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Silver Jubilee of Fr. Augustine Puchner, O.Praem.

by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem., Prior

 

Dear Fr. Augustine,

Fr. Abbot Eugene,

Patres and fratres conscripti,

Dear friends in Christ and St. Norbert,

The sublime dignity of the Christian vocation is to be conformed to and united with the Person and Priesthood of Jesus Christ. This is true of all the baptized, and yet the Church teaches that it is all the more incumbent upon that man whose share in the priesthood of Christ is not only the common royal and prophetic dignity but also what we call the ministerial priesthood, the power to administer to all the faithful the means Christ has instituted to save souls from hell and usher them into heaven. All aspects of Christ’s priesthood are perfectly simple in Himself, though they must be shared by us in different ways. Thus, the priesthood of the baptized and confirmed is different in essence and not only in degree from the ministerial priesthood.

There is then in the ministerial priest a different and more astounding share in the power to bring holiness to the world, and so the priest should always have before his eyes the supreme pattern to which he must conform his life. It is therefore most fitting for us to consider this epic standard and transcendent excellence on the silver jubilee of our beloved confrere, Fr. Augustine.

The Council of Trent teaches, “Clerics, called to have the Lord for their
portion, ought by all means so to regulate their whole life and conversation, that in their dress, comportment, gait, discourse, and all things else, nothing appear but what is grave, moderate, and replete with religion; avoiding even slight faults, which in them would be most grievous; that so their actions may inspire all with veneration.”

The priest is, after all, the minister of Christ and dispenser of the mysteries of God. He is the intermediary between God and man. Like Moses, he willingly stands in the breach to deflect from his people the just wrath of God. Like Moses, his prayers obtain mercy and favor, miracles of grace and nature. This is only possible because, although he deals with the trials and vicissitudes of earth, his heart and his mind, his words and his gestures, his whole conversation and comportment are of heaven.

This is no exaggeration. As the Father sent Christ, so Christ sends His priests to bring forth fruit that will last unto everlasting ages. Our ministry is His ministry. He has given us power He did not see fit to bestow upon angels or archangels, thrones or dominions, no not even upon His own immaculate Mother! If the priests of the Old Testament were told, “Be holy because I am holy,” not once but many times throughout the Mosaic Law, much more does this hold for the priest of the New Testament, who is as much greater than Moses or the angels as the Name he has inherited is greater than theirs.

It is absolutely of the essence of the ministerial priest that he offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—ut sumant et dent céteris: that he himself take into hands consecrated by sacred chrism the Body of Christ and the saving chalice of His Blood, that he receive the sacred species and then feed his faithful with this heavenly food. For this duty he was told at his ordination, “Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” The priest’s service at the altar flows out upon the People of God, but the undercurrent sweeps him back to conform his interior life ever more to his crucified Lord.

How will the People of God be absolved of their sins, how will they receive the consoling words of admonition and penance, how will they return to grace and amend their lives, if the priest of Christ does not offer himself in the confessional, not occasionally but generously, constantly, dependably? The priest never stops being a sinner himself, and if he is in the slightest bit appreciative for what another priest has done for him, he knows he does no better than to sit behind the screen and don the purple stole.

And he must preach the Gospel! He is not commissioned to publicize his own version of revelation, but to open to the people the pure, undiluted teachings of Christ, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, and handed down through the centuries by our holy Mother the Church. All through the day, one after another comes to him, expecting him to speak the word of God, for “the lips of the priest shall guard knowledge,” says the prophet Malachi, “and they shall require the law from his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord of hosts.”

Such is the unsurpassable vocation to which you, Fr. Augustine, have been
called. No man is worthy. None is without flaw. And so, as you look back at
the long road of twenty-five years of priestly service, the response of your
heart, beating to the rhythm of the Sacred Heart, should be one of humility and gratitude. Humility for the honest admission of sinfulness; gratitude for so exalted an honor. Humility that so many souls have been entrusted to your care; gratitude at seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Humility at the faults and failings in ministry; gratitude at the merciful call to try again. Every grace, every moment of faithful service, every day of perseverance, is a gift from almighty God. Well received and well used, such gifts only draw you closer to Christ in His holiness.

And since spiritual goods are possessed by all, we your brothers in St. Norbert are likewise humbled by your example and thankful to our Savior for your work in His vineyard. You have given yourself to form another generation of Norbertines while edifying the laity by Sunday supply here in the diocese. As pastor you made sure that the little ones of Christ did not ask for bread and go away hungry, even during time of famine. The results do not lie; the parochial life is more vibrant now than it was before the famine.

