It’s been quite a while since my last post. I was ordained to the priesthood in mid-June, and in some ways I have yet to wrap my head around the fact that it really did happen. I still have these weird moments where I stop and suddenly remember that I’m a priest. After 6 1/2 years of (actively) wanting to become a priest, praying it would happen some day, doing everything in my power to somehow become that person I believed I was called to be, it finally happened (well, the beginning of it at least). It finally happened only by the grace of God. There was a period of time, never discussed on this blog, when I honestly didn’t know if it would happen. That is another story for another day; I think that there may be a book about it eventually. But in the meantime, I am still adjusting to the fact that it did happen. It is a weird transition, exciting and terrifying, humbling and exhilarating all at once.
My actual ordination was one of the most profound experiences, if not the most profound experience, of my entire life. There were many things that were not as I had imagined they would be on that day – everything from drastic changes at my home parish that had left it a shell of a place I once knew, to getting ordained many months later than I expected to, to not having a parish call at the time of my ordination, to certain dear friends not being able to be there. There were, however, things that did happen that I had not imagined; things that were extraordinary gifts. I was ordained with 5 other people, all of whom were friends. My mentor, who has been fighting stage IV cancer for the past year, was there to present and vest me. A parish I love had my ordination stole and chasuble custom made for me – I had almost no say in what the vestments looked like, and they were so “me” I couldn’t believe it. A dear friend, one of my former sacristans, chanted the litany. The bishop selected me to bless the people at the end. I got to bless my husband, my parents, my family and friends and mentors and colleagues – with my real first blessings going to two of my baby nieces at the communion rail. In a moment that stunned me beyond words, my mother-in-law – who doesn’t come from a liturgical tradition, doesn’t really believe in sacraments per se, and is not so sure about female clergy – came and knelt before me for a blessing. And then there were the friends who moved heaven and earth to get there when it would have been much easier to stay home and handle the many things going on in their own lives.
There was also the little box my parents handed me that had been mailed to them by an elderly priest who I knew as a child, the man who had the unfortunate job of teaching my confirmation class (really, there is nowhere 12 year olds would rather be at 9 AM for 6 consecutive Saturdays – ha! – we were a nightmare!) When I was a child this priest (who, at the time, was vehemently opposed to women being ordained) taught me how to acolyte, taught me things about liturgy that I would one day teach my sacristans at the same seminary he attended. So, inside this box there was a letter addressed to Mother (my first name) explaining his gift. And under the letter a worn leather pouch holding a beautiful silver pyx, engraved with a celtic cross, that bears a strong resemblance to a pocket watch. The letter explained that the pyx had been given to him as a gift by his parents, 60 years ago, at his own ordination, and had carried communion to thousands, including my maternal grandmother in her last years of life. My thank you note written the following day was completely inadequate; the only way to express gratitude for such a gift is to use it in the service of the people of God.
Often for me the most extraordinary moments of any event, day, liturgy, etc. are the ones I least expect, or the ones nobody tells you about beforehand. I had been told so many times about the experience of the laying on of hands at ordination – of the weight and force of so many hands threatening to push you through the floor. That was a very special and meaningful moment, but very brief, over before I could wrap my head around what was happening to me. However, the moment I will replay in my head over and over again for the rest of my life, hang onto like a life preserver, meditate on, and long to experience again was just before the laying on of hands. My group of ordinands got permission to use the Taize chant version of Veni Sanctus Spiritus instead of one of the two choices found in the hymnal. I had heard it used at another friend’s ordination and found the effect to be profound. It is also easy for the congregation to join in; once you’ve heard the chant a couple of times you get it, even if you’re not a singer. So the six of us were kneeling there, and the chant began. I couldn’t really look around; I had fellow ordinands to the left and the right, and the bishop and his deacons on the steps right in front of me. I mostly looked down and sang along, the voices of hundreds of people filling the cathedral with pulsating chords calling the Holy Spirit to come among us. A montage of images began to run through my mind, flashes of my life, my call, moments I look back on and recognize as part of my call story and some I hadn’t thought of before. Then the hardest part of my journey to the priesthood – the past year – and my patients, the ones I had become most attached to, the ones who had changed my life, the ones who died – their faces and stories and images of my encounters with them, and then the faces and stories of everyone who helped get me to that moment. It all became too much, and I was shaking and crying as the chant continued, and I could hear other ordinands sniffling. I closed my eyes and all the images shut off, and I was floating, carried by the chant, in some other place where it was just me and God, and everything else dropped away. I lost track of everything that was going on, except the chant, which seemed to have taken on an ecstatic, almost erotic quality, and I soared through that place. I wanted to stay in that place forever. And then the chant was ending, it was time to be ordained, and I came back to the present moment. I felt forever changed by those moments kneeling there, hearing all those voices singing, swept away by the power of the Holy Spirit in those last few minutes before I officially became a priest. I knew immediately that in days, months, years to come I would reach back to that moment to counter the heartache and exhaustion that so often also accompanies this vocation.