BLOOMFIELD, Connecticut, JUNE 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is the homily preached May 28 by Dominican Romanus Cessario, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the priestly ordination of Dominican Father Peter John Cameron. The Mass in honor of Father Cameron, the editor-in-chief of Magnficat, took place at St. Thomas Seminary.
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I. “Le Sacerdoce, c’est l’amour du cœur de Jésus.”[i]
“The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus.” Saint John Marie Vianney goes on to inform us: “Only in heaven shall we know what a priest is. If we were to know this on earth, we would die, not of grief, but of love.” In 1986, Father Cameron inscribed those words on his ordination card.[ii] For the priest himself, jubilees mark certain intervals between his consecration and his death. Twenty-five-year periods alert the priest that the moment of his definitive self-discovery approaches. As Aristotle observes, the end draws. For the rest of us, priestly jubilees afford an occasion for gratitude. Today, then, we thank God for Peter John Cameron: Catholic priest, spiritual father, and preacher of grace. We thank God for a son and brother, one who embodies the specific grace that Saint Dominic introduces into the world. Our Jubilarian, this praedicator gratiae, joins our thanksgiving, for he realizes that his share in Christ’s priesthood abides as both gift and mystery.
Why, in order to “know what a priest is,” does the holy Curé of Ars make us wait until heaven? After all, in heaven, priests find themselves out of work. There’s nothing left for them to do. In heaven, so the Church teaches, priests join those countless blessed ones who worship God “day and night” (see Rev 7: 14,15), even if their celestial praises reflect the dignity that Christ accords them on earth. All things considered then, why must a person await heaven to discover the proper identity of the Catholic priest?
The answer is simple. Heaven discloses in a vision the graces that a priest mediates on earth: the truth he preaches, the transformation he enables, the lives he changes. Heaven reveals what, behind signs, the sacraments conceal. Heaven rewards in the sweet hereafter those who, impelled by divine movements, love gracefully here below. Heaven promises a love that never ends. Heaven means seeing God “face to face” (see 1Cor 13:12). Only the Catholic priest readies us for this kind of heaven, this heaven which the loving vision of God creates. Why? Without the Catholic priest, no transformations divinize, no sacraments effect what they signify, no saving premotions reach their term, no human love survives the grave, and, as far as we know, no one sees God “face to face.” Small wonder Saint John Marie Vianney proclaims that only from the vantage point of heaven do the blessed discover what a priest is.
II. “…tamquam instrumentum animatum anima rationali, quod ita agit quod etiam agitur.”[iii]
The simplest definition of the priest comes from the Catholic tradition. When the ancient fathers sought to explain the workings of Christ’s human nature, they borrowed a philosophical term. Instrument. Organon.[iv] Christ’s humanity, so Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, remains an instrument of his divinity.[v] And because of the “ontological bond” that unites the priesthood to Christ, each priest becomes himself this saving instrumentality.[vi] To put it differently, Christ’s divine Person acts through the human person of the priest.[vii] As living instruments of the Lord Christ, priests mediate between God and the whole of creation. On his Silver Jubilee card, Father Cameron indicates the scope of this mediation: “Priesthood reaches to the depths of the whole existential truth of the created world, and above all the truth of man.”[viii] The words come from Blessed Pope John Paul II.
The Catholic priest mediates “the truth of man.” Are we surprised that the playwright Pope captures the imagination of the playwright Dominican? I should think not. Because of a certain connatural instinct for discovering the dramatic in human affairs, Peter John Cameron has brought to his priestly ministry the playwright’s talent for resolution. As more than a quarter of a million monthly readers of Magnificat bear witness, Father Cameron helps people resolve into the wisdom of God the ambiguities and contradictions that human living ordinarily entails. What is more important, Father Peter daily persuades people worldwide to discover in Christ their “righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (1Cor 1:30). In short, this priest, our Jubilarian, helps people to live in the truth, the truth about themselves and the truth about God’s love.
“It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). The divine word about marriage also envisages the Catholic priest, whom the Church describes as a Bridegroom. As a groom, the priest must occupy himself with cherishing. The members of the Church require the unique friendship that the priest extends–his pastoral charity, his presence. For in the Christian life, no one self-begets. Just as husband and wife beget children, so Mother Church through the ministry of priests gives birth to Christians. This generation begins with the preaching of the gospel. In his book Why Preach, Father Cameron says that “preaching is parental,” and he cites Saint Paul to support his choice of words: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1Cor 4:15).[ix] We need priests for the same reason we need human fathers: To exist and to flourish. We need spiritual fathers to proclaim “the truth of man.” We need them to administer the sacraments of salvation. In short, we need priests to reach heaven.
III. “O Jésus! que ton petit oiseau est heureux d’être faible et petit, que deviendrait-il s’il était grand?”[x]
Because the priesthood remains gift and mystery, no creature can steal it away.[xi] Instead, “so that no human being might boast” (1Cor 1:29), God chooses the men he wants to become priests. In the case of Peter John Cameron, this divine choice emerged early in his life. We find ourselves today at Hartford’s Saint Thomas Seminary, where our Jubilarian passed the better part of his high school years.
Early on, Peter Cameron discovered that priestly formation entails a self-emptying. He continues to follow Saint Paul’s encouragement contained in today’s first reading, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord” (1Cor 1:31). As a result, our Peter has been given the grace to penetrate the secret of the saints: “O Jesus, Your little bird is happy to be weak and little. What would become of it if it were big?”[xii]
Like a bird that flies toward the sun, the faithful priest fixes his gaze on the “Divine Sun,” and when this predestined priest remains recollected in the Lord, he soars like an eagle.[xiii] Would you like to know the secret of a happy priesthood? Read our Jubilarian’s book on Mary, Living Our Lady’s Graces.[xiv] Each page contains the assurances that priests require to keep their gaze fixed peacefully on Jesus. In the blessed Virgin Mary, priests discover what makes them soar, what keeps them steadfast, what leaves them confident: “Peter looked intently at [the man crippled from birth], as did John, and said, “Look at us” (Ac 3:4).
