There are so many wonderful things that we celebrate during the Easter Season, it is so difficult to pick out different memories or thoughts and keep them from blending into one seamless fabric of thoughts. From the joy of Easter Sunday itself, to reflecting on the growth of the Church as we read the Acts of the Apostles, celebrating vocations on Good Shepherd Sunday (the 4th Sunday of Easter, this year April 29), to the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost; the entirety of the Easter Season gives us a ‘plan of attack,’ as it were, for us to move forward into Ordinary Time.
However, one memory always comes to fore, as I think it does for many priests: my ordination. May and June is ‘Ordination Season’ when many dioceses celebrate the ordination of the new crop of priests, ready to be sent into the fields of the Lord’s Harvest for the first time. In particular, my ordination in 2004 was on the Feast of the Ascension, and as these words from the Acts of the Apostles were proclaimed at my Mass of Thanksgiving, I could so relate:
“While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven. (Acts 1:10:11)’
I had just spent 8 years in seminary formation, preparing for this day. And while I knew it was coming, I could identify with the Apostles as I felt them looking toward one another with the same question rolling around in their minds: ‘Now what?’ Paralyzed by the unknown, they were locked together on that hill.
Yet, Jesus promised that He would not leave us orphaned or alone, and that, soon, the Paraclete would come to be their guide. As we move from Holy Week into the Easter Season, we are able to see the Apostles finally responding to the prompts of the Spirit as they move from a rag-tag group of eleven men huddled in the Upper Room to fierce debaters of all comers as they proclaim Christ, and Him Crucified.
Thankfully, the same Spirit who so animated the Early Church continues to inspire and guide us, their spiritual descendents. There have been many times already in my eight short years as a priest where I have walked into a situation without a clue of what to say or what to do. I try to take that step back and whisper a short prayer to the Holy Spirit that He might continue to guide me in this very moment, as He has up to this point.
For me, it is a great comfort to know that it has always been this way. The Eleven, after the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord, looked at each other and surely had that thought: ‘Now What?’ History reports so many of the saints having that same thought: St. John Chrysostom as he was banished repeatedly from Constantinople, for example. Yet, the Spirit continues to lead.
As Jesus calls, he does not look for just talent, he does not look for intelligence, he does not look for just the gifted speaker. He looks for trust. For those who are called to follow Him as priest and/or religious, this gives great hope in the midst of that quaking fear.