| By Bishop Steven J. Raica

‘A Mountain Top Experience’

Benedictine Monk Ordained to the Priesthood

On August 6, Bishop Raica ordained Rev. Br. Dominic Lee, O.S.B., to the priesthood at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, on this feast of the Transfiguration, we can echo the words of Peter, “Lord, it is good that we are here!”

It is with gratitude that we are here today to share in this Mt. Tabor experience of the priestly ordination of Deacon Dominic Lee here at St. Bernard Abbey. Thank you, Abbot Marcus, Abbot Cletus, Abbot Elijah, and the monks of St. Bernard Abbey for your exceptional hospitality and welcome today! At the same time, Bishop Baker, it is good that you join us today – welcome! I also greet the priests and women and men religious who are here for this celebration as well. 

Your parents, siblings, family, and friends who are here today are our honored guests as well as those who may be watching this ordination liturgy on livestream services. In a very singular way, your vocational journey is very special to me given that I ordained you to the diaconate on March 27, 2021. Your formators testified that you are prepared for this very important step in your life and the mission of this Abbey. You, yourself, just affirmed it again! When you were ordained a deacon, I focused my homily on the very notion of service – a deacon as servant.  Today, in your ordination to the priesthood, you do not lose the diaconal ministry. Today’s ordination doesn’t cancel out your diaconate. Even under this chasuble that I wear, I have a dalmatic that reminds me of my own diaconal ordination. Similarly, undergirding your priestly ministry is always the very ministry of service. Today, however, that ministry is sharpened a little bit more as you are ordained to priesthood. It is a big step and one that is filled with joys and hopes, anguish and, at times, some challenges.  

Priesthood today can seem to be complicated to some. Yes, it is an utter joy to many. Still, others consider it to be obstacle. At its foundation, there is an attraction, a fascination, and a wonder about the role of ministerial priesthood today. It seems so needed in a society and culture that is searching for certainty about the meaning of life and not finding satisfaction in the proposals they have tried. In a sense, the priesthood today is a counter witness that suggests and points to a fuller purpose in life through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The priesthood cannot exist without Jesus Christ. The Eucharist, one of your primary functions, cannot exist without Jesus Christ. One who ignores that core reality, or who ignores Jesus Christ, will find priesthood completely empty and useless.

How is the experience of priesthood accomplished? It is by suggesting a privileged relationship with Christ through the bishop and, especially here, through the key figure of the abbot – the house father. This ordination will consecrate you as a “true priest of the New Testament, to preach the Gospel, to shepherd God’s people, and to celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the Lord’s Sacrifice.” As priests, we preside of the mystery of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection, eschewing what is sinful and becoming a witness of hope – “Walking in the newness of life.”  

This doesn’t happen automatically. It requires the grace and power of the Holy Spirit which we, especially through the intense prayer of this community today, call upon you today to help you conform your heart and life to the very Sacred Heart of Jesus, our High Priest. We can do nothing apart from the Holy Spirit and from Christ Himself. It will require and presuppose an open, receptive, and free heart to embrace the gift freely given to you.

May I suggest three modest reflections for your consideration? 

  1. Stay close to Christ and our Blessed Mother – While you are called to the priestly order to work with the bishop and your abbot, stay close to Christ and our Blessed Mother in prayer. This community cherishes prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of the Eucharist. These are treasured moments of sanctification of the day. Enter these mysteries to hear the voice of God whispering to you. What is God whispering? He is whispering that you are loved and that your life has a special mission that no one else has.
  2. Stay close to the abbot – While we are relational, we are not lone rangers that form part of a club of celibate bachelors. No, we are united in a bond of priestly fraternity who share the mission of Christ through and under the leadership of the abbot for this community and the bishop of the local diocese. The assignments and tasks given to a priest are part and parcel of fulfilling the mission of the Christ in a local community. Each priest is to take care to shepherd, lead, sanctify, and nourish those assigned to him so that the Gospel “may bear fruit in human hearts and reach even to the ends of the earth.”
  3. Stay close to God’s mercy – As a foundation of your ministry, your humanity is important. We are not angels, spirits, or divine. Even though we do many things well, we can and do sin. We need to beg for mercy as we grant it readily in the Sacrament of Penance. We are forgetful and anxious even as we witness the power of Christ in our brokenness. It is in our lack that we find ourselves begging God for the grace of patience to work through our weaknesses and inadequacies. And, through our attempts, we can see the glory of God working in and among those we serve. These will be the moments when someone is radiating and reflecting Christ back to you, so you can experience Him again in surprising, unexpected moments.

So, my dear Deacon Dominic, you are about to embark on a priestly adventure. Today is a mountain top experience. Treasure it and guard it as a very special gift and grace to you in the privileged encounter with Christ. Still, like Peter, James, and John, we must descend the mountain and resume our daily routines. May you carry the high moments of this encounter with Christ with you and radiate the goodness that you experience today in your ministry. Others you meet along the way, not just in this house but outside in a variety of different places, will strengthen your ministry through their challenges and encouragements. At the end of the day, it is good that Christ allows us a share in His life, in His suffering, and in His glory! May God bless you!

For coverage of the ordination, please click here.