||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.
So much flows from our Holy Week celebration, culminating, of course, in the celebration of the Resurrection. The Easter celebration, in which we now find ourselves, truly is the center and wellspring of our faith and our entire year.
One of the events in the heart of Holy Week is the Chrism Mass, when I join with my brother priests and faithful from around the diocese to bless and consecrate the Holy Oils that are used in the sacraments for the coming year. It’s a powerful moment and a good starting point for considering our Easter mission.
Priesthood of the baptized
During the consecration of the oils we pray, “Let the splendor of holiness shine out on the whole world, from every person, place, or thing anointed with this Holy Oil.” Take a moment to read that beautiful prayer again — “Let the splendor of holiness shine out on the whole world — from every person, place, and thing anointed with this oil.” This means the church building, the altar, the deacons and priests who have received Holy Orders, and it means all of you, the baptized and the confirmed, who have your own kind of priesthood. Each one of the baptized is called to priesthood, a beautiful kind of priesthood, but one that is very different from the ordained priesthood. Both are necessary and both are beautiful. Let’s examine that.
In the Preface Prayer of the Chrism Mass we pray, “not only does Christ give the royal dignity of the priesthood to the people He has made His own . . .” Here again the Church emphasizes the royal priesthood of the baptized; what does that mean? It means that everyone anointed at Baptism has a part to play in, “letting the splendor of holiness shine forth on the whole world!”
Carrying out the mission of charity, love
The royal dignity of the priesthood conferred at Baptism and through Confirmation calls you to carry out a beautiful mission in the Church and in the world. First, it is a mission of charity, a mission of real unselfish love. This is the first way the baptized shine forth the holiness of the Church — by our charity, our love!
The most beautiful thing about the Church, which the whole world should be able to notice, is our charity — one to another, that unselfish service. If we don’t show forth that charity, then the splendor of holiness does not go forth. And if we are divided, as unfortunately we are, it’s very hard to change the world.
In the Church, we so often look like we’re just fighting all the time, like the politicians on television and over the Internet. And when we do that, it’s no wonder that we find ourselves treated like politicians, rather than the anointed of the Lord.
We’re being terribly treated like politicians these days, as our religious freedom, our freedom of conscience itself is threatened in the unbelievable situation in which we find ourselves. But, the threats we face in this regard become all the more fierce if those threatening us succeed in dividing us more than we already are.
At this point, for the first time in a long time, every bishop in the United States is united in one truth and in one vision. And it wouldn’t surprise me if God allowed our freedom of conscience crisis to happen, so that we might heal our own divisions, with His Grace, and then be able to reach out more effectively through the splendor of our holiness shining on the whole world.
Mission for the laity of the Church
It is charity and it is transformative action in the world, even the world of politics, that are the lay mission of the Church. It’s not meant for the priest to get out into the political sphere and “slug it out,” but it is meant for lay people, with a real sense of mission, to do the best they can to bring the will of Christ into the world.
That’s how the splendor of holiness shines forth from those who are baptized and confirmed lay people. Charity and political action — that’s your vocation — dirtying your hands, as it were, with worldly matters, so that the splendor of holiness emerges, shining bright, more and more, from the mess in the midst of which we live today.
It’s beautiful when the baptized and confirmed, by God’s grace, carry out their mission. And we thank God for that mission, which lets the splendor of holiness shine forth for the whole world. But, that’s a different mission from the ordained priest, who can and should talk about principles, but who should not get into political endorsements. That’s the job of faithful lay people, to do loudly and clearly and, especially, by offering reasons.
Without reasons and foundations on solid principles, we are fighting a losing battle (though sometimes even good reasons are not acceptable to people). It’s a big battle that has to be fought, and the baptized and confirmed are on the front lines. But, the splendor of holiness shines on the world when you are caught up in your mission by the grace of the Holy Spirit and are doing your level best.
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! He has won the victory! If you accept the Holy Spirit and do your level best, that victory is guaranteed! The beauty of holiness shines forth in you when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you carry out your lay mission with energy and enthusiasm. The world needs to be changed dramatically and the only thing that can change it is the Resurrection power of Jesus Christ, and that Resurrection power is alive in YOU through Baptism and Confirmation, and that is your priesthood! It’s a priesthood oriented toward sacrifice to change the world, the sacrifice of charity, the sacrifice of political action.
