be a priest.
And so it took a little bit of time for me to respond. I just couldn’t see how it could even be possible for me to do what a priest is supposed to do.
But God called me anyway, despite myself.
The Lord led me and had been leading me all along, without my awareness.
And because I trusted Him enough to follow His lead, I have experienced many joys in serving as a priest.
But that spiritual joy should not be confused with a superficial emotionalism.
Whether married or single, ordained or professed, we all know the reason why Christ died.
All vocations from God are about new life. And therefore, all vocations entail some kind of sacrifice.
Think for a moment of the Sacred Heart of Jesus burning with charity, or the Immaculate Heart of Mary crowned with roses.
Mary’s Immaculate Heart is often depicted with a sword piercing her heart. And Jesus’s Sacred Heart is bleeding from a crown of thorns and from having been pierced by the soldier’s lance on the cross.
The message we can take from this is that even with a life lived in perfect gratitude, as with our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, suffering will be a part of it.
Because love demands suffering for another.
To love much means to suffer much.
As we worship, this evening, with our Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, let us be mindful of two things:
I became a priest 25 years ago because of who I am — a disciple of Jesus Christ, a struggling sinner wanting to follow the Lord Who is leading us to God.
And as I experience the joys and sufferings of our Lord’s resurrection in my life, I pray that the Lord may use me, imperfect as I am, as a vessel of His charity and His mercy.
It is quite a humbling thing to admit that the greatest thing I can do as a priest or as a bishop is to let God work through me, especially in offering the Sacrifice of the Mass and the other sacraments.
If there is anyone here contemplating whether or not to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, to do something different with your life, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and trust in God.
I have never been disappointed in God’s plan for me. I have only been disappointed in my failure to follow His lead.
Through the intercession of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, His mother, may our hearts be big enough to follow the Lord to heaven, where we shall give thanks to the Lord for all eternity. Amen.