Be fervent in prayer, constant in hope

May 30, 2024
Left, Father Alfredo I. Hernández-rector of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Father Michael Batista, Bishop John Noonan, Father Phillip Mills, and Father Joshua Swallows-director of vocations after the Priest Ordination May 25, 2024 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. (MARJORIE DURANTE)

ORLANDO | Prayer and hope were the words at the heart of Bishop John Noonan’s message to Father Michael Batista and Father Phillip Mills on their Ordination day, May 25, 2024.

Welcoming them, their families, friends and communities to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando, Bishop Noonan invited both men to sit before the altar as he shared his homily.

“Michael and Phillip, Jesus will ask you many times in your priestly life, ‘Do you love me?’ Remember Jesus needs your ‘Yes.’ Only then can Jesus invite you, as he invited Peter, to follow Him,” Bishop Noonan told the two men. He continued, “Your simple response today, ‘I do,’ is the beginning of your priestly relationship with Jesus Christ. Your fiat, ‘I do,’ is a moment of deep and lasting fidelity, grounding yourself in Jesus, grafting yourself to the Vine. Pope Francis explains, closeness to God is where a priest draws ‘all the strength needed for his ministry.’”

Quoting Pope Francis, Bishop Noonan said, “Without a meaningful relationship with the Lord, our ministry will prove fruitless.” Concurring with the Pope, the bishop explained prayer is at the root of a relationship with Christ. He said the Pope stresses the importance of a consistent prayer life, which he said helps a priest to trust in God during difficult moments.

“The intimacy born of prayer, the spiritual life, concrete closeness to God through listening to His Word, the celebration of the Eucharist, the silence of Adoration, entrustment to Mary, the wise accompaniment of a guide and the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” Pope Francis had said. “Without these concrete ‘forms of closeness,’ a priest is merely a weary hireling who has none of the benefits of the Lord’s friends.”

At their Ordination to the Priesthood, Bishop John Noonan encourages future priests Father Michael Batista, center, and Father Phillip Mills, right, to be develop a deep and fervent life of prayer so they may always be open to fulfilling their call. (GLENDA MEEKINS)

Bishop Noonan reminded Father Batista and Father Mills that their prayer life, their spiritual life will enable them to be beacons of hope in the world. Calling to mind Pope Francis’ announcement that 2025 will be a Jubilee Year calling all Christians to be Pilgrims of Hope, he cited the Scripture verse for the Jubilee Year, Rom 5:5, “Hope does not disappoint.”

“Michael and Phillip, the Lord calls you and sends you forth to rediscover hope, to proclaim hope and to build hope in the lives of the people of God,” the bishop said.

The call also rang true for Father Mills’ parents, Lucy and Richard Mills. When sharing their thoughts just before their son’s Ordination to the Priesthood, Lucy said, “We’re thrilled because we think, for the younger generation, it will help to have two young priests to bring people to church.”

Richard added, “Both Phillip and Michael entered seminary after high school. It brings a great deal of hope.”

It is this hope that both men seemed to carry within since childhood. Lucy recalled when her son was young and received his First Holy Communion. When the six-year-old went to receive the host, Lucy recalled him telling Father Stephen Phillips, then pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Candler, “Body of Christ.”

“Father Phillips responded, ‘No, that’s my role right now,’” Lucy recalled, adding the exchange led the pastor to dub the young man, Father Phillip.

While Father Phillips has since passed, the Mills family believe he would surely rejoice this ordination day.

For Father Mills’ twin brother, Matthew, his brother’s call was not always clearly understood. He acknowledged time revealed how his brother’s vocation has become hope for others.

“When he first started, I didn’t understand some of the things he talked about,” Matthew said. “Part of me wasn’t grasping what he accomplished and how he was able to help people. But as he started getting more and more involved and helping people in ways that I never could, the only thing that comes to mind is, I’m so proud of him,” he said tearfully. “And so grateful God gave us the gift that is Phillip.”

Inez and Pedro Batista, Father Michael Batista’s parents, had a similar experience. Both thought their son would become a professional umpire as he was successful and well-known in the field. When he first came to them and announced he was going to seminary, they were surprised. In those first few years, they worried about him. Eventually, his resolve assured them he made the right decision.

“It’s been a beautiful nine years,” Inez said. “Despite being raised Catholic, I learned a lot. He took me to churches, cathedrals, shrines … I learned so much.” The experience has offered a glimpse of the hope he will share with others.

After Ordination, both men shared their emotions, noting a mix of joy and excitement.

“I’m so ready to go out there, preach the Gospel, and serve the people of God,” Father Batista said.

“This is more the Lord making a promise to us and to His Church, more than us being able to do anything and I’m just amazed,” Father Mills said.

When asked what they want the people of God to know about the goodness of Jesus Christ, both burst out in tandem saying, “That He loves you.”

“He loves you and He wants to give everything to you, just like He said in the Gospel,” Father Batista said.

Father Mills added, “Whatever you think is keeping God from you, it’s not. He wants to rush to you. Go to Him.”

Father Phillip Mills will serve St. James Cathedral Parish in Orlando and Father Michael Batista will serve St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Cloud. Their assignments begin June 1.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic Staff, May 30, 2024