Last Sunday afternoon I concelebrated Mass for the 40th Anniversary of Ordination of a priest-friend. It was quite an elaborate Mass with a packed church including fifty-nine priests, two transitional deacons, our bishop, numerous altar servers and diocesan seminarians. Needless to say, there was much pomp and circumstance everywhere from the burning incense emitting from a thurible the size of a small watermelon, to the ruby flowers and decorations filling the church for Pentecost, to some intricate, uplifting musical selections.
During all of the various happenings of the day, one could not but think of the Catholic priesthood and the Catholic Church in all of its majestic glory. The regrettable events that have tarnished the priesthood and the Church itself in recent years were pushed aside for this moment, so that the sacred mysteries in their rich splendor could shine forth.
When I looked at the calendar on my smart-phone after the Mass, I was reminded that the next day (May 16) was my own anniversary of ordination—twenty-nine years ago. Thank you Jesus! In fact, many priests will celebrate their anniversaries this time of the year. For most of us, it is our special day reminding us of when the bishop imposed hands on us and we were mysteriously changed forever. For all eternity we would be configured to Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.
After an ordination, the newly-ordained priest normally would give his first blessing individually to the people present. I remember in my particular situation I began by blessing Bishop George H. Guilfoyle, the ordaining prelate. Then my immediate family came up to the sanctuary. I nervously began to bless those in front of me beginning with my father. Later, I was told that it is usually the priest’s mother that gets the blessing first. (Sorry mom, I guess I really didn’t know or I was just too anxious in the moment.)
Funny, how my crazy mind works at times. Stream of consciousness? Adult A.D.D.? My thoughts drift from the importance of that unique moment when people wait in long lines just to receive the newly-ordained priest’s first blessing, to my weekly frustration with how many people rush out of church regularly after Holy Communion before the priest’s blessing is ever given. What happened? Is that priestly-blessing no longer important?
After the dinner reception which followed the Mass last Sunday, I waited for my car from the valet. The young driver pulled up, got out of my car, handed me the keys and uttered the following: “Father, could you give me a quick blessing? I have a lot of [stuff] going on in my life right now and I could use a blessing.”
I blessed him. I prayed for him then and again today. He reminded me, after all was said and done, after all of the great celebration and fanfare that day, of why I was ordained.
A priest gives his blessing. Christ encounters a person in need.
It was one of those simple unexpected, grace-filled moments.
Fr. Ed Namiotka