Note to self: the next time you’re pregnant and have to cover an ordination, do not wear mascara!
I mean, why did I think I could get through an emotional two-hour Mass without crying when even a sappy Hallmark Card commercial is enough to get the tears flowing these days?
Makeup issues aside, though, I felt blessed and very privileged to attend the diaconate ordination, followed by the one for priests a week later. They were the first ordinations I had ever attended and were enlightening on several fronts.
First of all, it made me realize just how much we forty-something Catholics missed out on in our youth. During our formative years, which roughly covered the late 1970s and early 1980s, it seemed as if the number of men being ordained to the priesthood was on the decline, and many people were even questioning whether it was still a viable vocation. I am extremely grateful that my sons have our four new priests as role models of total self-giving and dedication to serving the church.
The second reason, closely related to the first, is that the ordination Mass gave me a new perspective on that age-old dream of Catholic mothers worldwide — namely, that one of our own sons will be called to the priesthood. (The corollary to this, of course, is the dream that one of our girls will become a nun, but that’s a column for another day).
But throughout the priests’ ordination Mass, there were several reminders that having a son who is called to be a priest is a great blessing, but one that requires a lot of detachment in order to embrace.
During his homily, for example, Bishop Sheridan told the men about to be ordained that their new family would consist of their brother priests. Could any mother — or father for that matter — hear those words without feeling just a twinge of heartache?
And when the new priests were given their parish assignments at the end of the Mass, it was a reminder that, no matter how much we as parents might have struggled and sacrificed to raise our sons, we relinquish our authority once they enter the priesthood. We will have absolutely no say in what parish they’re assigned to, how long they’ll stay there, or what kinds of duties they’re given. Their first obligation will be to their bishops and their parishioners, and they might not have as might time for us we would like.
If instead of becoming a diocesan priest they enter a religious order, the separation could be even greater. They might be sent to another part of the country or overseas for years at a time to do mission work.
Furthermore, if our priest-son is experiencing trials and setbacks in his vocation, we may not be able to do much about it other than pray. Our gut instinct as mothers is to jump in and try to fix every problem, but we’ll have to resist the urge to intervene. There might be times when all we can do is imitate Jesus’ mother, Mary, and stand at the foot of the cross as our son suffers.
None of this should discourage us from praying that our families will be blessed with vocations to the priesthood. No doubt, any sense of loss that we feel will be more than outweighed by the joy of knowing that our sons are bringing many people closer to God through the sacraments.
But we also have to pray that, if one of our sons is called, we will respond with generosity and faithfully support him with our prayers long after the ordination-day excitement dies down.