ORDINATION SERMON OF HIS EXCELLENCY, BISHOP RICHARD WILLIAMSON
Given at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Winona, Minnesota on the feast of St. John the Baptist, Saturday, June 24, 1989.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Dear Father General, dear fathers, dear friends, dear brethren... Let us begin today with a few thanks. Thanks, firstly, to God, for giving to us a beautiful day. It could have been otherwise, and you can imagine how it might have been if it had been otherwise. Let us once more give God thanks for this beautiful building and these surroundings, which of course, on a day like this, are simply superb. It's a building supremely well-suited to the purposes of the seminary and, again, it could easily have not come into our hands. And it is a gift of God, and surely, being such a beautiful building, a sign of God's approval or benevolence towards what we're seeking to do in His service. And, let me once more thank in particular the Sardegna family for all that they've done by way of restoring this building, because if you had been able to see it two years ago, you would be astonished at the state in which it is to be found today... a lot of hard work and all for the glory of God. You might say, by holding this ceremony today in all its splendor, we are giving back to the Lord God a little of His own sunshine, were it not of course that everything we have to give Him is still His gift. But, in any case, we are doing what we can.
Let me thank also the priests who have come, especially those who have come a long way to be here today—in particular our dear Father General, for whose, as Americans say, "T.L.C."—"Tender Loving Care" of the seminaries of the Society—in the seminaries we are particularly grateful. Let me mention also that we have amongst us today the Society's First Assistant, Father Paul Aulagnier from France. It is good of him to come because, within six or seven weeks, he is having to preside over a massive meeting in Paris, France which is being held (some of you know) in order to give glory to God on the 200th anniversary of the Godless French Revolution. And this is a meeting which will be in Paris. They're hoping to collect, to gather, hundreds of thousands of people. There may well be a contingent going across from the United States, and it will be in order to make reparation to God in the heart of France for all the crimes committed against God by revolutionary France for the last 200 years. So we're especially grateful that Fr. Aulagnier has found the time to come across to the United States. And we thank all the other priests who have been able to come here today, often at great difficulty—many of them will be flying straight off after the ceremony, I'm sure—and we thank them for being here to confirm in the grace of the priesthood, to fortify in the grace of the priesthood, their four new colleagues.
Today's ceremony will be firstly, an ordaining of two deacons, that is, the last state before the priesthood. And these same two deacons, with God's help, next year will be two of the four priests, most likely, to be ordained here. These four today are American, and they will be serving in the United States. And it would be wise certainly to give thanks also to this country for the many gifts and possibilities that are still available here for the Catholic Faith... a great deal of benevolence amongst the general population, the tax exemptions from the government which certainly favor religious enterprises. The Supreme Court has just declared that the American flag may be burnt: my dear friends, I assure you that the renovation of this building is not yet complete, but next year that bare flagstaff which many of you just came past will be carrying the flag of the United States of America. We give thanks also that this year it is possible to hold this ceremony in its fitting place; at the end of the seminary school year, the climax of the school year for which all the seminarians have been looking forward. They will be going home in a few days time. Let us also thank all of them for the great deal of hard work they have done to put together this kind of ceremony for the glory of God, always.
And, we give thanks that this ceremony can take place on a great feast; the Feast of St. John the Baptist. Today is the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah, he who went ahead to make smooth the way for Our Lord Jesus Christ, to tell the world that the Messiah was coming and would very soon be there. And that when He was there, to tell the world who He was: "Behold the Lamb of God." And of course, the future priests will be saying words of St. John the Baptist with every Mass they celebrate, "Ecce Agnus Dei: ecce qui tollit peccata mundi." With us it is a very slight difference—St. John said, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world." And the priest will say in Mass, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world," as he is just about to give Communion. And John the Baptist, of whom Our Lord said that he was the "greatest of the sons of woman," and yet, he was "less than the least in the kingdom of Heaven. That John the Baptist, the greatest of the sons of the Old Testament, and yet, the New Testament is so great—the New Testament having been brought in precisely by Him of Whom John the Baptist was the precursor—the New Testament is so great that, "The least of the kingdom of Heaven," says Our Lord, "is greater than John the Baptist." John the Baptist; a hero, a martyr of course, executed by King Herod, but today we're not thinking of his death. That is another feast in the month of August. We might think of the great virtue that he has to teach the future young priests. And that virtue will surely be his humility and his self-effacement. Some of you may know that the feast of John the Baptist is on June 24th partly because we are at exactly the opposite end of the year from Christmas. And one of the things that John the Baptist said, you might remember, when the disciples of John the Baptist went to Our Lord and then came back to John. They were very fond of John. They venerated John, and they were afraid that John was going to be eclipsed by the Messiah. And John said, "Don't worry about that. I came here to be eclipsed. He must increase and I must decrease." His meaning was that John came in order to make way. Whatever brilliance John brought with him was precisely and only in order to illustrate and to give light for the coming of the Messiah. And John would be eclipsed by the Messiah like the moon, or something even less; would be eclipsed by the brilliance of the sun—the Messiah far more brilliant than the sun in comparison.
