The North American College is back in session, classes have resumed, and the long transition period when the seminarians are in Rome but without a regular schedule has been replaced by the day-in day-out rhythm of life. After a hiatus from writing, conditioned primarily by the haphazardness of my own availability, Led Into the Truth is entering a new phase. I am less than one year from my ordination to the transitional diaconate, God-willing, and suddenly the place to which I am being led is emerging from the misty haze of an uncertain future and is becoming more concrete each day.
I have so very many things to write about and I will hopefully cover all of them in the coming weeks, but as my third year of theological study begins (my fifth year of study in total), I would like to reflect on two recent experiences that tie into the anticipation and excitement of what awaits me at the end of this year.
At the end of my summer in Atlanta, a wonderful experience that refreshed and refocused my outlook, I had the opportunity to travel to Dallas to catch up with a priest friend who has been assigned there. I met Fr. Michael in Jerusalem during the summer of 2008. He was assigned to help with a summer camp run for Palestinian Christian boys that took place over the course of a week. He was only in Jerusalem for three weeks, and for one of those reasons known only to God, we hit it off well. In fact, as my Archbishop would say, we became as “thick as thieves.”
Fr. Michael had only just been ordained a deacon. Almost immediately after his ordination, he was put on a plane to Israel, and his first time serving as a deacon was in the Tomb of Christ in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. I was privileged to watch him serve for the second time (the first in English) at the Notre Dame Center where we were working and staying. Our mutual experiences, which ranged from attempting a really stupid mid-day summit of Massada in the middle of the desert and swimming together in the Sea of Galilee to praying together on Calvary and in Bethlehem had a really solidifying effect on our friendship. I was very moved at his priestly ordination in the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls just before Christmas in 2008. Fr. Michael later reminded me of what I had written in his card: “I have never wanted to be a priest so much as I did today watching you become one.” He actually kept the card (I probably would have tossed it in a fit of efficiency).
I cannot reaffirm that sentiment though, precisely because of my visit with him in Dallas. After he picked me up from the airport, we had a series of conversations that were nothing short of amazing. I had the great privilege of hearing how Fr. Michael was living his priesthood. He was, and is, trying to become the best possible instrument of the Lord that he can, and he wanted to run a number of observations and questions by me to simply see what I thought. This was an incredible experience for me for two reasons: 1) I received an inside glance into his life, into the life of a newly ordained priest, and there was absolutely nothing there but joy, and 2) I was asked by my friend, a priest, to comment upon his priestly observations as a peer—as someone he regarded as priestly if not yet priest.
The fruit of this trip, of this interaction, which consisted entirely in the revelation of sources of joy -joy found both in triumph and in struggle- was that I modified the sentiment I felt at his ordination. Now I would write in a card to him, “Fr. Michael, I want to be a priest just like you are.”
The second experience that has fed my new awareness of being led into the truth was the Diaconate Ordination for the North American College earlier this month. One of the beautiful and completely undeserved privileges of studying in Rome as a diocesan seminarian is that we are ordained deacons in St. Peter’s Basilica. One of the other amazing aspects of this opportunity is that the entire event—an event that encompasses an entire week of activities and not just a liturgy—is almost completely student-organized. The third-year class is responsible for the execution of the event. As a third-year man, I had the opportunity to throw myself into the work of enhancing the experience of the ordinandi to as great an extent as possible. The result was that I received from God a true joyful anticipation of that day, a little less than a year from now, when I will be asked to prostrate myself before the altar and when the Church consisting of the people and all the angels and saints will intercede on my behalf as I make promises of celibacy, obedience, and prayer.
After his ordination to the diaconate, the next time the deacon kneels before his bishop, he rises a priest of Jesus Christ, forever and always changed, able to stand as Christ himself in the celebration of the sacraments and to mediate by divine command the grace which God so desperately wants to pour upon his people.
Ultimately, I named my column Led Into the Truth because of my great love of St. Augustine. In De Beata Vita, Augustine defines the happy life:
“This, therefore is the complete satisfaction of souls, that is, the happy life: to know precisely and perfectly Him through whom you are led into the truth, the nature of the truth you enjoy, and the bond that connects you with the Supreme Measure.” (§35, Clark translation)
In the sacramental priesthood, the bond of connection with God changes. I can see it with Fr. Michael. I anticipate it with the newly ordained deacons at the North American College. And I pray earnestly in great hope that I too will be called by Holy Mother Church to the same.