Bonnie Elberson
Bonnie Elberson
Freelance Writer
June 6, 2017 // Special

Two begin lives of joyful service: Ordination to the priesthood

Bonnie Elberson
Bonnie Elberson
Freelance Writer

The jubilant strains of the majestic pipe organ rang through the vast edifice of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Fort Wayne Saturday, June 3, a day in which the cathedral was overflowing with family, friends, the faithful and well-wishers of Deacon Eric Burgener and Deacon Dennis Di Benedetto on the day of their ordination to the holy priesthood.

Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus in full regalia lined the center aisle as Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, the two candidates and the nearly 50 diocesan and visiting priests, vested in gold and white, processed to the altar to begin the ordination Mass. Bishop Rhoades greeted the assembly warmly, and thanked all for their attendance on such a joyful occasion.

Beginning the Rite of Ordination, a deacon called the two candidates forward before Father Andrew Budzinski, vocations director for the diocese, affirmed their readiness for ordination. After the Election of the Candidates, Bishop Rhoades spoke directly to them and said that he would ask six questions before their ordination, in the part of the rite called the Promise of the Elect.

He told those in attendance: “I will ask them about their intention and their resolve to undertake the office of the priesthood. I will ask them about their resolve to preach the word of God wisely, to celebrate the liturgy reverently, to be men of prayer, to consecrate themselves to God for the salvation of his people and to be respectful and obedient to me and my successors. These are all important questions that express what the church expects and requires of her priests.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, flanked by newly ordained priests Father Dennis Di Benedetto, left, and Father Eric Burgener stand with more than 50 diocesan and visiting priests, deacons and seminarian altar servers on the steps of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, after Mass. Photo by Joe Romie

Click here for more photos from the event.

“But there is another question that is even more important, because it gets to the heart of all the questions and expresses the motivation of these men who today give their lives to God and his church,” he added. “It is the question Jesus posed three times to Simon Peter in the Gospel today: ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Only after Peter professed his love for Jesus did our lord entrust him with the mission to feed and tend his sheep. Each time that Eric and Dennis respond, ‘I do’ to the six questions in the Promise of the Elect, they are also saying ‘I do,’ like St. Peter, to Jesus’ question to them: ‘Eric, son of Curtis and Arlene, do you love me?’ and ‘Dennis, son of Michael and Nancy, do you love me?’ Only after this response of faith will they be ordained, because it is only in the love of Christ and his body, the church, that the priesthood makes sense. It’s what the priesthood is all about.

Bishop Rhoades continued: “Christ the priest and Good Shepherd consecrates Eric and Dennis as priests and shepherds to feed and tend his sheep. They will do so when they nourish God’s people with his word, when they preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic faith. They will do so when they celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection in the holy Eucharist. They will feed God’s people with the bread of life, Jesus’ body and blood. They will tend the lost sheep when they forgive sins in the name of Christ the priest in the sacrament of penance. They will tend the infirm sheep when they comfort and anoint the sick with holy oil. They will tend the sheep when they offer praise and thanks to God throughout the hours of the day in the Divine Office, praying for the people of God.”

He then spoke directly to the two deacons.

“In all these priestly activities, Eric and Dennis, may you keep before your eyes the example of the High Priest who came not to be served but to serve, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. … And he gives you the grace in the sacrament of holy orders to be faithful to this mission. By cooperating with this grace, you will be building up God’s house, Christ’s body, the church, and in so doing, you yourselves will become holy.

“Erica and Dennis, I encourage you to make your spiritual life, your prayer, your highest priority as priests. It’s really a pastoral priority. By entering more deeply into communion with the Lord and by letting yourselves be possessed by God’s love every day, you are better able to witness to that love to your people. In your prayer, your love for Jesus is nourished and grows and you receive the energy needed to serve your people well. Put simply, you must be friends of Jesus if you are going to be his priests, good priests. I encourage you to make time for prayer so that the love of Christ will always be the dominant force in your life. … It’s from this intense spiritual life that our ministry becomes fruitful.

“Finally, Eric and Dennis, you are being ordained here in Mary’s church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and during this centennial year of Our Lady of Fatima. I pray that Mary will guide you and watch over you in your priestly life and ministry. She is the mother of Jesus and of his priests. She will help you to be faithful images of her son, the Good Shepherd. May you always be close to her, experience her love for you, and learn from her to be open to the grace of her son that you receive today.”

The candidates declared their intentions to assume the responsibility of the office of priesthood, pledging their obedience and respect to him and to his successors, then prostrating themselves on the floor of the cathedral as a sign of submission to the will of God while the Litany of the Saints was sung by the choir and congregation. The elect then knelt for the laying on of hands as the bishop, followed by the entire presbyterate, placed their hands on each man’s head in accordance with apostolic tradition. Then Bishop Rhoades said the Prayer of Ordination over them, after which the two new priests were vested with the stole and chasuble, signs of the priestly office, by Msgr. Michael Heintz and Father Dan Scheidt. The anointing of hands of the new priests with holy chrism, handing over of the bread and wine to them and the fraternal kiss of peace bestowed by Bishop Rhoades and their fellow priests completed the Rite of Ordination, and Father Eric Burgener and Father Dennis Di Benedetto were warmly welcomed into the diocesan presbyterate.

“Being ordained a priest is the most tremendous thing that’s happened to me since my Baptism and first Holy Communion…My prayer is that I will always be a good and holy priest because the people of God deserve that. I’m just so grateful to everyone here in the diocese who helped me get to this point in my life,” said Father Di Benedetto said. Father Burgener reflected on his path to the priesthood when he recently told Today’s Catholic, “We’re all called to go up that mountain…the mountain top is heaven. The climb is worth the view when you reach the top of your mountain.”

Couldn’t attend?

Click here to watch the recorded live stream from the event.

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