Newly ordained Father James honored
By TARA CONNOLLY
Father Richard James enjoys a laugh at the dinner in honor of his ordination to the priesthood.
"You have the mission of bringing the world back to an appreciation of the presence of the one, true God," said Msgr. Andrew Baker to Father Richard James during the Newly Ordained Dinner at Rodeway Inn, Allentown.
Msgr. Baker, pastor of Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown, was the guest speaker at the June 18 celebration that honored the "spirit" of Father James, who was ordained June 2.
More than 200 faithful, clergy and Serrans attended the dinner that was sponsored by the diocesan Serra Clubs.
"We are not here to honor Father James; rather we are here to honor his spirit," began Msgr. Baker.
"We are here because a few weeks ago Rick James became Father Rick James, a priest of Jesus Christ. He is now permanently configured to Christ as a ministerial priest, a collaborator in the ministry of the bishop, and the people of God respond to his greeting at Mass with 'and with your spirit.'"
Msgr. Baker made reference to one of the most noticeable changes of the new translation of the Mass that went into effect last Advent and said the response expresses the power of the Holy Spirit that enables him to perform the sacred rites of the Mass.
"The Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands has so united Father James to Christ that we address him as priest. The term spirit might be described as referring not simply to the person as such, but to that superior part or faculty in him which comes directly under the influence of God's action," he said.
In his talk he also noted Father James' exceptional singing voice and dry wit, and described his priestly role as "exceptional."
"In a real way it is the spirit of the priest which shows us just how exceptional a priest really is and how he is a living sign of the presence of Christ, continuing Christ's own salvific word and action among us," said Msgr. Baker.
"But even with his exceptional personal qualities, Father James now possesses a supernatural exceptionalism as a priest that no Catholic should ever forget. It is 'sacerdotal exceptionalism.'"
Unfortunately, Msgr. Baker said, the U.S. Catholic Church is facing challenges to "sacerdotal exceptionalism," as some proclaim the priesthood as passé or base their perception of the priesthood on the falls of priests and bishops.
"Certainly priests are sinners. When we fall, especially if it's public, it is a grave scandal," said Msgr. Baker.
"However, I'm not calling for a return to a rather baroque and distorted view of the Catholic priesthood which doesn't think of priests as human beings.... We are exceptional in the sense that who a priest is and the service he provides in and for the church should cause us all to be amazed," he added.
He pointed to the loss of "sacerdotal exceptionalism" as a major contributor to the vocation crisis.
"Young people today still look for heroes. They still look for a challenge. They still want their life to mean something. If a priest is no longer somehow different and exceptional, why put your life on the line, why sacrifice wife and children, why start hearing confessions at 6:15 in the morning?" said Msgr. Baker.
"I don't think young men want to become priests because it is a life filled with comfort, honor and popularity. But I do think they will want to be priests if they know the priesthood to be exceptional."
Summarizing the exceptionalism of a priest as a man who incarnates the presence of God, Msgr. Baker said priests face many obstacles in a secular world that is characterized by the attempt to expel God from daily life.
"While society is withdrawing from the divine and banishing God to the interior, private world of worship in churches, while even some Christians have resigned themselves to a caricature of him, we also notice a curious result: society is dying from the consequent vacuum." he said.
"When man expels God from his midst, the world implodes due to the absence of its center."
Msgr. Baker then directed his comments to Father James and pointed out that he will enlighten the world while preaching the words of the One who became flesh.
"With the celebration of the sacraments, particularly penance and the holy Eucharist, you put men in direct contact with God, who forgives and even gives his flesh and blood for our food and drink," he said.
He also said that even when a priest wears his collar in public, he reminds other of the divine, and there are still men willing to put their life on the line to be instruments of God.
"We have a mission to bring back to the world a sense of the presence of God. In a real way our role in the new evangelization is to sharpen the world's sense of the supernatural and help the world see the outline of the City of God, which is the fullness of his presence toward which we are drawn and called," said Msgr. Baker.
"Not only are all Christians, but especially priests in their 'sacerdotal exceptionalism' are called to be leaven, salt and light in order to protect the world from forgetting the presence of God," he said.
Father James also made brief remarks. He extended gratitude to the diocesan Serra Clubs for hosting the dinner and to his brother priests that he has come to know and love.
"I benefit so much from the priests in this diocese. I benefit from their goodness, and they are something to aspire to," he said.
Father James also thanked Bishop John Barres for ordaining him and Bishop Emeritus Edward Cullen for his guidance, and offered gratitude to God for the gift of the priesthood.
"The great thing about the gift that I was given is that I get to unwrap it in the presence of people intended to receive it," he said.
"It's a gift that now goes out to the people of God. It is not a gift I jealously hold to myself," said Father James.
Father James is the son of Peter and Ann James, Elysburg and has two older brothers, Peter and Michael. He is a graduate of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia and a 2004 graduate of Southern Columbia High School, Elysburg.
His first pastoral assignment is assistant pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring.