Priests: Chosen by Holy Spirit, working with Christ Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Apr. 22, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

Despite the continued focus on the horrendous crimes of a relatively few priests within the Church, we move forward, a people of faith, cognizant of the fact that our Church is made up of sinners — our priests and bishops included — but that each of us has faith that it is Jesus Christ Himself who founded this Church, for our Salvation, and that He has sent the Holy Spirit to protect His Church from “the gates of hell.”

No matter the sins of Her members, even the terrible sins of a few of Her ministers, the Holy Spirit remains with the Bride of Christ, to care for Her, to reconcile all Her members to Christ, and to grant us everlasting life.

As one Body, each member of the Church is affected when another causes injury. We all feel profoundly the wounds inflicted by a few, and we must do all that we can to bring healing to those wounded. I don’t know that I’ve experienced that empathetic pain in anyone more than in our good priests and bishops. And that brings me to the point of this column.

Celebrating the Year for Priests

All appearances to the contrary, the Church continues to celebrate the Year for Priests. God, in His Providence, has set aside this special time to pray with and for priests, to build them up, and to let them know that we love them and we support them in the faithful carrying-out of their mission.

We give thanks to God for them and we give thanks to God that He continues to use them to spread his Good News, to forgive our sins, to feed us with the Body and Blood of Christ, to baptize and witness our marriages, to be with us as we suffer in sickness and prepare for death.

In a few months (on June 20), we will close our Year for Priests and we will celebrate in a special way as a diocese — more information will be coming to you on that soon.

But in this column, I would like to repeat a very few words that I spoke to most of my brother priests who were present for the Chrism Mass during Holy Week. These words are directed to my brother priests, but I think that they will be helpful for you in knowing your priest better and, thus, knowing better how you can support them.

‘Fully known and fully loved by the Holy Spirit’

We hear in the Gospel (Lk 4:18), “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me.” Just as He anointed Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the Lord anointed you my dear brother priests. On the day that you and I were ordained, the bishop laid his hands on us first, in silence, and then all of the brother priests laid on hands, in silence. (The Sacrament of Ordination also requires, of course, the prayer of the bishop a little later, but the bishop and the priests first lay on hands in silence.)

That is very important because in that silence, the Holy Spirit, who knew you from your mother’s womb and who knows you now better than any other human being ever could, has to tell you, in a way only the Holy Spirit can, as the one who knows you to the depths of your heart, that He, indeed, loves you, He, indeed, chooses you, and you belong to Him. It is the fullest, the most pregnant silence that exists in this human world of ours, during which the Holy Spirit had (and has) a message for you that only He could communicate and only you could hear because He knows you as only God can. You are fully known and fully loved by the Holy Spirit, who speaks that silent message to you.

And that was your ordination day and that is everyday, because everyday the Holy Spirit stirs up the gift that you received when the bishop’s hands were laid upon you. Every blessed day, the Holy Spirit, in prayer, has the chance to repeat that totally personal message that you belong completely to God the Father, a message voiced in such a way that only the Holy Spirit can communicate it, and only you can understand.

That happened on your ordination day and it should happen at the beginning of every blessed day in prayer. And that is why, for us, every day can be a blessed day — whatever else might be going on. Our Holy Father is having a rough time these days, from one point of view. But, from another point of view, he’d be the first one to tell you that every day for him is a very blessed day. And so it should be for you and for me, for the very same reason — because the Holy Spirit has done the very same thing in anointing you to be a priest of Jesus Christ.

Working with Christ, not merely for Him

One of the things that’s gone wrong with our contemporary world — and you hear Pope Benedict XVI saying this all the time — is that doing is valued greater than being. Every day, when you and I get up, if we have the idea that today I have to do things for Christ, well, even though it’s Christ, in our human weakness, we can still get tired of it.

How many people in our parishes, who help us out all the time with parish activities say, “Father, I love to help out, but I am getting tired of this. I wish somebody else would do their part.” We can get tired even of doing the very best things. We can get tired of doing things for the Church; we can get tired of doing things for Christ, in our human weakness.

The whole point of the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit is that we are not doing things for Christ, we are doing things with Christ! We are in His person; we are acting so completely with Him that there are not words to capture it. And so, instead of getting tired out at the beginning of the day when we think of all of the things that we have to do for Christ, we should allow ourselves to be brought to life at the thought of spending a day with Christ, doing the best that we can — acting like those servants who belong completely to Christ. Christ has sworn, and He will never change, “you are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” There is no greater joy in the world than to do things with Christ every day, in His person, as a priest.

‘Priests are truly indispensable’

Let us never forget that you, as priests, are indispensable. Sometimes things happen in the Church and people get confused, “do we really need the priests, or do we not?” I’ve had not a few people say to me, when commenting about Word and Communion Services, “we love Father and we hope you’ll never move him, but we like ‘Sister’s Mass’ too.” Obviously Sister is of good will, and all those people are of good will, and sometimes we priests need help, and they’re always there to do it. But, sometimes people can get the mistaken idea that the priest is dispensable.

You, my priests, are absolutely indispensable! At our Chrism Mass we bless and consecrate all kinds of beautiful oil, in abundance, we have a plenty of bread and wine, but all of those signs come to life, become visible signs to give grace, only because of the priesthood. Without the priesthood, there is no Eucharist. Without the priesthood and the Eucharist, there is no Church. Priests are truly indispensable.

And so we should never tire of doing things with Christ, for His people. Doing things for Christ, even that can become tiresome. Doing things for the bishop would be totally exhausting. The idea is to do things for the people, whom you love, in that closest companionship with Christ. If that’s how you do those acts of service, you truly are indispensable and you’ll never risk being treated as dispensable — anymore than Christ would be treated that way.

We are all weak

The last point is simply this: we are weak. It says in the Letter to the Hebrews that Jesus Christ, the high priest, shared completely our weakness. He was weak and tempted in every way that we are, but He never sinned. Yet, He shared our weakness. It’s only through our weakness that Jesus Christ can show His strength. And so, we expect that we will be weak, but we expect that Jesus Christ will show forth His strength through our weakness.

Dear sisters and brothers, we cannot lay upon priests the expectation that they not be weak — Jesus Christ was weak in His human nature, but He was God and He never sinned. But we should always pray for our priests, that the Lord will use their weakness, when it appears, to show forth His strength. When we are the most weak, as St. Paul says, then we are strong.

I encourage all of the faithful to walk in loving support with our priests, every minute of every day. In many ways, our priesthood relies on the loving support and prayers of the faithful. The priests know that, and the people should know it too.

Let us let the Year for Priests not pass as just “some other observance.” Even the great feasts in the Church can pass so quickly — on Christmas Day all you can hear are Christmas carols throughout the world, but the next day the stores are preparing for Valentine’s Day. The Year for Priests cannot be that way. Let us remember always that our priests are indispensable and that the strength of Christ shows through in their weakness — thanks to the prayers and support of the people.

Dear brother priests, please, every single day, be with Christ in whatever you do. And dear people, in whatever you do each day, be with Christ by being with your priest.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thank you for supporting and loving your priests. Continued blessings to you and all of your loved ones!

Praised be Jesus Christ!