|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 a transcription of Bishop Robert C. Morlino’s homily for Priestly Ordinations on Friday, May 6, at St. Maria Goretti Church in Madison.
Tim, Jorge — “my sons,” I get to call you tonight. At the moment I call you my sons, I want to thank both of your dear parents, your grandparents, and your family for showing you what it means to be a good father — long before I came on the scene. And I want to thank them for showing you what it is to be a faithful son.
All of that will come into play in the days, the months, and the years ahead. I’m almost as proud of you tonight as your dear parents are — not quite as proud (I don’t think I could manage that) but I know how proud they are and I, certainly, am proud. I’m so grateful to your dear parents and your family, for their generosity in giving the Church such a wonderful, unselfish gift.
The Church in Madison is desperately in need, and you, Tim and Jorge, are going to be very able young priests to take up the Word of the Lord, as your shield and to deal with the forces of evil in the world, through all the dimensions of the priesthood. All of us in the diocese pray hard tonight, as we count on both of you to allow the Lord to work out His plan through you, in the days and the years ahead.
It has been some time since I’ve had a priestly ordination to start the month of May, and it struck me early-on that perhaps I should talk about our Blessed Mother and the priesthood (as May is very especially devoted to her). Then, earlier this week, I had an e-mail from one of our priests who has been ordained almost a year, and who is concluding studies in Rome — Fr. Greg Ihm.
Father Ihm was bringing me up to date and sharing with me the wonderful experience he had at the Beatification of Pope John Paul the Great. Father Greg said that, through it all, he saw much more clearly the need always to be Mary’s priest, as Blessed John Paul was. Father said to me, I hope that you and I will pray for each other and do what is necessary so that we will become, though this month and all the time, Mary’s priests.
If you think of it, Father Greg’s e-mail is almost like a newly-ordained priest giving spiritual direction to the bishop! The bishop needs good spiritual direction (and thank God he has it), but I think one of the most wonderful changes in attitude that has come forth since the Second Vatican Council is that the younger priests have a sense that we older priests and bishops need to have some spiritual direction from them. I will say, very honestly for myself, my formation as a priest was not all that it should have been, and I love any priest, including young ones, that tell me that I should work, this May and everyday, to become more Mary’s priest!
Mother of God, Seat of Wisdom
Mary is the Mother of the Church and she is the Seat of Wisdom. What does that have to do with the priest? As the Mother of the Church, as Blessed John Paul said so often, Mary is, “the Memory of the Church.” That means that only she treasures everything about Jesus Christ in her heart — from the moment of His conception — because only she could do that.
Mary was there, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and told that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. She was there, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, with the Apostles, when the Church was born. Mary was there when those indispensable memories of the work of Jesus Christ in the early Church were formed. And she remains the repository of all of those memories. She truly is the “Memory of the Church.”
Tim and Jorge, we priests need to be a “memory of the Church,” modeled after Mary. There’s been a lot of “water over the dam,” since the Blessed Mother’s Assumption and the death of those Saintly Apostles, but over that time the Holy Spirit has been working with continuity in the Church, meaning that the Holy Spirit has been unceasingly working in a way that makes sense; He doesn’t teach the Church one thing, one year, and 100 years later teach them the opposite. That can’t be. So you and I need to be, with Mary and like Mary, the memory of the Church in terms of doctrine and discipline.
Clearing up the confusion
No one will deny that today there is a great deal of confusion in the Church. I had a discussion just last week with the members of our Diocesan Pastoral Council (about 20 wonderful lay people from all areas of the diocese with whom I consult because they’re very frank and honest with me) and I said to them, “today we’re going to talk about Deaneries, what do you know about them?” They said to me, “we know hardly anything about them.” Even in that minor area, we have a great deal of Catechesis to do, given the doubt and confusion which exists, and there are so many major areas.
In order to offer that authentic teaching, though, it takes someone, who with Mary and like Mary, acts as a memory of the Church, to offer, with gentle love but firm conviction, the Truth. The continuity of doctrine and discipline, that has been present since the time of Jesus Christ Himself, is placed in your care in a very special way tonight, and I really need you to help me share that. That is the first reason why you should stay very close to Mary and be Mary’s priests — she is the Memory of the Church, the Mother of the Church.
