POWAY — Cardinal-designate Robert McElroy highlighted God’s love as the Good Shepherd as he ordained two men to the priesthood at St. Gabriel Church on June 24.
The two — Brad Easterbrooks, 37, and Guillermo “Memo” Hernandez, 30 — were joined by their families, friends, dozens of priests and members of the Catholic community who nearly filled the ornate church.
Before beginning his homily, Cardinal-designate McElroy pointed out that Archbishop Timothy Broglio, of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, was present, along with Auxiliary Bishops John Dolan and Ramón Bejarano.
“This is a unique moment in the history of our diocese,” the cardinal-designate said.
“Solomon seemed to teach us that the baby cannot be divided in two. But we have found a way,” he said as many chuckled.
He explained that Easterbrooks was serving in the Navy when he entered the seminary. Under a joint agreement, the diocese and the archdiocese shared in his formation and will share in his life as a priest.
He will first serve in the diocese, then serve the military with the archdiocese, and then return to the diocese.
“I welcome half of you Brad,” the cardinal-designate joked. “The archbishop will have to welcome the other half. But I welcome you entirely Memo, because you’re all ours!”
He noted the distinct paths that the two men took to say “yes” to the priesthood, then began his homily.
The first reading at the ordination was of the parable of the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11-16), who cares for his sheep, and seeks out and brings back to the flock the one that has strayed.
“No image in the Gospel is more captivating than that of the Good Shepherd,” the cardinal-designate said. “So demanding his surrender of self for the good of God’s people; so human in his expression of a care which is permanent, nurturing, and protective; and so individual is his expression of divine love that is the care of our Father.”
He shared three dimensions of the love of the shepherd as both a challenge “and an untold consolation to you as you embrace the call which the Lord has given you,” he told the men.
The first dimension of the life of a shepherd is that it’s filled with countless unimaginable graces and joys, he said.
“Every new priest is ordained with some expectations about the how the priesthood will unfold in his life, how his strengths and talents may contribute to the service of God’s church, what the trajectory of his life and mission will likely take. But priesthood itself is rooted in a surrender to God, to the God who constantly amazes and who unveils wonders which are beyond all our preconceptions,” he continued.
“In the moments in which you will be instruments of God’s transforming grace, and in the far more frequent moments in which you will stand as mere witnesses to divine grace, unfolding before you, in the profound faith of the men and women whom you will encounter and who will open their souls to you in confession or counseling, revealing the heroism and nobility of the human spirit, seeking to live rightly against overwhelming challenges.
“In all of these and more, your life will be enriched by a joy rooted in the vocation of the priesthood and the love of the Good Shepherd.”
The second dimension of the identity of the Good Shepherd that he pointed is the call to witness to the sufferings of Christ.
“Our entire priesthood in preaching and celebrating the sacraments … must have an unswerving focus on Jesus suffering for us and the glory of the Resurrection to which it points.”
He said the priesthood is a life filled with immense joys, but also has great moments of hardship.
“A true shepherd can only understand the pain of his people if he shares that there will be moments when the call to go out and search for the lost sheep requires immense sacrifices and dedication.
“And there will be moments in your lives that you realize that you, too, are lost and need God’s assistance in the life of the church.”
The third dimension of the Good Shepherd is profoundly one of hope“It is Christian hope that allows you to shepherd the people of God with confidence and care. It is Christian hope that leads you to understand that in your priesthood, even at those moments when God may seem distant, he is profoundly with you. And it is Christian hope that allows you to go out to the world seeking the one lost sheep.”
The cardinal-designate told the men that now, as they take up the priesthood, they were becoming instruments of God.
“May the Lord, who is our true Good Shepherd, be your model, your guide and your constant grace.”
This summer, Father Easterbrooks will serve at Holy Trinity Parish in El Cajon and Father Hernandez at St. Jude Shrine of the West in San Diego. Both will return to Rome to finish their studies in the fall.