Moved By a Zeal For Souls: The Priesthood

Moved By a Zeal For Souls: The Priesthood

Another Walk Through Life

2023 Chrism Mass
Homily by the Most Rev. Edward M. Rice

Next to ordinations, the annual Chrism Mass is one of the most special times for us to gather as the presbyterate (priests) of the Diocese of Springfield Cape Girardeau. It is on this day that we renew our efforts to serve the people of God. And it is on this day, with the blessing of the sacred oils of chrism, catechumens, and the sick, that we renew the Sacramental life of the diocese.

Monsignor William Stanton, who died at the age of 85, on Jan. 18, 2017, was a priest of our diocese for six decades, serving in 10 parishes from Joplin to Cape Girardeau, and places in between. He was a classmate of Bishop John Leibrecht’s, and they were ordained on March 17, 1956, in St. Louis. I don’t know how for sure, but somewhere along the way, I found a copy of his ordination card. I used the prayer/quote from that card for the recent Vocation Masses that I’ve celebrated throughout the diocese. I would like to use it for our reflection and inspiration on this special day as well.

The verse says, “Oh Mary, my mother, to thee I consecrate the years of my priesthood; make them fruitful for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.” I would propose to all of the priests that if, at the end of your life, looking back on your years of priesthood, that you had fulfilled this little prayer, then your priesthood would have been well lived.

In that little verse, we recognize first the role of Our Lady in the life of a priest. She is “Queen of the Clergy.” I am mindful of the words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, “Let not your heart be troubled … am I not here? I, who am your mother?” These words of Our Lady offer priests consolation, especially during these times of societal change, opposition to the Church, and even a hatred for the things of God.

How are we to proceed and carry on with our ministry? We move forward with confidence, knowing that we are not alone. The full quote of Our Lady says, “Am I not here? I, who am your mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.” With those words of Our Lady, priests have the confidence to continue their calling, with no fear: The call to trust, to place our worries and anxieties into the hands of Our Lady, who in turn will give them to her Son.

That little prayer verse also reminds us that our activities, regardless of any success or failure, be done for the glory of God. Only God knows how our efforts will bear fruit in the lives of our people and in building up the diocese. And in a sense, it is not ours to know. To us belongs the work, a beautiful work, the work of God. John Henry Newman put it this way, “I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told that in the next.” When we consecrate and live out our priesthood for the glory of God, being faithful to our duties, God is glorified regardless of any success or failure. In the midst of sickness, perplexity, or sorrow, God knows what he is about. To us belongs the labor! Of course, all of this is for the salvation of souls.

Let us stop here for a moment to consider this important point: Msgr. Stanton’s little verse was on the holy card for his ordination. He lived out his priesthood for 61 years. When he died in 2017, did he still have that same zeal that expressed in that little verse, to be fruitful for the glory of God and the salvation of souls? His was a life of 61 years of celebrating the sacraments, bringing people into the Church; offering consolation at the loss of a loved one, sanctifying and reconciling people to the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, and Holy Communion; 61 years of preaching the Incarnation and the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ in good times and in bad times; 61 years of preaching the fullness of the Gospel and passing on the teachings of the Church. I would like to think that Msgr. Stanton was just as zealous for the salvation of souls on the day of his death as he was on the day of his ordination. Hopefully, that could also be said of each of us! That is why the Church, in her wisdom, on this day, the Chrism Mass, invites priests throughout the world to renew their priestly promises. In the mind of holy mother Church, we, brothers gathered as a presbyterate, I, as Bishop gathered with my clergy, we recommit ourselves today to do what we do for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

Da Mihi Animas,” “Give Me Souls,” was always the cry of the newly-ordained priest. With the smell of Sacred Chrism still on his hands, with all his youth and vigor, he was sent to a parish to begin his priestly work. On this day, whether decades ago or more recently, we, the clergy of this diocese, recommit ourselves to this work. Actually, the full quote of that verse includes “Cetera Tolle,” “Give me souls, take everything else.” There is nothing more important, nothing should ever take precedence over the priestly work that has been given to us. Nothing should ever get in the way of the late night call to go to the hospital, the last-minute request to teach in a classroom, visiting the sick in their homes, or preparing couples for marriage: the whole spectrum of the Sacramental life.

As we anticipate Holy Thursday, with the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, let this Mass be a time for the clergy of our diocese to be ever-more resolved to be more closely conformed to Christ, and to follow Christ, the head and shepherd: Let us commit to be moved only by a zeal for souls. Amen.

Published in the April 14, 2023 issue of The Mirror.