On Saturday morning, May 19, 2018, the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, the Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton, Bishop of Belleville, ordained the Reverend Steven M. Pautler to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. In the same ordination Liturgy, the Bishop ordained eight new Permanent Deacons: Deacon Daniel R. Cozzi, Deacon Steven M. Eischens, Deacon John J. Gomez, Deacon Mark F. Kabat, Deacon James C. Law, Deacon John H. Mote, Deacon Randall L. Riesenberger, and Deacon Kevin T. Templin.
Bishop Braxton personally called each of the ordinandi to Holy Orders in the Sancta Trinitas Unus Deus chapel at his residence in April, after an hour long prayer, and face to face, heart to heart conversations about questions concerning ministry in the Church. He also witnessed their Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity required for Ordination.
The Bishop had urged every priest and deacon of the Diocese to participate in the Ordination. At every Confirmation this spring, Bishop Braxton pointedly asked those being confirmed, their sponsors, and family members to generously make the sacrifices necessary to attend. He personally invited representatives from every parish and he sent additional personal invitations to young men from each parish, inviting them to witness the ordination. In response to his invitation, the Cathedral of St. Peter was completely filled. He expressed his gratitude to all and asked everyone to join together with him in praying in one voice for urgently needed vocations to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ in the Diocese of Belleville.
After the ordination the Bishop commented: “I was very encouraged by the presence of so many of the Christian faithful and to see faces that I remembered from confirmations. It was particularly significant for me to meet parishioners who were there even though their pastors were absent for whatever reason. It is my hope and my prayer that some of the young men here this morning will be open to the Spirit’s call to the Priesthood.”
The central moment of the prayer-filled Liturgy of Ordination was the moment when the Bishop silently imposed hands on the heads of each of the nine candidates and proclaimed the Prayer of Ordination, first for the deacons then for the priest. This basic Rite of Ordination is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
Just prior to this sacred moment, the nine men lay prostrate on the floor of the Cathedral sanctuary while the entire congregation prayed for them in the Litany of the Saints.
The ordinandi were seated in the sanctuary in a corona facing the Bishop, who delivered his homily as a personal conversation with each of them.
He began by describing a conversation he had with Sophia, a fallen away Catholic on a recent plane ride. She said she was raised in a Catholic home, went to daily Mass, and attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools. Then she went to Stanford University and finally began to think for herself. She forcefully asked the Bishop, “How could I have been so naive? How could any intelligent person believe in God, Jesus, raised from the dead, bread and wine masquerading as the body and blood of Christ, miracle-working saints, people living in heaven and living in hell? How could anyone today believe in a corrupt, scandal-plagued Catholic Church? I just don’t see how an intelligent person could possibly be a priest today!”
“Dear Steven, Dear Daniel, Steven, John, Mark, James, John, Randall and Kevin, and Dear People of God: What would you have said to Sophia? This morning, the Vigil of the Feast of Pentecost, we gather with great joy, calling upon the Holy Spirit, Veni Creator Spiritus, to aid us in ordaining you to the Priesthood and the Permanent Diaconate, ministers of word and sacrament for the Diocese of Belleville, praying for the gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge needed to engage the modern, secular and often unbelieving world.”
Then, speaking directly to Deacon Pautler, he said, “During our lectio divina in my chapel, you explained why you selected the words of Jesus in John 17, 14-19 for this Ordination Liturgy. You were moved by the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, during his last meal with his apostles prayed for them, anticipating the challenges and difficulties they would face, once he was no longer with them. This strengthened you to be confident that Christ will be with you in your darkest hours.
‘As Jesus prayed for his apostles, so this morning he prays for you. ‘Holy Father, I revealed your name to Steven, whom you gave me out of the world. Steven belonged to you and you gave him to me and he has kept your word. Steven does not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate Steven in the truth. As you sent me into the world, so, today, I send Steven into the world.’”
Bishop Braxton expressed gratitude for the many people who inspired Deacon Steven Pautler to learn his faith, love his faith and live his faith, especially Ms. Teletha Pautler, his faith-filled distant cousin, now 92, who taught him at St. Boniface Parish Grade School in Evansville and Father Joseph Parasiliti, whose love, kindness and firmness inspired many young boys at St. Boniface to want to be priests just like him.
