Praised be Jesus Christ! By the time you read this we’ll have two new transitional deacons in our diocese: Ethan Hokamp and Brandon Guenther. They were ordained in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Thursday and are now in their last months of training before being ordained priests in La Crosse on June 22nd, 2019. I’ve known each of them for years because I taught in Ethan’s hometown of Wisconsin Rapids from 2000-2002 and Brandon was a high school seminarian at the House of Formation that I led from 2002-2011. Brandon came to us from Independence as a sophomore and was a good kid from the first moment I met him. He asked me to be the one who vested him during his diaconate ordination in Rome and I have to admit that it was just about the nicest gesture anyone has ever done for me. As any teacher knows, kindness from former students makes us feel like our years in the trenches were worth it after all! So for full disclosure, I was in Rome this past week with Father Sedlacek and Father Aaron Becker and even though you might not believe me, we had a wonderful time together. We stayed at the religious house run by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother – this is Sister Rita and Sister Barbara’s order. They have a guest house that is only a 28 second walk from the Vatican (I timed it) and it has a chapel with Jesus in the Tabernacle. Father Becker and I arrived on Monday evening and Father Sedlacek came in on Tuesday morning. We spent Tuesday and Wednesday visiting churches and enjoying the city we called home for four years (five in my case – and don’t you dare think the extra year was for remedial studies). Thursday was the ordination and it was an emotional one, as I was ordained a deacon in the exact same place 20 years ago (October 8th, 1998). My heart swelled with gratitude as I couldn’t help but remember all the blessings of that day and of the subsequent years. So many people made countless sacrifices for me and now that I’m older I have come to realize how important it is that we pray for our priests. Without your prayers, I simply could not function as a priest. I hope you know how much it means to me every time one of you says “Father, we pray for you every day.” Only in Heaven will you see how much good that did. And so being with the new deacons was a blessing in that I was able to pray with and for them as they begin their years of service in the Lord’s vineyard. And while much has been written about the human side of the priesthood, I would like to share something a friend gave me recently that reminds us that there is another side too. Titled “The Beautiful Hands of a Priest,” this poem was passed down orally for many years in Ireland.
“We need them in life’s early morning, we need them again at its close;/ We feel their warm clasp of friendship, we seek them while tasting life’s woes. / When we come to this world we are sinful, the greatest as well as the least. / And the hands that make us pure as angels are the beautiful hands of a priest. / At the altar each day we behold them, and the hands of a king on his throne / Are not equal to them in their greatness, their dignity stands alone. / For there in the stillness of morning ere the sun has emerged from the east, / There God rests between the pure fingers of the beautiful hands of a priest. / When we are tempted and wander to pathways of shame and sin / ‘Tis the hand of a priest that will absolve us, not once but again and again. / And when we are taking life’s partner other hands may prepare us a feast, / But the hands that will bless and unite us are the beautiful hands of a priest. / God bless them and keep them all holy, for the Host which their fingers caress, / What can a poor sinner do better but to praise Thee who chose thee to bless. / When the death dews on our eyes are falling, may our courage and strength be increased / To see, raised above us in blessing, the beautiful hands of a priest.”
May God give us holy men and women to serve us with hearts made pure by His grace!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin