Catholics here have been abuzz about Bishop Morlino’s letter, posted on the diocesan website, to parishioners at St Mary’s in Platteville who revolted against their priests, resulting now in the closing of the parish school which is now in financial straits. The priests belong to the traditional Secular Institute, the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest, and I know them to be good priests. Fr Z explains the story. Bishop Morlino’s letter is, to me, truly kind. It is also notably brave.
I attended 11am Mass yesterday morning at St Paul’s University Catholic Center on the UW Madison campus, where Bishop Morlino had been invited quite some time back to celebrate Mass for the students on Good Shepherd Sunday, which was also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Fr Nielsen, well known to be the most eager promoter of marriage, humorously explained he’d told the bishop, “too many of our young men are getting engaged! We need more of them to go into the seminary!”
The bishop’s homily was not about the priests in Platteville! They were not mentioned. It was about vocations, the need for good shepherds, and an absolutely beautiful reflection on what the prayers of the Mass for the day tells us about what kind of shepherd Jesus is, and therefore what kind of priest shepherds we need. This homily would have been a hit on the blogs if there was a video of it, because it was just so beautiful.
First of all, Bishop Morlino said, the Greek word Jesus uses for “good” when he calls himself the Good Shepherd isn’t the usual word for good, but an entirely different one that is most commonly translated as beautiful; it means superbly good, good from every perspective. Jesus is the Beautiful Shepherd.
He pointed out next the Collect: “Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.” Jesus is the BRAVE Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Bishop Morlino he spoke of the courage good priests MUST have, especially today, to say things that are very politically incorrect, knowing they will be attacked for it.
Finally, he quoted the Prayer after Communion: “Look upon your flock, kind Shepherd, and be pleased to settle in eternal pastures the sheep you have redeemed by the Precious Blood of your Son.” Jesus is the kind shepherd! Kindness is not just “niceness”, it is far better than that.
[Update: Bishop Morlino's Madison Catholic Herald column for the week takes up this same theme]
At the end of Mass, after Fr Nielsen testified to us that although he and Fr Sternberg (who was emcee) do all they can, they have to leave a lot of work undone and the need for priests is very great. He thanked the bishop, who then said that Archbishop Listecki had been at the Bishop O’Connor Center (the chancery) this past week giving some talks to Bishop Morlino and his staff, I think on the New Evangeliztion, and the Archbishop joked that Bishop Morlino is poaching vocations from other dioceses. Although I do not at all think Bishop Morlino has gone looking for that, the Archbishop was pointing to something true. Priests want to serve under a bishop who will support them when they shepherd in a way that is beautiful, BRAVE, and kind, and Bishop Morlino does have men coming to him even from elsewhere because they see he is a good shepherd to his diocese. I hope and pray that some of those young men present yesterday will hear the call and follow it.
Update: Syte Reitz, a fellow Cathedral Parish parishioner and blogger, has some analysis and comment on the St Mary’s Platteville situation, and the decidedly inadequate and misleading Wisconsin State Journal article about it. Syte writes, “[T]he liberal 40% of the parish is holding the rest of the parish hostage, demanding the removal of two priests as ransom, before they return giving to the previous level and prevent the closing of the school. This was not covered adequately by the WSJ article.”
I think Bishop Morlino is making an enormously great decision standing behind his priests. I also think that reminding lay people that they, too, can incur canonical censure for their behavior, is taking the laity seriously.