This is a joyous day for all of us in the Diocese of Helena, a day when Eric David Gilbaugh is being ordained to the priesthood.
Eric is an outgoing and affable young man, zealous and creative, bright and engaging, a natural leader who genuinely desires to be a good and holy priest. He has learned through priest mentors and formation faculty to place all of his gifts as well as his limitations, at the service of Christ and the Church. The episcopal motto of the late John Paul II captures well Eric’s sentiments on this day of ordination –Totus Tuus– completely yours. This is indeed Eric’s prayer that emanates from the depths of his heart.
Eric is being ordained in a day and age when science and technology are king, and an understanding of priesthood eludes glib sound-byte descriptors. He is being called to Holy Orders at a time when degrees, pedigrees and status symbols are often the measure of the man. The Catholic priesthood stands in marked contrast to these secular symbols of success.
The identity of the Catholic priesthood is rooted in an other-worldly vision, a vision entirely unknowable, except as it has been revealed in Jesus Christ. “The priest’s identity, like every Christian identity, has its source in the Blessed Trinity, a mystery that has been revealed and communicated to people in Christ …” (PDV 12). The whole Christian life is a communion with each of the Divine Persons, and Eric, you are called, consecrated and sent to lead others into this great Mystery of Faith.
St. Augustine once observed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee O Lord.” The late Father Henry Nouwen reversed the order of Augustine’s adage and observed, “God’s heart is restless until we rest in God.”
Eric, a priest must maintain an active and vibrant life of prayer so that he can keep his true identity ever in focus. Pope John Paul II in a revealing meditation on priesthood wrote, “The proclaimed truth must be discovered and adopted in the intimacy of prayer and meditation.” This is why St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim 1: 6).
The most precious gift you can give to your people is the gift of holiness, which must be cultivated through an active life of prayer.
Our own priests will tell you that pressures and difficulties will accompany a life of priestly service. But they will hasten to add that difficulties and pressures grow meaningful for those who live a life in prayerful communion with the Lord. Absent a life of prayer, your constant companions will become frustration, self absorption, aimlessness and cynicism. The great St Anselm promised his people, “I will nourish you with what I myself live on” ...(i.e.) deep and life-giving communion with God in Christ, especially through intimacy with Christ in scripture and Eucharist, coupled with compassionate ministry.
A few weeks ago Eric sent a small postcard to the priests of the Diocese of Helena in which he asked them to share some priestly advice with him, drawn from their years of service. His request is indeed an act of courage, for our priests are distinguished by their candor and bluntness. I am certain they offered Eric many valuable insights and words of advice. I must note that he did not ask me, perhaps wisely, for priestly advice. However, I will take full advantage of these next few moments to offer our brother Eric some personal observations, drawn from my 30 years of priestly ordination:
1. You will have the privilege of serving in many different parishes or faith communities. There the lives of your people will become powerful conduits by which the Holy Spirit will form, transform and reform your soul in new and unanticipated ways. I ask you to open the doors of your heart widely to the work of the Holy Spirit. In your pastoral assignments I ask you to dedicate a significant portion of your ministry to work among the poor and those who suffer.
Pope John Paul II observed many times that, “The poor deserve preferential attention, because in them the image of God has been obscured or violated.” The poor and disenfranchised have the power to enrich your priestly ministry and teach you invaluable insights concerning the mysterious and surprising ways of God. This is why the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote so compellingly, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” (GS 1) I hope that the wisdom of the Council will become a hallmark of your priestly ministry.
2. I ask you to remain close to your brother priests, who will love you, mentor you, occasionally correct you as older brothers do, and eagerly share with you a wisdom and experience gleaned over decades of priestly service. I know you will be the beneficiary of this legacy and stand to learn a great deal through the kindness and care of your loving brothers. Our priests of the Diocese of Helena have a historic reputation as one of the most hospitable and welcoming presbyterates in the country. I know you will benefit from this legacy and stand to learn a great deal through the kindness of your loving brothers.
3. I pray that your life and ministry will become a sign of healing and reconciliation for all you meet. I hope you will use the words, “I am sorry,” “I apologize,” “I forgive you,” lavishly throughout your priesthood, for the world needs models of healing ministry more than ever before. The wisdom of noted psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons is powerful and perennial, as he writes that, “Anger is just plain bad medicine. Those with whom you choose to remain angry will control you. They will limit you emotionally, physically, developmentally.” Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel’s message and is one of the primary duties of the Lord’s disciples.
4. Collaborative leadership and shared responsibility are among the great hallmarks of the Diocese of Helena. Collegiality is a precious gift which builds upon the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council. The Council’s Document on the Laity stated emphatically, “Pastors know that they themselves were not meant by Christ to shoulder alone the entire saving mission of the Church toward the world.” I hope yours will be a servant leadership that calls forth the gifts of the lay faithful, and empowers them to take an active role of service, not only within the Church, but especially in the transformation of culture and society.
5. I hope that you will embrace the power of “the new evangelization” so well articulated by Pope John Paul II. I ask you to use your ample gifts and talents to lead others to the heart of Christ and the Church, with this caveat: Pope Paul VI reminded the leaders of the Church that, “People put more trust in witnesses than in teachers.” In particular, I hope your ministry will mobilize the lay faithful in assuming their role as evangelizers of society. The laity hold the keys to inviting lapsed Catholics to return to the Church, discouraged Catholics to become reconciled, and those who do not know the name of Christ to discover Him for the first time.
6. I enjoin you to dedicate yourself to lifelong learning, or in the words of Stephen Covey, “Sharpen the saw.” I encourage you systematically to nourish your mind through good theology, art, music and literature. In the words of the Council, learn to “Read the signs of the times.” I ask you to prepare your homilies and classes thoroughly, and avoid the temptation of using the same materials year after year.
7. Finally, maintain a keen sense of humor and know the medicinal qualities found in humor, irony and levity. An author whose name escapes me once wrote that, “Laughter is the by-product of living deeply.” Truly a joyful life and a peaceful spirit are gifts that keep on giving.
In just a few short moments you will come forward to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders conferred by the Laying on of Hands and the solemn Prayer of Consecration. These will configure you to Christ and join you forever to the Presbyteral Order, imprinting on your soul an indelible sacramental character. Eric, all of us wish you a lifetime of happiness and a fruitful and fulfilling priesthood as we work together to build up the Body of Christ.
We ask Almighty God, Who has led you to this sacred moment, to bless you and guide you in the ways of His Son, who is here, in our midst, as One who serves. (John 13: 1 – 15)
Delivered at the Cathedral of St. Helena on Dec. 9, 2005.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 21, No. 11, December 16, 2005.