It was a Saturday morning at Sacred Heart, and I was preparing the liturgy lab. On several occasions during my childhood in Kansas City, I had witnessed what I was about to practice and had even served for my pastor when it happened, but now, I was preparing to do it on my own. After setting up the tripod and camera, I walked across the room to double-check my supplies. Was there water in the font? Yes. A shell for pouring? Check. Towels, candles, oil, white garment? All present and accounted for. Did I have the right pages marked in my book? What about a baby doll? Both ready to go. My checklist complete, I went out to the seminary parking lot and greeted the family who was arriving to play the parts of mom, dad, and godmother. I brought them to the liturgy lab and led them through a recorded practice baptism for my sacramental practicum class. Though it was not yet the real thing, it felt great to rehearse a sacrament! When we were finished after about 25 minutes, that baby doll had been baptized for probably the thousandth time. More importantly, I was that much more prepared for real sacramental ministry.
About six months later, I was ordained to the sacred diaconate. Words cannot describe the powerful moment when the bishop laid his hands on my head. The closest I can come is to say I experienced an overwhelming rush of peace and power pouring over me. It was a moment I will never forget.
In the months leading up to that big day, I had several conversations with my superior, Father Mark Wendling, about where I would be going for the summer before my final year of seminary. I had requested and received confirmation that I would be staying in Michigan to minister alongside the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) priests, brothers, and sisters at the newly formed family of parishes in southwest Detroit. Just four days before my ordination, though, Father Wendling informed me that there had been a change of plans: I would be assigned instead to assist our community’s priests at St. Anthony’s parish in Robstown, Texas. It was the last thing I had expected. Not long afterward, however, I realized what an adventure it would be! God was calling me to serve where I had never served before; he was sending me out to preach, teach, and baptize just like the apostles (Mt 28:18-20).
Not two weeks ordained, I traveled to Robstown. Not two weeks after that, I found myself in the church, checking my supplies. They were all there: font, candle, water, shell, towels, white garments—everything was the same . . . except for two crucial things: no plain olive oil and no baby doll. Instead, there was the blessed Oil of Catechumens, the Sacred Chrism consecrated by the bishop, and real babies—flesh and blood, body and soul—ready to be cleansed of original sin and marked for eternal life in Christ. The time for ministry had begun. Glory to God!
I am extremely grateful for my time of preparation here at Sacred Heart; for the opportunities I have had to grow in faith and in relationship with Jesus; for the challenges that have called me out of myself, that have made me rise to the occasion; for my wonderful seminary brothers who are on the same journey and who have provided me great support and friendship. I am thankful for so many other things, which I do not have time to mention. Least of all, I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to prepare for administering the sacraments, to develop the skills I will need to bring God’s people to a real encounter with their savior, Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that the story I have shared here illustrates not only the difference that ordination has made in my life but also the difference that Sacred Heart has made in preparing me for ordained ministry. Now that I am in my final year of seminary, I look forward to celebrating the sacraments as a deacon during the rest of this year and, God-willing, as a priest for the rest of my life.