With the Ordination and First Mass behind us, I’ve been struggling a bit to find my footing in this strange new reality. Despite the fact that I’ve spent the past six years learning more about priestly formation and deepening my own understanding of Catholic theology, the actual reality of Evan’s ordination caught me flat-footed.

Photo of Evan at his first Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in New York.
(Photo courtesy of the Paulist Fathers.)

On Sunday, May 26, 2019 Evan returned to St. Rose of Lima (our home parish) to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. Two of his Paulist brothers who had served as pastors of St. Rose in the 80s joined him and concelebrated. Our pastor, Fr. Clarence Sandoval, concelebrated as well. The church was packed with our parish family as well as friends and family of other faiths who came to celebrate with us.

It was a joyful worship, but one which was – at the same time – very, very strange. Seeing Evan at the altar leading the community in prayer, making the familiar gestures of blessing and consecration, and ultimately elevating the host and the cup was beautiful. He seemed so confident; his voice calm and clear as he recited the prayers and he moved through the liturgy as if he’d been doing it for years. It was a moment of fulfilment; the manifestation of something I’ve anticipated for a long time.

It was also deeply unsettling.

On Monday, Memorial Day, Evan celebrated a house Mass for us. So there, in our living room with our cats roaming about, we three enjoyed a quiet Mass before breakfast. In his alb and stole, Evan stood behind a desk which had been pressed into service as an altar. Just before he began, he said, “This is one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done.”

“Surreal.” That was the perfect word to describe what I’ve been feeling since the Ordination in New York.

I knew it was coming, but I don’t think I’d fully anticipated the impact. I hadn’t realized that Evan’s ordination would force me to confront the deepest truths of our faith.

In the language of the church, Ordination changed Evan at an ontological level. That is, through the sacrament, he has been changed and his relationship with the community has changed. The Evan who entered the church as a deacon, left as a priest. Those aren’t simply different titles; they are different states of being. At the same time, he is still very much the child Kit and I raised.

He has been given the authority to “confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi.” Which is a poetic way of expressing that he acts in the person of Christ to consecrate the bread and wine at Mass.

At the same time, he delights in good meals, entertaining movies, and beloved video games. He groans at my bad puns and shares warm hugs with his mother.

His is simultaneously a minister of heaven and a child of this world.

This is the very heart of our incarnational faith. God isn’t some remote figure who sits in a distant heaven judging us. God is the love which forms and sustains the universe. To drive the point home, God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ; simultaneously fully divine and fully human.

This strange co-existence isn’t just something which happens only at ordination. It is the nature of every sacrament to bring us face-to-face with the truth of the incarnation. It’s just that sometimes we get so used to the sacraments that we forget exactly what’s taking place. We overlook the extraordinary truth.

In the language of the church we call this a mystery. It’s a reality we can wrestle with, but never fully comprehend.

Evan’s ordination drew me up short and sharpened my awareness of the sacraments and the mystery they express. It reminded me that I participate in a community which treats the physical and the spiritual as parts of a whole and that the rituals and practices of the church are designed to put us in touch with the Divine. It was an invitation to enter into the mystery of faith in a new and deeper way.

For this, and for the opportunity to walk with Evan on his vocations journey, I can only say, “Thank you, Lord.” (Even if it’s going to still be weird to see him saying Mass!)

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10 thoughts on “The Deepest Truths

  1. Wonderfully expressed! As the mother of a Paulist priest who has just celebrated his thirtieth anniversary, I can say that that gratitude for the privilege of sharing his vocation with the Paulists grows ever stronger with each passing year. We parents are so blessed!

  2. We have a son in seminary with the Norbertines and the struggle is already very real in our lives. We have a large family and to watch our son in his habit playing with the babies, joking with his siblings, and talking with his dad is very strange to me. It’s like he is in between worlds….ours and God’s. It will be even stranger when he does say mass. Thank you so much for this article.

      1. Thank you for the thoughtful reflection. It is rare to hear from the other side of the pew and your described experience is very moving. I trust other Paulists will read and reflect on this mystery and how it unfolds in our various life situations. Tomaso

  3. Evan is a very special young man from a very special and holy family. The Paulists are very grateful and look forward to his many years of priestly ministry.

  4. This is a beautiful and heartwarming story. However I am deeply troubled by the emphasis on ontological change which is a theological construct that feeds clericalism. As one who had been sexually abused by priests, I’ve suffered the evil side of how a man’s confidence in his so- called ontological transformation can affect him. Your son sounds as though he has a warm, loving family and upbringing and so he will have protection against the harm this belief can cause a new priest, or any priest. Please, I beg you and I pray, please examine this concept of ontological change in the context of clericalism. And congratulations on your son’s ordination. You must be very proud, and no doubt rightly so.

    1. Hi Rosemary, thank you for your thoughtful response and kind words. I am so very sorry that you have been abused. I will, as you suggest, spend time carefully considering the concept of ontological change in the context of clericalism.

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