After my pastoral year, I returned to Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary to finish my last two years before being ordained a priest. Seminary is a four year process. After the third year I was ordained a deacon. In part 5, I explained that there are three grades of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church: deacon, priest, and bishop. Follow this link for a further explanation. Further on down that page you will find links for all seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Now let me back up just a bit to cover something significant for me during my third year. Each year Mount Saint Mary’s hold an annual youth / young adult retreat over a weekend in late January. About a thousand people attend. There is a lot of great upbeat music by a contemporary christian band. There are a lot of great talks and personal witness testimonies as well as great prayer time. Mass is celebrated each day, and the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) is available by several priests throughout the day. It is a time of great conversion and renewal. It is something that I wish we had more of in the Catholic Church on a regular basis, because it really fine tunes your focus on your faith.
But the main reason that I mention this is that during my third year I was asked to play in the band for the retreat weekend. If you have been following my earlier posts, you would have read that I played drums for several years. This pickup band consisted of myself, fellow seminarians, and college students. In addition to drums we had bass, guitars, violin, cello, keyboards, saxophone, trumpet, and a vocal group of Mount College Students. We were a great sounding band, plus it felt so good to be playing drums again! The difference for me was that instead of playing rock and roll, I was playing Christian Rock. I felt like my talent was being used to serve the Lord in a new and special way. I have since, and still do today, dream about being in such a band! The experience was awesome! It was my best year at The Mount.
Though I have many good memories of my time in seminary, I have to be honest and admit that I was always wondering what it would be like if I was working on the outside. What would it be like if I never left the workforce to follow the Lords’s Call to serve Him as a priest? As time went on I wondered if I could even make it back in the daily workforce. Currently, I was not really wanting for anything, and I felt secure and safe. I would have steady employment, a roof over my head, food to eat, and a very comfortable lifestyle. That all proved to be true after I was ordained. I would ask myself and God if I was doing this for the “right” reasons. I truly loved my faith and truly wanted to share it with others in a unique way that only a priest could, by offering the Sacraments to them, most especially, The Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist and The Sacrament of Penance. Later, as a priest, it is these two Sacraments that would be the high point of my priesthood.
I was ordained a deacon at the end of my third year on June 7, 1997. I was 39 years old. I was assigned, as a deacon, to St. Mary’s Parish in York, Pa. for the summer and would continue to serve there on the weekends during my senior year at The Mount. I was ordained to proclaim the Gospel at Mass, give homilies, and assist the priest at the altar as an ordinary minister of Holy Communion. When a priest wasn’t available to say daily mass, I would lead a Communion Service instead. I also was the ordinary minister of Baptism. I baptized many children as a deacon, and I had my start in getting included in a lot of family photo albums.
It has been said, “The hardest audience to preach to is one of your seminary classmates.” How true that is. Everyone is an expert, especially the underclassmen! All of us deacons experienced that rite of passage. We also experienced the looks of the sister who was our Scripture professor. She sat in the front row. We couldn’t miss her. She hung on every word we said and would often comment on it in class. If we went way off base, she would drop her head down. If we really went far off base, she would open her breviary and start reading it, totally tuning us out. She made us nervous, but we all really did love and respect her. My last year went well. As with every year, there are the evaluations, grades, and recommendations. It is all part of the discernment process.
Now the next step was discerning ordination to priesthood. The same questions I earlier asked myself and God were still there for this next phase. A great consolation is that I was not the only one asking these questions. So were my other classmates. It was all part of the process.
I was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Church on June 6, 1998 at age 40. It was truly a marvelous day and one of great joy! it is hard to put into words the ultimate high I was on that day. Many years had passed since I first took the first step of this journey. The journey had many turns and curves and even a fork in the road at one point. I had moved several times and lived in many different places. But now the day was here. I was ordained to bring God’s Word and Sacraments to His people. I was ordained to consecrate ordinary unleavened bread and ordinary wine made from grapes into the True Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. I would forgive sins in the person of Christ through the Sacrament of Penance. I would witness marriages. I would preside at funerals, consoling those who had lost a loved one. I would bury the dead. I would be Christ’s instrument to His people as a priest.
I would move again to live somewhere else. My first assignment was in the northern part of the Diocese not far from Mount Carmel where I did my pastoral year. My first assignment as a newly ordained priest was at Saint Columba Parish in Bloomsburg, Pa. which I will cover in the next post.
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