Let the splendor of holiness shine out Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Apr. 04, 2013 -- 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,

I have in my hands a vocation pamphlet from 1965, and on the cover we have Bishop O’Connor ordaining a priest, and the overall title of the pamphlet is, “The Hands of Christ.” The truth on the cover of the pamphlet is stated simply this way: “Christ works today through His bishops, whose hands are those of the priests’.”

Thank you so much, dear brother priests, for coming out in such good numbers, so that we can celebrate and manifest the bond of the priesthood. God knows we don’t all have to be alike, but we all have to be bonded together by the mystery of the Holy Spirit’s seal on our soul, forging us together in an alliance that — as long as we’re open to grace — no human reality can obstruct.

Alliance between bishop and priests

So, the alliance of the priest with his bishop is like the alliance of the bishop with his own hands, as that pamphlet from 1965 says it so well, and it hasn’t changed. That’s the way it was, that’s the way it is, that’s the way it’s been since the time of Jesus. So, dear priests, thank you so very much for doing your best to be the hands of the bishop. Thank you so very much for doing your very best to allow the Holy Spirit to forge among all of us that unbreakable alliance which has as its root none other than that priestly seal of the Holy Spirit upon our souls. So, I’d invite all of us to offer our expression of gratitude to our priests.

Now, I’m going to imitate our wonderful Pope Francis, with whom I shared very similar Jesuit training: there are three words tonight. Pope Francis chooses to delineate “three points” (of which I am so fond) by individual words, and nothing comes more naturally to a Jesuit, or a former Jesuit even, than to do that. So I’ll imitate Pope Francis with three words: Freedom, Truth, and Splendor.

Freedom, truth, and splendor

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to set free those who are held captive, to give sight to the blind (Lk 4:18 cf Is 61:1)!” Pope Francis has just pointed out that people who are poor and oppressed and neglected and hungry and in prison need that freedom very badly, and he has focused our attention in a particular way on them and their need for that freedom. And the charity of the people of the Diocese of Madison, the charity of all of you is so beautiful, as you reach out to bring freedom to the poor and the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick, the dying. You do that so well, and the beauty of that charity makes the beauty of everything else credible.

Much spiritual poverty in the West

But, Pope Francis went on very quickly to point out that all of the people who suffer terribly are not limited to the so called “poor neighborhoods” of any city, and they’re certainly not limited to third-world countries. Because in the West, and he said this explicitly, there is terrible poverty, terrible hunger, and terrible want. What most imprisons people -- what holds them captive in our country, in our culture, and in the West -- is the absence of truth, for which they are made.

And so, Jesus Christ came to bring good news to the poor who may well be materially poor, but every bit as much to the materially wealthy who are spiritually poor, and captive and brokenhearted and blind -- people who simply are close to despair because there is no truth. And, if some do not seem to be (or do not admit to be) close to despair because there is no truth, the only way they distract themselves is by satisfying their own instincts over and over and over again.

Escaping truth by seeking pleasure

Pleasure becomes the great escape from facing up to the hunger of the human mind and heart for truth. The satisfaction of instincts blinds people to the reality that they are blind, and it imprisons them in a more comfortable cell to distract from the one in which they are really imprisoned. And so often, when people are too close to losing hope, they take refuge in drugs, or sexual pleasure, or alcohol, or — as we have learned recently — in such addictive distractions as violent video games and other “virtual worlds.”

True freedom is found in Christ

Jesus came to proclaim freedom for captives, sight for the blind, healing for the brokenhearted, and glad tidings to the poor. That freedom is in the Truth of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis repeated the words of Benedict XVI about the “dictatorship (or the tyranny) of relativism,” and made clear that that is what blinds people and keeps them from being free. For that’s the prison in which they live — it’s a dictatorship, a tyranny of relativism.

Special call of priests to proclaim truth

And so, dear brother priests, those of us who are called, in special way, to bring good news to the poor have to support, in every way we can, assistance to the materially poor. But, the greater crisis is the crisis of poverty with regard to the truth. The freedom for which people most hunger is freedom in the truth about their very lives. They hunger to know that there are firm pillars of life upon which they can rely. And, if we don’t minister to those who are spiritually poor, all of our help to the materially poor will wind up interpreted as though we were simply social workers (who do good work in their own right).

That is the great theme of Pope Francis in these early days. We must not allow people to be held captive by relativism or by material poverty, but that a more dangerous poverty or imprisonment is the imprisonment of relativism. That relativism that says, “you have your way, and I have mine … let’s just follow a conscience that creates its own truth.”

Consequences of deformed conscience

Conscience is the cause of relativism when it’s not formed properly. When an individual thinks that his or her conscience can make something true, and when they think that that’s what Vatican II taught, they couldn’t be more off base. Conscience is a creature, created by God. A creature is subject to the Creator. Conscience does not create the moral law, God creates the moral law and the conscience is like a radar that locks on to the moral law. And if we don’t have a solid grounding in Truth, we are like a ship adrift.