Beautiful ministry of ordained priesthood
“. . . Not only did Jesus Christ give the royal priesthood to the people He has made His own, but with a brother’s love, He chooses men to share His Sacred Ministry, by the laying on of hands.” When the lay faithful carry out their royal priesthood, it is beautiful. Those who have received the Holy Spirit in Ordination, by the laying on of hands, also have another very beautiful ministry to carry out, focused always on charity, but in a very special way, focused on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and focused on the temple.
The “priesthood of all the faithful” doesn’t mean that we get as many lay people up into the sanctuary at Mass as possible, because that’s not where your lay ministry happens. To think this would be to misunderstand the beautiful lay mission, as taught by the Second Vatican Council. The priesthood of all believers happens in your home, in your family, in your place of work, and out in the world.
The ordained priest’s responsibility is in the sanctuary, where he offers the Eternal Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and then brings you the Body and Blood of Christ as food for your journey through this pilgrim world. The priest instructs in principles, he counsels, he forgive sins, he celebrates the sacraments, he nourishes you so that you can handle and change the world. The ordained priest is sent for you, the lay women and men, and you are sent for the world.
Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews says the priest offers sacrifice to God and deals with God on behalf of all people. The priesthood is not one vocation among many. This is another frequent misunderstanding that we have. Too often, we often think about priesthood, and pray for it, as though the vocations of priesthood, religious life, marriage, and single life are just a pick-and-choose vocational multiple choice, all on a par.
It is true that each of us has a particular vocational call, for which we are created and through which we find our happiness and holiness, but the priesthood is not just one among those. The vocation of priesthood is to discern, coordinate, and govern those other vocations; this is how the priesthood serves those vocations. The priest serves the other vocations, he coordinates them, and, yes, he governs them.
Ordained priests deserve support, prayers
It was said during our recent Ad Limina visit in Rome that there is a crisis in the Church with regard to the governing function of priests. Now, we have some wonderful priests and they are giving it their best shot every day. They have hard times and good times, and they’re willing to suffer for what the priesthood demands of them today.
Our priests deserve our support, and our prayers, and our encouragement. This is not a matter of blaming somebody for something. But, the governing office of the priest is in a state of crisis, and there are too many others who want to assume that governing office. (And in our day and age, even the White House wants to get involved by turning the governing office over to laity and certain groups of religious women who agree with their policies.)
In a vacuum of governance, some have decided that the governing office of the Church doesn’t have anything to do with priests and that it especially doesn’t have anything to do with bishops. Bishops are hopeless!
Bishops are Church’s governing authority
But, according to Jesus Christ, where is the governing authority in the Church? The governing authority is the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, in communion with the Pope. All believers, through Baptism and Confirmation, have the gift of the Holy Spirit, but they do not have the gift of the governing Spirit; that is reserved for the bishops and those priests with whom the bishop chooses to share his governing spirit — that’s just the teaching of the Church. Even our wonderful priests do not share in the governing spirit, but for the sharing of that spirit by the bishops — unworthy though we are!
And so, the beauty of the priesthood is tied so much to our willingness to govern in charity. The beauty of the priesthood is tied in a special way to the liturgy, and it is the responsibility of the bishop and the priest — not anybody else, ultimately — to make sure that the liturgy is never anything less than beautiful.
Making the liturgy beautiful
How do we ensure this? We watch the Holy Father and we get as close to what he’s doing as we reasonably can. For my part, I try to submit to the liturgical example of the Holy Father; I don’t have “my own style,” I try to have the Holy Father’s style. And that’s the way beauty comes into the liturgy, when all the priests accept the ars celebrandi — the art of celebrating — to which Pope Benedict witnesses. Then it’s always beautiful.
The splendor of holiness in our Church is the beauty of our people, the beauty of creation properly understood, and, above all, the beauty of the liturgy. That’s our mission and it will be our mission for a long time. Things don’t change overnight. We’re all doing our best, for which I am so very grateful, but forward we move and backward we don’t go. We go forward with our Holy Father; we love him and we pray for many more years for him.
Convictions like this pull us together and allow us an Easter full of joy — a beautiful liturgy, the beauty of creation, but, most fundamentally, the beauty of your charity, which is the binding force in all of this, and which makes it possible.
Let us reflect seriously on the situation we have in the world and in our Church and let us make sure that we’re going to carry out our priesthood, whether it’s the priesthood of all the baptized, or the priesthood of the ordained.
Let’s be sure that we carry out our priesthood faithfully and lovingly, so that the words of Scripture will be fulfilled for all of us, “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who comes bringing good news, preaching peace (Is 52:7)!” That’s us!
Praised be Jesus Christ! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!