But let us look deeper for a moment more, to find in your life the two greatest aids to priestly fidelity. First, we cannot help but see what your holy patron loved to see. “Deum habet qui mecum manére vult: He who wills to live with me has God.” From the age of the Apostles down to the current day, the Church has always seen the priestly ministry best fulfilled when it flows out of the common life. This is the Norbertine vocation: to seek priestly perfection from within the strength offered by your brothers in religious life. Your friendship is readily available, warm and welcoming. Your confreres willingly entrust themselves to your discretion. If there is communio to be fostered or enjoyed, you are there. Your hospitality at the parish is always open and appreciated.

And second, the common life never withers so long as it is watered by prayer in all its various forms: liturgical and devotional, public and private, vocal and mental prayer. I have seen and can testify that you are a man of prayer, a priest of prayer, a teacher of prayer by word and example. It is prayer that draws down the grace to cleanse what is defiled, to water what is dry, to heal what is wounded, to bend what is stiff, to warm what is chilled, and to guide what has strayed. It is prayer that makes a priest an apostle.

Yes, we know that today is not the actual anniversary of your ordination;
that’s June 30th. Although the Mass today is that of an anniversary of priestly ordination, nevertheless it’s hard to imagine a better saint on whose feast day to celebrate your silver jubilee: the Apostle Joseph, surnamed Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. Like the patriarch Joseph he was named after, you have provided bread for the hungry. Like the Apostle himself, you preach the word in season and out of season, convincing and encouraging, with all patience and teaching. And now the Lord is sending you to a new people, there to witness to His saving power.

Dear Fr. Augustine, your confreres and friends rejoice with you today with
hearts lifted up with chants of high thanksgiving. We support you with our
love and prayers, and we count ourselves honored and blessed to have your twenty-five years of priestly service flow from this community. May God continue to shower His abundant graces upon you for the next twenty-five years, at least, before He rewards you for a lifetime of good and faithful service with everlasting life. Amen.

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Even as his health declined, Fr. Leo continued to orient his life to the service of the altar, recognizing in the Holy Eucharist the source of every grace and heavenly blessing. At that moment, I knew that I, too, wanted to be a Norbertine priest, “lifting high the Holy Eucharist over the miseries and errors of this world.”

The Gospel passage we just heard comprises the entire fifteenth chapter of Luke, all thirty-two verses.  It reminds me of St. Justin Martyr’s second century description of the Mass: “On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members,” he says. “The recollections of the Apostles are read, as long as there is time.”

Fortunately the three parables are fairly clear in their literal meaning; let us examine but some few points for their spiritual import.  In the parable of the lost sheep, notice how our Lord even phrases the question: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?”  The scribes and Pharisees may not have been shepherds, but they weren’t stupid.  Not one of them would have left the ninety-nine to find the one because that’s the best way of losing the ninety-nine and still not finding the one.  

But in this they did not understand the deeper contrast Christ Jesus was drawing between God and man.  Man has to leave one place to go to another.  God remains with the ninety-nine even as He goes off to find the one.  The life of grace is not lost in the ninety-nine while He seeks by grace to draw back the heart of the one.  And the only way man can have a glimpse at how much God wants a sinner’s heart is by realizing He is so crazy with love as to leave the sure thing in favor of the impossible risk.

The other side of this perspective is the father in the parable of the prodigal son.  Without ever leaving his house, his vision extends to his son who is “still a long way off,” which implies not only that he was looking for him but that also his sight sees him where he is.  Put the two parables together, and we see that only if the Good Shepherd goes in search of the stray can the squalid son lift his head from the pig sty to dream of happiness at home.  Only then does the Father see his wretched son afar off and in mercy run out to meet him.

The reaction of son and father are perfect.  The son resolves to confess, and in his shame to accept a dignity lower than is truly his.  He does confess, but the father does not let him even ask for what is beneath him, let alone allow him to ask and then deny it to him, and instead enriches his son with tokens of love and esteem: the finest robe, a ring, sandals to wear, and the fattened calf to feast upon.

When in our sins we can no longer hide from the Good Shepherd and so we confess our sins to the Father’s representative, we are never lowered beneath our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Rather, every mark of honor we threw away is returned to us in love.  We are again clothed with the finest robe of sanctifying grace and charity which we received at baptism.  The ring is the signet whose seal of the Holy Spirit we received at confirmation.  Sandals are mortification from worldliness by separating us from the earth and keeping us from getting dirty as we tread the paths of this life; they also prepare our feet to run with the truths of the Gospel.  “How beautiful upon the mountains,” says Isaiah, “are the feet of him who brings glad tidings.”  In such a state, the full Catholic life in all its majesty, we are ready to feast on the fattened calf, Christ Jesus Himself sacrificed for our sins and given to us as food in the Holy Eucharist.

This is the happiness of our eternal Father.  His food is our salvation.  His joy is our redemption from sin.  As St. John Chrysostom says, “He feasts on the fruit of His mercy by the sacrifice of His Son.”  This is the festivity of the household ministers, the harmony of the angels, the symphony of the saints.  And it is for us every time we go to confession.

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