Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A time of gifts.

Like many other Jesuits and priests, I've told my 'vocation story' innumerable times, identifying people and places that impacted my decision to seek entry to the Society of Jesus and to seek ordination to the priesthood. I will certainly continue to do this, but over time I've also come to realize that trying to offer a comprehensive account of all of the natural and supernatural signs that led me to this point would be (to borrow a line from St. Athanasius) a bit like trying to count the waves of the sea: in grasping after particulars, one inevitably fails to comprehend the whole. In this sense, every vocation is a mystery; twelve days ago, as I lay prostrate on the floor of Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago with seven other men about to be ordained priests, a succession of images passed through my consciousness - people, places, and events that figured in my journey to ordination - but at the same time I realized that the complete story of how all these pieces fit together is known only to God.

The days since my ordination have been busy, but nevertheless full of joy and consolation. One highlight of these days was certainly the celebration of my first Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, June 14 at Loyola University Chicago. It should not surprise those who know me well that I planned my first Mass very carefully. For starters, I chose nearly all of the music myself - primarily the Gregorian propers for the Sunday and the Mass ordinary provided by the Missa de Angelis, balanced with a Byzantine communion hymn, a venerable English recessional, and - in a nice addition suggested by the director of the schola - Hildegard of Bingen's Laus Trinitati. I recruited the members of the schola from among my friends, and I asked Father Brian Daley, a long-time friend from Notre Dame, to give the homily. The venue was also significant: I chose to celebrate the Mass in the domestic chapel of the main Jesuit residence at Loyola University, not because of any particular link to the school (I have none, aside from the fact that I've visited the Jesuit community there any number of times) but rather to recall an old tradition of the Society of Jesus whereby the newly ordained would celebrate Mass for the first time in the house chapel before venturing out to celebrate in their home parishes or elsewhere.

Like the larger ordination weekend of which it was a part, my first Mass had a bit of a "this is your life" quality about it. The congregation included my immediate family as well as friends I'd made in various places - Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, San Jose, South Bend, Toronto, Washington, and beyond - together with Jesuits from near and far. Though most who attended the Mass were there by invitation, I was particularly grateful for the presence of others whom I hadn't expected to see - of priests like Father Jim McCann and Father Mitch Pacwa, who both approached me at the reception after the ordination and asked whether they could concelebrate at my first Mass the next day, and some Jesuit novices who later told me how much they had appreciated the Mass.

The work of the schola was a particular source of consolation for me over the ordination weekend. Their work did much to dignify the celebration of my first Mass, but I was also deeply gratified by the considerable time and effort they put into rehearsing the music I had chosen, and the experience of camaraderie and commitment that emerged from their collaboration moved me a great deal.

The title of this post was borrowed from a classic travel narrative by Patrick Leigh Fermor; though the experiences Fermor described in that book were very different from the ones I've had over the last couple weeks, the phrase 'a time of gifts' still seems very appropriate. I have been given a number of tangible gifts like vestments and religious icons, signs of love and support from family and friends who wished to honor me on the occasion of my ordination, but I have received even an greater gift in the company of those who gathered for the ordination and the celebratory events that followed. A Jesuit I met the day after my ordination advised me to hold onto the consolation gathered in these days, particularly as a way of getting through the more challenging days that are inevitably a part of any priest's ministry. I hope and pray that the graces of this time remain with me.

Newly-ordained priests typically celebrate a number of Masses of Thanksgiving following their ordination, often in their home parish and in other places that have been particularly meaningful to them. In observance of this venerable custom, I returned to my home parish in Massachusetts to celebrate Mass on the next Sunday following my first Mass in Chicago. In the photo seen here, you can see me in the sacristy after that Mass, joined by the pastor, Father John Sheridan.

Returning to my Hilltop alma mater, I celebrated another Mass of Thanksgiving last night in Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown University campus. This Mass was timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the passing of Father Tom King, and I offered the Mass in his memory as well as in thanksgiving for my ordination; the homily from that Mass is also posted on this blog for posterity. The Mass provided an opportunity for a reunion of some of my Georgetown contemporaries as well as a gathering of other friends in the Washington area, and in the tradition of Father King's 11:15 pm Mass we gathered afterward for a festive soiree including dessert and drinks. I was also happy to be able to concelebrate the Mass with Jesuit Father Ron Murphy of Georgetown's German Department, who has the distinction of being the first Jesuit who told me that I should think about entering the Society of Jesus.

Rounding out this post and returning to one of the great consolations of the ordination weekend, here is a short video from the final rehearsal of the schola that I assembled to sing at my first Mass. Just after running through the first verse of the recessional hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," the group finished its work for the day and we all went to a neighborhood restaurant for a small celebratory dinner. As I told the assembled company, it was a perfect way to conclude the day of my ordination to the priesthood. As I look back on the past twelve days, I pray that the memory of that evening and of many other joyful experiences of the past days may sustain me for years to come. AMDG.


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