Published May 18, 2023
My eldest daughter was Confirmed this spring. She took as her patron Pope St. John Paul II, a choice she made on her own but of which I could not be more approving. The bishop came to the parish and sealed her with the Holy Spirit. Afterward, her head smelled of chrism just as it did at her baptism. She has grown so much, as children do, to the never-ending joy and sorrow of her parents.
It is First Communion season now. In our parish, as in parishes across the country, little boys and girls are receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. My own son made his first Communion this past weekend, along with many of his friends and classmates. It was a joyful occasion. Parents and grandparents flushed with pride, fawning over the innocence of the young ones.
We arrived half an hour before Mass began. My son leaned over to me to ask: “Dad, when it is time for Communion, will it have been more than an hour since I had breakfast?” I told him it will have been almost three hours; no reason to worry about that today. He and I both smiled, but for different reasons: he because he had kept his fast and I because of his innocence.
I told him that when he receives the Eucharist, he will be receiving God Himself – the God who created the universe, who made everything that is good, who created us. I told him that he would be receiving the same God who led his people out of slavery in Egypt and who cared for his people even when they sinned. I told him that he would be receiving the same Jesus who was born to Mary in Bethlehem, who worked at Joseph’s side, who healed the sick and raised the dead – who suffered, died, and rose again to free us from sin.
And I told him that when we receive Jesus’ own body and blood, when we are united to Him so closely, we are united also to all those who are united to him – to the great saints, our ancestors in heaven, our family and friends both far and near. I told him that I often thought of my own father, who died when my son was very young, and how I can always meet him with our Lord in the Mass. I told him that because of this I’m never alone, and that he, my son, will never be alone.
And I wonder: He knows all this, but does he understand? Does he really understand all that I wished he could? Does he really know what this all means? He’s so young.
But then I remember the look on my son’s face when he returned to the pew after Communion. Beaming. Radiant. And I could not help but wonder: Do I understand? Do I really understand what all this means? Or have I grown too sophisticated for my own good? “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Thank God for the innocence of children.
It’s ordination season. In my home diocese, our bishop will ordain nine new priests this weekend. I know some of these men. They are good men; they will make fine priests. We are blessed.
Those nine men have been called by their bishop to serve the Church with their whole lives. In answering that call, they are no doubt giving up far more – and gaining far more – than they can fully comprehend. They will be changed forever, conformed through the sacrament of Holy Orders to the priesthood of the one High Priest.
Someone once said to me that any man who doesn’t have at least some desire to be a priest simply doesn’t know what a priest is. That’s probably true. What man doesn’t understand the desire to be set apart, to defend his flock, to guide and shepherd them, to lay down his life for them?
What man doesn’t want the freedom of knowing what he’s dying for? What man doesn’t want to offer those entrusted to him a gift greater than any gift human hands can confect? What man is unmoved by the words of the psalm: “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”?
Matrimony is not like this. Marriage ends in death: “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.” This used to sadden me. Not because I love my wife (though I do) nor because I imagine that Heaven will be diminished for lack of marriage. Rather, because we all wish all good things would endure, even beyond death. It saddened me simply that a gift so wonderful as marriage – a gift neither lost in the Fall nor washed away in the Flood – should not perdure in death.
But it does, in a way, for those of us blessed with children. The marriage bond may not endure beyond death. Matrimony may not affect an indelible, ontological change the way the Church tells us baptism or Holy Orders do. But my son will always be my son and my wife’s son. My daughters will always be the daughters of us both. Fatherhood endures. Motherhood endures. Even beyond the grave.
Pentecost is almost upon us. This Easter Season, so overflowing with grace for our family and our parish, and our diocese will culminate in the great feast of the Holy Spirit. Our world is a broken one. Our Church is wounded, too. Sin and suffering abound. But it’s not a different world – that “real world” out there – than the world shot through with the Church’s rhythms of liturgy and sacrament and grace.
The Holy Spirit is moving in the world, make no mistake. And amidst all the seeming chaos he breathes richness and goodness and order: he makes all things new. It is wondrous to behold.
Stephen P. White is executive director of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America and a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.