Two years ago today I was ordained to the presbyterate by Cardinal McCarrick in Washington, DC. It is hard to believe that it has been two years. On the one hand, time has flown and it seems like yesterday that my classmate Steve and I were processing into St. Camillus Church at the beginning of the ordination liturgy. On the other hand, it seems like my experience over the two years feels longer than the actual time, making me wonder whether it has really only been two years now.
These last two years have been marked by a number of grace-filled moments, experiences of both gift and challenge, encounters of joy and sorrow. During the first year of ordained ministry everything was new. First weddings, first masses, first funerals, first anointings, first confessions, first baptisms, and the like. During the second year of ordained ministry, the newness fades, but the diversity of experiences and the surprising moments of the Spirit continue.
As I have settled into this aspect of my life, I feel that the line from the Second Eucharistic prayer, which concludes, “…giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you,” summarizes the experience of the ministerial priesthood.
Contrary to those who believe, either about themselves or others, that the ministerial priesthood is really about some sort of “magical change” that transforms someone into something else, this prayer of the church at the Eucharistic celebration reminds us that the work of the college of presbyters is one for which none of us is inherently worthy, but nevertheless remains a call from God to service within the whole community of the baptized. Some people get uncomfortable when I point out that being a priest is not “special.” It is important, it is a real vocation, it is a necessary office in the church, but any sense of exulted specialness or uniqueness distracts a minister and the rest of the People of God from the foundational truth that the ministerial priesthood is founded on the priesthood of all the baptized as Lumen Gentium no. 10 so pointedly states.
I have become more comfortable over these years with my role as presider, as one who calls the community to prayer, as one who serves and comforts, who preaches and teaches, as one who has been ordained for that purpose. But, nevertheless, I continue to be uncomfortable with a number of my brother priests and with lay women and men who want to make more of ministerial priesthood than our orthodox theology would affirm. I still encounter seminarians and young priests who hide behind habits, collars, and titles, who understand themselves to be above and apart, who view themselves more in a cultic sacerdotal sense than as servants in the community, as those called by the Spirit and affirmed by their sisters and brothers for an important and difficult, yet still human ministry. I remain even more allergic to the various cultures of clericalism that continue to infect the Body of Christ, which is the Church, even in the age of Pope Francis. And this is very saddening.
Yet, I remain hopeful that this might become a discomfort alleviated with time and deeper theological reflection on the part of the whole community and facilitated by the reflections, model, and challenge of Pope Francis.
I look forward to continuing to grow in this ministry, grateful that I have, although I don’t deserve it, “been found worthy to be in God’s presence and minister.” Whether presiding at the Eucharist at Babson College on the weekends or at various places around the country, whether teaching in the classroom or in a public space, whether trying to get out of God’s way so that the Spirit may comfort the afflicted in the sacraments of healing — I’m grateful for this particular call to ministry. Having done so for two years already, may God continue to guide me in the years to come and may I always be open in responding to that direction.
Photo: The Catholic Sun