To Be, Or Not To Be: A Seminarian

A blog by the Diocese of Brooklyn

 

Reflection on the Priesthood – Fr. James Rodriguez

Posted by on Oct 19, 2009 at 11:27 am | Other Thoughts
Fr. Rodriguez celebrating Mass in the crypt of the Apostle St. James, Santiago de Compostela

Fr. Rodriguez celebrating Mass in the crypt of the Apostle St. James, Santiago de Compostela

Praised be the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

It was my first Holy Week as a priest. Everything was still dizzyingly new to me as I prepared to celebrate my 425th Mass on Holy Thursday. From the moment my Pastor told me I would be the main celebrant at the Holy Thursday liturgy, I began to feel overwhelmed by this great privilege. It was not the liturgy itself that scared me, but the awesome responsibility of preparing and delivering a homily that would capture the incredible significance of Our Lord’s last supper. That Tuesday, I had, together with hundreds of my brother Brooklyn priests, renewed my priestly promises to the Church at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, the same church where I was ordained less than a year before. As I bowed my head to the altar, I caught a glimpse of the marble floor in front of it. It was on that same floor that I, face down, wept while enraptured by the invocation of the saints and my contemplation of the sheer gravity of that moment. It was the happiest and most significant moment of my life. It was my ordination Mass, the first time Christ had used my inexperienced hands and stumbling voice to give Himself to the starving multitudes. So many people came to celebrate my vocation and that of my classmate, Fr. Patrick Longalong, representing the vast people of God whom we had prepared for so long to serve in imitation of Him, the people we love because they are the people He loves. The evening we renewed our promises I was standing alongside my friend and Pastor at Most Precious Blood, Fr. William Krlis. I reaffirmed for myself the promises that he first made 40 years before. Together, we repeated our commitment to serve God in His Church and to be shepherds among His people. Together, we recited the words of consecration, and on that Tuesday evening in my first Holy Week, Jesus Christ took flesh again in that beautiful church under the stars in Brooklyn. I had finally found the inspiration I needed to prepare my homily for Holy Thursday. Thursday evening, as at every Mass, the angels and saints filled Most Precious Blood, and every other Church on Earth where Catholics celebrated the sacred mysteries of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The choir sang beautifully, the readings were proclaimed by our gifted lectors, our deacon read the Gospel, and I stood before my parish and preached. My homily on the anniversary of the priesthood was about what the priest is. There was not enough time to preach about what a priest does, let alone what he is, but I tried anyway. I spoke about the Word of God in the readings and the renewed promises of that Chrism Mass. I spoke about the Eucharist, that immense mystery of love that has defined my path to God for as long as I can remember. As I came to the central point of the homily, I looked out at the people I had come to know and love in a few short months and, having run out of words, simply said, “We love you.” That is who we priests are. That is who I am: a priest from Blessed Sacrament, in Jackson Heights, who, before the radiant splendor of the Body and Blood of Christ on so many quiet moments of prayer in that beautiful Church, saw and heard Him. As a seminarian at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Jamaica, I learned more about priestly love than ever before. As a transitional deacon at Our Lady of Solace, in Coney Island, I experienced a part of this diverse Diocese that I had never known before. In both of those experiences, I met some of the most wonderful parishioners I’ve known, as well as priests whose love for them reminds me why we are called “father”. My own father and mother have inspired me by their deeply personal examples of relentless devotion, and still continue to do so. My sisters flooded me with love, although they never quite managed to spoil the only boy in the family, try as they might. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Savior and Redeemer of all humanity, looked at me in all of my inadequacy and, as my Spiritual Director would say, said, “This one’s mine.” That is who I am. That is who we priests are. We are yours. We are His. Over the last fifteen months I have come to understand that central mystery of the priest’s identity. We are men who sacrifice our very selves, saying day after glorious day, “This is my body, given up for you. This is my blood.” We hold in our hands the mystery we are all called to live- the very presence of Christ in the world- and in our weakness he proves his strength, touching lives and healing sin. He bridges heaven and earth in the person of the priest, who stands in that gap, gazing at his monumental task in fear and amazement. When my previous Pastor, Fr. Marcello Latona, passed away in August of 2008, Sister Flora Marinelli said to me, “God must love you very much, because he thinks you can handle this.” In truth, that poignant insight has been confirmed in every moment since June 7th, 2008, when I became a priest. God has called me, out of love, to love him in return through service to his people. In this year dedicated to priests and the Priesthood, please remember to pray for us. Every priest is to be a living image of the love of Christ. Although we may sometimes fail in this regard, remember that we still love you, and are grateful for the daily miracle that is given to us to give to you: his Most Holy Body and his Most Precious Blood.

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