On Thursday, 41 seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome were ordained deacons for their respective dioceses in the United States and Australia.
The 41 men lay prostrate on the floor of St. Peter's Basilica Oct. 3 while the Litany of Saints was prayed over them, before they made life-long commitments, promising obedience to their bishops, daily prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, and celibacy.
As he lay on the cold marble, Deacon Christopher Brashears of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City was overwhelmed by “surreal feelings” and “an immense feeling of joy (and) peace,” he recounted in an interview with CNA.
Deacon Brashears was blessed to experience the beginning of what Cardinal James Harvey, Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul outside-the-walls, spoke of in his homily: “We, family and friends, pray that their joy will be one that grows with the years, that they will carry to the grave.”
Cardinal Harvey spoke of how the vocation to holy orders entails a life-long commitment to the Church, which is not without its challenges. “You surrender one of the most prized possessions that you have: your free will to the will of your superior, your bishop.”
“But by doing so, every function of your ministry is in conformity with the will of God in which you are nearest to Christ, victim-priest, who was obedient even unto death.”
“It is the final assurance of the tender embrace of Christ who reminds you in the Gospel, 'it is not you who chose me, it is I who chose you to go and bear fruit that will last.'”
Deacon Jonathan Ficara, newly ordained for the Diocese of Norwich, told CNA that he has felt the grace of Christ in his life in the years he has spent discerning his vocation.
“It’s incredible, the Lord’s grace and his mercy during those years. Those low points in one’s life oftentimes are the moments when the Lord touches you and fills you with his love, and that’s really what he did.”
Deacon Ficara had not always been interested in joining the seminary. He had been studying psychology at the University of Connecticut, where he was “very much immersed in ‘Greek’ life. I was a fraternity guy. And very active in the ‘Greek scene’ in a certain sense.”
When he was president of a fraternity, however, he felt the Lord’s call. “It was sort of subtle, like a whisper, in a certain sense. I was praying and I really realized that this was truly my vocation.”
Deacon Ficara’s mother Sandra, who traveled over 3,000 miles to be at her son’s ordination, said, “it’s been a long time coming. I’m extremely happy. I couldn’t wait for this day.”
Cardinal Harvey expressed similar feelings in his homily. “We at the altar, your families and friends, the whole Church, are filled with joy because God has once again manifested his might and his goodness” in choosing such men for service to the Church.
The cardinal went on to stress that the diaconate, and future priesthood, are truly vocations of “service to the word, service at the altar, service in pastoral charity,” which can only be strengthened by prayer.
“Through prayer, especially by praying the psalms, you learn from the heart of Jesus the secret of love for others: true love, how to touch people’s wounds without making them sting, how to dress those wounds without reopening them.”
Sandra Ficara noted how her son’s vocation had already yielded grace for their whole family and the wider community. “He’s helped us all individually when we have times of difficulty, and then he’s also there during times of joy. And I see that within the parish during his summer assignments.”
Fr. Gregory Galvin, vocations director for the Diocese of Norwich, agreed that the ordination of so many men is both a fruit and source of grace for the wider Church.
“It’s a great joy, but it’s a joy that not only rooted in seeing one of our own men ordained, but seeing all 41 men ordained, because that’s a sign of things happening across the country, and vocations are up and they’re up in our diocese as well, so it gives us great hope for the future and for the Church,” he told CNA.
The men were ordained by Cardinal Harvey, while Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and Cardinal Bernard Law, Archpriest Emeritus of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, assisted in choir.
Eight bishops and 300 priests concelebrated the Mass, said at the altar of the chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.