With the Help of God (A Reflection on Ordination)

by on June 3, 2016

Within the year-long cycle of seminary life, this is the season toward which the entire year is ordered.  By the end of June, more than 60 priests and transitional deacons will have been ordained from Mundelein Seminary.  They will span the continent from Seattle to Albany to Atlanta, and will span the continents from North America to Europe to Africa.  In spite of this diversity, our universal Church’s beautiful Ordination Rite liturgies pose the same set of questions to the ordination candidates, regardless of their dioceses.  They are asked by their bishops such questions as whether they are prepared to live a chaste, celibate life, whether they are committed to praying the Liturgy of the Hours daily, and so on.  And to each of these questions they resolutely proclaim “I am!”  But in both the deaconate and priesthood Ordination Mass, the response to the final question is “I am, with the help of God!”

DSC_3265“With the help of God!”  Those words are so easy to say, and their sentiment is one that everyone would agree with.  After all, what are we truly capable of doing on our own, without God’s permission and assistance?  But it’s one
thing to proudly assert it on your ordination day, and another thing to actually live it out, in the sometimes challenging, sometimes mundane, ordinariness of a parish priest’s everyday life.  Learning that he actually needs the help of God and then learning what that specifically looks like in his particular life is a large part of what has to be grasped by a seminarian during his years of formation.  The reasons that you need God’s help are not exactly the same reasons that I need it.  The particularity of each person’s family history, experience with career and relationships, and a thousand other variables all contribute to the unique portrait of one’s dependence on the divine.

How that deep truth is integrated into priestly ministry is the fruit of both long hours of classroom learning as well as long hours of exercising pastoral charity within the seminary walls and out in the parishes (and the two are hardly mutually exclusive).  Oftentimes, failure is the greatest teacher of one’s need for God and despair is the most powerful incentive to grow in intimacy with the Lord through prayer.  Only when the radical need for God is honestly admitted and embraced can the joy of receiving his help burst forth.  As you have come to know and pray for our students, you have undoubtedly witnessed both their dejection over failures and their humble, yet irrepressible, joy from successes.  If you have personally walked the journey with a man throughout his time of discernment, either as a family member or friend, then know that you have significantly contributed to his ability and readiness to acknowledge his need for the help of God on his ordination day.  It is most often through our deepest personal relationships that we are schooled in the ways of God’s generous response to our greatest shortcomings and fears.

So I hope you have the opportunity to attend the ordination Mass of a deacon or priest in this “ordination season.”  If you do, then listen carefully for that moment in the ceremony when the candidate declares that he is ready, “With the help of God!”  With humble gratitude and holy pride take heart that you have played no small role in this proclamation to his bishop.  Thank you so much for sharing in our mission of priestly formation.

Together with you, in Christ, we are Mundelein.  We form parish priests—with the help of God.

Father John Kartje is the Rector/President of The University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.