IV. “adtingit enim a fine usque ad finem fortiter et disponit omnia suaviter” (Wis 8:1).
I first met Peter Cameron in Switzerland on the seventh of November 1978, the feast of all Dominican saints. That was thirty-three years ago. Another species of jubilee. A jubilee of redemption. We talked about the Dominicans, but also about Europe, especially France. Peter and his college chum, Martha Reynolds, were about to hitchhike to the Riviera. I told them about the coastal city of Saint-Raphaël. I urged them to walk along the Corniche d’Or. I wanted them to experience this singular road that runs above the deep-blue waters of the Mediterranean and through the reddish porphyry cliffs that adorn the Côte d’Azur. And to complete my tourist guiding, I mentioned the region’s culinary specialties. Upon their return, the cash-strapped students, who–so I later discovered–had to split one serving of soupe de poissons, brought me back a souvenir, a small piece of reddish porphyry rock from the Corniche d’Or. I still keep it on my bookshelf to remind me that God orders all things forcefully and still sweetly (see Wis 8:1).
After graduation in 1980 from Providence College, Peter entered the Dominican novitiate, and in 1981 he made his first profession at Dover, Massachusetts. Since I had returned from Fribourg to the House of Studies, our discussions that had begun on that feast day of all Dominican saints continued during the years that Brother Peter John spent as a seminarian in Washington. That is, until the thirtieth of May 1986, when the day arrived for Peter’s ordination in Providence. Like priests, teachers serve as instruments. Once their mediation achieves its purpose, they find themselves out of a job. A student becomes a teacher, just as a son becomes a father.
Then suddenly, one June afternoon in 1998, a few years after my arrival at the Brighton seminary, Peter asked me to meet someone visiting from Europe. Soon on a street corner in Boston’s North End, I found myself for the first time entre les deux Pierre. That is, in the company of Father Peter John Cameron and Monsieur Pierre-Marie Dumont, the French publisher of Magnificat. This encounter awakened in me a profound sense of divine providence, “the providence of God,” as Sister Daniel Marie liked to say. For from our first meeting in Fribourg, I had shared with Peter the spiritual lessons taught me by Thomas Dominic Rover, Dominican priest and man of the theater. It was Father Rover who introduced me to Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, a seventeenth-century French priest and Dominican tertiary, and to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a nineteenth-century French girl and Carmelite nun. From them, I have learned the secret of Ad Jesum per Mariam. To Jesus, through Mary! So I came away from that Boston street corner with the conviction that these two holy ones from France somehow had directed Magnificat toward another Dominican priest and man of the theater. Louis-Marie. Thérèse. They must want Father Cameron, I reasoned, to accomplish his Dominican vocation, contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere. To share with others the fruits of contemplation.
V. “Thank you for sending me a copy of your beautiful homily.”[xv]
On 22 June 1986, Mrs. Cameron, Father Peter’s mother, Dee, wrote to thank me for participating in her son’s ordination festivities. Today I share her gratitude for his Silver Jubilee. And I know that Dee and I will rejoice exceedingly at the next solemn interval in Father Peter John’s priesthood, his Golden Jubilee, from whatever vantage point God ordains that we observe it.
NOTES[i]. Saint John Marie Vianney, “Le Sacerdoce, c’est l’amour du cœur de Jésus…” in Le curé d’Ars. Sa pensée – Son cœur, ed. l’Abbé Bernard Nodet (Le-Puy: Xavier Mappus, 1966), p. 98. [ii]. After 1986, the expression was quoted both in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1589, and by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2009 “Letter Proclaiming a Year for Priests on the 150th Anniversary of the ‘Dies Natalis’ of the Curé of Ars.” [iii]. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae III, q. 7, art. 1, ad 3. [iv]. See Summa theologiae III, q. 2, art. 7, ad 4, where the argument refers to Saint John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa III, 15 (PG 94, 1060). [v]. See Summa theologiae III, q. 7, art. 1, ad 3. [vi]. Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis, no. 12; also see Summa theologiae III, q. 78, art. 4. [vii]. Pastores dabo vobis, no. 20, speaks about the “elements connected with the priest’s ‘consecration,’ which configures him to Christ the head and shepherd of the Church, with the ‘mission’ or ministry peculiar to the priest; which equips and obliges him to be a ‘living instrument of Christ the eternal priest’ and to act ‘in the name and in the person of Christ himself’ and with his entire ‘life,’ called to manifest and witness in a fundamental way the ‘radicalism of the Gospel.’” [viii]. Karol Wojytla, Pope John Paul II, Sign of Contradiction (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979), p. 131. [ix]. Peter John Cameron, O.P., Why Preach. Encountering Christ in God’s Word (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), chap. 6, pp. 149 & 145. [x]. Thérèse de Lisieux, “Lettre a Soeur Marie du Sacré Coeur,” Manuscript B 4r°-5v° in Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1992), p. 230. [xi]. Likewise, no human authority can eradicate what God indelibly creates in a priest, that is, a man ordained validly. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1583. [xii]. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, trans. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications. 1976), p. 199. [xiii]. Story of a Soul, p. 198: “In spite of my extreme littleness I still dare to gaze upon the Divine Sun, the Sun of Love, and my heart feels within it all the aspirations of an Eagle.” [xiv]. Peter John Cameron, O.P., Mysteries of the Virgin Mary. Living Our Lady’s Graces (Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books, 2010). [xv]. Mrs. Dolores Cameron, Note to author, 22 June 1986.