|A medieval English window depicting an ordination;
not a picture of my own (though some may wonder).
A Prayer for Ordination Anniversaries (to the Sacred Priesthood)
O God, by whose command the order of all time runs its course; look graciously on your servant, whom you have been pleased to ordain to the order of your holy presbyterate; and that my service may be pleasing to you, mercifully preserve me in your gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Adapted from William Bright's translation of the prayer in the Gelasian Sacramentary)
Nineteen years ago this evening, on the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, I was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood. In one sense, it was the culmination of something. A sense of call to this ministry had developed (quite unexpectedly) at the end of college. Leaving law school and an orderly plan for a career at the bar for the unknown territory of vocational discernment almost immediately after marriage, I entered a seven year process of prayer, trial, anxiety, blessing, uncertainty, formation, mentorship, education, and trust in God preparing me for ordination--first to the Sacred Diaconate (on Pentecost), and then some months later to the Priesthood.
Both ordinations were beautiful and holy experiences. As I think about the one to the Priesthood, I always remember the love of family (especially my wife, who had labored so hard to help me come to that day), the support of friends, the solemnity of the sermon and the liturgy, the press of the hands laid upon me at the moment of ordination, and the utter silence and enfolding sense of God's presence when the chasuble was lowered over my head.
Yet, that night was not really a culmination so much as a translation, a movement from one place or role to another in the Church by God's grace and human response. As a follower of Christ, I was not "stopping." Rather, grace was being given, authority deputed, and a new mission being transmitted for the journey ahead.
Ordination is not a "graduation" from the ranks of the laity (the laos, or People of God). It is an intentionalizing, a specifying (and, in a sense, a narrowing) of one's ministry in and with God's People. It points always to the Kingdom of God, wherein it is both completed and dispensed with (there are no clergy in heaven, a fact we all would do well to remember). If lived properly, it never points to itself. And this is what I am thinking of particularly today.
Ordination places a solemn and very real burden on the person being ordained, and on the rest of the Christian community, to recall the wholeness of our identity in Christ. All of us are needed for the work of the Body. Ordination is never an excuse for imperiousness in the clergy or for slackness and indifference in those not ordained; all the baptized are equal in God's sight and all are called to show forth the Kingdom in the way God calls us, with the gifts God gives each of us.
An ordination anniversary is always a good time to review one's vows as a deacon, priest, or bishop. It is also a time to remember that our basic identity as disciple is never superseded, never put into the background by ordination. Our effectiveness as leaders and sacramental ministers of the Gospel is fed and given authenticity only by the state of our discipleship. The current era, in its fascination with a plethora of techniques and its re-definition of vocation into "profession" or "coach" (verging, sadly, on "career") needs to hear this especially.
On this anniversary, I am grateful for all those along the way who have shown me both the potential of ordained ministry and its direct correlation with discipleship in Christ. I continue to feel my utter poverty as a deacon, priest, and disciple--and the unending flow of grace from our merciful God that fills up the lack and speaks through the limitations of the frail person I am. As the prayer says, may I be "preserved in God's gifts"...for it is the only way anything lasting, holy, and truly good will result from my (or any other disciple's) ministry.
Of your charity this day, remember to pray for me, Christ's most imperfect ordained disciple.