The Seven Pillars of the Priesthood

April 4, 2018
By Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This is the full text of Bishop DiMarzio’s Chrism Mass homily delivered on March 27, 2018 at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights.

We have often heard that from the mouths of babes comes deep wisdom. Jesus, Himself, showed us this when He placed some children in the midst of His Apostles. He told His disciples that unless they become like little children they will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 19: 13-14). The wisdom of children perhaps can guide us as we understand better the role of the sacramental ministry in the Church and its relationship to the laity who are its beneficiaries.

Once before I have mentioned that one of the joys of being a bishop, and there are not too many, is to visit our Catholic schools and academies and have a chance to speak with our children. The wisdom which they annunciate sometimes is incredible. I mentioned before one exchange I had with one fourth-grade boy who asked me if I ever gave the priests a “Pep Talk.” Yes, the Chrism Mass is the time to give the priests, deacons, religious and laity a pep talk. We all need confirmation in our ministry, as we need to understand the work we are about each day. Consider this tonight as your annual pep talk, and I hope that I am a good coach.

What the little fourth grader truly was asking me is: Do you care for your priests? Are you willing to assist them and even become their coach when they need you? I have tried my best to be close to the priests and deacons of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, especially to those who come with their own issues and problems. My training as a social worker has given me the understanding that a willing ear and supportive help is the best way to deal with the human problems which we all face in our lives.

Tonight, I take my cue from our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who over the years of his Pontificate has annunciated what we might call the “Seven Pillars” on which the priesthood depends if it will faithfully and fruitfully serve God’s people.

Spiritual Life

The first pillar that the Holy Father has annunciated is, “The strength of a priest depends on his relationship with Christ.” Our vocation to the priesthood, first of all, is a vocation to sanctity. This means that it depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, we can minister. But ministry is not our first call. Ministry is what we do when we are related to Jesus Christ through prayer, making our life dependent upon our relationship to Him. Prayer is never easy. Prayer takes time. Prayer does not occur in our leisure. Prayer must be something we work at.

In speaking to the priests of Rome at the beginning of last Lent, Pope Francis said, “At night, how does your day end? With God or with television?” How true this is for us. One saint always said that we must always give our first thought of the morning and our last thought of the day to God. When we wake up and when we go to sleep. Not that television in itself is a distraction, but we need to put the TVs, Facebook and Internet in its proper perspective. Each may be instruments in which we learn what is happening in the world to communicate to others; however, these devices are not an end to themselves. God is our goal in our relationship to Jesus Christ. It is how we must find the strength for our ministry.

Engagement with the People of God

The second pillar annunciated by Pope Francis is that “the priest must be close to the people he serves.” In his famous Chrism Mass homily, he said how priests must be “Shepherds living with the ‘smell of the sheep.’” Yes, we need to be close to our people. We need to feel and understand first hand the needs of our people. We need to know them as best as we can. We cannot minister properly to our people if we do so only from behind the altar in Church or only behind the desk in the rectory. We need to reach out so that our people will help us to reach out to others.

One other question I often hear from children during my visits to our Catholic schools is, “Do you have a pet?” This seems to be a question that intrigues children. In effect, they are saying, “Do you care for something else?” “Are you able to take care of a pet?” Pope Francis once said that in visiting a parish priest, he was amazed because not only did the priest know the names of the people in his parish, he also knew the names of their pets. For me, it is a challenge to know each of you by name and this is not easy, especially as the years go by. Our relationship with one another truly does depend on our caring for one another beyond the ordinary, niceties and treating each other with a pastoral charity which must be characteristic of our ministry.

Authority Through Service

A priest’s authority must be linked to service, especially for the care and protection of the poorest, the weakest, the least important and most easily forgotten among us.

When I was privileged to greet Pope Francis as he came off the plane at JFK during his Apostolic visit in 2015, I said to him in Italian, “Welcome to the periphery of New York” and I meant it. We are the periphery. We are not Manhattan. We are the periphery, where more than half of the population of the City of New York lives. We are the periphery where most of the poor lives. We are the periphery where the homeless may come from Brooklyn and Queens but seem to gravitate towards Manhattan to live on the streets. We are the periphery where undocumented immigrants make up a large portion of our population, including the DACA youth and those with Temporary Protected Status – or TPS – recipients who now find themselves without a future here.

We are the periphery of New York where new internal migrants – Millennials, Hipsters, Yuppies – live and find themselves somewhat adrift in their new surroundings. Yes, we have a great opportunity in these peripheral boroughs of New York to reach out and make sure that everyone feels welcome in the Church in Brooklyn and Queens.

Ministers of Mercy

When he declared the Year of Mercy, the fourth pillar of the Pope’s structural support for the priesthood became clear. The priest must be a minister of mercy, as the Holy Father has emphasized over and over again. His own motto, “Chosen Through the Eyes of Mercy,” the call of Matthew from the customs desk, truly must be how we see ourselves. None of us are worthy of this sublime vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or episcopacy. We are all sinners, chosen by God and redeemed.

Therefore, we too must show the ministry of reconciliation to those to whom we minister. We must never tire of administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yesterday on Reconciliation Monday perhaps you were tired after hearing confessions. We know that it does not happen often that we hear so many confessions at one time. The more confessions that we hear, the more we should be willing to reach out in the ministry of reconciliation for those most in need.