And we think of the future priests. They have a daunting task ahead of them, and they are very young. And they do not know how young they are. In the old days, a young priest, as many of you know and remember, a young priest would be sent out to the boondocks under some terrible old 'wolf' of a priest. That 'wolf,' by 'wolving,' would lick this young cub into shape. And the licking would not always be too tender if that young priest had some uppity ideas or some exaggerated ideas of his own wisdom and importance. Today there are not enough old priests to lick into shape, as in itself it would be normally necessary for these youngsters of the Society. And therefore, these youngsters rush in where angels fear to tread, we know too well. And we may therefore hope that thinking of St. John the Baptist and holding his example before their eyes, they will cultivate and keep first of all the virtue of humility. It is certain of course, that these young priests carry an infinite treasure with them into the world. They carry the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the order of Melchisedech. They are, by their priesthood, far more than John the Baptist—not of course, by their personal sanctity, where John the Baptist leaves all of us far behind—but by their priesthood they will be ahead of John the Baptist. And that priesthood with its sanctifying grace of which it is the main channel—the virtually indispensable channel in the world and always has been, let alone today—they carry into the world which is at bitter and deep enmity with the grace of Our Lord and His priesthood... Our Lord Himself. And therefore, they are going to have great enemies; the devil above all. In the Society we've seen and we continue to see, the devil taking a chisel and a hammer and hacking away at the Society to knock great chunks flying. (And, just presently, the Father General would commend to your prayers the intention of the priests of the Society of the Latin American District where, again, it looks as though the devil is succeeding in misleading these youngsters who are too full—pardon me for saying—of their own importance; who think they know when they don't. It was a pagan, Socrates, who said four, five hundred years before the birth of Our Lord, "The mark of the wise man is that he knows that he does not know. The fool doesn't know that he does not know, but he does not know just the same. The wise man knows that he does not know.")
John the Baptist, when his disciples came to him and urged him to take importance; to stand up, to attract to himself light and veneration and admiration and disciples... John the Baptist said as Americans would say today, "No Way!" He said, "I am here simply in order to be eclipsed. It is the Master Who is everything, the Messiah Who is everything." Padre Pio, one of the greatest priests certainly of the twentieth century, maybe of all of the history of the Church, said, "What a pity: people come to the servant and forget the Master." And, the Catholic priest is essentially, essentially, a window of Our Lord. Woe to the priest when he wishes to draw light and attention and admiration to his own person, to his own gifts, to his own qualities, instead of redirecting all of this admiration and love to his Divine Master!
Three ways in which we might suggest that the young priests remember how little they are and how little they know: 1) Common Sense. Dear ordinands, if you receive today the priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, you do not necessarily receive with it infused common sense. Common sense is something which always applies and is always necessary. 2) Remember that people around you, especially people that have lived twice as long as you have... remember that people who have lived twice as long as you have, be they priests or laity, most likely, in fact, most absolutely certainly, know a number of things that you do not know. Experience could be infused by Our Lord, but it is not something that He usually infuses. And certainly something that He is asking of all of these young priests of the Society—if He is sending them out like sheep amongst wolves—which He certainly is as He says in the gospel, is that they have the grace and humility to realize when they do not know and to turn to somebody who does know; to recognize, whoever it is, in whatever department of expertise around them who does know, to ask for advice and guidance. 3) Let them remember the importance, as it always has been in the Catholic Church, of obedience. Of course, blind or false obedience has misled many priests in today's Church. Blindly following their bishops who blindly follow Modernist Rome—they're plunging into Modernism and taking many souls with them, no doubt of it. But, there is no sign of the authorities, yet, by the grace of God, in the Society of St. Pius X going Modernist. And if there is no grave error against the Faith, then there is no grave reason, no justification, for any serious kind of disobedience. Therefore, let the young priests remember that God has so ordained His universe with a structure and a hierarchy. There's a hierarchy in the family, a hierarchy in society, a hierarchy in the Church. God has so ordained society that there are gifts which we cannot receive ourselves except through others. And there are particular gifts, and very important gifts and graces, which we can receive through no one other than our superiors. God has ordained it that way. And woe unto him who thinks, within the Church, that he can do without a superior! Therefore, let us make sure that we obey those whom God has put over us as superiors. It's not to say, of course, that they will necessarily be right in everything, but there certainly has to be a very grave reason in order not to follow their advice, their warnings, their admonitions, their orders, when these become clear.