Secondly, Mary is the Virgin Most Obedient, the Virgin Most Chaste, and the Virgin Most Pure. If she was going to be completely at God’s disposal, which she was, absolute purity and absolute chastity were the only choice for Mary. To be totally available to the Lord, from sunrise to sunset, every moment, every day, every year, she had to be ready to be with Him alone. That readiness to be with Him took the form for her, as it does for you, of obedience and the chaste, virginal life. That is Mary’s special way of telling the world, of telling Christ, and the Church, that you completely belong to God, and that His existence is real.
This is tied very closely, of course to the laying on of hands at the ordination. The laying on of hands is always done in absolute silence, so that Jesus Christ Himself can tell you, through His Holy Spirit, in a way that only He can, because of the unique way that He knows each of you, “You belong completely to me.” That is the meaning and the power of the laying on of hands.
So that you can give your best shot at completely belonging to Christ, you respond strongly to the call to obedience, which includes the life of chaste celibacy. It’s because we’re obedient to Christ, who was chaste and celibate, that we accept chaste celibacy as our way of life. Obedience comes first, and celibacy is one and perhaps the strongest instances of the obedience to which you are called to live. The one who was perfect in obedience and perfect in chastity was Our Lady; and so in your chastity and in your obedience, you want to be Mary’s priests, everyday. If you never forget her, she will certainly never forget you. She is always the surest guide to Her son, Jesus Christ.
To Christ, through Mary
Thirdly, Mary is the Mother of the Eucharist, and as Blessed John Paul the Great said: “the way to the Eucharist always passes through Mary.” He meant very simply that Jesus took His body and blood from Mary in this world. His body and blood were taken from hers, and that is why she is the Mother of the Eucharist, and that is why the way to the Eucharist always passes by Mary, and that is why she is remembered above all in the Eucharist, which is addressed to the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Among all human beings, Mary is remembered first in the Eucharistic prayer. She is the perfect Christian, the perfect witness, the holiest and greatest human being who ever lived, and Mary wants to accompany you to the Eucharist, where you mention her name prominently.
I know that I can trust you to go, every day, with our Blessed Mother, to the Lord’s altar and to offer His Sacrifice. Just think, as she stood there at the foot of the cross, when Jesus offered His Sacrifice, so too she wants to stand with you, every blessed day. Some of those days truly will be days at the foot of the cross, and you’ll know it, but you also know that that is all in the “contract” and you’ll know that Mary is with you, as she was with her Son.
Walking with Mary
Lastly, Mary is, and was, the exemplar of prayer, and that too grew out of her obedience. Because she said, “Yes,” to the Lord, and, “I am completely yours,” her whole life was a prayer. Mary was able to say, “yes,” and completely mean it. For us we say, “yes,” and we want to mean it, but sometimes really meaning it is a tough row to hoe – that is life. But in the end, we will be judged, as priests, in light of the holiness to which we have responded, in terms of God’s call to us. Being rewarded as a priest sometimes means a free dinner at the local restaurant, and we love it, but in the end, our reward as priests will be decided by our holiness as we face Jesus Christ. Mary achieved that perfectly, and certainly more perfectly than any other human being.
So, to walk with Mary every day, in prayer, and to let her stand with us at the foot of the cross, at the Eucharistic altar, to be determined with her in our obedience and in our celibacy, and to offer the whole world the memory of the Church, of which she is the repository, that is quite a priesthood. It is a priesthood (as Father Greg encouraged) that is Mary’s.
I can tell you, from my own experience, that being a close friend of Mary is essential to undertaking the work of the priesthood with joy. Mary offered up her whole life with joy; she was the Mother of Sorrows, but she is also the Mother of Resurrection Joy. She will accompany us when we share the sorrows of her son on the Cross, when we witness the sorrows of our people, and she will share with us the joy of Her Resurrected Son.
Mary will help us to be attuned to the Holy Spirit as she was, so that the prayer rises up everyday in our hearts, which only the Holy Spirit can place there. Because you will have been consecrated, through prayer and the laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit makes a covenant with you that He will be with you as you lift up your hearts and your hands, offering a pure sacrifice to the Lord and leading others to Himself, and Mary will stand by you as well.
And so today, and everyday of your priesthood let us pray together: “Mary, Mother of the Church, Pray for us. Mary, Seat of Wisdom, Pray for us. Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Pray for us. Virgin Most Chaste, Pray for us. Virgin Most Obedient, Pray for us. Mary, Mother of Priests and Exemplar of Prayer, Pray for us. Amen.
Christ is Risen, Indeed He is risen, Alleluia!