May is the month when most of our priests celebrate the anniversaries of their priestly ordination. Now that I am on the “giving” side of ordinations as opposed to the “receiving” side (as pictured on the left), each year I ordain I realize even more the grace of God in the moment and the joy and hope each ordination brings not just to the ordinand but to the whole Church. Sadly this year we have no ordinations but I can reasonably assure you that this is the last year for that phenomena. If God gives me the strength of days and good health, there is just the possibility that I will ordain just about as many to the priesthood in my final four years as in the sixteen years since my episcopal ordination. That thought alone is exciting and much of the future joy goes not just to the Holy Spirit but to Father Len Plazewski who worked the vineyard very hard searching for and cultivating vocations both to the priesthood and religious life. I think the Vocation Director(s) get about as amped at ordinations as the ordaining bishop. I know that Fathers Blum and Melchior await that moment with great expectation as do I.
Many priests allow their ordination anniversary to pass generally unnoticed. I realize that many married couples do the same, leaving the feelings, memories, joys and struggles to one another and moving on in their marriage without pausing to pay too much attention to the day they were married. Servant leaders usually take their cue from the Lord Himself who came to serve and not to be served and therefore any major acknowledgement or recognition of an anniversary day is the farthest thing from their mind. Sometimes priests will quietly acknowledge the day with a classmate in ordination, having dinner together and telling robust and raucous stories often centering on or about their bishops (just kidding). But I think every priest I know on the anniversary of their priestly ordination approaches the celebration of Mass on that day with a profound sense of thanksgiving and gratitude for the gift of priesthood. Some struggle, some rejoice, some are tired, some are renewed, some are worried, some are serene, some count the years until retirement and some fear the thought of retirement. But at the end of the Eucharist, perhaps in those few moments between communion and the closing prayer most priests thank God for the gift of serving as a priest. In my two rounds of overnights with the priests of this diocese over the last three years, many have in some way or another said, “if I had it to do all over again, I would do the same thing.”
Serving the people of God lies near the heart of our happiness, but making Christ present in the Eucharist and the other sacraments reserved to priestly ordination is the true epicenter of our joy and sense of satisfaction. For a priest, a day goes downhill from the moment he leaves Mass which is understandable in the light of our recent Eucharistic initiative where we clearly affirmed that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and life in Christ. That certainly does not mean the day is not without its highlights, it means simply that particular moment of a priest’s life is likely not to be recaptured that day.
You can pretty much go to the bank that at least most of the diocesan priests at your service will be celebrating anniversaries of ordination in the next ten days and a few in June as well. Except for the major milestones of 25,40 and 50 years of ordination, the day will pass with little notice and no attention. That’s the way we want it – just between us and Christ. But prayers for your priests this month are most welcome. I know each day of this season who was ordained on that date and check the list every morning with the intention of offering Mass for them for a bishop without priests is worse than a day without sunshine. Happy anniversary my brothers in priesthood! God’s people love you and so do I.