By Bishop James Conley
We know that the world is facing many challenges and problems. The most severe reflect the lack of respect for the dignity of human life. We were horrified by the cold, calculated bombings of churches and other buildings on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Terrorists throughout the world continue to target and kill innocent people in churches, synagogues and other public places, spreading their hatred and inculcating fear.
In our own country, the unborn, the most innocent, defenseless, and vulnerable among us, are not given the protections that they deserve. While there are signs of hope for more protections of the unborn as state legislatures throughout the country are passing laws that restrict abortion, there is still much more work to be done in the full protection of unborn children.
There are many challenges and difficulties that hit closer to home, especially those within the Church. The scandal of clerical sexual abuse and priestly misconduct has caused great pain that has been felt throughout the entire Catholic Church. I know that this scandal continues to cause great pain among the priests, religious, and lay faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln, and it will take time to heal from this pain.
In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millenio Ieunte, written at the turning of the new millennium, St. Pope John Paul II provides encouraging words about maintaining hope in our fallen world. He wrote: “We are certainly not seduced by the naïve expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!”
When we reflect upon the myriad of problems in the world, we are, at times, tempted to despair, as we view the present tribulations as insurmountable. Or, we may think that through greater technology, greater discovery, or greater knowledge we will solve our problems.
St. John Paul II’s sage insight is that God the Father has already sent us a savior to deal with our current and future challenges, and he remains in our midst. Jesus voluntarily and consciously entered into this world of sin, suffering and tribulation, so that it might be conquered. And Jesus established the priesthood so that sin may be put to death until the end of time.
Jesus gave us the priesthood as a continued gift of himself to the world. Jesus came into the world with the mission to teach, govern and sanctify. But, Jesus didn’t intend for these activities to happen only in his lifetime. His saving work is for all time; his presence will never fade.
Jesus called the apostles to carry out his mission of teaching, governing and sanctifying. From a worldly perspective, his selections of Apostles may not appear to make much sense. Most of the men were simple fishermen. He chose a tax collector—an occupation that was hated by most people at the time of Christ. He did not choose a lawyer, a scholar of the law, or one of the leading men in his society. Who Jesus calls and why he calls any particular man remains a mystery.
Bishops have succeeded the Apostles in continuing this mission. Bishops ordain priests as living extensions of the mission and person of Christ. The very being of the priest is changed during his ordination.
On the day of our priestly ordinations, we all promised to configure ourselves to Christ with the help of God. This is a lifelong effort. Although we all fall short of this, this is our goal.
And what did Christ do? He gave himself completely to his Bride, the Church. He didn’t count the costs and sacrificed selflessly for our redemption. This is the model of all priestly service.
On Friday, May 24 I will ordain five men to the diaconate—with another young man to be ordained in Rome in October. The next day, I will ordain four men to the priesthood.
These men will begin their pre-ordination canonical retreat, directed by Father Benjamin Holdren in a few short days. I ask you to please pray for them as they prepare for their ordination day.
The ordination of a young man to the priesthood is a sign of great hope. It’s a reminder that the Church of Jesus Christ continues to be governed, that the Word continues to be proclaimed, and that the saving mysteries of Christ continue to be made present to us. The priesthood is a reminder that Christ remains with us.
As you probably noticed, new priest assignments, effective June 17, have been published in the Southern Nebraska Register. I ask you to pray for all priests, that they may receive grace and joy in their priesthood.
Pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit they may be strengthened in their resolve to strive for holiness and to continue to preach and teach the full gospel of salvation of souls entrusted to their care.
Given all of the problems, difficulties, and tribulations in the Church and in the world, the Church needs holy and faithful priests now more than ever.