Thoughts On Attending An Ordination

In the summer of 2014, our eldest son embarked on a seldom-trod course in modern life: He became a novice with the Dominican Order of the Catholic Church (which is formally known as the Order of Preachers). That was not terribly long before I began writing this blog and I have periodically shared some of our experiences as parents of a young man as he discerned whether he was called to religious life.

For those not around at that time I wrote a little bit about what religious orders are and how they fit within the Catholic Church. If you are already Catholic and are still rusty on the concept, do not feel alone. The Dominicans date to 1216 when St. Dominic obtained a Papal charter for an Order of friars who would take a vow of poverty and preach against the then-common Albigensian heresy, which distorted God’s nature and our own.

Two years ago he took the major step of professing his final vows to the Order, which is akin to becoming married to the Order and to the Church. His vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to his superiors are intended to be lifelong – though, sadly, there is the occasional brother who seeks to be released from them. We attended the ceremony where those vows were made and were awed by the strength of his desire to profess as a permanent brother in the Order. Last year we were excited to attend his ordination as a transitional deacon, but were later disappointed when Covid demanded that the ceremony be a private one we could attend only by a live stream.

Our son spent the year of his diaconate continuing his studies while assisting the priest at a local parish by occasional preaching and other acts of assistance. The eventual goal was twofold – to obtain his advanced degree and to be ordained as a priest. We were delighted when the ordination ceremony went on this year in a more-or-less normal way. Family was able to attend, but numbers were limited by the need to practice social distancing.

So now that this seven year process has completed and a new priest is being deployed into front-line service, what are the thoughts of that young priest’s father? That is a very good question. My first reaction is to say “let me get back to you on that”. There is so much swirling around in my mind and my heart that I am having some difficulty corralling it all into a single thread. But, to use the words of a British friend, let’s give it a go, shall we?

First, I have a case of extreme pride. Yes, we Catholics consider pride a deadly sin, so I need to be careful about how I act on this one. I am proud of the way a young man has found something so important to him that he is prepared to make real sacrifices in his life to live out and promote what he believes. It is not a popular view today, but his job is the saving of souls and it is a job he takes very seriously.

He does not, however, exhibit the kind of superior, holier-than-thou attitude that so many seem to attribute to those who take their Christian faith seriously. I have seen a change in this young man over the last several years. The young adult who could be quick with a sharp remark or impatient with others who don’t see things his way has been replaced by one who wants to listen, to meet you where you are and to help you be better. We heard over and over last weekend from others in the community that “he will make a wonderful priest.” I guess they would know.

I also have some trepidation. He leaves a large community of brothers and priests and will be going out into a world that has become quite inhospitable to Christianity in general and to Christianity as practiced by Catholics in particular. A priestly ordination is not the ticket to acclaim and respect as it once was. There is a lot of anger and resentment out there, and a lot of people who will harshly judge him for every failing or misstep. He will become the target of many who were once mistreated by the Catholic Church (whether actually or perceived) or who see Christianity as a protective veneer worn by unkind, hateful people. He will need much love, kindness and patience to make his way through this environment – and in my view he has a pretty good start on all three.

I also have a little fear. Can I live up to the assumptions people may make about me as the father of a priest? I will tell you now that there are surely many other men who may be better examples of how to live a consistently holy Christian life than me. I suppose the only answer here is to be at peace with the way he learned from my good examples and took the right lessons from my bad ones. The other response is that I need to up my game in how I practice my own faith, that has had an unfortunate tendency to ebb and flow through the years. A positive example helps, and he can now serve in that role for me. Maybe we will need to serve in that role for each other as best we can.

Life is hard. And modern life has many forces that oppose a genuinely Christian life, or at least try to drown it out with a million other things – whether they be politics, sports, popular entertainment just to name a few. An increasing number of people are cool with not sweating the Catholic thing and just trying to be a good person. But what is a “good person”? What is the yardstick and what kind of measurement beyond our own opinions of ourselves is there to tell if we are succeeding at that task? While I cannot agree with those who take that view, I do not hate them or wish them ill. It is my conclusion from the available evidence that there is a God who made me, who loves me and who wishes the best for me. And that he sent his son as a sacrifice, who during that process passed an authority on to his apostles – an authority that today subsists most fully in the Church which those same apostles first led. And perhaps most importantly, it is the representatives of that Church who are there to help me along my Earthly journey.

That Church now has three new priests whom I know, trust, respect and love. One of them is one of my children. I guess the only conclusion I can reach is that life (and God) is good.

Further Reading:

Parents’ Weekend

Men At Work: Dominicans At Prayer

What Catholic Renewal Looks Like

23 thoughts on “Thoughts On Attending An Ordination

  1. This is terrific news. Congratulations to everyone in the Cavanaugh family. Your variety of emotions is perfectly understandable and, to me, is a reflection of being an engaged parent.

    The look of pure joy on your son’s face in both pictures above reflects he has found his true calling. He will do great things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Yes, I am taken in by the sense of joy that all three of the young men exhibited, as well as the older ones who sheparded them through the process.

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  2. Very well-written post, JP. I particularly liked how your son’s personality evolved as he went deeper into the faith and your observation that being a “good person” can fall short if we are not acting always in a way that returns the love that Jesus showed us. As I read this, I am reminded of a talk I once heard from Chief Justice Scalia on YouTube, where he also was talking about his son who is a priest. Although very proud of his son, he humorously observed that somehow he was never able to approach him in the confessional!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, I would be terrified to approach him for confession. Although, as I think about it, with the things he was required to confess to me during his growing-up years, he might argue that turnabout is fair play. 🙂

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  3. That’s great. Go ye into all the world! Do you know what part of the front line he will be deployed to?

