I am so often asked, “What’s your favorite thing to do as a bishop?” That’s an easy question to answer. I respond: “Ordaining young men to the priesthood.” That’s my favorite thing to do as a bishop — the second thing, of course, is the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation around the diocese.
In the Easter season, I have an opportunity to celebrate these two special moments in our diocese: priestly ordinations and sacramental confirmation. Easter, of course, lends itself to be the time of new life and the season of hope and grace for all of God’s holy and redeemed people. The priesthood allows the people of God to draw close to the action of the paschal mystery everyday in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. We stand at the foot of the cross and with the priest we are offered to the Savior and receive the gift of salvation from the offering of His body and the shedding of His blood on the cross. The priest stands “in persona Christi”—in the person of Christ—at the Mass.
Confirmation opens us to the last of the sacraments of Christian initiation (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation) as we are once again signed with the holy cross and confirmed with the chrism of salvation. In confirmation, we are challenged then to go forth and live the mission of Christ in the church in the peace of Jesus Christ, Himself. The sacramental action and grace of this sacrament empower us to live as stalwart Christians in a world of conflicted beliefs and doubts about God—indeed, anything holy—in society at large. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord) become the essential “tool box” we need for our day-to-day skirmishes with evil and duplicity in our lives. Bear in mind that the ministry of priests, in particular, is an assistance for us so that we do not lose our way in following the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of the church as we strive to follow the way of Christ each day.
I cannot help but remember in a clearly vivid way the celebrations that marked these two special sacraments for me. Confirmation in May of my third-grade year (1959) with Bishop James O’Brien (auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago) was such a major event! My Uncle Joe was my sponsor. He gave me a beautiful Bulova watch—I still have it (and it still works!).
Ordination to the priesthood took place in Milwaukee (April 1977) with Archbishop William Cousins, the ordaining bishop. Three of us were ordained together. One of our classmates, Father Bruno, has preceded us to the Father. What an exciting and full life it has been so far. I don’t think I have ever met a priest who would not express his life and his experiences as other than a blessing.
Celebrating history is, of course, a celebration of life. The older we get, the more life there is to celebrate; and the more we treasure our memories and life experiences. In our diocese, we are blessed to have so many priests—and deacons, too—who fondly recall the days of their own ordination. We pray mightily for those who are coming after us and anticipate their work into the next century-plus!
Please pray for our young people who are being confirmed during this Easter season. Ask God to help them to be courageous in the practice of their faith. Pray also for Deacons Kyle Laylan and Barry Saylor, who will be ordained priests of Jesus Christ on June 30 at our Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman. They will be our sesquicentennial priests! Congratulations to them, and to all of us!
By Bishop William Patrick Callahan
is the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse