– in Calgary, Alberta –
Four new priests were ordained here on the Feast of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, a most grace-filled day for the diocese of Calgary in its centenary year. It was a blessing for me to be on hand to witness some family friends ordained, and then later to join in the joy of a First Mass at my home parish of St. Bonaventure.
Priestly ordinations are rather fewer than we need these days, so to have four young men is remarkable, all the more so as they all came from local parishes. Their vocation stories are a combination of old patterns and new ones. Two went almost straight from high school, the others after some time working. Their vocations were nourished in Catholic families and inspired by good priests. As is common today, World Youth Day had a significant impact too.
The ordination fell on the feast of the great English martyrs, but the bishop of Calgary, Frederick Henry, linked the ordination of priests not to the great drama of martyrdom, but to the daily path of discipleship lived by Christian fathers. Noting that the ordinations fell just a few days after Father’s Day, Bishop Henry delivered a powerful homily about how both spiritual fatherhood in the priesthood and natural fatherhood in families are rooted in the one fatherhood of God. Natural fathers and priests have a fatherhood rooted in the sacraments. For both, the roots of their vocation are in baptism, and then it is specified in holy matrimony for natural fathers and in holy orders for priests.
Drawing upon a recent essay by biblical theologian Scott Hahn, Bishop Henry reminded the new priests — and the many fathers who packed the cathedral — that their priesthood is not a job or a task, but a vocation.
“For priesthood, like my fatherhood, is not a job; it’s not an administrative role,” writes Hahn, a married father of six children. “It’s a vocation from God. There’s a big difference between a job and a vocation, and it manifests itself in countless ways. Every year I take a vacation from my job, but I never take leave of my family. In fact, when I go on vacation, my family goes with me. Though priests will often take their restful time away from parish life, they must always take their priesthood and fatherhood with them. For a priest’s family is larger than mine. A priest’s family is everywhere. Wherever priests go, they must always be a father to the great family of the Church.”
It might just be that fewer men are willing to commit to either natural fatherhood or to the priesthood precisely for that reason. You can’t get away from it. You can resign from a job, break a contract, complete a project or even abandon a dream. But fatherhood cannot be renounced. To become a father is to bind oneself without end. It is precisely in this that spiritual and natural fatherhood gives us a glimpse of the eternal fatherhood of God.
Our culture resists those kinds of commitments. So what then moves a young man to pledge himself to a bride or to lay down his life as a priest? How can this be a path to happiness?
“The secret of fatherhood is this: One should strive to fall more in love with his bride every day, and with the children she has given him,” Bishop Henry quoted Prof. Hahn. The secret to a happy family life, despite the many real sacrifices and burdens, is that in loving his wife, and their children, a father rejoices in those things to which he is bound. For the priest the same applies, for in loving the Church, the Bride of Christ, he too rejoices in that to which he has committed his life.
“The world needs priesthood and fatherhood as never before,” concludes Hahn in his essay, The Paternal Order of Priests. “In his heart, the priest must hear the call that is as old as the Old Testament. For the priesthood of the New Covenant is not an innovation. It stands in continuity with the priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple, the priesthood of the tabernacle in the desert and, most importantly, the priestly fatherhood of every household in the time of the patriarchs. Priestly fatherhood and fatherly priesthood are timeless covenant structures of the Family of God.”
Summer weddings are great days of family celebration, as a groom pledges himself to his bride and their future children. Ordinations are the same for the family of the Church, where a young man or four pledge themselves and become fathers immediately. In Calgary’s centennial year, the eternal fatherhood has been made manifest anew.