April 22, 2010

Note to a Baby Priest

One the kindest men I've ever met is going to be ordained priest this Saturday. Unfortunately parish stuff is going to prevent me from being there. As I thought about writing an email with my regrets, I found myself wanting to compose advice about the first days of priesthood. But then, thinking this patronizing, I decided not to do it. I'll blog my thoughts instead.

Ordination will be a blur, just go with it. Depending on the circumstances, your first Mass might be a blur too; that's why it's good to have an MC, especially if you're preaching it yourself. Don't worry, you will calm down inside and be able to pray again soon. You will wake up the day after your ordination and remember that you are a priest and it will strike you with gratitude, gravity and delight. Once you get through the weekend, the first few days of your priesthood will be sublime. As you begin to offer--thankfully--nice and quiet weekday Masses, your new state will begin to overwhelm you. You will think of your own Marian soul, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.

All that being said, there are a few things that I want to warn you about. Don't be surprised.

Priestly ordination will be the most intense transformation of identity you have gone through since entering religious life. As a lay friar, you always have to explain to people what you are; sometimes even Catholics don't seem to get it. "Are you a monk?" No. "A priest?" No. Buddhist? Ninja? There is no more of that. You are a Catholic priest. Everybody knows--or thinks they know--what that means, both your friends and your enemies. And you will find both in new abundance, let me tell you. From now you are a vessel of the world's hope in a new and particular way, but you are also configured to the Christ the world hates. People will invest you with that hope and deride you with that hate. It's an intense life in that regard. Nobody has a neutral opinion of the Catholic priesthood.

Nobody warned me about this, but someone may come to you right away and want to be your first penitent. Apparently this is some kind of honor. Be ready for it; make sure you have the absoution formula memorized before the ordination Mass. If it happens, just appreciate the person's devotion, be kind, and stand in awe as the power of absolution given to Peter now flows from your voice and hand. You will always remember your first penitent, and the special honor you gave to each other will live forever in the secret of your priestly heart.

Finally, don't be surprised if you experience doubts, especially around the Mass. Your relationship to the Eucharist is now forever transformed. Of course you have always believed firmly in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but perhaps now you will wonder, 'Does this really 'work' when I do it?' Little old me, with all my sins and faults? As you bow slightly and let the Lord pronounce the words of consecration in your voice, perhaps you will wonder if anything has 'happened.' Run with the doubt and pray through it. I had always been drawn into the Eucharist because of the stunning humility of Christ therein, but I never really knew the depths of the sublime humility of Christ until he was found willing to descend into my hands, the hands of a shallow and distracted man, hands full of every guilt.

The humility of Christ is overwhelming; let yourself feel it in your Masses. In gratitude for the salvation we have through it, let us be imitators of Him, letting our hearts break at every suffering, and consenting to have our lives poured out for the reconciliation of a tired, hurt, and violent world.


fr. Matt, OFM Conv. said...

Well said!

6 months later and I am still grateful and awed by this great gift!

I remember my first confession was in the backroom of my family's bar at the mass of thanksgiving reception

ben in denver said...

A good friend of mine is going to be ordained for the diocesan priesthood on May 15. This just happens to be the day my son Gregory was supposed to have his first confession (with first communion the following day). We will obviously be at the cathedral that saturday and won't be able to make it to our parish for the first penance; but we did work things our with both our pastor and our good friend so that Gregory's first confession will be heard by our friend after his ordination. It will be the first time for both of them! How cool is that?

I will offer prayers for your friend this Saturday. What joys the Easter Season brings.

Greg said...

As a lay Catholic I would offer a small portion of advice...

Most of all, tend to your own spiritual formation.

If you are walking out front on the pilgrim's journey others will feel it and will gain from it.

Brother Charles said...

Matt: Great to hear from you, and thanks for the story of your first penitent!

Ben: That's just too cool.

Greg: Thanks for the push. You remind me of the quote on this topic from Dom Chautard:

If the priest is a saint (the saying goes), the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ.

pennyante said...

A beautiful reflection... thank you...

Br. Christopher Gaffrey, ofm said...

Charles, thanks for this post. I can imagine the gratitude of your friend for the compliment you paid him and for the sound advice. Oddly enough, in a book I'm reading for my own preparation for ordination Blessed Marmion gives similar warnings about what to expect now that one is conformed to Christ. He quotes St.Paulinus de Nola in saying "Ipse Dominus hostia omnium sacerdotum est ... ipsiquae sunt hostiae sacerdotes." Belief in the Paschal mystery is key.
By the way, you left out jedi.
Peace and Good!

Brother Charles said...

That is great. In between my religious lives, ca. 1996, a spiritual director instructed me to read Marmion. I only got around to it a couple of years ago, but with much profit and edification.

Jennifer said...

Thank you, Father, that was beautiful!

I'm curious, I've heard that it used to be customary for a newly ordained priest's to hear his own father's confession first. Is this not really done anymore?

It seems like it would be an incredibly humbling experience... but also I would imagine maybe a bit overwhelming!

Brother Charles said...

Wow, Jennifer. I'm glad I've never heard of that one. But I bet my father is gladder still, given that he is a Jew.

Qualis Rex said...

Awwwwwe. I wonder if they have a commemorative Hallmark gift for "baby's first intinction".

fr. Matt, OFM Conv. said...

I heard (and gave) my father the stole that I heard my first confession wearing I think this is similar to a priest giving his mother the cloth that the chrism was wiped on after his hands were anointed