As I write this, I’m sitting in my study on a Sunday evening, having celebrated the usual things a priest might celebrate on a Sunday in any parish anywhere in the world. The difference, at least tonight, is that today marks the thirteenth anniversary of my ordination as priest. Thirteen years ago tonight, in the Cathedral Church where I now serve as Dean, I was ordained as priest for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. I could hardly imagine then that just thirteen years later I would be where I am now and hold the roles within the Diocese that I now hold. Sometimes God will surprise you in ways that you can never imagine at the time.
As I celebrated Masses this morning, I was surprised to find myself contemplating just what has happened across the thirteen years of ordained priestly ministry. There were memories of wonderfully good times, memories of moments of profound grace, glimpses of things I’d rather forget, and reminders of all those things that I have gotten so completely wrong during my the intervening years. It was, in other words, the kind of experience one often has the privilege to experience on any significant occasion of anniversary, whether that be of ordination, of birth, of wedding, or the like.
It is part of human nature I suspect for ‘occasions’ to be the occasion for reflection, for looking back to see just how one got here to this point in the here and now. Such a reminisching can be a source of regret, or, as it has been for me today, a source of wonder as it has been on an almost daily basis across the last thirteen years.
Why does it play on my mind so often? Well, I hope that it is not because of any misguided or misplaced of my own significance, but rather because I am constantly reminded of the promises I made before God – and before God’s People – on that night. Those promises are at the forefront of my mind each and every time I feel, or notice, or look at, the ring that sits on my left hand.
I’ve often been asked why I wear a ‘wedding ring’, though people readily accept my explanation that it’s not a ‘wedding ring’ but rather a physical reminder to me of what I promised the night I was ordained as priest.
The questions asked of a candidate for ordination as priest, in their contemporary expression, include the following questions:
- Do you resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discharge without fail the office of Priesthood in the presbyteral rank, as a worthy fellow worker with the Order of Bishops in caring for the Lord’s flock?
- Do you resolve to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith?
- Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the Sacrifice of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?
- Do you resolve to implore with us God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing?
- Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a pure Sacrifice, and with him to consecrate yourself to God for the salvation of all?
- Do you promise respect and obedience to me and my successors?
Those promises, promises which are renewed in a slightly different form every year during the annual Chrism Mass, lie at the very heart of what it means to be priest, or at least they do for me. Others might differ, but being faithful to those promises – or at least attempting to live those promises faithfully – and through that being faithful to God is the means by which I hope thay my life might be found of worthy service to God and God’s people. Have I always got them right? Far from it; I’m a fallible human being after all. They are, however, what and how I strive to live.
And so, another year of ministerial service begins (at least it will tomorrow), and I remain faithful to my attempt to live the ordination promises made thirteen years ago in good faith, relying solely on God’s grace to assist me in the struggle.
And every time I struggle, I will glance once more at the ring that sits on my left hand, and be reminded of the love that was poured out on me that night long ago by God, by my family and friends who surrounded me, by my brother priests who welcomed me, and by all God’s people who were present physically or in spirit that Friday night.