By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer
“It’s a great time to be a priest – to be the one called by our Lord – to bring the light of Christ into the darkness that has clouded our Church this past year.,” said Father Thomas Bortz June 17 during the Ordinandi Dinner at St. Mary, Hamburg.
“You three get to be agents of healing, figures of hope and instruments for renewal for the people of Allentown.”
Father Bortz, pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring, was guest speaker at the celebration for the newly ordained priests – Father Giuseppe Esposito, Father John Maria and Father Zachary Wehr.
Hosted by the Serra Clubs of the Diocese of Allentown District I-80, the dinner drew an estimated 200 guests and priests.
After thanking the Serrans for their prayers and support of seminarians and priests, Father Bortz said the “yes” of the newly ordained men was not to go to the seminary but to a calling to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
“Your formation gave you answers when God questioned your commitment, and the sacred chrism on your hands was you telling the world that you’re ‘all in,’” he said.
“And nothing aggravated Satan more.”
Recalling the terroristic attacks on 9/11, he told the guests that the prince of darkness directed the tragic day.
“Three planes were hijacked, two of which successfully reached their targets. But the third failed. Passengers realized what was happening and they responded heroically. They sprang into action, and their willingness to sacrifice their lives to save others from a similar fate as the twin towers ruined the terrorists’ ultimate plan to severely cripple our country,” said Father Bortz.
“There’s a strong analogy here with what we have in our newly ordained. These three young men have willingly surrendered themselves, given their lives to God, so that others may live, and I’m talking eternally. They too have responded heroically at a time when God needs them.
Stressing that Jesus brings his light of the world through good, faithful and joyful priests, he acknowledged that man was responsible for the first fall in the Garden of Eden, and priests are responsible for the recent clergy abuse scandal.
“And God knew it would take priests to bring life to a fallen Church. The priesthood is not about the priest. Ordination is not about men promising obedience to a Bishop. There is no gift, there is no grace, there is no vocation bestowed that is given solely or even primarily for the benefit of the recipient,” said Father Bortz.
Instead, he told the guests, what transpires at ordination is that God opens them up and capacitates them for a “radical and generous self-donation” on behalf of his people.
“My three new brothers, the priesthood is given to you, but it’s for them,” said Father Bortz.
Reminding the newly ordained priests that they will never build up God’s Church by themselves, he urged them to let God help.
“Love your people with God’s help. Pray more than you are obliged to pray. Pray for your people, and don’t be afraid to pray for yourself. That’s not being selfish. Surrender your personal agendas and be docile to the Spirit,” he said.
Father Bortz also advised the new priests to keep Jesus at the center of their spiritual life and that their pastoral fruitfulness is tied to personal prayer and an intimate relationship with Christ.
“Loving your people means more than occasionally being seen in the vicinity of those you serve. It means engagement, relationship and commitment. It means discovering the joys, the needs and, perhaps most poignantly, the sufferings of the people we are called to shepherd.
You get to be the new life in Christ. You get to be the light of Christ to which God’s people are called,” he said.
“So you can’t let anything or anyone wipe away the joy you have right now in your heart.”
In addition, he advised the priests to pray before they preach, work diligently at being a good homilist and jokingly referred to the late comedian George Burns, who said “an excellent homily should have a good beginning and a good ending, and they should be as close together as possible.”
“People will be attracted to your freshly minted priesthood. Some will be gracious, needy, combative, polite, whiny, grateful, liberal, conservative, broken, cordial, confused, generous, flattering, devoted and challenging. And you have been ordained to serve them all and love them all, because our Lord offered his life for these people,” said Father Bortz.
“The greatest thing you get to do is feed God’s people, and you get to feed them with the greatest gift ever. At every holy sacrifice of the Mass through the power of the Holy Spirit you get to perform a miracle by changing the bread and wine into the sacred body and precious blood of Jesus for the spiritual nourishment and transformation of your people.”
In his remarks, Bishop of Allentown Alfred Schlert told the guests that the newly ordained priests – who were the first men he administered the Sacrament of Holy Orders to as transitional deacons last year – are a great sign of joy and hope for the Diocese.
“We needed some good news and a morale booster – and this was it,” he said.
Bishop Schlert then asked the Serrans and guests to look at the quality of the three new priests and pointed to the fact that vocations come at different times, to different people and in different regions.
With Father Esposito, 37, who worked as a registered nurse; Father Maria, 51, a father and grandfather; and Father Wehr, 28, who earned a degree in education before entering the seminary – Bishop Schlert noted that there is no area in the Diocese that is not fertile ground for vocations.
“God calls ‘who’ and ‘when.’ It is our part to pray. God works beyond our expectations,” he said.
Acknowledging that some may say it is a terrible time to be a Bishop, he told the faithful that it’s not a terrible time to be the Bishop of Allentown because of good priests, good religious and supportive faithful.
“We have challenges. But we have a Diocese very full of hope. Everything we need to serve our local Church is right here,” said Bishop Schlert.
Before the dinner, a Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated by Monsignor David James, diocesan vicar general.
Father Adam Sedar, diocesan secretary for clergy, also served as homilist.
“Day in and day out, you will draw closer to the Lord,” said Father Sedar. “Let nothing come between you and the altar like nothing came between the Lord and wood of his cross.”
Other concelebrants were Father Donald Cieniewicz, pastor of St. Mary, Hamburg; the newly ordained priests; and diocesan priests.
Mary Marzen, president of Serra Club of Carbon/Schuylkill, presented the newly ordained priests with gifts.
Prayer for Vocations was led by Monsignor Daniel Yenushosky, chaplain of Serra Club of Allentown and pastor of Holy Trinity, Whitehall.
The Prayer for the Perseverance of Vocations was led by Father Edward Essig, chaplain of Serra Club of Reading and pastor of St. Francis de Sales, Robesonia.