Missing An Ordination

Missing Ordination 01

Among the many changes that the Coronavirus (and its associated COVID-19) plague has wrought has been a significant change in the way I had planned to spend a weekend last month. I am sad to report that I missed attending my first-ever ordination.  OK, not actually mine, but one for someone near and dear.

Longtime readers know that my oldest son has been in formation to become a Catholic priest as part of the Dominican Order.  For those who don’t have a good grasp on how religious orders subsist within the larger Catholic Church, you can read my description about religious orders in general and the Dominicans in particular.

He began that journey not long before I began this blog, and a few of you have been right with me as I experienced my first Parents’ Weekend with the Dominicans and more recently as I experienced his Solemn Vows in which he bound himself to life as a Dominican Friar.  He recently passed another milestone in that journey, his ordination as a Deacon.

We Catholics are part of a sacramental Church, which means that there are certain physical things that represent a special kind of grace in our faith lives.  Baptism, First Communion, Penance (confession), Confirmation, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick (last rights) are the way the Catholic Church accompanies most of us on the (hopefully) long journey from birth to death.  That’s – – six of them.  “Wait, don’t you Catholics have seven sacraments?”  Yes we do, and that seventh is called Holy Orders.

Holy Orders are what the ordained get in place of marriage (though there are some exceptions which I may get into at some future point).  Catholics have three kinds of ordained ministers who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders – Deacons, Priests (presbyters in the Bible) and Bishops.

The Bishop is a successor to the Apostles and oversees a “local church”, in that very ancient Roman geographical concept of a diocese.  Priests are the ordained ministers that everyone thinks of – they perform the baptisms, weddings and funerals and celebrate Masses with us, under the authority of their Bishop.

The Deacon, though of ancient origins, was a concept that fell out of use for quite a number of centuries but has been dusted off in recent decades.  The Deacon assists the Priest in things like baptisms, some weddings and the authority to preach at Mass.  Some Deacons are of that status permanently and are often older married men who feel a calling to serve in a unique (and demanding) way.  Others are “transitional Deacons” who live that state of ministry on the way to ordination as a Priest.  This is the one my son and three of his brother friars recently celebrated.

I have never been to an ordination.  Mrs. JP and I were excitedly planning a trip to St. Louis for the occasion.  It was going to be a big deal, because an ordination always involves a Bishop.  We Catholics talk (though not often enough) about the “four marks of the Church – one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”  The “apostolic” part means that each Bishop received his Holy Orders and authority from an earlier Bishop, and so on and so on in a direct line that reaches all the way back to the original Apostles of the New Testament.  So yes, we consider this a big deal.

The present contagion, however, cancelled all of our plans.  My son and his Dominican brothers were deeply disappointed, of course.  Then it was decided that, because they were already on the Bishop’s calendar, they could do the ceremony privately in their own chapel – so it was back on, but not in the large public way that had been originally planned.

As immediate family we were allowed to access a private live stream which I was tech-savvy enough to be able to cast onto our big TV.  The feelings here were bittersweet – happy for our son’s milestone and that we were allowed to view online, but sad that we were not able to actually experience the happening ourselves.

It was a powerful event for us, and must have been so much more so for those physically present.  One by one each of these four young men knelt before the Bishop who placed his hands upon them, transferring a measure of his authority to them.

It is a part of Catholic belief that receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders makes a very real change in a person.  It is said that a priest is a priest forever and that nothing can happen which will remove that indelible mark.  Priests who lose their way and commit reprehensible acts can have their authority revoked (called being laicized or defrocked) but they remain priests just as one who gets a divorce after a sacramental marriage remains married in the eyes of the Church.

We are hopeful that by next year life will have returned to some kind of normal and that our son’s anticipated ordination to the priesthood will be open for all to attend and celebrate.  But there are, of course, no guarantees.

For now we will let it soak in that “this is really happening” – the life our son set out for in 2014 is now partially realized and will hopefully be fully realized before we know it.

We are under no illusions about what is in store for him.  There was a time that his was a path to near-universal admiration and respect, but that time is long over.  There are many who think religion is a load of nonsense and many more who look at the ordained as fools, charlatins and outright evil.  This will not be an easy gig for our son and these other young men.  As an example, he is serving this summer in a parish and neighborhood that are largely African-American, and the friars there avoid wearing their long white habits out of fear that they might be wrongly identified as KKK robes.  Don’t laugh, it has happened before.

But perhaps tribulations like these are necessary.  We have all jokingly said that anyone who actually wants to be President of the United States ought to be automatically disqualified for the job just for that reason.  In the same way and more seriously, maybe by dissuading those who want to be priests because of the esteem and influence it brings will makes the entire Church better off .  Then maybe we will have more priests who are used to being unpopular, and therefore more inclined to tell us all what we need to hear instead of what we want to hear.

 

15 thoughts on “Missing An Ordination

  1. Congratulations to you, Mrs. JPC, and your first-born! The pandemic has added varying degrees of suck to some otherwise magnificent events. Our best wishes as the young Mr. JPC continues in his journey.

    You are correct about it being a tough road. There are a number of professions in which there have been an obvious few that have ruined it for the rest. Or at least made it unduly challenging. Yet I like to think many things in life come in cycles. Some of these cycle times certainly are longer than others but the overall cycle remains where there are good times and not so good times.

    Regardless, I hope you are able to make it to his ordination next year. That sounds quite exciting.

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    • Thank you. We did get a consolation prize when he was able to drive here to visit for Father’s Day last weekend. He contacted our parish church about going to Mass there (due to social distancing, we have to register and each week is restricted to names beginning with certain letters of the alphabet) and was invited to preach the homily. So even though it wasn’t our assigned week, we went anyway! He did a great job (right here, actually – https://www.facebook.com/spxparishindy/videos/304252260607464/, beginning at the 9:45 mark).