    I struggle slightly with my brother being a pastor, after all he’s just my idiot brother, what could he possibly know? 🙂 but it didn’t seem to bother my parents at all, so your parental feeling of pride seems normal and appropriate.

    Liked by 2 people

      • He’s in farm country NW of Guelph. Joking aside he’s no idiot, I certainly couldn’t do what he does. I’ve only seen him a few times in the past year, pretty tough to do family gatherings..

        Liked by 1 person

    • He is being assigned as an associate pastor at a parish church in Madison, Wisconsin. He was there during what they call a pastoral year, when they take a year off from classes to experience a year out in the trenches somewhere. He really enjoyed interacting with the grade school kids in the school there, whether teaching religion or playing basketball.

      It is funny to watch your kids grow up and become experts in things. Its actually kind of gratifying to be able to go to them for advice on various topics. I have my basis covered pretty well, from religion to advertising and design to mental health and activity planning. Each has developed into a person I enjoy learning from, which is a great joy for me.

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  4. What others may think about the father of a priest, is up to them, they may choose to share their feelings with you about that, or not. It’s immaterial, as far as I’m concerned it’s none of their business in the final analysis. Whether I like that your son chose this road or what your role was in his journey, does not matter. I happen to be very happy for you and for him, even though it is certainly a dwindling profession he has joined.

    Our own parish is no longer served by a North American based priestly chapter (or whatever it’s called), even though we are in the Toronto diocese. Our priests are sent here from India.

    Our family is eagerly awaiting when our son and his wife will decide to have their daughter baptized. That in itself will require some diligence on their part that they (or he) may not be ready for, him having chosen not to practice being a Catholic since high school, so it should be interesting in the interview with the priest when they attend that meeting, that they come up with the correct responses to demonstrate the commitment the church expects.

    Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I share your thoughts, Lee. My two children are of college age and have made the same decision as your son. I try to be patient, pray and see any opening I can to nudge them.

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  5. Congratulations to your son and to his proud parents! He looks very kind and approachable in his photo and very happy with his chosen profession. Priests are in such low supply here we are clustering parishes as they’re are not enough to go around, and the deacons fill in where they can.

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    • Thank you, Joni. Within the Dominicans there are lots of members over 70 and an increasing number in their 40s and under, but the real demographic squeeze is in guys in their 50s and 60s, so it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Our diocese is doing something like clusters of two or three parishes in rural areas, and we have a deacon program going here as well.

      One of the things that drew him to the Dominican Order is that they still do things in community, meaning that they will not undertake ministry somewhere unless they can establish a house of several members there, ideally at least 6-10. This is good for the guys in that environment because there is mutual support and a common life that is very life-giving. I feel sorriest for many priests out in the diocesan parishes who live alone. That would have to be draining, particularly if you are not an introvert.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A group setting is a good thing. I remember when I first started working in the hospital in the early 80’s. It was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph and they still had living quarters on site. Our current priest is a great guy, maybe 50 and definitely an extrovert and the priest’s house is right on the river with gorgeous views so he has a nice place to live, but yes it could be a lonely life, especially now with the church services being still online and not much social interaction. It’s a big church with a dwindling parish and so clustered with two other smaller ones. He came to visit my mother once, (something no other priest had ever done -she hasn’t gone to mass for the past ten years) and brought an artist friend, and spent two hours telling jokes and stories, (Irish background), but he mentioned that he had left the priesthood for a year or so because he was fed up with diocesan politics but they convinced him to come back because of his business background. So I asked him what he did during that year, and he said he managed a trailer park – he just wanted something different for a break.

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  6. It’s always hard when our children choose paths so very different from traditional ones. I think it’s because, as you say, that there are hardships associated with bucking tradition. But in the end, if they have the strength and courage to pursue a less conventional way of life, then they have the skills they need to navigate it successfully. Congratulations to your son and his parents!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I think the hardest part for us was very early on when it hit us that the gauzy Hallmark visions of generations around the holiday dining table will be different than we expected. This kid would have made a wonderful dad. But those traits that would make him a wonderful dad will also make him a great priest, and we need those desperately.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I appreciate your ruminations—your pride, concerns for your son, questions about your own role. It’s true that he’s chosen a difficult path, and I trust he’s as aware of the challenges you’ve set forth as you are.
    There is surely a need for good people who listen carefully and want to help others.

    I wish you all the very best.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. [I apologize for my tardiness in commenting JP – we had a computer crash at work that has wreaked havoc on my work life as well as encroached bigtime on my personal time. I am ten days behind in Reader but aim to catch up a little at a time.] This is a nice story about your son and the events that have transpired in his life (as well as yours) since he found his calling. The best part of this post was at the end … you, the proud father, who says: “That Church now has three new priests whom I know, trust, respect and love. One of them is one of my children. I guess the only conclusion I can reach is that life (and God) is good.”

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  9. Congratulations, J.P! I am a Methodist, but understand the significance of the steps your son is taking. No matter the challenges he faces, his heart is in the right place, and you and your wife had everything to do with that. So this is an encouraging story in many respects. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the affirmation. We had some Methodists in the family who came to experience his first mass at our home parish. The liturgical style of worship is fairly different from what many experience today, but my recall is that Methodists are at least somewhat liturgical. I still remember how to sing the doxology from the days when my father was active in his Methodist church.

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      • The “traditional” (vs. “contemporary”) version of our Methodist church’s services includes several elements similar to those of a Catholic Mass. We sing the doxology after receiving the offering, speak the affirmation of faith after the homily, and use some short prayers often enough they are memorized. Our approach to communion is very much the same as the Catholics. When I was pursuing my degree at Notre Dame (as a Methodist), I had ample opportunity to get used to the liturgical style of Catholicism and felt very welcomed on campus. Also helped that Catholic Studies was a required course 🙂

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