A Simple Life

The Holy Father, in his fifth pillar, tells us that “The priest is called to simplicity of life.” He himself has witnessed to this by living in the Santa Marta residence and not in the Papal Palace, by insisting that he, himself, drive in a small Fiat and not in a large limousine. Just a few weeks ago some friends who had not seen me in a long time saw me pull up in a Chevy SUV, which I now drive simply to protect me from the potholes here in New York, and they said, “Hey, Pope Francis drives a smaller car.” I had nothing to say except to speak of my own comfort from the potholes and the rough roads. We are called to simplicity of life. Diocesan priests are not called to the vow of poverty as those in consecrated life. And yet, how we use the resources which are given to us is so important. How we give to others from what we have is so important. Priests, similar to those in consecrated life, are called to minister properly material things. The more we disdain the material things of life, however, the better chance we have to prize the spiritual things that must be part of our life.


Our Holy Father has made another important point, when he gives to us the sixth pillar of priesthood and he tells us that “the priest must be a model of integrity.” Integrity included first of all a moral integrity. As you know, we are in the concluding phase of our Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program (IRCP) for those abused by the clergy of our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens. For me, this has been an overwhelming experience to find double the amount of abuse victims who already reported the abuse to the diocese. To read each petition for compensation, and to try to become a minister of reconciliation for these people so disaffected from the Church because of the abuse they sustained at the hands of our clergy is no easy task.

To continue responding and aiding in the healing of those wounded by sexual abuse, I ask you to join me in concelebrating our Mass of Hope and Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse on Wednesday, April 25, at 7 p.m., at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Jamaica. It is my hope that you all can join us as we gather for this necessary endeavor. Our presence at this Mass will continue to be a significant demonstration of unity with all those who are suffering and seeking healing.

In addition, so as to allow the whole presbyterate to participate in their work of reconciliation and reparation, I am asking you to participate in a time of prayer for the sanctification of priests on the Feast of the Sacred Heart on Friday, June 8, at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston. We will pray for the victims of clergy sex abuse and ask God’s mercy on the perpetrators. Details of the afternoon will be sent to you in the near future. Personal integrity and moral integrity are essential to the clergy. How important these qualities are for the growth of the Church in the New Evangelization.

As the same time, we must have a professional integrity. This means that we must take our responsibility as priests, deacons and bishops as the means for our own sanctification. If we do not perform well the responsibilities given to us, if we do not imitate Christ, who, as the Scriptures tells us, “Did all things well,” we lack professional integrity. We too must do all things well. We must recognize that any hint of clericalism can detract from our mission as evangelizers and reconcilers. We cannot cling to clerical privilege and serve our people well. Our Holy Father has put it well when he tells us, “If the priest is exempt from the ordinary accountability that others have, priests can become wolves and not shepherds.”

Minister of Blessing and Anointing

And finally, the seventh pillar that the Holy Father has annunciated for our priestly ministry is that “the priest is to be a source of blessing for his people.” Last year at the Chrism Mass, I spoke about the Holy Father’s penchant for using the word “anointing.” In the homily at his first Chrism Mass as Pope, the Holy Father said, “A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed.” Today, we come to celebrate this Mass of Chrism, the blessing of the oils with which our people in Brooklyn and Queens will be anointed. It is not simply the oil itself with which we anoint our people, however, it is with the sacrifice of our own lives. We anoint the people with our own sweat and blood. We anoint them with our own effort to seek holiness, so that we can support them in their quest for holiness. At that Chrism Mass, Pope Francis said, “The priest is anointed with the oil of gladness also as to anoint others with the oil of gladness.”

How true this is that we are the anointers with fragrant oil not only of chrism and the oil of this sick, and that of catechumens, but also with the oil that comes from the words we speak, our sermons. How important it is that we prepare our sermons. How important it is that our people are happy when they leave the Church; that they are glad that they have been anointed with the oil of gladness which makes them more intent on being good Catholics. We must be happy if we are to make people happy.

Another question frequently asked of me by the children in our Catholic schools and academies is, “Are you happy being a bishop (or in effect a priest)?” For children, they see happiness as the goal of life. They are innocent, they have not been ruined yet by the culture in which we live, which makes pleasure, and not happiness, the goal of one’s existence. Yes, we must be a source of joy for our people. I wish to assure you that I am happy to be your bishop and to serve you is truly an honor and a privilege for me.

Tonight, you, the dear laity of the Diocese of Brooklyn come here as witnesses to the repetition of the promises once made by your priests and deacons. Tonight, they solemnly pledge to take up again the mantle of salvation of which they had been covered through their own anointing. The mantle that Elijah the Prophet dropped on the ground for his disciple Elisha to continue his ministry. We are anointed by Christ, Himself. It is He who calls us to follow Him and to be faithful ministers. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, once said, “Dear lay people, be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart.”

Yes, my dear people, you will get the leaders you want if you support your priests. Your support is critical. Yes, sometimes you criticize your priests. I get many letters from lay people criticizing our priests. Most of the complaint letters are about the lack of performance or a poor performance by a priest, sometimes well deserved and sometimes through misunderstanding. Truly, when you love your priests they will be better priests. When you support your priests, they will come through to and for you. Pope Francis, in his many dialogues, has said, “May our people sense that we are the Lord’s disciples; and may they receive through our words and deeds the oils of gladness which Jesus, the Anointed One, came to bring us,” as we heard in our first reading and Gospel tonight.

Tonight, as we bless these oils, as they are taken from this Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph to each parish in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, we make our prayer that those who carry these oils, that those who will anoint and those who will be anointed with them will all understand the mission of the Church in the world today. The mission is to bring the Good News and to anoint the world with the Oil of Gladness, so that we might recognize the love that God the Father had for us in sending to us Jesus as His Savior, as we experience the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.

I personally thank you priests, deacons, religious and laity for your support of the work of the Church in Brooklyn and Queens. I add to my appreciation my prayers and pledge to continue to serve you as best as I can.