Bishop recalls a moment in his ordination while speaking to newest members of the priesthood
By Mark Haney
The Catholic Weekly
SAGINAW — The ordination Friday, May 18, of Thomas R. Held and Alberto E. Vargas Posada took Bishop Joseph R. Cistone back, to his own priestly ordination.
More to the point, to the prostration during the singing of the Litany of the Saints.
The bishop asked the two soon-to-be-priests to consider three things as they lay on the carpet at St. Mary Cathedral during the afternoon rite.
“Priests have the opportunity of participating in that ceremony twice — as deacons and then as priests,” he told Held, 46, and Vargas Posada, 35, during his homily. “And as a bishop I had the opportunity to participate in that same gesture when I was ordained a bishop. For my own part, when I was a deacon, I don’t remember a great deal about that moment when I as lying on the floor. I think I was more excited than anything about being at that point in my life, when this was all becoming real to me. To be honest, I really wasn’t worried about any responsibilities I was going to have because there is no life easier than being a transitional deacon.
“Then a year later, I was ordained a priest. Again, there are some parts of that ceremony that are just a blur to me because I was in and out, emotionally, during the ceremony. But I do remember lying on the floor and hearing the Litany of the Saints and having a deeper sense that I was becoming a part of something much bigger than myself. Much bigger. We always say the priesthood is not about us, not about me. It is about the Church, about the Body of Christ, about the Lord Jesus Christ. And I just play a part in that ecclesial responsibility of administering to God’s people as a priest. Again, I was fairly green, excited, happy to have reached that moment where seminary life would end and I could begin to live my dream.”
The bishop, however, went through that moment a third time.
“I remember lying on that floor during that prostration when I was ordained as a bishop and I knew what life as a priest meant after 29 years,” he said. “And I knew what the responsibilities were. I knew the joys of priestly life. I also knew it was quite a different life and different ministry than I had ever dreamed of 29 years earlier, when I laid on that floor of the cathedral to be ordained a priest. And as the prayer of the saints flooded over me at the episcopal ordination, I realized with greater humility that I was just a part of a much bigger church. That I was called upon, in a very incredible away, to keep alive the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I experienced three responsibilities for myself as I looked back on that day. That I was asked to keep alive faith, the teaching of the Church and the service of Jesus Christ.”
That was what he wanted Held, a native of Defiance, Ohio, and Vargas Posada, a native of La Granja, Colombia, to keep in mind during their ordination and during their priestly ministry.
“On that day I became a bishop,” he said, “I realized what an awesome responsibility has been handed on to me, by the saints, by my predecessors, to pass on our faith in the resurrected Christ, to pass on the authentic teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and to be an authentic witness and servant to the life of Jesus Christ. And I believe those three responsibilities are at the heart of what Thomas and Alberto are called to today.
“They are not going to be able to begin their priestly ministry unless they know in their own heart what the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead means to them personally. What does it mean to believe that Jesus is risen from the dead? It is at
the heart of our faith. It is greatest celebration in our liturgical year. It is at the core of all that we believe and all that we are and all that we do. That we personally, not just intellectually, not just from a theological slant, that we understand that Jesus has risen from the dead personally. We understand what this fact means in our own lives and we have accepted it into our life. That I believe Jesus has the power over all things, that Jesus has the power over sin, evil, even death itself. And in my priesthood, Jesus, through my conviction, shares that power over sin and death in my priesthood, most especially in my sacramental ministry.
“So the first thing we have to do as priests is to truly understand and believe, to know within our very being, what does it mean that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. It has to be a very personal experience. It cannot be just a theological concept. And as you preach that message, as you share your faith with others, you can multiply all of the words you want in public, but people will experience, through your actions, through your priestly demeanor, whether you truly believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. That has been entrusted to you as a priest, to be a sign of the resurrected Christ.”
But that, the bishop said, it just one third of their task.
“The second thing is to pass on the authentic teaching of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We all have gifts and talents, we all have personalities by which we convey messages. We always have to be careful that our own personalities and our own personal views do not get in the way of what has been passed on to us in the Church, through the saints, through those who have gone before us.”
Just as we pass on the physical treasures of our lives to the next generation, he said, the priest must pass on the treasure of the Church.
“We, as priests, are entrusted with that responsibility of passing on the teaching of the Church, the teaching of the Lord, Jesus Christ,” Bishop Cistone said. “So that the people we serve have a clear understanding of where the Lord Jesus wants us to walk and to be. It is an awesome responsibility. And sometimes maintaining that great responsibility o passing on the faith can mean great personal pain for us. Sometimes it means humiliation. But it is a call given to the priest.
“And in that prostration we are reminded of that through the Litany of the Saints. Where would we be if any one of those saints put him or her self before the Church and before the word of God. Where would we be?”
The third key role of the priest, the bishop told the pair, is to serve.
“The third thing we, as priests do, is we pass on the service of the Lord, Jesus Christ,” he said. “We are called to serve and not to be served. And if I can go back and reiterate something I said when I was installed as bishop, the first person we serve is Jesus Himself. We are His servants. We’ve been asked. Sometimes the Lord is asking us in our own lives to live and to suffer. And sometimes in the name of the Lord, Jesus, we are to call others to a difficult challenge if they want to be united in the next life with the Lord, Jesus. So we must serve the Lord, Jesus, and we must serve the Lord by serving those in our midst who are entrusted to us, most especially those who are most vulnerable. It is so humanly easy to minister to those who acknowledge what we do, are comfortable with what we do, are there sometimes to repay us for what we do. It is another to serve those who may never even know our names and may not even care, but who are in need of love, compassion and kindness.”
The bishop asked the two to remember, as they “humble themselves before the Lord. And … we chant the Litany of the Saints, calling upon all of the saints to shower them with love, protection and grace as they prepare to assume this great ministry of the priesthood,” the core of their calling.
“Of all of the things you could be reflecting on, on this day of your ordination, among all of the beautiful symbols of the ordination ceremony, upon all of the lofty ideals of what priestly ministry is all about, I just humbly share that thought with you as we pray the Litany of the Saints over you,” he said. “That you will assume the responsibility to faithfully hand on what you yourself happen to believe, that it be grounded in your strong conviction in the power of the risen Jesus in your life and in your ministry and the life of the Church, and that you remain faithful to the authentic teachings of the Church, that you help people out of their confusion rather than creating their confusion. And that you will remain faithful to serve the Lord, Jesus Christ, as you serve your brothers and sisters. If you are faithful to those three ways, you will find great spiritual consolation and happiness, satisfaction. Not only that, but you will be earning salvation as you lead others.”
Fr. Held graduated from the University of Toledo in 1992. He served in the Ohio Air National Guard, lived in Japan and worked in the auto industry before realizing God was calling him to the priesthood. He received his priestly formation from Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn. He has served as a deacon for the past year at St. John Parish in Middletown, Conn.
Fr. Vargas Posada came to the Diocese of Saginaw in 2008 as a seminarian and received his priestly formation at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pa. He also has completed English-language courses at Saginaw Valley State University. He has served as a deacon for the past year at St. Richard Parish in Gibsonia, Pa.
Fr. Held’s first assignment is as a vicar at Sacred Heart Parish in Mount Pleasant. He also will assist at Sacred Heart Academy.
Fr. Vargas Posada’s first assignment is as vicar at SS. Casimir and George Parish
in Saginaw and Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Bay City.