“You are a Priest forever …” Thoughts on an Ordination
On Saturday June 4, I was privileged to ordain Fr. Dustin Boehm to the priesthood at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul here in Indianapolis. Archbishop Buechlein was in attendance and was able to preach the instruction prior to the rite of ordination. All of this is more than I ever expected when I was ordained to be an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese. Over the past three months, I have ordained a man for the transitional diaconate and a man for the priesthood, both truly awesome moments for me and for the local Church. Just prior to Fr. Dustin’s ordination someone asked me if I was going to “tweet” the whole experience like I did for the Indy 500. Not to worry about that as I left the cellphone in the sacristy. But I did think that it might be of interest to relate a few thoughts of the ordination as it was going on.
One of my many thoughts at the beginning of the ordination was to just move into the ritual and let it happen. I prayed, as I always do before any liturgy, that I not get in the way of the Church’s prayer but that I be a means to it. I reminded myself that it was not about me, but about this young deacon who was about to be ordained and the community of the local church and the greater Church who were about to welcome him into its priesthood – time to turn off the ego. I was also thinking, “just let the MCs tell you what to do and you won’t mess it up.”
Coming down the main aisle of the cathedral, I could see Archbishop Buechlein seated in the cathedra. He and I had talked the week before about my doing the ordination. He wanted to ordain Dustin but he just didn’t think he would have the stamina to do it well. Instead, he wanted to try and give the “instruction” (homily) within the ordination. But if during the ordination he wasn’t able to do even that, he was going to let me know through the MCS and I would do the instruction instead. I was also very much aware that this was his first public appearance since his stroke. When we had talked, he asked that we not make a big deal out of it but I at least convinced him that we had to make some acknowledgement of his presence. He reluctantly agreed to this. So at the start of the Mass after the greeting I simply said something like, “My friends before we begin I need only say, Archbishop, It’s good to have you back among us.” There was a long and sustained applause for him. It was nice to see and hear.
One funny, embarrassing moment came early on when I went to thank Dustin’s parents and family and was looking over to the left-hand side of the church thinking they were there (as they would have been in that other archdiocese from which I came). Thankfully, someone on that side of the cathedral was gracious enough to vigorously point me over towards the right-hand side and finally get it right.
Things moved along through the opening rite and the Liturgy of the Word. It was then that Archbishop Daniel preached.
He started out very strong and then settled into a good cadence and volume. I found myself thinking about not just what he was saying but also about how much he had wanted to ordain Dustin. I was sitting there with the mixed emotions of affection for the archbishop and a bit of sadness for him as well. As he finished and the ordination rite approached I almost felt like I should have gone over to him and placed my hands in his in recognition of what was going on but I didn’t. I thought it might be too much, so I offered a simple bow to him as I moved towards the chair.
It is hard to describe what it felt like to sit in the chair and receive Dustin’s promises of faithfulness and obedience. I know it was not supposed to be about me but I was reminded of when I made my own promises twenty-five years earlier. When he placed his hands in mine at the promise of obedience and looked at me, I couldn’t help but think, “Boy, is he young! He is the
same age as I was when I was ordained” (of course, it’s not about me…).
As Dustin prostrated himself on the floor, the Litany of the Saints soared around us.
I stood with the congregation and I closed my eyes. I prayed for Dustin, to “bless and consecrate him.” I thought of how many times in the past the litany had been sung at this moment and how it felt almost timeless now. I thought about how much priests need the prayers and support of the communion of saints and the communion of the Church to help us be holy men. I thought of how I was just about to lay hands upon this good man and ordain him.
“Lord, ordain this man to your Church. Help him to persevere in his priesthood. Help him to be a kind and loving priest. Help him to lead a holy and good life. Help him to preach well. Help him to celebrate your sacraments well.” So I prayed for the time that my hands were on Dustin’s head. I don’t know for how long I imposed hands. I simply kept them there until it felt right to take them away.
As others came forward to impose hands, I kept thinking about how many of them I knew by name already, how many of these priests were now my friends, how many of them were really good priests, working faithfully in their ministry to God’s people. At the end, I extended hands as they stood with me before Dustin and prayed that he be granted the digninty of the priesthood, the dignity which we all of us priests and bishops would share with him.
And so, Dustin Boehm was ordained a priest.