Ordination Weekend: A Different Fatherhood

Author: Fr. Drew Gawrych, C.S.C.

Lucenarium at Moreau Seminary

As first-year professed seminarian Pat Reidy, C.S.C., shared on our blog last fall, one of the great traditions at Moreau Seminary is Lucernarium. Lucernarium is a Holy Cross original, created by Fr. Peter Rocca, C.S.C., Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and Director of Liturgy at Moreau Seminary, and the Most Rev. Daniel Jenky, C.S.C., Bishop of Peoria, while both were Moreau seminarians in the early 1970s. It combines elements from the Light Service of the Easter Vigil and Compline (Night Prayer) from the Liturgy of the Hours. It is also one of the signature events of Ordination Weekend, serving as the official kick-off of the festivities. The ordinandi select the presider, who this year is Fr. Andrew Gawrych, C.S.C., and during the prayer service, the chalice and patens of the men to be ordained are blessed. As part of the Spes Unica blog’s exclusive Ordination coverage, we have Fr. Andrew’s Lucenarium homily as well as pictures of Deacons John and Paul’s chalices.

Recently I sat down with a couple whose child I was going to baptize. John and Paul, perhaps that is something you have done this year in your ministry as deacons. I asked them to tell me about themselves and how they met, which my favorite question to ask couples. Believe it or not, they had been “grade school sweethearts,” so I was treated to a pretty long story, tracing their on-and-off-again relationship from grade school through middle school and high school and then off to college before ending up in their marriage a few years prior. It was a story that was certainly full of several significant, what we would usually call “life defining” moments. But it was only after describing their first few years of marriage that the husband’s eyes got really big. He leaned in closer to me, like you do when you have something really revelatory to say, and he said, eyes locked with mine, “And then we had our first child, and our lives were completely changed. Everything changed.”

The young husband and father went on to describe waking up the next morning – actually it was not the next morning but the middle of the night– to be greeted by a whole new reality, a whole new life. And it was not just the obvious burping, feeding, changing diapers, and washing of endless loads of laundry, but the reality that now there was never a day or a moment off. Even when his baby daughter was sleeping, she never left his mind or was absent for his heart. Every decision he made had to be made with the good of his daughter in mind. Indeed, his life had been completely changed. Everything had changed.

Paul and John, tomorrow your lives will be completely changed; everything will change. Like that young man, you will wake up Sunday morning – or during the middle of the night – and be greeted by a whole new reality, a whole new life. And it will not be just the obvious anointing the sick, hearing confessions, and presiding at Mass, but the reality that now there will never be a day or a moment off. Even when they are well, even when everything is going well, the people of God entrusted to your care will never leave your mind or be absent from your heart. Every decision you make will need to be made with the good of the flock entrusted to your care in mind. For although you have forsaken marriage for the sake of the kingdom, you have not forsaken fatherhood. In fact, God has asked and called you to forsake marriage so He can bless you – and bless His people – with a different fatherhood.

Father to father the Laying on of hands

And fatherhood really is the right term to capture this transformation that is about to take place in you through the Sacrament of Holy Orders because the change you will experience in your lives tomorrow is not primarily about new tasks or responsibilities, however sacred. In the end, they are really secondary, simply results or off-shoots of the deeper change – the change in your very being.

That is why that young father said that everything had changed, because he realized deep down that through the birth of daughter there had been a profound change in him as well. He was part of the “everything” that had changed. Who he was had changed. From the moment of his daughter’s birth, no matter what happened to her or how old she grew or how far away from home she moved, he would always and forever be father. Why? Because it was not the tasks and responsibilities of feeding, changing diapers, and washing of endless loads of laundry that made him father. He could stop doing those thing, and he would still be father; just as if another man, like an uncle or a babysitter, fed the baby, changed the diapers or did the laundry, that other man would not suddenly become father. That young father’s unique relationship with his daughter was not predicated on what he did, but on who he was.

Lying prostrate during the Litany of Saints

In a similar way, John and Paul, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders tomorrow afternoon your very being, your very essence will be changed. When you lie down on the Basilica floor during the Litany of the Saints, you will be laying down your lives as you have known them to this point, because when you rise from that floor and the bishop lays hands upon you and anoints your hands with the Sacred Chrism, you – you – will be changed. From that moment on, Paul and John, you will always and forever be father. There will be no going back, no life as you used to know it. For you – who you are, the very essence of who you are – will be a part of the “everything” that has changed.

And just as that change in that young father brought about a new and unique relationship with his baby daughter, so will this change in who you are bring about a new and unique relationship with your fellow Christians. Yes, as a baptized Christian, you will still stand together with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ within the community of believers as children in front of Our Heavenly Father. And yet, you will stand within the community of believers precisely as a sacramental presence of Christ the Head.

As God’s People, we are not self-sufficient. On our own, we cannot heal ourselves. On our own, we cannot forgive ourselves. On our own, we cannot save ourselves. On our own, we cannot even feed ourselves. On our own, apart from Christ, we can do nothing. Our dependency on the ministerial priesthood for the Sacraments is not at all about a dependence on you, Paul and John. We need a priest to anoint us when we are sick; we need a priest to forgive us when we have sinned; we need a priest to feed our hungry and thirsty souls with the Body and Blood of Jesus not because we need you, but because we need Jesus. We need Jesus!

Fr Britto's Chalice and Fr Ybarra's Chalice

In your new relationship as father, John and Paul, your sacramental presence among God’s People and your sacramental ministry to God’s People serves as that great reminder of our dependency on Jesus, of His primacy over the Church. He alone is the One who can forgive us, heal us, feed us, and sets us free; and that is precisely what He will do through your fatherhood. When you celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick, it is Jesus who will heal us. When you celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it is Jesus who will forgive us. And when you celebrate the Eucharist, it is Jesus who will feed us and set us free with His Body and Blood. That is the gift of the ministerial priesthood to the Church. It gives the Church the gift of Jesus; you, as father, John and Paul will give us, the Church, the gift of Jesus.

Receiving the Gifts of the People of God

Now, John and Paul, this change in who you are, in your very being, with all the new relationships as well as the tasks and responsibilities that flow from it, is clearly a change that is going to take some time to get used to. As any father will tell you, whether a father of his own family or a father of God’s family, fatherhood comes in an instance, but it takes a lifetime to grow into. We fathers love our children, but we are not perfect. We fathers desire to lay down our lives for our children, but we do not always get it right. We fathers try our best, but we make mistakes. And yet we fathers learn as we go – both from our failures and from our success, both from the moments we would love to have back and from the moments we will love forever.

Greeting of brother priests after Ordination

We, your brother priests and your brothers in Holy Cross, will be here to help you as you grow into fatherhood. Count on our love, our prayers, and our support. But above all, count on Jesus. Like the rest of us, Like the Church herself, you will never be self-sufficient. You, too, will need Jesus. Yet if you stay close to Him, allowing yourself to depend on Him through the Sacraments you celebrate as well as the Sacraments you receive, you will find in Jesus that your lives -- and the lives of those around you -- will be completely changed. Everything will change.

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