Bryan Joseph Kerns, O.S.A., was ordained to priesthood through the laying on of hands and invocation of the Holy Spirit by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia on Friday, June 15, 2018 at Saint Thomas of Villanova Church, 800 East Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA
Fr. Bryan's First Homily
Thank you all for being here. I am deeply grateful for and fortified by the outpouring of joy that this weekend has brought, though I confess that I am not at all sure why this has all played out as it did. Which is to say that I’m nowhere near clear on why the Lord has chosen me for the gift of priesthood and religious life, except to say that this has been a road on which I’ve been traveling for a long time now and it has always felt right and true.
I hope some day to ask him. But there’s a lot of work to be done before that.
If one were to map the course of my life, one would see some interesting turns. It would be impossible to map a route to where I am today. Impossible.
But there was a seed planted somewhere in the mystery of eternity. And I hope my ministry will bear much fruit, ripened and beautiful. Though experience tells me already that with the ripe fruit I will have to accept the rotten fruit. With the joys, I’ll have to accept the sorrows. With the rewards, I’ll have to accept the failures.
For as Saint Paul tells us, one day I’ll have to face the judgment seat of Christ and answer for what I did here at home in the body, walking by faith, trying to trust in what I take to be the Lord’s will for my life.
And I think that is the opportunity for all of us. To, like the prophet Ezekiel tells us the Lord said to him, be the tender shoot, planted to grow and bear fruit.
To be place of shade and refuge; to become an example of the Lord’s glory in our own lives.
I took an unusual approach to the preparation for this mass in asking Maeve and Juan Pablo to proclaim God’s word to us today. But I did that for a particular reason.
I saw the readings for this Sunday and wanted to remind us all of the seeds we have among us. The seeds that the Lord plants; the seeds that we are responsible in ways large and small for bringing to fruition; the seeds that, as they grow and develop, can give us a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God – what a large idea. What are we here on earth to make of that?
The early church interpreted the kingdom of God in three ways. And I’d like to offer a word about each of those interpretations, about the ways in which we glimpse the kingdom of God, the seeds becoming fruit.
The kingdom of God is a person. That person is Jesus Christ.
A young girl and her mother were in Washington D.C., and they passed by the Catholic Charities office there several times. Outside there’s a statue of a person laying on a bench in a cloak. Over the several times they passed by, that little girl observed aspects of the statue. And by the last time they were passing by, she was convinced it was an image of Jesus.
She noticed the wounds on the feet. She had other evidence, too. She convinced her mother. They want back to the statue, and surely it was that, a statue of a homeless Jesus.
That there was a glimpse of the kingdom of God, an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, an encounter with the Lord. The girl knew she was seeing Christ, and in some way became Christ for her mother.
And this gives way to the second way of glimpsing the kingdom of God.
For the kingdom of God is in the heart, if we allow God to reign within.
We hear in this the echoes of Ezekiel and the words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. The responsibility of each of us to aid each other in the cultivation of our own seeds—as seeds ourselves planted by God, growing in faith and virtue; and also the seeds placed before us in ways beyond our comprehension.
The chance meetings, the development of friendships, the odd turns that life will take, the moments when we open ourselves to the workings of God’s providence by recognizing that each moment is a gift from God that opens us to the whole future and brings with it the whole past.
God has planted within us the seeds. We need only to help each other get to harvest. And then we can glimpse the kingdom of God within our hearts, and within the hearts of one another.
Finally, the kingdom of God is the Church. The Church itself, Augustine tells us, is the Body of Christ with the Lord its Head.
We are Christ’s Body, and what we offer here in the bread and wine we receive back in the Eucharist. And in this we glimpse the kingdom of God, the foretaste of what is to come.
The kingdom of God dwells within us where we allow it, where we open ourselves to what God’s Providence guides us toward – sometimes gently, sometimes not. Towards encounter with Christ. Towards encounter with the God who dwells within us as we grow in virtue. Towards the possibility that we the Church are the Body of Christ, the kingdom of God as an encounter, not a place.
But it requires of us a surrender. Something I’m learning with fits and starts. A surrender to all that God has planned for us.
For as Augustine tells us, “God knows what is fitting at each moment of history; He knows what is to be given, added, taken away, effaced, increased, diminished, He who is at once the Creator and unchanging Moderator of all changing things, until the splendor of the centuries, diversely and harmoniously disposed, achieves its perfection, like the magnificent concert of some ineffable artist and until those who have served Him well during this time of faith, pass to the eternal contemplation of God.”
We have glimpses of the kingdom of God before us. We might see it in statues of Christ, or interactions with our children. We can cultivate its seeds within ourselves as we grow in virtue. And we glimpse it in the very presence of the Body of Christ here in this Eucharist and in Christ’s Church.
We need only open ourselves to the possibility, to the great act of surrender.
A personal word as I wrap up. Those of you who were present in Andover when I gave my first homily as a deacon will remember these words. I find their sentiments echoing through me all the more today.
In a homily given on the anniversary of his ordination, Saint Augustine offered some reflections on his own ministry with a profound acknowledgement of both the pitfalls of the authority that comes with being ordained and an earnest desire for the gifts of humility that ministry can bring. As I conclude, I ask for your prayers and I offer Augustine’s words as hopes for my own ministry, with some adaptations.
“Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a priest, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation. Finally, as if in the open sea, I am being tossed about by the stormy activity involved in that one; but as I recall by whose blood I have been redeemed, I enter a safe harbor in the tranquil recollection of this one; and thus while toiling away at my own proper office, I take my rest in the marvelous benefit conferred on all of us in common.
So I hope the fact that I have been brought together with you gives me more pleasure than my having been placed at your head…
Make my ministry fruitful. . . . The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be given your backing, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.
You see, if we all pray tirelessly, I for you and you for me, with the perfect love of charity, we shall all happily attain, with the Lord’s help, to eternal bliss. May he be graciously pleased to grant us this, who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.
I stand here with you as a Christian, and for you I am a priest. I hope at some distant moment in God’s eternity to know why. But until then I can only promise I will do my best to walk by faith and surrender to what it is that God has planned for me.