May 5, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Thank God for Bishop Bruté’s example
and our dedicated priests

The upcoming Good Shepherd Sunday and my 42nd anniversary of ordination lead me to thoughts about the priesthood and our founding bishop, the Servant of God Simon Bruté. He was an extraordinary and holy priest.

A highly educated priest from France, Bishop Bruté, because of his simplicity, was called “the Silent Power” of the Church in its infancy in the United States.

He was praised in those words because of his missionary vision and love for the larger Church; he was respected for his prudence and admired for his holiness.

With the eyes of faith, he was a man of hope. Bear in mind that when he began as bishop of all of Indiana and half of Illinois—including Chicago—he had three priests to assist him in truly trying circumstances. Yet he could write to a bishop friend: “Generally my troubles are more on the surface, and there is peace in the depth of my heart where dwells a pure and simple abandonment to God alone.”

Our first bishop is a good model of the priesthood because priests are intercessors in prayer, missionaries of the Word, intercessors of the sacred, and missionaries of love and mercy—a mission no different than that of Simon Bruté.

Bishop Bruté was the spiritual director for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for many years. He wrote to her: “Pray, pray, pray continually for the Church especially in America, and for this diocese.”

The bishop’s words are timely. A priest mediates divine mystery as an intercessor in prayer. At ordination, we priests are invested with the office of lifting up praise to God for his goodness and beauty and the gift of our salvation. We intercede for the community at common prayer; daily we pray for and in the name of the community in private. Most often, we pray the Liturgy of the Hours in private, but we do not pray for private things. How often people ask, “Father, will you pray for me?” It is a ministry of trust.

It is recorded that, on a bitter winter night, Bishop Bruté was called to attend to a dying man who lived several miles from Vincennes. After walking a short distance through deep snow, his guide began to complain and then refused to go any farther because his feet were freezing. Bishop Bruté, who was saying his rosary, said to the man, “Walk in my footsteps.” So the man did—and all was well.

We priests are intercessors of the sacred mysteries wherever we are called to serve. We accompany sisters and brothers from birth to the gates of heaven. From the cradle to the grave, we try to be a guide, a consolation, a minister of salvation and an agent of sacramental grace at the side of countless sisters and brothers. Celebration of the sacraments—above all, the Eucharist—is an incredible privilege and responsibility.

It is true to say that it is the primary reason for our ordination. Christ called us through the Church, through the voice of the bishop, to bring his salvation to the people of God and to do that by the ministry of the sacraments. Sometimes we are called to trudge through deep snow.

Before becoming our first bishop, Father Bruté was best known as a seminary professor. History records his deep concern for the effective teaching of the faith. A priest’s primary role in ministry is to be an intercessor of God’s Word revealed in Jesus Christ. At our ordination, we were invested with the charism of proclaiming God’s Word. We are authorized and charged to be faithful stewards of his Word in season and out. The words of ordination ring in our ears forever: “Joyfully meditate on the Word of God. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”

We are missionaries of God’s love and mercy. Bishop Bruté went on foot in deep snow to bring God’s love and mercy to a dying man. Throughout his life, he was sought as a spiritual director and confessor. It is our privilege as pastors of souls to relieve the burdens of people, especially in the sacrament of penance.

When Bishop Bruté died, one of his priests wrote: “Bishop Bruté set the example of the most brotherly affection. When he was with us, we did not feel our weariness; nothing was hard to us and we scarcely knew we were poor although deprived of almost every necessity of life.”

Just as we priests need each other, so we need all of our sisters and brothers, and they need us. Together, like Bishop Bruté, we can be with each other so that nothing seems hard—and the feeling of weariness is lifted.

This Sunday, let’s thank God for the gift of our dedicated priests. †

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