And in many ways, the Church today finds herself like a ship adrift, because the hunger for freedom is not being satisfied even through the Church by the reception of the Truth (which provides those bearings by which a ship may safely sail). The Church, as a beacon clearly proclaiming the Truth, has become weakened. For all of Benedict’s efforts in proclaiming the Truth, the Church has become weakened, because people say, “I don’t need any truth proclaimed by anyone — all I need is me and my conscience” (a creature which again, unless properly disciplined, rules the master). Pope Francis said that as long as relativism prevails — as long as we think that “my conscience” makes the moral law— there can never be peace.

True peacemakers

Francis of Assisi, the Pope’s Patron, was a peacemaker, and Pope Francis said: how can there be peace unless there is truth? Peace has to be rooted in something. All kinds of people in the world have nice intentions, but does that guarantee peace? Look at the world. True peace is guaranteed by the truth for which freedom hungers and is able to receive through Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit at work in His Church.

Pope Francis went on to say that the common ground which will bring peace; the common ground — that truth — which will bring freedom to the spiritually imprisoned and poor is an understanding of the nature of the human being. There is a nature of the human being, and in discovering that nature we find the common ground that allows our hunger for the truth, our freedom to seek the truth, to be satisfied. It is the natural law, the ecology of nature. We’re so big on respecting the ecology of nature, and we should be, but Pope Francis is saying, what about the ecology of human nature? What about the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death? What about the definition of marriage? What about freedom of properly formed conscience?

Challenge to priests

And, I have to ask my dear brother priests in a special way, if we know where common ground is to be found, then please, in a gentle and loving way, let’s shout it out. Let’s shout out the truth about the natural law in our parish pulpits. Let’s shout out the truth about artificial contraception. Let’s shout out the truth about the definition of marriage. Let’s shout out the truth about religious freedom. A lot of people won’t like it. I’ve been doing it for ten years and a lot of people haven’t liked it, but look at me — I haven’t lost a pound over that stress. It’s what we have to do, inspired by this new Pope, who will do nothing else but hand on to us what he received from the beginning.

Pope Francis will do nothing except preserve the faith of Peter. He may have a different style in doing this or that. He’s an “old time” Jesuit: he says, “if I want to go somewhere, I’ll go there. As long as I can take my briefcase with a couple of books, in case I have to wait somewhere, I’m ok. And God help you if you try to get in my way.” Old time Jesuits celebrate the liturgy very reverently, but they don’t “fuss” about it. There’s nothing earthshaking about that.

The splendor of holiness

Freedom and Truth (those are to be proclaimed from the pulpit) and, the last word, Splendor. In a few moments we are going to hear it in the blessing of the Chrism, “Let the splendor of holiness shine forth on the world …” The splendor of holiness is the splendor of freedom, the splendor of truth, the splendor of goodness, the splendor of beauty. Let that splendor shine out on the world, “… from every person and every place anointed with this oil!”

Let the splendor of truth and holiness and freedom shine out on the world, from every one of you, dear brother priests, whose hands were anointed with Chrism at your Ordination! Let the splendor of holiness also shine out on the whole world through all of you, the faithful, who were anointed with Chrism at your Baptism and Confirmation! Let the splendor of holiness shine forth!

And the splendor of holiness shines forth when we work to free those captives held by material or spiritual poverty, when we move to restore sight to the blind, when we move to restore freedom to those imprisoned by a world without truth, where nothing they do makes sense and where they can never find peace. They need our message because they need Jesus Christ.

Let the splendor of holiness shine forth, dear brother priests, from your and my love of our bride, the Church. We are all grooms of the Church, who is our bride. Let the splendor of holiness shine forth from the love that we have for our bride the Church and for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We should be noteworthy for the love that we have for the Church. We should be noteworthy for the love that we have for the Holy Father. And the Holy Spirit will work that in us, because he has already placed us in that unbreakable alliance through the power of the priestly seal given us by the Holy Spirit.

Rejecting the lies of the devil

We’ve got everything we need. We’ve got wonderful people throughout the diocese to go forward with us in hope. The world makes it look like the deck is stacked against us. Notice too that every time Pope Francis speaks, he brings up the devil, because the devil wants us to believe that the deck is completely stacked against us and that we’re through. And that’s why the devil is called a liar and the father of lies.

Let the splendor of holiness shine forth from all of us, especially dear brother priests, from you and me, working out our alliance that becomes stronger not because we’re all naturally the best friends in the world (that would be nice), but because there’s an unbreakable bond that unites us, which is like no other bond which exists in this world, and all we have to do is demand the grace from that bond in the Holy Spirit every day, and the Holy Spirit will not be thwarted.

The Holy Spirit will never disappoint us, in the life of our parish, in the life of our diocese. The Holy Spirit will never disappoint us if our hearts are opened to Jesus Christ, who shines forth the splendor of holiness from each and every one of us tonight and for all days.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Thank you for taking the time to read this my friends. May the Lord continue to bless you and your families in this Easter Season! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen! Alleluia!