“Though your dear father, Anthony, was a Catholic it was your beloved mother, Margaret, who encouraged you the most in your faith, even though she was and remains a faithful member of the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ.”
He concluded his pastoral message to the man who would soon be his brother priest saying, “I have personally witnessed your growth and discernment over the years. I have seen the extraordinary servant leadership and pastoral sensitivity in very delicate situations where these skills were urgently needed. Recently, I have watched you wisely turn your attention to your health focusing on proper exercise and a healthful diet, remembering that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Steven, you must never let others, no matter who they are, turn you away from the wise path of Christian discipline, fidelity, dedication, faithfulness and human maturity!”
Bishop Braxton then spoke directly to the men he would soon ordain as Deacons.
“Dear Daniel, Steven, John, Mark, James, John, Randall and Kevin, you have not come to this ordination day by yourselves. I would not have called you to serve in the important ministry of the diaconate without the assurance that you had the complete support of your pastors, parish communities, and your family members, especially, your wives, Jody, Janice, Mary, Lori, Brenda, Jodi, Amy, and Kristen.”
He reminded them that the diaconate is one of the three Orders of Holy Orders (deacons, priests, bishops) found in the New Testament structure of the early Church, which can be traced to our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (6, 6-7).
“So the Twelve chose seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom…Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.”
“You join an illustrious band. Two of you candidates for ordination share the name of St. Stephen, the protomartyr, who worked great wonders and signs among the people and whose faith-filled death may have been a turning point for Paul, who witnessed the terrible event. St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome under Pope Sixtus II, martyred by Emperor Valerian and immortalized by Michelangelo in his monumental Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel and, of course, St. Francis of Assisi, the most renowned of all deacons who founded the Franciscans and reformed the Church. Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the first Jesuit Roman pontiff chose the name of this deacon. The Bishop of Rome’s interpretation of the life of deacon St. Francis has significantly shaped his much admired and much debated pontificate.”
The Bishop continued, “As you know, I am ordaining you as the universal Church marks the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate, one of the most important actions of the Second Vatican Council (1961-1964). When the American Bishops petitioned the Holy See for permission to restore the diaconate in the United States in the strife-filled year of 1968, they said they wanted to enrich and strengthen the many diaconal ministries at work in the United States with the sacramental grace of the diaconate by enlisting devout and competent men in the active ministry of the Church.
“The Church in the Diocese of Belleville has benefited tremendously from Blessed Paul VI’s decision to grant the Bishops’ request for the restoration of the diaconate. Not only are our current deacons serving in a variety of valued ministries but also, I foresee that, in the years ahead, some of our deacons will assume even greater responsibilities, in the tradition of the great deacons in the early life of the church.”
Giving a concluding instruction to all nine men, Bishop Braxton said, “Stay close to the community of faith. Cultivate authentic friendships. You cannot make it by yourself. Never abandon the foundations of your life and ministry. If you abandon daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, devotion to the Eucharist, spiritual direction, spiritual reading, regular confession, an annual retreat, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, theological education, and fidelity to the magisterium of the Bishops and the Holy Father, you will not, in the long run, have the inner peace and strength needed to remain “firm against the assaults of the raging sea.” Nor will you have the gifts needed to converse with Sophia when you meet her in our dystopian world!”
“Each one of you is well known to me. You are my spiritual sons in Jesus Christ and soon to be my brothers as well. In the years to come, my door and my heart will always be open to you, anytime, any day, anywhere!”
“As you know, profoundly painful experiences in recent years in this diocese cause me to impose hands on you with deep introspection and with great assurances from each of you of your resolve to be faithful in your response to the call of Jesus Christ. You are being ordained in a time of unprecedented change and tension in our Church and our country. Brace yourselves! Understand what you do! Imitate what you celebrate!”
“I ask all of the People of God gathered in this Cathedral and beyond to pray for the fruitfulness of the ministries of my new co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. “May their ministry at the altar be undertaken with great reverence, may their proclamation of the Word of God be undertaken with great fidelity to the Church, and may their works of charity be undertaken with genuine love. And may the Lord who begins this good work in them, bring it to completion!”
Bishop Braxton ended the Ordination Rite by asking the great crowd that filled the Cathedral to express appreciation for all the faithful ministry of the deacons, priests, and seminarians, who filled the sanctuary. They all received a very enthusiastic ovation.