Father Michael Clawson’s First Mass Homily - Vigil of Pentecost
Father. Michael. Clawson. Before diving into this homily, I just wanted to address anyone here who wonders why Catholics call priests Father. The question might be put this way – “Don’t you know that Jesus says in Matthew 23:9 that we should call no man Father”?
And so here I think it is important to note just 4 instances in the New Testament, where we find Jesus, Saint Paul and Saint Stephen using the word “father” to refer to someone other than God the Father.
1) in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7 verses 9-13, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for not honoring their "fathers."
2) in Acts chapter 7, verse 2, Saint Stephen refers to “our father Abraham,”
3) in Romans chapter 9, verse 10, Saint Paul speaks of “our father Isaac.”
4) in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, verses 14-15, Saint Paul says “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel”
I would just like to spend the rest of my time reflecting on what most of us were blessed to witness early today at the Cathedral. The Holy Spirit came down upon Deacon Michael Clawson, and placed upon him an unchangeable spiritual character which can never be undone. And, at that moment, he became Father Michael Clawson.
And so now I say to you, Father Michael Clawson, most of the people that you will minister to as a priest, particularly the younger people, will not have a relationship with their earthly Father. Some of their earthly fathers may have been killed, some of the people have been abandoned by their earthly father, and so your experience of losing your own earthly Father will give you a way to connect with all the people you minister to for the rest of your priesthood who have no earthly Father in their life.
You will be able to walk alongside them, and become a father to so many who have lost their Father through death, or through drug use, or estrangement, and you can say “I lost my earthly father as well…and it is hard…but I have, through it all, found solace in keeping my focus on my Father in Heaven and Jesus and the Holy Spirit…and I encourage you to do the same.” As Saint Pope Paul VI put it, people no longer listen to teachers, but they do listen to witnesses. You will be an awesome witness to all, and in particular, again, to all those in your path who no longer have a relationship with their earthly father.
Our 1st reading this evening from the prophet Ezekiel sees the Prophet Ezekiel told by God to preach to dry bones, and as the prophet does, the bones slowly turn back into human persons. Father Michael Clawson, I believe that you are being sent to speak life back into the lives of all those who are metaphorically dead because of a lack of a fatherly presence in their life. And in so doing, you will find healing for your own soul as well. Henry Nouwen described every priest as “a wounded healer” – do not run from the death of your earthly father, pray Masses for him, ask daily for your earthly father’s prayers, but also use your experience to bring healing to others as well.
Monsignor Schaedel said this a few weeks ago at his Mass commemorating his 40th anniversary of ordination, and I have preached on this as well…if you had asked me, while I was still in the seminary, to write down the best 50 things that I hoped would happen in my priesthood, looking back on my life as a priest, the actual 50 best things of my priesthood are all better than anything on my list as a seminarian.
I think this lengthy quote from St. John Vianney also sums up what and who you have just become this morning: “O how great is the priest! If he realized what he is he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from Heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host. Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for the journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest—always the priest. And if the soul should happen to die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again the priest. After God, the priest is everything. Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is.”
May God bless you every day of your new life as a priest and as a father! Amen.