‘He must increase, I must decrease’

Bishop ordains Father Daniel Sessions

On June 24, Bishop Raica ordained Deacon Daniel Sessions to the sacred order of priesthood at the Cathedral of St. Paul. The newly ordained Father Sessions will begin his priestly ministry on July 5 as Parochial Vicar of Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Huntsville. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, especially Deacon Daniel, today is a day of great joy for the Diocese of Birmingham! The ordination to the priesthood of Deacon Daniel Sessions offers tremendous hope for the mission of Christ in central and northern Alabama. I am truly honored to be part of this celebration along with my brother priests, deacons, women and men religious, lay faithful, and seminarians of the Diocese of Birmingham. Above all, I welcome Bishop Baker, our emeritus bishop of Birmingham and Abbot Marcus from the Benedictine Abbey. Thank you for your presence with us today.

In a particular way, I also warmly welcome Deacon Daniel’s parents, along with family members, friends, and classmates who are present today. A further welcome to Father Edward Linton, the director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education, and a faculty member officially representing the rector, faculty ,and staff of the Pontifical North American College.

Today, we come with hearts overflowing with affection and love for Deacon Daniel, for the priesthood, and the Church of Birmingham. Indeed, we gather in joyful celebration as we witness the ordination of our dear brother Daniel to the sacred priesthood on this feast day of the birth of St. John the Baptist. Our daylight has reached its peak in our hemisphere and is now diminishing toward the winter solstice and the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, the true light shining in the darkness. In addition, and related to this astronomical phenomenon, I invite you to reflect with me upon some related, yet profound, words of St. John the Baptist: "He must increase, I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30) These words encapsulate the essence of the priestly vocation, for the priesthood is a call to selfless service, a call to make Christ known and loved in our world through the weak and broken instrument of our humanity.

St. John the Baptist understood the purpose of his own mission. He recognized that he was the precursor, the one sent to “prepare the way for the Lord.” He acknowledged that his mission was not about himself, but about the One Who was to come after him, the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ. Even at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel. he urges Andrew and John, who came to see him and hear him speak, to come not to him, but to go and “Behold the Lamb of God” Who was nearby. He summoned them to look to Another that he would point out. Yes, this rather blustery personality who set some people on edge, recognized that his role was to decrease so that Christ, the Messiah and Lord, could increase. He embraced this calling with joy and zeal, knowing that the fulfillment of his mission would come through surrendering himself entirely and totally to the will of God and to Jesus His Savior.

My dear brother Daniel, as you are ordained to the priesthood today, these words of St. John the Baptist are entrusted to you as a guiding principle for your ministry. You are called to be an alter Christus, another Christ, in the midst of God's people. Your primary mission is to make Christ present in the world, to allow His light to shine through you. Just as St. John proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God," so too, you are called to point others to Christ, truly present among us in the Eucharist, leading them to encounter His mercy, love, and healing presence.

To fulfill this mission, you must allow yourself to decrease. Priesthood is not about seeking recognition or personal glory. The priesthood is a path of self-emptying love, where you lay down your life for the sake of the Gospel. It is a call to embrace the cross and to imitate Christ's sacrificial love in all that you do. As you celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and administer the sacraments, remember that you are an instrument of Christ's grace, a vessel through which His love flows into the lives of the faithful and those you will serve.

To decrease does not mean that your influence or impact diminishes. On the contrary, as you surrender yourself to Christ, He will increase His efficacy in your life and ministry. It is His grace that will empower you, His Spirit that will guide you, and His love that will transform the hearts of those entrusted to your care. Your fidelity to prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist, and your personal encounter with Christ will be the source of your strength and inspiration.

Dear Daniel, as you embark on this sacred journey, always remember that you are not alone. The entire Church, the communion of saints, the priestly fraternity that will be your new life, and this faith community stand beside you. Lean on their prayers, seek their guidance, and embrace their support. Together, we are united in our mission to make Christ known and loved in the world.

Finally, as the Eucharistic Revival unfolds across our nation, your witness to us is vital – as a person, as a disciple and as a priest. Jesus, Who is our Bread of Life, is the source of our vitality and the summit of all our aspirations and enables us to go to the peripheries with an abundance of hope and mercy.  Today, with your ordination, we affirm a fundamental connection for this revival: “Without priests, there is no Eucharist and without the Eucharist, there will be no priests.” Your “yes,” affirms this reality today. We also invite others who may be contemplating a priestly vocation to listen to the Lord’s whisper to “come, follow Me!” Do not be afraid to follow Him and to risk it all by putting yourself out into the deep as His instrument.

May St. John the Baptist, the patron of your ordination, pray for you and guide you. May St. Paul and St. John Vianney, the patrons of our diocese, encourage you with pastoral and evangelical zeal. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of priests, wrap her mantle of protection around you. May St. Daniel’s steadfast faith and wisdom guide you on the path of righteousness. And may Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, fill you with His grace and empower you to faithfully live out the words of St. John: "He must increase, I must decrease."

Congratulations, my brother, on your ordination to the priesthood! Our prayers and blessings go with you as you embark on this noble calling as you fulfill God’s dream for you. May your life and ministry be a radiant witness to the transformative power of Christ's love. Amen.