Dominica XIII per Annum C
First Solemn Mass of Rev. Fr. T. Jerome Krug
30 June 2019
A newly ordained priest was looking down the long line of faithful awaiting his first priestly blessing. Among the many familiar faces the new priest spotted a man he did not recognize. When the man arrived at the front of the line he told the new priest that though they had never previously met he had come to participate and to see what an ordination was like. In that line, on that day 20 years ago this Tuesday, I imparted my first priestly blessing to that man, your father, Father. Your dad and I had no idea then how that intersection of our lives would be only the first of many for years to come. Fr. Krug, you were six years old on that day. Moving forward from that day, I came to know your dear mother, you and your siblings, and even extended family. It has been a real joy over the years to experience so many other intersections of our lives: my years as an assistant priest in Edmond when you were a child, visits and meals at your home, my time in vocations work when you met with me to tell me you had decided to go to seminary, and now to be the Pastor of your home parish during the years of your seminary studies, your ordination and First Mass. Over these 20 years I have been accustomed to looking upon you as a spiritual son – but now also a brother priest. Father Krug, I am very proud of you! This parish is very proud of you! To have the title “Father” resound within these walls, knowing that it refers to a son of our parish, is such a tremendous blessing to us! As you now take up a unique place at the altar of sacrifice, we ask you to prayerfully remember your home parish as you hold in your hands the greatest gift of God to us: The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in his sacrifice for our salvation! We marvel at the working of God who has blessed our parish in so many ways. We continue to pray for you. We ask God to bless all the different vocations that are discovered and lived here. We look forward to more young men here, more sons of our parish, one day bearing that title “father,” which you have just accepted.
There is plenty in the Scripture selections of this Holy Mass to instruct all disciples in all vocations and, in a particular way, to instruct a new priest. That instruction comes, as we might expect, from Jesus’ words, but also, perhaps unexpectedly, from a small detail that could be easily overlooked, a detail we might call his “focus,” or maybe better stated, Jesus’ “intention,” what the Gospel described as that resolute determination of his to go to Jerusalem.
The first lesson for us comes from Jesus’ words which reveal to us the demands of being his disciple. In the Gospel selection we discover the urgency of being his disciple and the demand of having the Lord as the central focus of our life. To the invitation, “Follow me,” one person responded, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” The Lord answered back, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another person along the Lord’s journey promised to follow yet added, “but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” The Lord answered, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” How significant are Jesus’ words about the urgency of his call to be a disciple and to follow him? Consider these words of the Lord as compared to a similar scene in the first reading. Upon being called by Elijah the prophet, Elisha said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.” Notice that Elijah permitted Elisha the momentary hesitation. He said to Elisha, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” The contrast here shows us how much more Jesus expects and demands when he says, “Follow me.” Jesus’ words demonstrate to us that even the most serious and natural of human tendencies and responsibilities, as good as those are (like burying the dead and maintaining family relationships), if understood in proper order, are less important and less urgent for a disciple than is the call to place Jesus and God’s kingdom first in our lives. Am I making too much of the urgency and the radical nature of the response Jesus expects? Consider that for as solemn of a duty as there was in the Old Testament to parents and family, who was the only One who came ahead of that? The answer is in the order of the Ten Commandments. Honoring God comes before honoring even parents. Only God could demand first place before parents. The response Jesus makes to those who want to first go home before following him is an implicit revelation of his divinity. He is God. He comes first. He gets to make that claim on us. Is Jesus the center of your life? So much more urgent is Jesus’ call that even just setting your hand to the plow but still looking back reveals you have the wrong priorities and a different center for your life.
To this urgent call the response of the consecrated religious, of the priest, of the married man or woman, or of the single person will not all look the same. However, what is very clear and common to us all is that nothing and no one can come before our response to Jesus and to the urgency to proclaim God’s kingdom. For the priest, the response to this urgent call will be evident, even before his preaching and ministry, in his daily life of prayer, in his time spent in silent meditation on the Scriptures, in his care for his spiritual life and soul, and in a particularly critical way in his celibacy lived in a chaste way as a gift for the Church. Fr. Krug, as a priest you will be surrounded, rather like Jesus, by the crowds with their demands and expectations. The priest can never be satisfied with letting anything come before the Lord. You will, of course, be keeping the Lord in the center of your life by serving the legitimate needs of the people. There need be no false dichotomy between action and contemplation, between ministry and prayer. However, it can be very easy for the parish priest to have busy days with lots of activities and to convince himself he is doing the work of the Lord. But if the priest does not first and always begin with sitting silently with and before the Lord of the work, you can bet something or someone other than Jesus has crept into the center of his life. Fr. Krug, the gift of celibacy, which you formally accepted at diaconate, can serve as a reminder to you that you really have no one other than the Lord; and celibacy received and integrated into your life can give impulse to an intense life of prayer. That gift accepted by the priest, becomes also a gift to the rest of us in the Church who benefit from a chaste love available for service and who likewise see in the priest the eschatological reminder that we are each called to a relationship with God that excludes all the idols, whether internal or external, that we so easily enshrine.
