Madonna House

We Have A New Priest

by Fr. David May

We have a new priest in our community! Ordained by our bishop, Most Rev. Michael Mulhall, Michael Richard Weitl became a priest of God on June 21 at about midday.

Michael was surrounded by his own family and friends (mostly from Iowa), classmates from the North American College in Rome, his Madonna House brothers and sisters, and neighbors from the local area.

He celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving the next day, a Sunday and the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). Father Michael also gave benediction with the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the annual Corpus Christi procession from St. Mary’s chapel to Our Lady of the Woods on the Island.

It was, to say the least, a joyful weekend for us all! Father Michael left a couple of days later with his family, destined for Iowa and Mass there with the local parish community and no doubt many other encounters.

He will rejoin us for the summer weeks, including one at Cana, before he is assigned to a parish in our diocese for the coming year on September 1.

We spent the week before the ordination, besides being busy with details preparing for all the festivities, reflecting on the priesthood as presented in the ordination rite itself and the writings of Catherine Doherty and Pope Francis.

For example, in the homily the pope gave at the Chrism Mass this year, he spoke about priestly identity as follows:

“Many people, in speaking of the crisis of priestly identity, fail to realize that identity presupposes belonging. There is no identity—and consequently joy of life—without an active and unwavering sense of belonging to God’s faithful People… .

“The priest who tries to find his priestly identity by soul-searching and introspection may well encounter nothing more than “exit” signs, signs that say: exit from yourself, exit to seek God in adoration, go out and give your people what was entrusted to you, for your people will make you feel and taste who you are, what your name is, what your identity is … .

“Unless you ‘exit’ from yourself, the oil grows rancid and the anointing cannot be fruitful.”

Sometimes visitors to our community, upon seeing the way respect is shown to priests, ask questions like these: Does Madonna House idolize priests?

Did Catherine Doherty retain customs from the “old country,” such as standing when a priest came to her table to join those sitting there or kissing priests’ hands, because she was raised in a traditional way and was simply not in touch with or somehow ignored the wrongs perpetrated by priests?

And has Madonna House carried on certain of these traditions and attitudes of exaggerated respect out of blind loyalty to its foundress? What about the terrible scandals of recent years?

To answer such questions, one must comprehend first how Catherine Doherty understood baptism and the priesthood of the faithful that all of us who are baptized hold in common.

In listening to her speak, in studying her writings, there can be no doubt that she understood the life of all the baptized as a priestly offering united to that of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world.

Thus, laborious repairing of clothes by a seamstress was for Catherine a means of repairing with Christ the torn yet seamless garment of his Bride, the Church.

Washing dishes carefully and with attentive love was a reaching out to wash the dirty faces and filthy wounds of the numerous victims of modern wars.

Pairing old earrings which come by their hundreds in donation was a gathering up of the fragments of discarded human lives—unwanted children, street people, the lonely elderly.

A last example—the work of repairing machinery:

“Anyone who repairs a machine can sometimes see the results of another’s emotional hostilities taken out on a creature of God. The workshop, therefore, is a place of atonement, of mortification, of silence and recollection, of prayer.

“It is not that one simply repairs a creature of God with the knowledge of their mind and the skill of their hands. One also ‘repairs’ the slight done to God himself. The repairman receives the grace to atone not only for his sins, but also for those of others…. He will know a little, a very little, of Christ’s sufferings on Golgotha.” (The People of the Towel and Water, 2010 edition, p. 83)

Of course, the community was also taught to bring this same disposition of sacrificial love to the many person-to-person encounters of their apostolic lives.

The point was that all such loving effort, united to that of Christ the great High Priest, is never in vain, no matter how hidden the staff member or how obscure the tangible results or the visible connection between one’s efforts and the ones being helped. For we are baptized into the one Body which has Christ himself as its Head!

And yet, for this offering to be sustained, that Body of Christ needs the sacraments, and especially the ones that nourish and purify souls for everyday living: the Holy Eucharist and Confession.

These two sacraments (along with the Sacrament of the Sick) are associated in a necessary way with the sacrament of Orders of the Presbyterate or Priesthood.

Throughout her life as a lay apostle, Catherine spoke, wrote letters, and prayed in the night so that priests would simply be… themselves.

Totally servants of the people of God by being totally dedicated to dispensing the sacraments with love, preaching with simplicity, and living in an exemplary manner modeled on that the Christ the great High Priest.

For her this was a matter of simple faith in the grace of God at work for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ. She knew from her experience of the revolution in Russia what it was to carry on as a believer without the normal help of priests, and for her, nothing could be more tragic, more opposed to God’s design for the Church.

Thus, the “honor” shown to priests was for her merely recognition of a sacramental reality which her love not only acknowledged respectfully but called forth insistently. Those to whom “much” respect was shown by simple gestures were expected to give “much” by drawing constantly on the grace of their sacrament.

Her loving respect called forth and even “saved” priestly vocations. Her call to the truth, if heeded, brought forth that joyous offering spoken of so eloquently by Pope Francis.

Here are a few words from Catherine that appeared in the book Dear Father under the chapter heading “Alter Christus—Another Christ”:

“I look at you, and in faith I see a beautiful sight. I see Christ taking me in His arms and consoling me while I weep at His feet in the confessional. I see Christ feeding me with His Body. It is His lips which pronounce the words of consecration while His hands hold the Host.

“I can touch His hands in yours; I kiss His hands when I kiss yours. And when I am sick and darkness closes in on me and fear enters my heart, who comes? Christ! You come, but it is really Christ who comes to me.

“What we wish from you so passionately, what we hunger for with such a tremendous hunger, is that you give us God, not yourself.” (2001 edition, p. 70)

Father Michael’s choice of a reading from Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13) sums up beautifully and concisely all that has been written about in this article. An excerpt:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift… . And his gifts were that some should be apostles … for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Father Michael: God grant you many years!