On Saturday, May 15, four men (Erich Joseph Weiss, Charles Joseph Wrobel, Matthew John Widder and Antony Primal Thomas) were ordained for the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. If you’ve never had the opportunity to view an ordination, you are really missing a special experience. The enthusiastic spirit of the congregation fills the cathedral. There is a pride that is felt by the entire community in the commitment of these men. The ordination ritual calls the men forward. The men have spent years of studies and formation preparing for this moment.
As they were called by the deacon of the liturgy they responded “present” and the rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, Fr. Don Hying, requested ordination and testified to the readiness of those being called: After inquiry among the people of God and upon recommendation of those concerned with their training, Fr. Hying testified that they have been found worthy.
As the ordaining bishop, I accepted the candidates for ordination with these words: “We rely on the help of the Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, and we choose these men, our brothers, for the priesthood in the presbyteral order.” Applause broke out from the community as an affirmation of the selection. I remember on my ordination day the feeling of humility that so many would approve of my priesthood.
As the ordaining bishop, I then offered words of reflection on their vocational call to the priesthood. Each man different, each receiving his call from our Lord in a unique manner, yet each of them called to share in the same life of Jesus, “in persona Christi” for the good of the church.
I exhorted them to be holy priests. They will now use their office to form their communities in holiness. After the homily, the candidates were examined to determine their resolution to live the priestly life using their priestly office to collaborate with the bishop, to sanctify, to preach, to explain the Catholic faith and to live a life consecrated to God for the sake of his people.
The promise of obedience is a moment that is often reflected upon in the coming years by many priests. As these young men kneeling before me promised obedience to me and my successors, I reflected upon how many priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have fulfilled this pledge for the good of the church. This relationship to the bishop – whoever occupies the office – is essential for the well being of the church and unites the priest and bishop in the apostolic tradition celebrated in the Acts of the Apostles.
Then the Litany of the Saints was chanted as the priestly candidates prostrated themselves before the altar. After the prayer the priest candidate again knelt before me and in one brief moment of silence, I placed my hands on the head of the man and the sacrament was completed. He is a priest.
The auxiliary bishops and the priests who were present joined in the imposition of hands as a sign of the solidarity of the priesthood. I marveled at the histories of the priesthood present in the lives of the priests of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I was grateful for their dedication and commitment to Christ and his church. The newly ordained were vested by priests who have played a significant role in their vocational journey. They then came forward and their hands were anointed with chrism. These will be the hands which will consecrate the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Their first act as priests was to concelebrate the Mass in union with the bishop and priests present for the sake of the People of God that they serve.
At the end of the Mass I had the special privilege as the ordaining bishop to receive the first priestly blessing of the newly ordained. As I knelt before them to received their blessing I was grateful for the power of the Spirit working in the lives of these men and, as I kissed their anointed hands, I prayed that these hands would be used to sanctify and build the Body of Christ and his church. As the newly ordained processed out of church a spontaneous applause from the congregation confirmed the action of the church.
The newly ordained immediately began sharing their priesthood in the first blessings they bestowed upon their families and friends.
This is a fertile time for vocations. Our young people are experiencing the emptiness of lives often lived in selfish pursuits. They seem to acknowledge the challenge posed by those cross-generational heroes John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta – the challenge to spend one’s life living for others in the name of Christ. But we all have to do our share. We need to present the question of a vocation to those men and women that we view as possessing the qualities of a good priest or religious. We are blessed with four dedicated men. I know there are others waiting for the invitation.