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  2. I feel a particular connection to our current Deacon at our church. He attended the same church as a youngster, in which I was baptized. The building was later demolished in favour of a subway station, which we reminisce about.
    I took my lector training from an earlier Deacon at our church, a stern old fellow as he was, I learned from well the finer points of the ministry.
    Your son will have all these opportunities as a Deacon, and later, as a Priest, to touch people’s lives, and leave many memories, be it Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals, and all the events that bring people together.
    Many congratulations to your son, you, and your family. He is beginning the next phase of his journey, at a time when less and less young people are signing up for the church. This is excellent news.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lee. As a Dominican friar, his experience will no doubt be somewhat different from those of more traditional parish ministry – he may be sent anywhere in the central US (Denver to Bloomington, Indiana, and Minnesota to Missouri) and his ministry could involve teaching, parish ministry, student/youth ministry or other things. It is like the military – he can tell them his preferences, which may or may not be where they need him. And he is good with that.

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  3. I know you are very proud of your son. That’s a shame to miss such a monumental event that is so important to all of you, but thank goodness for the wonders of technology so at least you could see and be present in spirit and next May, hopefully life will return to our “old normal” if there is such an expression. I was reading your links and a bad storm has settled in with thunder and I am reminded of my mom’s comment that “God is moving his furniture around up there.” I learned some facts about Dominican friars. I have a high school friend who is a Catholic priest and coincidentally played a priest in the high school drama production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” … we were surprised to see he became a priest. I have two friends who are former nuns and left the convent and I once worked for an attorney who was a former priest. I am Catholic but was just christened Catholic but never made my communion or confirmation.

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    • Thank you. There has been a group of Dominican Sisters active in your area for a long time, though I don’t know much about them.

      Your personal story is not an uncommon one, and is a trend that has only picked up steam with each generation.

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      • I saw an interesting story on “Sixty Minutes” many years ago about a monastery on an island in a very remote location., It was very interesting. I didn’t know there were so many orders. My mother did not drive, my father was Catholic but later in life was agnostic. I was sent to church and Sunday School with my playmates so I’ve attended Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist churches throughout the years. I did not realize it was such a trend. I thought I was unusual to know three people that had left their vocation. My friend Ann Marie has dedicated her post-convent and post-retirement life to helping people. She is crushed by her inability to continue good deeds due to this pandemic. At 77 years old, she had a “good deed day” every day of the week but Sunday, though she has taught Sunday school for years. I know no one else like her, as up until March she volunteered at a soup kitchen, a nursing home, and she runs errands, shops and takes people in her apartment building to appointments so they don’t have to drive. She is a former elementary teacher and does volunteer ESL teaching. She has found a third calling of doing good after being a nun, then retiring from teaching at a Catholic school at age 72.

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      • I may have misunderstood your earlier comment. When I mentioned an accelerating trend, it was of people who identify as Catholic losing interest and drifting away. People leaving behind their religious vocations seems to have become less common over the last 10-20 years. Like the spike in divorces in the 60s-80s, there were a lot of Catholic ordained and religious who renounced commitments as well. Perhaps, like many of those marrieds, their understandings may not have been what they should have been when going in. In any case, your friend sounds like she puts much effort into doing good.

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      • JP: I originally thought you meant people born/christened Catholic and not being a practicing Catholic, but was not sure if you meant my two friends and former boss, so commented on both. My mom insisted I go to Sunday school and since she couldn’t drive and there was no Catholic church within walking distance, she sent me off with my friends to have some religious education at their Sunday School. When we went to visit my grandmother in Toronto, I went to the Catholic church with her but didn’t know how to pray the rosary, or know prayers and felt a little lost. Now I don’t know enough about Catholic practices to feel comfortable going to church. I go to light candles for my mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day only.

        Interestingly none of the three people ever spoke of their time spent as a priest or a nun. I only knew for my boss because he was giving a seminar and they wanted his C.V. so I had to type it and I saw theology school. I asked and he said “I was a priest.” My two friends don’t speak of it either and I never asked. Perhaps there is shame? Ann Marie is probably the nicest person I have ever known and she seems a little lost without being able to do her volunteer work. She even did errands for the people in the nursing homes as some had no family.

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  4. Congratulations to your son and family. That is quite an honor. I’m not familiar with the Dominicans, but we had many Christian brothers teach us in high school (although I don’t recall what order they belonged to). I also had two great aunts in Michigan who were nuns, who also taught, and lived to a ripe old age of ninety plus. When they used to come visit us in the summer, they were not nun-like at all, having the most wicked sense of humor! I see your son has a good speaking voice. We have a Deacon here to assist the priest because of the shortage, an older man who went back for training.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I had not been familiar with the Dominicans at first either, as the Benedictines are dominant around this area. I did not grow up Catholic so never really had any contact with Religious Orders at all.

      And yes, his speaking voice is quite good. All through college he had been preparing for a career as a sports broadcaster, doing radio play by play for games of all kinds. His religious vocation took his parents a little by surprise.

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  5. I think it bodes well for your son’s success as a priest that he pondered being a sportscaster. Surely, he will hold his parishioners’ attention with his strong voice, energy, attention to detail, and—I suspect—good humor. In attending church services with Catholic friends, I was often impressed by the priests’ embracing humor.
    Congratulations to him, to you, and to your family on this milestone. The world needs more gentle souls prepared to accept hardships for the greater good. You are justly proud of him, and I hope you’ll be able to view his next step in person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It has been a new experience for us to get a glimpse of “life on the inside” for someone in religious life. We agree – there is a need for more people who have a genuine concern for the well-being of others.

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