Three ordained priests
Bishop Carl A. Kemme told the three men standing before him that from that day on – until their last breath – they would be called “Father.”
“The title ‘Father’ is a great privilege and honor and one that is bestowed upon us by our people, even before we deserve it, for so convinced is the church and her people in the foundation of our vocation,” he said.
Fathers Trevor Buster, Hayden Charles, and Luke Downing stood solemnly before him Saturday, May 23, in the Church of the Magdalen in Wichita before the bishop laid his hands upon them making them priests forever.
“Our people, even when they cannot express it or acknowledge it, need their priests to be more than nice guys, more than used car salesmen with the deal of the week, more than those who try to fix their problems,” Bishop Kemme said sitting under a huge crucifix that dominates the sanctuary.
Priests are spiritual fathers
“More than any of this, they need us to be their spiritual fathers, who will not always have answers to their questions, or deliver to them whatever they ask for, or spoil them with depthless homilies, but rather spiritual fathers who give their people real leadership with a servant’s heart, leading them to greater depths of discipleship and greater heights of holiness, and who are there, among them, with them, pointing always to the great and eternal Father of us all.”
That is the fatherhood the three new priests are beginning, the bishop said.
“Every year when the names of the men to be ordained priests are called and after they stand and announce that they are present, they step forward and take a new seat in or near the sanctuary. This is a dramatic and powerful moment,” he said.
“Each time this occurs, I always think of you, dear parents of these men, for without you, none of us would be here today.”
Parents also honored
The parents of the three new priests sat in the front rows of the socially-distanced pews with their sons before the young men were called up to the bishop.
After thanking the parents for cooperating with God’s plan and for their family life – “the best seminary” – Bishop Kemme asked for applause for the parents.
The past several weeks have resulted in a changing understanding of the world, the bishop said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I must tell you that in all my 34 years now as a priest, I have never pondered more, considered as much, and prayed more daily for the graces I need in order to be the spiritual father I am called to be for you as I have in these past eight weeks,” he said.
“Each day, with its ever-present challenges, has reminded me in no uncertain terms that I was ordained for this task, to be a spiritual father to our priests and religious and indeed to all who look to me for pastoral leadership, guidance and direction in all times, but especially in times of confusion, doubt, and fear.”
Bishop’s father was always there
After reflecting on his father, about how hard of a worker he was, about his imperfections, and about him being a source of confidence and security, Bishop Kemme said his father was always there and still is.
“It is this example of fatherhood that has been on my mind and in my heart these past weeks and is very present now in this holy moment in which these three men will soon be ordained priests,” he said.
Commenting on the Mass readings, Bishop Kemme said, St. Paul speaks of the essential qualities of the ministers of God as those “those willing to suffer much, endure afflictions, hardships, constraints, even imprisonment or persecutions, but also those who are known for purity, patience, kindness, and possessing an unfeigned love.”
Fatherly qualities good for all
Those qualities are good for earthly fathers, the bishop said, and for spiritual fathers.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul admonishes the recipients of his letter to do nothing out of selfishness and vainglory.
“Rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others,” said Bishop Kemme quoting St. Paul. “Good fathers always think of their families first and are willing to sacrifice greatly for them. The order of priests must be known for this self-emptying love and service in imitation of Jesus.”
He told the three priests that often all they would have to do is be with the people. “To be there as a father is with his children, as a shepherd is with his sheep, sometimes in front leading them, sometimes behind, to bring them along, sometimes in the middle to encourage them, but never, never above them. This is fatherhood at its best.”
Father Kapaun remembered
Bishop Kemme closed his homily by recalling how Father Emil Kapaun, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who died a hero during the Korean War and whose cause for sainthood is being considered by the Vatican, exemplified this kind of fatherhood.
“Father Emil Kapaun, who was left to die in a horrible prison camp 69 years ago today. We have only to look to his supreme example of fatherhood to be inspired and encouraged,” he said.
“Even as a young priest, just 11 years into his priesthood, he was a father to his fellow POWs in a situation far more stressful and demanding than our own. He cared for his brothers in arms as if they were his own sons, sacrificing his own needs for theirs in a most human way, showing what real love looks like. He was there for them, never allowing them to lose hope.”
Bishop Kemme said he looks forward to the fruit of the new priests’ ministry and is honored to serve as their bishop and spiritual father.
“As you take your rightful place among us and as your ministries begin, I join the many in our diocese who will be praying for you, so that you will be the spiritual fathers our people expect, deserve and desire.”