We welcome Fr. Michael Rocha to the Catholic priesthood, and to our parish, for his First Mass. Our new priest grew up in Modesto and began serving Mass as a boy in St. Joseph’s parish, in which I served for 12 years. Now our former altar boy will offer the Supreme Sacrifice as a man, in persona Christi capitis. He has become a father, and will, God willing, become more fatherly as he learns to serve the Church qua sacerdos. We welcome Fr. Michael’s family as well: his mother Emilia and his twin sister Michelle, along with all the aunts and uncles and cousins. Fr. Michael’s father returned to God a few years ago, and so we remember the soul of Frank Rocha as his son offers the Holy Sacrifice at our altar. To our guest priests and seminarians, in particular Fr. Patrick Summerhays, archdiocesan vocations director, and Fr. Chrysostom Baer, prior of St. Michael’s Norbertine Abbey, and other guests. Many thanks to our festival choir as well, led by Mary Ann Carr-Wilson, and to the Knights of Columbus for providing the barbecue after Mass.
Where are we going?
Our Lord’s words in the Gospel contain a little pun. Expedit vobis ut vadam…. “It is better for you that I go,” but literally “my going out expedites you,” from ex (out) and pedes (foot). So, literally, he says “my departure moves your feet out.” We’re all getting out of town together! But … where are we going? Our Lord gently chides the apostles for not asking this basic question: “None of you have asked me where are you going?” The fundamental question in life, it seems to me, is “Where am I going?” Certainly, I’m on the road to somewhere. If you feel a bit lost at times, ask yourself: Where have I come from, and where am I going? The fathers of the Church answered this question in terms of exitus and redditus: We came from God, and we are returning to God. The priest is ordained precisely to remind every living soul of this first principle and final end. In fact, he himself, following Christ himself, leaves home in search of souls, and then returns “home” (to God), dragging his net full of fish. “You will be fishers of men,” Jesus told Peter.
The Smell of the Sheep
Fr. Michael will report for his first assignment in Epiphany Parish, about 25 minutes from here. He will take on the menial duties of a parish priest, entering into the mundanities of every soul that comes through the doors of his church. A priest certainly takes on the “smell of the sheep,” but sheep sometimes do not smell so good. Far more importantly than simply smelling like the sheep, the priest offers sweet-smelling sacrifices to God on their behalf. God wants to sweeten the smell of the sheep through his priests. The priest encounters the people where they are at, but in faithfully bringing them the Word of God, the Sacraments of Christ, and the tender Mercy of our Father, the priest brings the sheep beyond this world’s paltry pastures into the shining fields of eternal joy. Meet the people where they are at, O priest, but do not leave them there! Fr. Michael has been ordained, that is, fundamentally ordered and oriented, toward Christ: both to be Christ and to bring Christ. And it is the priest’s intense interior life--his fidelity to prayer--that enables him to deliver Christ’s word, sacraments, and charity. To remind himself of this, he puts on the Roman collar during the long hours he will work every day, and he puts on priestly vestments during his liturgical service. May God give our new priest the grace of faithful perseverance until he himself enters the splendor of eternal life!
She covered him with perfect obedience
It is to be noted that Fr. Michael is 100% Portuguese. It was to his people that the Mother of God appeared 102 years ago in what many popes have said is her most decisive apparition. Her simple request was that we make good confessions, receive Holy Communion devoutly, and pray the rosary faithfully, because nothing can touch a man of prayer. We pray today that Fr. Michael remain a man of prayer, a man of the Eucharist, close to the Mother of God. She protects the sacred priesthood of all who call upon her day and night.
Finally, I want to relate a strange phenomenon at the ordination ritual yesterday. Fr. Michael put his hands into the Archbishop’s hands to promise obedience, which is the most costly of all the promises any of us make to God. The new priest put his hands into the hands of the Archbishop, who then asked him: “Do you promise obedience to me and to my successors?” There was a moment of silence in the Cathedral as we all wondered: will Michael submit himself in all things to the will of God, through his superiors? Will he submit himself to his pastor, to his bishop, and to the Church's teachings in everything? “God came to earth to obey,” wrote St. Jose Maria Escriva, “and to obey men.” Just then, in the silence, a bell began to ring. It was eleven o’clock, and the cathedral bells began to ring out the Ave Maria before striking the hour. As we all listened to Our Lady’s theme on the bells, the young priest answered “Yes,” echoing Mary’s yes to the angel. Fiat. “Let it be done to me according to thy will.” As the new priest made this leap of faith, I could see the Mother of Christ covering her priest’s imperfect obedience with her perfect obedience. Let it be done to you, Fr. Michael, as God has said. May you go with God, and may you lead us to Him by your holiness of life.