Finding beauty in the priesthood Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Jun. 06, 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,

"The love of Christ compels us (2 Cor 5:14)," says the second letter to the Corinthians. That love, which is made manifest to us in the person of Christ, is the most beautiful thing that there could ever be. It is beautiful because God is love. He is love and He is beauty itself.

And during this Year of Faith we've been pondering from various perspectives the beauty of the Lord, as a way of inviting people to meet Him in a life-changing way through the New Evangelization.

After having just recently celebrated the ordination of three wonderful new priests, I'd like to say a few things about the beauty of the priesthood, which I shared with those present that great evening. The love that impels us, and its beauty, is made manifest in a special way in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Beauty of the ordination rite

The priesthood is beautiful because Jesus re-creates the priest in a new way so that the old self dies. During ordination, the priest prostrates himself before the altar. He is down there as if dead and rises up to resurrection, to the newness of being changed at the deepest level of his soul into the image of Christ the Priest.

He rises up to receive, through the laying on of hands, the gift of being in the person of Jesus Christ Himself, the High Priest. He is changed at the deepest level of his soul -- nothing can ever take that away.  It's once for all.

And then there is the laying on of hands. At the prostration these men are saying, “I’m willing to see my old self die and I very much want to be made anew.” That’s their prayer. The laying on of hands is God’s response. The laying on of hands is done in silence. There are no words connected to it at all. No words should ever be said, because that is the moment when the Holy Spirit changes the soul.

That is the time, together with the Church’s prayer to follow, when the Holy Spirit whispers something that only he could understand, because the Holy Spirit appreciates all that has gone before in the man's life. He appreciates all the joys and all of the sufferings. He knows each one at the very core of his soul and during that laying on of hands the Holy Spirit speaks something to him that only he could understand. But the bottom line of His whispered message is, "You belong completely to me, now."

And then comes the anointing with holy chrism. The priest extends his hands, and he is covered with the chrism -- with the oil of gladness, the oil that makes him the "anointed one," the oil that makes him another Christ. It is a sign of the holiness and the strength which the Lord gives him in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The hands become the hands of Christ. The rest of him, too. He is in the person of Jesus Christ.

After the anointing with holy chrism, the newly ordained receives the chalice and the paten -- he receives the gifts of the people to be offered to God.

At that point, he realizes the beauty, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews describes, of being the mediator between God and people. God has appointed high priests to act on behalf of the people in all things that pertain to God. God places the priest between Himself and His people.

Jesus Christ wanted people to be saved by the mediation of the priest. He didn’t only want them to go out into the woods and commune with whatever might be out there. That can be very nice, but salvation comes through the ordained priesthood. That's the way Jesus wanted it. Jesus did not want people to sidestep priests, unworthy though we are.

Looking for Jesus in the Church

I get certain letters, and they frequently end, "Why don’t you do what Jesus would do?" Well, I’m trying to do what Jesus would do, but I don't have any secret access to Jesus by which He tells me directly what to do.

The Holy Father Francis has been saying repeatedly lately: you cannot separate Jesus from the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, not any other spirit. If we want to know what Christ would do, it’s through the Holy Spirit and the Church.

Pope Francis said last week that "it is dangerous to look for Christ outside the Church"; it can’t be any clearer than that. It's dangerous.  And we are in a world where even many Catholics are looking for Jesus Christ outside the Church, and that’s dangerous. Christ wants to relate to them in a special way through the priest and through the Church. That's very, very important.

Last week, Pope Francis also said, "if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord!" He wasn't telling us to go out there and annoy them for the fun of it, but sometimes it is necessary to annoy people. We have to annoy them if they are annoyed by our telling them the truth. We cannot invite people to take a pass on that any longer. Jesus Christ will conquer the world with His truth, not with anything else.

We’re going to have to tell the truth, with love, about artificial contraception and abortion; we’re going to have to tell the truth, with love, about same-sex unions.  You've got to bring it up. If people get annoyed, Pope Francis said it, "blessed be the Lord!" Because we care about their salvation.

And Catholics who think all of these things are just fine, somehow, are in danger of losing their salvation. We can’t shilly-shally around about that.

Love the Church. Don’t let people separate the Church from Christ.  Don’t allow people to say that the Church does this but Jesus would do something else. How could they know? It is the Holy Spirit who directs the Church.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.  What Jesus wants us to do comes through the Church, led by His Spirit. And it’s very dangerous to seek Jesus Christ outside the Church.

Relationship with Mary

Lastly, one of the greatest strengths of a priest is that being in the person of Christ, God gives the priest a very special relationship of sonship to Mary.
Mary is the greatest helper in the battle against evil. Mary is the greatest, most tender protectress in time of temptation. Mary is the one who comes to our aid at the hour of our death.

As Jesus related to her, so too the priest, who is in the person of Jesus Christ, is given the gift of that relationship. She is his best intercessor, his best helper every day, and we all know how Jesus loves and listens to His mother.

How beautiful is the prostration, and the rising up to new life that it signifies! How beautiful is the laying on of hands and the possession of the priest by Jesus Christ that it communicates! How beautiful is the anointing with oil and the truth about holiness that it illustrates! How beautiful is the presentation of the gifts of God’s people to be in turn presented to Him by the priest, the mediator! How beautiful it is that the priest is the one who is called to act on behalf of people in all things that pertain to God! What a big responsibility. How beautiful it is that sometimes we are called to help people get saved by annoying them!  Be not afraid. How beautiful it is that our constant companion on our journey is Mary, the mother of priests!

Thank you for taking the time to read this. May God continue to bless you, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Praised be Jesus Christ!