TYLER – Bishop Joseph E. Strickland called the three newest priests of the Diocese of Tyler to listen to and care for the people of God “with great love, with great devotion, and with great strength in the Lord.”
Bishop Strickland presided over the ordinations of Deacons George Elliott, Nelson Muñoz and Joshua Neu to the priesthood June 27 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
More than 800 people packed into the cathedral, which seats around 500, to witness the ordination.
During the liturgy, Bishop Strickland called on the three men to stand up, turn around and look at the people filling nearly every space. He spoke of the words from the first reading (Numbers 11:11-24), when Moses, beset with and dispirited by the complaints from the people of Israel, asked God, “Why do you treat your servant so badly? Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?”
“You heard those words of Moses from the first reading,” Bishop Strickland said. “Embrace those words. This is a portion of the people you are burdened with.”
As the congregation laughed, Bishop Strickland added, “And what a glorious burden that is, to be a priest of Jesus Christ for the people of God. That is your call.”
The bishop also referenced the responsorial psalm sung during the liturgy, Psalm 89, and its refrain, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”
“Those are fairly simple words,” Bishop Strickland said. “And I can imagine some in the world would say, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But as a priest of Jesus Christ you are called to a great opera of the most profound and sublime singing of the goodness of the Lord. It is so much more than ‘nice.’
“You are called to perform the office of praising God,” he said. “This is not easy work, as your brother priests can tell you. Day in and day out,” he again indicated the people crowded into the cathedral, “they can be a cantankerous crowd. But they are family. They are our blood. We are their life, and they are ours.”
Bishop Strickland said “we desperately need that office (of praising God) in the world today. It was true at the time of Moses, true at the time of Paul, true at the time the Son of God walked the earth. We desperately need those who, in the words of John’s Gospel, ‘sanctify them in the truth.’”
The bishop called the three new priests to the commission from 1 Peter to “tend to the flock of God in your midst. Right here, in the Piney Woods, whether in Paris, in Hemphill, or in Gun Barrel City.
“Don’t you love Gun Barrel City?” he asked, eliciting more laughter from the congregation. “I’m sorry, visiting (priests) and deacons. Who else has a Gun Barrel City in their diocese?
“It is this people you are called to serve,” he told the new priests. “Tend the flock of God in your midst, this people. Listen to them. Care for them. Bring the universal reaches of our Catholic faith to these people, with great love and great devotion and great strength in the Lord.”
Bishop Strickland also took a few moments to acknowledge the parents, both living and deceased, of the ordinands.
“Thank you,” he said, “for giving your sons, for cooperating with the Spirit in your life and allowing them to join the opera in singing the goodness of the Lord, in this place, in this time.”
The ordination coincided with the 34th wedding anniversary of Father Elliott’s parents.
“I don’t believe this was just happenstance,” Bishop Strickland said. “It’s yet another sign from God that we must celebrate God’s truth with marriage, with holy orders, with all the challenges and the glory that the Word of God brings us. We cannot abandon that truth, no matter what court speaks the falsehoods of the day.”
He said it is a great gift “to be reminded that we have the blessing of holy orders because of young men and older men formed in a family with a marriage. Your lives haven’t been perfect, but the Spirit has worked through your sacraments to bring a sacrament of service to the flock of the Lord. Thank you, and we celebrate you for the good parents you are.”
He reminded the three new priests of the great challenge they are undertaking.
“We hear in the Word of God of a ‘spotless victim,’” Bishop Strickland said. “We will hear it again in the Eucharistic Prayer. You are to embrace daily and ever more deeply the life of the spotless victim, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That comes “through prayer,” he said, “through service to (Christ’s) people, through answering that phone in the rectory at 2 a.m., getting up for that early Mass and staying up for that late one. When someone asks, ‘Father, will you hear my confession?’ you are to say, without hesitation, ‘Yes!’
“That is priesthood,” he said, “that is serving the people. In so many ways it is an impossible task. I don’t live up to it, these men don’t live up to it, you certainly won’t live up to it. But with the grace of God and the goodness of the people, you will.
“Yes, they can be cantankerous,” the bishop said. “But there is goodness in them. Always remember that, always believe that. In every person you encounter, there is goodness. Call them to deepen that goodness and call them away from sin.”
Bishop Strickland then called upon the congregation to pray for the new priests that they might celebrate the sacraments of the church, “and that they might do so with abundant joy.”