Bishop honors Irish priests at Chrism Mass

Bishop Carl A. Kemme breathes into an urn containing sacred oil during the Mass of Chrism Tuesday, April 12. His breath represents the invocation of the Spirit upon the oil. (Advance photo)

Bishop Carl A. Kemme explained how the church is a community of missionary disciples in his homily at Tuesday’s Mass of the Chrism at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.

“Stories of missionaries, many priests and religious, and laity fill the pages of church history, and their stories tell of great fidelity, uncommon courage, and heroic witness,” he said.

The Diocese of Wichita has its own history of missionaries who heard the call of Jesus to leave father and mother, family and friends, home, and homeland, and to live among other peoples to make present the irresistible joy of the Gospel, Bishop Kemme said.

Irish priests left home for America

“Among them are the nearly 70 Irish priests, who over many decades, left their beautiful and enchanting Ireland, their parents, families, and friends. They boarded ships to cross the ocean and some of them never thought they would return waving a final goodbye to all that they knew and loved,” he said. “They came here to serve alongside a small but growing number of homegrown priests, altogether serving in the mission field of this diocese.”

Bishop Kemme said it was hoped that a large Celtic cross would have been erected in the Cathedral’s garden to honor the Irish missionary priests, but because of delays, a life-size cutout of the cross would be available for viewing.
Pat and Rene Hanrahan and Father John Sherlock were instrumental in the idea and eventual erection of the Celtic cross, he said.

“I consider myself personally blessed to have arrived here in time to get to know a few of these wonderful priests and to have presided at the funerals of four of them. I so enjoy when our priests gather and stories of these Irish priests begin to be shared,” Bishop Kemme said.

Two of the many priests in attendance were singled out by the bishop: “Father John Miller, celebrating 40 years of priesthood, and Father Dwight Birket, celebrating 50 years of priesthood.”

Sacred oils blessed

Bishop Kemme asked those attending and those watching via a live stream that as he blessed the sacred oils to be used throughout the diocese for the sacraments, and which call to mind the establishment of the ministerial priesthood, to hold up the example of the Irish missionary priests and the jubilarians for their zeal and ardor.

“They heard the call and answered affirmatively. The lives of many were changed because they did not think of themselves, but only desired to serve wherever God would need them and to go to whomever God would send them,” he said.

The bishop then invited his brother priests “in these storm-tossed and confusing times” to join him in recapturing the zeal and enthusiasm they felt on the day they were ordained. “Surely we can all remember that day and how we felt? Were we not all excited to begin our priestly service? This is the excitement the church needs from her priests today. The Lord has called us to be his priests in a new apostolic era, when the faith we were taught and the church we vowed to serve is often dismissed, considered irrelevant, and even despised.”

A modern missionary challenge

Bishop Kemme said he and his brother priests are now challenged to embrace a missionary spirit and are called, as Pope Francis teaches: “To form disciples, to call others to Christ and to evangelize our culture that was once undeniably Christian but is no more. Just as Jesus was sent out from the synagogue in Nazareth, just as the apostles were sent out on the day of Pentecost, so too we who have also been anointed are sent out to bring glad tidings to the lowly, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to announce a year of favor from our God, who is and always will be close to his people and those he has called to serve them.”

He said they are priests of a new apostolic era and different things will be required of them than those of our priestly ancestors of previous generations.

“For this reason, we who are bishops and priests, in our various ministries and responsibilities must continually evaluate, assess and renew our pastoral strategies so that they are ever fruitful and effective,” he said. “The grave temptation for us I think will be to presume that what worked in the past will always work in the present. Some of it, of course, will and that will deserve to be maintained, but much of what previous generations of priests relied on, will not work so well today. New wine calls for new wine skins. Something new is happening in the world and in the church and we must pay close attention, now more than ever to the signs of the times. We will need to keep our preaching, teaching, and pastoral ministry ever fresh and engaging, and try new approaches to meet the new and ever-changing needs of our people. ”

A life of prayer needed

To do so, priests must enter more fully into the life of prayer to access the graces needed to meet the challenges of priestly ministry in the future, Bishop Kemme said.

“This I am confident was the secret of church’s saintly priests of every generation, like John Vianney and saintly popes like John Paul II. How could they have accomplished all that they are so well known for today? By prayer. They not only prayed, but they lived a life of prayer. And this must be our intention as well.

“Prayer must permeate every aspect of our life and ministry. It must shape and form our day, offering the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, our personal and daily devotions like the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet, our ever-important and necessary Holy Hour, Lectio Divina, and of course practicing the art and discipline of meditation and contemplation. From these deep resources of divine power and energy, we will receive grace upon grace to be the priests the church needs today.”
No prayer is more effective or vital, he said, than the Eucharist.

“In this Year of the Eucharist for our diocese and in the Eucharistic Revival envisioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I, as your bishop, invite you to join me in renewing our understanding, appreciation, and celebration of the Eucharist. This alone will sustain us in these times and not only sustain us but empower us to embrace the mission of the Gospel.”

Mass should be deeply reverent

Priests have an obligation to ensure celebrations of the Mass are deeply reverent, transformational, and evangelistic, he said.

“Our presiding and preaching at the Eucharist must be undertaken with greater intention and devotion,” he said to the priests. “We must never come to the altar without reflecting on what we are called there to do and how it must be done. Our people who come to the Mass must see that it is no longer you or me who stands at the altar, but Christ himself.”
The Mass demands to be more than said, it demands and deserves to be prayed. If that happens day by day, then true disciples will be formed, then a wayward and in many cases lost culture will be evangelized. Then the stewardship way of life will be strengthened.”

Bishop Kemme closed his homily by saying missionary priests of the past couldn’t have foreseen the challenges they would have but they came anyway.

“The future will be challenging. Of this, I have no doubt,” Bishop Kemme said. “But take courage, we have each other,