As I prepare for ordination to the priesthood later this week the most commonly asked question is, “How is your family coping?” The reply is that the children have several questions…”What do we call you? Father Father?”
Or “Do we have to go to you for confession?” Answer, “Probably not. I’d say, ‘I think you forgot something…’”
or “When we’re on vacation could you just say Mass for us on the picnic table so we don’t have to go to church?”
Actually my wife Alison and four children are taking it all in their stride. To the kids I’m just their Dad, and they probably are not aware how very unusual our situation really is. We’ve spoken about priesthood for as long as they can remember, and we’ve been preparing for this particular step for about a year…applying for the job, discusing the possibilities of moving to America, finally getting approval, moving to South Carolina, getting the paperwork through from Rome, passing exams. The children have been informed and interested at every step of the way. Each one is involved in the ordination. They’re going to Charlotte on Monday to pick up their grandparents–who are flying in from England for the big week, and staying for Christmas.
Then on Tuesday this week, second grader Elias will be ‘ordained’ at St Mary’s School. His teacher Sr. Mary Lucy (a wonderful Nashville Dominican) is having a ‘mock ordination’ so the children can understand up close what will take place on Thursday. Elias’ hand shot up when volunteers were asked for, so he’s going to be ‘ordained’ in the second grade.
His older brother, Theodore, is in fourth grade. He’s quieter, and has been observing everything with a bemused, but shrewd eye. In the ordination service on Thursday Theo will join Elias and big sister Madeleine to bring forward my chasuble and stole and present them for the solemn vesting. Maddy seems proud that Dad is being ordained and will be the priest chaplain at her school. She’s the one most likely to stop by my office for a cheerful hello during the school day.
Benedict is the oldest. At thirteen he is being confirmed on Wednesday night. I’ll serve as deacon at the confirmation Mass, and then Ben will serve as crucifer with the altar servers for my ordination Mass the next night.
And Alison? My wife has supported my journey to the priesthood ever since the sad day in 1995 when we packed up and moved out of our beautiful English country vicarage. For nearly twelve years we waited and watched and kept on asking the church to confirm my vocation. She raged and questioned and pondered God’s mysterious ways with me every step of the way. I wanted her to take part in the service too on Thursday, but she refused. “I’m just going to sit there and enjoy the whole thing.”
I’ve put as many saints as possible into the Litany of the Saints. It’s going to be a very emotional day for all of us, and I need a long Litany because I plan to empty my tear ducts in the privacy of my prostration before the Lord. We might even have to put a special act in the ordination liturgy–The Solemn Ceremony of Drying the Sanctuary Floor…
There will be a DVD of the ordination service. For anyone who is familiar with the liturgy at St Mary’s Greenville, it will be worth getting. Watch this space for details in the future.