But what about the second lesson today, that small detail in the Gospel selection that might be easily overlooked? It is a lesson that I would say applies uniquely to a priest. Jesus was “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” What can that tell us and tell a new priest about responding to the urgency of the Lord’s call? As the Gospel says “when the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled” Jesus was focused and absolutely determined to go to Jerusalem. This “being taken up” refers to the events of Jesus’ exodus, his passage from death to glory in the resurrection and ascension. This ninth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel begins the long travel narrative that lasts for ten chapters until you finally arrive at the end of chapter nineteen. There you see the specific destination in Jerusalem for Jesus’ resolute determination. Jesus was NOT simply going to Jerusalem, for upon arriving in the city, chapter nineteen says: “And he entered the temple” where he drove out those who were making it a den of robbers (cf. Lk. 19:45).
An interpretation of this focus of Jesus in the Gospel is that the Great High Priest was resolute and firm in his intention to process to the place of sacrifice. Why did the Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus on his journey? Simply because he was a Jew and because of their historic ethnic antagonism? Not at all! Jesus’ resolute determination to go to Jerusalem and to the Temple creates a direct conflict for the Samaritans in their view that their temple is the true sanctuary. The Samaritans, in other words, refuse Jesus because they reject the Jerusalem Temple as an alternative temple to their own. Their refusal of Jesus is a specifically religious objection and strikes at the very heart of who is God and what is the true sacrifice. That Jesus remains resolute when some dismiss his focus on the sanctuary offers a lesson for a priest.
Dear Fr. Krug and brother priests, as St. Benedict instructs in his Rule (43:3), “Let nothing be preferred to the work of God.” The monastic use of “work of God” is understood as the sacrifice of praise offered to God in the entirety of the Sacred Liturgy. Is it too much of a stretch to say St. Benedict is highlighting something not altogether dissimilar from Jesus’ firm intention to make his way to the place of sacrifice? The determination of Jesus instructs us priests that nothing – nothing – not parents, nor family, nor possessions, nor honors, nor hobbies can come before the urgent call to unite ourselves to Jesus in his determination and in his priestly sacrifice. That is, to unite ourselves to his own greatest work, to the obedient trust by which Jesus accomplished his exodus, his being taken up. This is not to be understood as a call to see our sanctuaries as some type of eccentric playground where the priest remains in obscurity. It is also not a call to ignore the many ways a priest must sacrifice for his people outside of the sanctuary. But it is to say that nothing is greater or more important or more urgent for the priest than to himself be united to the sacrifice of Christ and to unite his people to that same sacrifice made present in the Sacred Liturgy and on the sacred altar. For ultimately, we must admit, the journey Jesus resolutely begins in the Gospel today has for its destination not just the city of Jerusalem and not only the Temple therein. Ultimately, his journey is about his arrival to the sanctuary and the altar of the Cross and, through his resurrection and ascension, the final destination is his being taken up to his rightful place in the heavenly city and the sanctuary of God’s throne.
If this is Jesus’ firm intention and if a priest should model this urgency by that same resolute focus on bringing himself and his people to the altar of the Cross, we can appreciate the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its document on the Sacred Liturgy where it says, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10). If that is to be more than just nice sounding teaching or a slogan, I will say quite openly, that it needs to be more clearly seen in pastoral leadership and planning. Almost like an inhospitable Samaritan many dismiss any consistent and resolute focus in pastoral leadership on the dignity of the Sacred Liturgy. We rightly talk much these days about mission and evangelization and pastoral planning, but if we want vitality and power to accomplish those lofty hopes, we must begin with a resolute focus on our own procession to the sanctuary and to the sacrifice of praise offered to God in the whole of the Sacred Liturgy. We priests must not fail to keep that focus. And though the lay faithful do not offer the sacrifice in the same way as the priest, they too must make sacrifice and keep this resolute focus of Jesus so to be gathered and incorporated into his determination to save us by means of his great exodus made present in the Paschal Mystery. If we, priests and faithful, lose that focus we fail to tap into that font that gives power for our response to the Lord’s urgent call. If the evidence of priestly ministry reveals more determination and focus on our office business hours, on money, on programs, and construction projects then we are not following the Lord’s example. If our people are to be called into this great procession and helped to avoid along the way the distractions and temptations to call down fire upon the inhospitable and to choose other persons or other things before God, then we priests must be firm in our focus and resolute intention that the sacred liturgy is the summit of all of our directives and the source of power for mission.
Today, for the first time, Fr. Krug, you lead us to the place of Jesus’ resolute determination, to his sacrifice at this altar. May what we receive from this font of power help us place nothing before the Lord, such that the words of the psalmist are truly our own: “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”