Obedience is a guardrail which is capable of saving many a youngster from many a folly. If only he will listen to those above him who see better than he does. And watch out you six: the devil will tell you that you know best, that you are not understood, that you really have a greater insight into all of this than your superiors. And if he begins to lead you along that path, and if you begin to listen to him, then at the end of the line there is liable to be ruin. And there have been many cases in the Society. Let me not, of course, paint too black a picture of the Society: that would be absurd. But, there have been—besides the hacking away from the Society many of its limbs which the devil is taking care of doing—there have been many, many more. A far greater proportion have stayed faithful, and with the help of God, have acquired experience at great speed by the force of these circumstances without it going to their heads. And blessed are they.
It is the "race" of which St. Paul speaks: "I have run the race. I have fought the good fight." And each of us until the day we die, and none of us knows how far away that will be, has, especially the priests, a race to run and a fight to fight. In that race and in that fight, there is the great mystery of perseverance. And it is a mystery. There are youngsters with brilliant gifts who have leapt off the starting block like hares, and then there has come a ruination, particularly by trusting too much in their own brilliance. There are, on the other hand, plodders—apparently not very gifted—tortoises who, by simply doing their duty day by day in however humble a station, have stayed with their vocation, have stayed faithful, and most likely will stay faithful to the end. It is the great gift of perseverance and the great mystery of perseverance. For this, we need to pray; especially to the Blessed Mother of God.
During Mass, then, all of us will be praying for the young ordinands, for the especially heavy load which will land on their young shoulders before long; soon. We will pray the Mother of God to keep the devil off them, to keep the devil away. And we will pray that they live up to the sublime mission, the daunting and sublime mission, which the Lord God is entrusting to them in today's circumstances. I don't need evoke to you today's world, you know how it's going. Let me say, if you didn't think it already, all present indications are that things are going to get much worse before they get better. The authorities in Rome show no signs, no serious sign at all, of wishing to turn around or turn away from their Modernism. And so long as that is the case, the great mass of the official Church is going to continue plunging to its ruin. In ten years, one may ask oneself, if there will be any Church left. Of course there will be. And the Society, if it continues humbly on its way, will still be playing at that point in time a large part in preserving the Church—no more than a large part. Let no young priest of the Society think that he is saving the Church, because he isn't. It is Our Lord's Church, and it is Our Lord Who is saving the Church, and He doesn't need any of us. If He deigns to make use of us, it's an immense condescension. But, if any of us become unfaithful, He will cast us aside like He has over the last twenty years been obliged, so to speak, to cast aside many unfaithful servants. The Society, with your help and your service and humility, and with your common sense, will still be there in ten years time, helping to save the Church in circumstances which today we can maybe hardly imagine.
But, of course, there is no reason to fear. How many times in the gospel Our Lord says, "Fear not. Be not afraid. Have no fear. It is Me. I have conquered the world," for instance? And so, certainly the four of you being ordained today—the two of you behind positioning yourselves to climb the same step in a year's time—you must be commended for your courage, certainly. You face a situation which would daunt many a man; many a good man. But, of course, you and I are not relying on our own strength. You and I did not call ourselves; we were called by Our Lord. And when we were called by Our Lord, Our Lord of course, intended and virtually promised to give us all the help that we need, short of taking away our free will. So it is in the Lord that is our strength. It is in Our Lord we put our trust, and in His Blessed Mother.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.