April 21, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

'Dear Archbishop': Fifth-graders’ lesson on holy orders
leads to lots of questions

Not long ago, I received a packet of notes from fifth-grade students at Saint Simon the Apostle School in Indianapolis.

The class had been studying the sacrament of holy orders. A candidate for the permanent diaconate and a seminarian from the parish talked about the diaconate and the life of a seminarian. The teacher said many of the students had never heard of a seminarian before.

The students penned thank-you notes to me for being their archbishop and for assigning Father Robert Sims and Father Bill Williams to their parish. Some had questions. I told them I would use this weekly message to answer them.

Dear Archbishop, we are learning about holy orders. We learned that bishops get a ring, hat and a staff. We hope you write back to us.

Another student wrote: Did you get a miter, crosier and a ring when you become[sic] a bishop?

During the ceremony of ordination as a bishop, I did receive a miter and crosier.

The miter is the name of the pointy hat that a bishop wears. It was made for me by a priest friend. The crosier is like a shepherd’s staff because a bishop is to be a shepherd after the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

My crosier was made of wood and was carved by the late Brother Lawrence Shidler, a Benedictine monk at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. The ring I received was a gift from my dad (my mom was deceased), and he gave it to the bishop to put on my finger at the ordination.

The ring symbolizes the Church’s desire that a bishop becomes united to the diocese like a husband, like Christ who is the bridegroom of the Church.

Dear Arch Bishop[sic], I hope you are having a great day. Also, you are doing a good job at being our bishop. I have two questions for you. How long did you study to be a bishop? Also, were you a seminarian before you were a bishop?

I was ordained a priest in 1964. I was ordained a bishop in 1987. So I was a priest for 23 years before I became a bishop.

Before being ordained a priest, I was a seminarian. The length of time as a seminarian depends on when a person begins to study for the priesthood.

For example, the seminarian from your parish, Adam Sullivan, began as a college student. Before being ordained, he would have studied eight years—four as a college seminarian, and four at the graduate level of theology.

A person who begins studies for the priesthood after four years of college will spend six years before ordination: a minimum of two years of studying philosophy and then four years of graduate theology. Back in the old days when I began to prepare for the priesthood, most seminarians began studies in high school. So I spent 12 years as a seminarian.

Dear Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, I hope you are having a great time being archbishop. I’m sure it must be a very hard job, probably a ton of work, too.

While it is true that being archbishop is “a ton of work,” it is a blessed vocation in the Church. God gives every one of us the grace, the help, that we need to do our part in carrying on the mission of Christ in the Church and in our world.

Everyone in the Church is called to become holy and to help our neighbor. With God’s help, we can do a lot to make a difference in our world. And that includes you, my young friend.

Dear Archbishop, at school we’ve learned about holy orders. I’m guessing that you’ve given holy orders to someone before. (Another student wrote: I also wanted to know how[sic] it is like to giving holy orders.)

After 19 years, I have ordained many priests in the sacrament of holy orders. Conferring this sacrament is one of the greatest joys of my ministry as a bishop.

However, I need to say that I would like to give the sacrament of holy orders to a lot more priests.

God calls young men to become seminarians, but these days it is not easy to hear his call. There are many distractions and not much encouragement. I hope you and your classmates pray about how God wants you to make a difference in our world.

Dear Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, Right now my parents are getting divorced ... please pray for them with me.

Dear young friend, I am praying for your parents and for you. Stay close to Jesus in your prayers. It won’t make problems go away, but helps if we share our worries with him. You could talk to your pastor, too. Because of holy orders, no one needs to be alone. †


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