Reflections on ordination Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Jul. 01, 2010 -- 12:00 AM
Under the Gospel Book by Bishop Robert C. Morlino
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.

Editor's note: The following is an adapted reflection given by Bishop Robert C. Morlino on Friday, June 25, at the ordination of Fr. Gregory Ihm and Fr. David Carrano.

The ritual book tells the bishop to address the candidates for priesthood as my sons. And what an unbelievable gift and privilege it was for me to call Gregory and David, in light of the bond of priesthood, my sons.

Lest anyone be disappointed, I have three points that have to do with Rome, because this was the first time I have had the ordination of two men who have come back from Rome. And I thought it good to remind all of us what these new priests got out of Rome.

In the first place, what didn't they get? This is Madison and everything around here smacks of politics, so sometimes people can get the wrong idea. They didn't get the skill of playing ball with the ecclesiastical heavies in the Vatican. They didn't learn how to play a game of making the system work for them, at the highest levels. Sometimes, and I don't know why, but people think this when they see someone coming from Rome, as if it is all politics anyway -- but this is what they didn't get in Rome.

What did they get from Rome? A real personal love for the saints and for the Holy Father. In Rome, there is a body of a saint in most Church venues. Though it might sound gruesome -- it isn't, because the bodies of the saints are waiting there for the resurrection from the dead. They are waiting to be raised up, to be united with the souls of the saints in heaven. Those bodies are in repose, but not dead forever. They are going to be raised up, right from where they are and take their place in heaven with the Lord Jesus, in His glorified body, and Our Blessed Mother Mary, in her assumed body.

So, it is possible to develop a kind of personal relationship with the saints, because we see them, in their bodily form, all the time. But when we see them that way, we automatically realize that they are saints; they have the face-to-face vision of God in heaven. And as they become our friends as we walk around Rome, we get a special taste of heaven.

Closeness to the saints, through the tombs of the saints, through their bodies in repose, gives us, at the same time, closeness to heaven. In Rome, we learn to love the saints and as we learn to love them, we love heaven all the more. And that is what our life is all about -- to love heaven, so that we wisely use the things of this world.

Also in Rome, our great new priests learned to love the Holy Father. He is a familiar part of one's life in Rome. You can open your window at the North American College and hear him on a Wednesday morning or a Sunday noon. He's there, part of your daily experience. Which leads me to the second point about Rome: that the Bishop of Rome, therefore the Pope, lives there and teaches from there the word of truth, that is the final measure of everything that is taught by the Church. If we want to know "what does the Church really teach?" the answer is "what did the Pope really say?" That is his unique ministry to guarantee that we, as bishops, teach the truth.

Learning about the Church from Holy Father

Our Holy Father has written two very interesting pieces about the priesthood, amid his many writings. Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote "above all there must not be a concept of communion in which the avoidance of conflict becomes the prime pastoral value. Faith is always also a sword and may indeed promote conflict, for the sake of the truth and love. Any concept of Church unity in which conflicts are a priori dismissed as polarization and peace within is bought at the price of renouncing witness to the whole gospel, that concept of Church unity will soon prove to be illusory."

Benedict says it very clearly, as Cardinal Ratzinger, that peace at any price is not the style of the Church. And this applies to all my bother priests, whose communion Father David and Father Gregory joined this past Friday evening.

In recent weeks, Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily to all the priests (almost 20,000) gathered in Rome for the closing of the Year for Priests, said "Immediately after Peter's confession, Jesus proclaims his passion and resurrection, and he follows this announcement with a lesson on the path his disciples must take, which is to follow Him, the Crucified, follow the road of the Cross. And he adds -- with a paradoxical expression -- that being a disciple means 'losing oneself,' but only in order to fully rediscover oneself (cf. Lk 9.22 to 24). What does this mean for every Christian, but especially what does it mean for a priest? Discipleship, but we can safely say, the priesthood can never be a way to achieve security in life or to gain a position in society. The man who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his personal prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning at the root of this ministry. The man who wants above all to achieve a personal ambition, achieve personal success, will always be a slave to himself and public opinion. In order to be considered, he will have to flatter; to say what people want to hear, he will have to adjust to changing fashions and opinions and thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with the truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he would praise today. A man who plans his life like this, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms, does not truly love God and others, only himself and, paradoxically, ends up losing himself. The priesthood -- let us always remember --rests on the courage to say yes to another will, in the awareness, to be nurtured everyday, that our compliance with the will of God, our 'immersion' in this will, does not cancel our originality, rather on the contrary, it helps us enter deeper into the truth of our being and our ministry." To be a priest is, very simply, to be true. Our motto is "He must increase; I must decrease" (Jn 3:30) with and like John the Baptist.

