There’s so much I want to say about this past weekend in Nebraska, and I don’t know where to start. Sticking to a purely chronological order wouldn’t do the experience justice. So I’ll start with the most profound moment first, if only so the details of my memory don’t begin to fade before I commit them to words.
The nearly three-hour Ordination Mass on Saturday morning was simply one of the most beautiful liturgical celebrations Kathryn and I have ever had the privilege to attend. At its conclusion, it seemed safe to assume that it would end up being the highlight of the weekend.
We had no idea how many tears of joy were yet to be shed.
After the ordination, there was a reception for the public at the nearby seminary, located near a tiny Nebraska town, where this young man had spent the last seven-or-so years preparing for the priesthood. As the reception was beginning to wind down, he announced that he’d be giving First Blessings in the chapel in a short while.
If you didn’t already know, First Blessings are kind of a big deal. A new priest can give the blessing for up to a year after his ordination. Furthermore, a plenary indulgence, under the customary conditions, is attached to receiving the blessing.
However, at about the same time the blessings were announced, the academic dean of the seminary offered a tour to a number of guests. Kathryn and I, along with several of our fellow parishioners, decided to take him up on the offer. We figured we’d have plenty of time to receive our blessings after the tour, which ultimately turned out to be true.
We hadn’t gotten very far along the tour when we reached the seminary chapel, coincidentally right as the First Blessings were beginning. The tour stopped for a short time to see the first few blessings. The first among the blessed are, not surprisingly, the new priest’s parents and immediate family.
Kathryn and I have been members of our current parish for a little over three years. We’ve been able to spend time with the new priest, his parents, and several of his siblings. They’ve had dinner at our home. We’ve had dinner at the theirs. We consider them friends.
When the newly ordained priest approached his mother to bless her, much to my surprise, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by a vision of Jesus and Mary.
As a priest, he is called to conform his life to that of Jesus, so much so that we often say that a priest is an alter Christus — another Christ. And like Mary, the mother of this other Christ, who raised this man from a baby, was now, with the utmost humility, kneeling before her own son, addressing him as Father, receiving his blessing, and kissing his blessed hands.
And at that moment, briefly but clearly, I wasn’t seeing the priest and his mother. I was seeing Jesus with the priest’s face, and Mary with his mother’s face.
This vision stunned me for a few moments, and I needed to pause briefly to wrap my head around what had just happened … in my head. When I recomposed myself, everyone around me was misty-eyed. I don’t know if anyone else saw what I saw quite the way I saw it, but we were all moved by this experience in some way or other.
I rarely dive deeply into feelings in my blog posts, so these past few paragraphs are the best I can offer by way of description. As Jodie Foster’s character said in the 1997 film Contact, when she was transported to another galaxy and was at a loss for words to describe its beauty, “They should have sent a poet.”