On June 25, 2016 I went to my first Ordination Mass. In Catholic circles it is actually pretty common to go to Ordination Masses, but I haven’t had anyone in my life that I’m really close to become a priest. Until this past weekend that is! Stephen Wyble has been one of my brother’s best friends since their first year of college and has therefore become a good friend of my family. He has been present at countless family occasions, he had a role in the baptism of my Goddaughter, and he has now amazingly agreed to preside at Timmy and my’s wedding! I’m so happy I was able to be present for his Ordination and watch him enter fully into his vocation, and I can’t think of anyone better to preside as Timmy and I enter fully into ours.
Speaking of both the sacrament of holy orders and the sacrament of marriage, this past weekend I was struck by how similar and interconnected ordinations and weddings are in the Catholic Church.
While these are obviously two different vocations, they ultimately have the same end goal- total union with Christ in heaven. Not to mention that the Catholic Church understands the priesthood within the context of Christ’s marriage to the Church- each priest then takes as his bride the Church. So it isn’t shocking that as I listened to the words spoken by Cardinal Wuerl during the various rites that make up an ordination Mass, I couldn’t help but pick out portions that could be applied to the sacrament of marriage just as easily as they were being applied to the priesthood. The language of total self-sacrifice, of total obedience, of laying down one’s life in service to Jesus Christ, of making a total and free gift of self – all of this can, and should, be said of both vocations. In fact, I found myself wishing that the marriage rite used this language more clearly – I wish the language of sacrifice and obedience was stronger, that it was more clearly demonstrated that this vocation is a dying to self and an entering into a new identity. But nonetheless, hearing Steve respond so surely to the rites of ordination, and witnessing the physical signs of obedience demonstrated by all the (now) newly ordained priests, inspired in me a renewed determination to enter into the vocation of marriage with a full and obedient heart.
Immediately following the ordination each of the new priests stationed themselves in a chapel in the Basilica to give their first blessings to their family and friends who came to share in this sacrament. Father Steve, stationed in the Immaculate Heart of Mary chapel, must have given over 100 blessings to his family, friends, and complete strangers who just wanted a blessing. At first I was overjoyed to see him, now a priest (!), exercising his priestly powers with people so close to him! After about the 50th person, I kinda started to feel bad for him- isn’t he tired? isn’t he hungry? Couldn’t he stop for now? Then it hit me- this is his version of a receiving line...This is his first encounter with his guests after being forever changed by the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is exactly like when a bride and groom greet their guests on the way into the reception, encountering them for the first time, forever changed, as husband and wife. It got me thinking, married couples (in fact, every baptized person) also have the powers of prayer and blessing (obviously the (ordained) priestly blessing is different, but lay persons still have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them that inspires this ability). Couldn’t a newly married Catholic couple – who were both baptized as priest, prophet, and king – pray with and over their guests as they entered the reception? Okay, this receiving line would take forever…but what a beautiful demonstration of the couple’s priestly mission. Has anyone ever experienced anything like this at a Catholic wedding before? I’d love to hear about it!
After giving what must have felt like a million blessings, Steve headed over to a reception hosted by his family. When I walked into the reception it hit me even more just how similar to a wedding this was- I walked in, signed a guest book, dropped a card in a card box, and then proceeded to grab a drink and some food while mingling with other guests. I asked my sister-in-law who paid for the reception, and upon hearing her respond with “his family” my eyes widened in amazement. Her response to my wide-eyed stare, “Think about it, this is his wedding reception.” The following day, after his first Mass, which he said at the parish he grew up in, their was another reception for the whole parish. This second reception reminded me even more of a wedding: there were string lights hanging overhead, full food and desert tables, a kids table, a bar, a slideshow of his life playing on a screen in the back of the room, a display of photos of all of Steve’s sacraments, from baptism all the way to Holy Orders, and then a designated place where Steve once again gave blessings for the entirety of the reception. Steve’s unwavering commitment, at both of his receptions, to give blessings to whomever asked for one was honestly inspiring- it reminded me of the same attitude Timmy and I are called to have at our reception.
Holy Orders and Matrimony are both deemed by the Church Sacraments at the Service of Communion, which means they are “directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God” (CCC 1534). By focusing all of his attention during his reception on his guests, by not giving into his own desires or bodily distractions (he had to be starving), Steve demonstrated this service of others. He built up the People of God by building up each and every single person he encountered during those 24 hours. Married couples are also called to have this disposition; during our reception, Timmy and I are called to be totally attentive to our guests, to give of ourselves and of the love we share to each person we encounter. We are called to remember that it really isn’t merely “our day,” but rather it is the community’s day. Julie Rubio writes, “A sacrament of two of the Church’s members is a sacrament of all of its members.” The sacrament that Steve entered into on Saturday truly was a sacrament that he shared with everyone present, and I pray that this is the way our guests walk away from our reception feeling too.
I attended Father Steve’s first Mass on Sunday and was brought to tears multiple times. First, I walked into the church carrying Abbie, my Goddaughter, who happily told me that “Steve priest now!” (She’s 2.5 guys, thats huge for her to comprehend). She then proceeded to ask me every 5 minutes where Steve was and I had to help her find him up at the altar! As the Mass progressed, I couldn’t help but imagine the anticipation that Steve must be feeling. He is about to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time, ever. He is about to exercise his priestly powers, act in Persona Christi, and make present the Body and Blood of Christ…the pinnacle of his life as a priest, and he was about to enter into it for the first time. As I prayed during Mass and reflected upon this anticipation (and probably nervousness) that Steve must be feeling, I realized that isn’t this the same way I should feel about my wedding night? Couples waiting for marriage should also feel, and embrace, this holy fear of the coming unity that the sacrament holds for them. Holy anticipation and fear is a beautiful thing for an engaged couple …and I was reminded of it by witnessing Father Steve act in Persona Christi for the first time!
The last thing I want to share is about the interconnectedness of these two vocations. At the end of his first Mass, Steve gave a gift to both of his parents. He quoted St. Josemaria Escriva, who when asked about the role of family in vocations, said that “90% of vocations are born in the family.” Steve said that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the love, support and formation his family gave him. Then, to his father, he gifted a Confessional Stole, and thanked hm for teaching him how to be a father – which he will now be to each person who comes to him in confession. To his mother, he gave the hand towel that was used to wipe the chrism oil that consecrated his hands during his ordination the day before. His mother will later (much later!) be buried with this towel in her hands, so that when she meets Christ in Heaven and He asks her what she has given in return for the gift of life that was given to her, she can say she gave the Kingdom a priest. This was an amazing witness to the interconnectedness of marriage and vocations- parents are the first educators, the first catechists, of their children; it is the responsibility of the parents to teach their children about vocations and to foster in them an openness to the Holy Spirit. Seeing Steve’s appreciation for his parents was an incredible reminder of the calling I am about to enter into and the great responsibility I will have as a parent (God-willing!).
I am so thankful for the gift that it was to witness Father Steve’s ordination and first Mass. This experience has truly re-inspired in me a dedication to preparing for the sacrament of marriage and reminded me of God’s faithfulness and the greatness of His call for my life. I’m also so thankful that Father Steve will be presiding at Timmy and my’s wedding next year! We could not ask for a better priest to walk this journey with!
Please keep Father Steve, and Timmy and myself, in your prayers!
P.s. I finally got my engagement ring blessed!