Gifts of the summer of priestly renewal Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Sep. 16, 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.

Dear Friends,

“Back-to-school” and “Labor Day” mean for me, among other things, back to my column with as much regularity as I can muster for any given week. Thanks be to God, the summer was, for me, a serene time of priestly renewal. Of course, there are always problems in a diocese or in a parish that require attention from the bishop, and that attention is always ready to be given, but the grace of the Office of Bishop sustained me beautifully through a summer of serious priestly renewal, and I would like to trace the path of that renewal for you briefly in this first column after Labor Day.

The two high points of the early summer were the two celebrations of ordination: the ordination of Fr. David Carrano and Fr. Gregory Ihm to the priesthood, and the ordination of Deacon Jorge Miramontes and Deacon Tim Renz to the diaconate — what a blessing it will be to begin next summer with the ordination of Deacons Renz and Miramontes to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ!

Priestly ordination and the diaconal ordination of transitional deacons (which is their last Sacramental step preparing for priesthood) both remind us of the responsibilities that each priest has to be in the person of Jesus Christ, to share in the priestly responsibilities of teaching, governing, and sanctifying. The priest is called, of course, to live and to teach the Word of God. He is called to lead our people to ever-greater holiness through the celebration of the Sacraments and, especially, the Eucharist, and he is called to shepherd God’s people in the sense of governing them while caring for them. The priest’s governance of the people does not indicate some sort of “lording it over them,” but it is a service rooted in Christ’s care for His people’s salvation.

Living the Truth of Christ

For our salvation all of us need to profess and to live the Truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many confusions about precisely what this Truth is — especially in our time, since the Second Vatican Council — and there have been two very different, alternative interpretations of the Council offered to our people. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, who was one of the experts at the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul the Great, who was a Council Father, have both indicated, as holders of the Office of Peter, that the interpretation which sees the Holy Spirit’s presence to the Church as continuous and without rupture, without discontinuity down through history is, indeed, the correct interpretation. For a variety of reasons, and certainly not out of anyone’s bad will, many learned an incorrect interpretation. They learned it in good faith and they hold fast to it to this day.

The need for a course correction in this regard is today perhaps the greatest challenge to our priests’ fulfillment of their responsibilities to teach, to sanctify, and to govern — because what is taught, how the official prayer of the Church is celebrated, and how the priest governs and shepherds differs according to each of the two vying interpretations. I’ve spoken of this before, but when people have difficulty with their priest, one of the first questions to be raised is whether all are in harmony in receiving the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Council — the one which sees the Holy Spirit as present without interruption in the history, the doctrine, and the discipline of the Church. These responsibilities are heavy burdens for the new priests. And our new priests and priests-to-be are heroes for undertaking a ministry which they are certain will be challenging. God bless them! Their inspiration of me was at the foundation of my summer of priestly renewal.

Opportunities for companionship

Sandwiched between these two ordinations was my travel to Rome to teach a module about the Theology of Priesthood of Pope Benedict XVI. The American seminarians from many dioceses in attendance joined with me in love and priestly awareness (all in Christ, of course) so that another moment of grace was granted us, close to Pope Benedict himself.

The month of July brought with it different opportunities to enjoy the companionship of many who have been part of my life and priesthood from the beginning. There was a great deal of communication with people in the Eastern U.S., some of whom I grew up with, and many of whom were my former students — whose own sons and daughters are now students in high school or college themselves. (I’m certainly not getting any younger — though I feel great!)

Also very central to my priestly renewal was my visit, for the first time since I left seven years ago, to my first Diocese of Helena, Montana. It was wonderful to have sustained visits with many people who were and still are very much a part of my life in that wonderful diocese. As we pray for ourselves here in the Diocese of Madison, and our own needs, I’d humbly ask you to keep the Diocese of Helena in your prayers as well.

A central gift of the summer was for me to kneel in the Cathedral of Helena, where I was consecrated a bishop. They were beautiful moments of remembrance and wonderful moments of grace in the here-and-now. It was an opportunity for me to thank God for the beauty of the Cathedral of the Bishop of Helena, which was a wonderful gift to me for almost four years, and a moment also which engendered in my heart and soul very deep prayers for the future of a cathedral where the Bishop of Madison, whoever he is in future times, may worthily preside and teach. The beauty of the mountains outside of Helena are dear to me, and they reflect the presence of their creator in a way that is truly unforgettable.

Another genuine high-point of the summer was the annual gathering of our seminarians for almost a week during the first part of August. Again, the hope, the joy, the energy, and the courage which these young men inspire in me is, each year, an irreplaceable gift. Every one of our seminarians is a very intelligent, very excellent young man, chasing after holiness profoundly in his own life. I cannot believe the extent to which men still in formation seek and grow in holiness with such intensity. I have to ask myself if I am doing my best to keep up with them, but I’m always buoyed by their prayers and supportive affection toward me as their father. That seems to be a very important life-line for this particular bishop.

Celebrating installations, anniversaries

Later in August we celebrated the installation of my brother-bishop, the former Auxiliary of Milwaukee, as Bishop of La Crosse. Bishop Callahan is a joyful, holy, wise, and energetic bishop, and to witness the very beginnings of his ministry in La Crosse took me back to my earliest days here in Madison (I was blessed to celebrate my seventh anniversary as bishop on August 1). The fraternal communion with brother-bishops is also irreplaceable as a gift for the priestly renewal of each bishop.

Then, of course, there was the marvelous celebration of Bishop Bullock’s 30th anniversary of Consecration as a Bishop. The love and support of so many that day are a strong consolation to us all, and certainly Bishop Bullock continues to be an inspiration for me in his faithful service and love for all of the people he has served.

And lastly, this past Sunday I celebrated the 175th Anniversary of St. Matthew’s Parish in Shullsburg. Such anniversaries always bring to mind the priests who served our parishes from the very beginning, as well as the faithful people who were the forefathers and foremothers of such a wonderful parish. Every single parish in the diocese has a unique history leading up to the present. But the communion in the Lord and the faith, according to which we pray and live, is always substantially the same. We are challenged by the passage of time to manifest not only our love for, but also our continuity in faith with those who have come before us. Priests are always at their best when their people are around them in the sense of being with them. And bishops are always at their best when their priests are around and with the bishop, because then the parish flock whom the local priest or priests guide will be also with the shepherd and pastor of the diocese.

There are many situations in the Church throughout the world, not only in our diocese, which are far from perfect. But it is continuity with the faith of the past, energized by the hope that this faith will grow only stronger in the future, that can mitigate and eventually “solve” whatever problems there are. After this summer, I must say that I have never been as eager and as hopeful to continue our journey together in the Diocese of Madison.

Thank you for reading this. God bless each one of you. And may our year of school and ordinary work be a place where we discover God’s presence anew, every blessed day. Praised be Jesus Christ!