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BOSTON -- On Aug. 29, the feast of the Passion of John the Baptist, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley marked the 50th anniversary of his priesthood the same way he began it, by celebrating Mass with a community of Poor Clare Sisters.
As the cardinal recounted in his weekly blog on Sept. 4, he had originally planned to visit the monastery of the Poor Clare Colettine Nuns in Cleveland, Ohio, where he celebrated his first Mass in 1970. In light of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the cardinal instead celebrated his anniversary Mass at the St. Clare Monastery in Jamaica Plain.
In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley offered reflections on the feast day and the Eucharist, as well as his ordination and his 50 years of priesthood.
He pointed out that John the Baptist is one of only three individuals whose birthdays are observed in the Church calendar. Besides the birth of Christ, the calendar includes "Mary's birthday because she was conceived without sin, but John the Baptist's birthday because he was born without sin. He was sanctified in the womb at the Visitation."
Cardinal O'Malley spoke about the close relationship between cousins at the time, which is also seen in some cultures and reflected in some languages today. Since Jesus and John were cousins, many renaissance paintings depict them playing together as children.
"The death of John the Baptist must have been a great cross for Jesus, a great source of pain and sorrow. It's a wonderful feast day to be ordained on, I think," he said.
Cardinal O'Malley was ordained as a priest on Aug. 29, 1970, in his parish in Lakewood, Ohio, by Bishop John McDowell, at the time the auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh. He was in a class of about a dozen men, three of whom later became bishops.
The ordinands wore red vestments for the feast, a reminder of their calling "to follow Jesus even to the point of shedding our blood," the cardinal said.
The cardinal said he did not want to "have a big hoopla" for his first Mass. So, rather than celebrate in his home parish, he opted for a Mass attended by a small group of family and fellow Capuchins at the Poor Clares' monastery in Cleveland, a place he had visited many times in his youth.
With his ordination coming in the midst of the Vietnam War, the cardinal said he celebrated his first Mass for peace and justice.
"I was very conscious of our vocation as Franciscans to promote peace. So, I wanted my first Mass to be a Mass for peace," he said.
He was assigned to work at the Spanish Catholic Center in Washington, D.C. During that time, he lived in a tenement building, where there was no furniture and "very seldom" heat or hot water, and there were "constant gunfights."
"As a young friar, it was such a joy, and I learned so much about what poverty is, sharing the insecurity and the poverty of the people that I was serving," he said.
On the 25th anniversary of his ordination, Cardinal O'Malley returned to the monastery of the Poor Clares in Cleveland to celebrate Mass with them again.
He said he had intended to do the same on his 50th anniversary, but he changed his plan in light of the pandemic.
Cardinal O'Malley said being able to celebrate his anniversary Mass with the Poor Clares was "very meaningful" for him.
"As a friar, I am very, very aware of how important your vocation is in our Franciscan family. We live in a world that is so active, particularly in the United States, and the contemplative aspect of our life is so important. You embody that for us in such a special way," he told them.
He concluded his homily by speaking about the gift of the Eucharist.
"For me, as a priest, the Eucharist has always been what it's all about," he said.
He particularly emphasized how the Eucharist is a gift from Christ to the Father, given on behalf of the faithful.
"In the Eucharist, Christ, every day, makes a gift of himself and invites us to be a part of that," Cardinal O'Malley said.
"Having begun doing this 50 years ago with the Poor Clares, it's such a joy to be with your community today, as once again, we celebrate the Eucharist with Eucharistic amazement, realizing how much our Lord loves us and his desire that we be part of his sacrifice," he told the sisters.