And the promise of obedience, which these new priests renewed at their ordination, is so crucial in this area, because that is how we decrease everyday. And the Lord will increase, not the bishop. Obedience is for the Church and for the people and ultimately for Christ. But obedience is the only concrete way to be sure that I am decreasing and Christ is increasing, as I have been moved hither and yon around the country -- I know that also from experience. I know that there is nowhere else for me to be, and find Christ, than where His will has placed me in the moment. If that means Helena, Mont., that's fine. If it means Madison, Wis., that's very fine. And if means in the hospital, on the way to open heart surgery, that's fine, too. Because there is no other place for me to find Christ at those moments. "He must increase; I must decrease" -- obedience.

Destined for heaven

I mentioned earlier, in discussing the saints, that their bodies are destined for heaven. This is also a profound reminder that all our bodies are destined for heaven. And the way Father Carrano and Father Ihm have chosen to live that out is celibacy. Celibacy is a statement to the world that they are living in anticipation of heaven -- where there is no marriage or giving in marriage, as magnificent a gift as marriage is. They have become visible signs that heaven is so real. So real, that they have made that pivotal sacrifice here and now and will live it out with God's grace, because He wants to tell the world the truth: that heaven is more real than anything here. Our world does not want to hear that, that's why they are not crazy about celibacy.

What is the proof of celibacy? The happy, loving, gentle witnesses to celibacy. That's what the evidence is; that's the proof. It's not in words; it's in these priests. Celibacy is their proof that there is heaven. It is their proof that there is God. And both of these messages are desperately needed by the world. Our priests not only speak these messages, but they become these messages in a very special way through their ordination. Loving the saints and decreasing, so that the Lord might increase, is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Third and lastly, Rome is the city of Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul were consecrated apostles and priests in Jerusalem, but their final mission was Rome -- "just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome" (Acts 23:11). Rome is the place where the first fruits of the martyrs testified to the priestly co-mingling of consecration and mission. The consecration happened in Jerusalem at the last supper. The mission was completed only in Rome. It is a special place and an unforgettable part of our new priests' life and experience.

Mission in the Church

Last Friday, Father Ihm and Father Carrano received the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the prayer of the Church. Our liturgy asks us to carry out the laying on of hands in silence. The bishop lays hands on the newly ordained in silence. That silence is crucial because, in that silence, the Holy Spirit whispers a very personal message to the new priest, so personal that no one else in the world could ever understand it. It is so personal that it is probably beyond words, as the core of our personhood is beyond words. But the bottom line of that message is, from Christ to each of our new priests, "you now belong completely to me." That is why we say that an indelible mark or character is imprinted on the depths of their soul. It is like a brand mark; a seal that guarantees and designates them completely for Christ and therefore to no one else.

Fathers Carrano and Ihm have also received their first mission. The identity of the priest is the coincidence of his consecration and his mission. And the way the priest lives that identity concretely every day is his mission, it is the only thing Christ wants you to do. And it is very concrete, just as Christ took physical-visible form. Obedience to the Father's will is for our priests as concrete as it was for Jesus. When the Church asks them, in obedience, to take up a mission and suggests how they might carry out the mission, it is a wonderful thing.

We worry so much, and we should, about unity in the presbyterate, but the path the Church gives us, toward unity in the priesthood, is nothing other than obedience. There simply is no other way, because we try different approaches and we all have good intentions but sometimes we don't seem to get that far. However, obedience can be, and it is the will of Christ that it become, the bond that unites priests. We are all in service to Jesus Christ, through a very concrete Church, through a very imperfect bishop (unworthy as he is), but that is how we are called to live out our priesthood, by accepting consecration, praying about it with gratitude and love every day, and being faithful to the mission.

As the liturgy of ordination says so beautifully, "Know what you are doing, imitate what you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord's cross." That is the consecration and mission which Fr. Gregory Ihm and Fr. David Carrano accepted with all their hearts last Friday night.

Thank you for reading this. Please continue to pray for our newly ordained priests and for all our priests! God love you all! Praised be Jesus Christ!