As seen in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 14-15)
By Fr. Michael Brennan, O. Praem.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” —Frederick Buechner (A favorite quote of Fr. Brennan)
Words do not adequately express how deeply I have encountered God throughout the last several months.
On May 27, the 50th anniversary of my Uncle Ted’s ordination to the priesthood, I was ordained “a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:3) by Bishop David Ricken at St. Norbert Abbey. Throughout my ordination weekend and the ensuing days, I have been continually surprised by joy. In describing joy, C.S. Lewis once wrote, “It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me …” I echo this sentiment; but I know for certain that I am home: I am home at St. Norbert Abbey, I am home in the overwhelming humility and joy of being continually invited into the brokenness and blessedness of the People of God.
Is it really possible for a 40-year-old man who has dreamt of being a priest since childhood to be surprised by joy? (See drawing above.) I can tell you from experience—yes, I have known forever that I wanted to be a priest. And yes, I have repeatedly been surprised by joy. My ordination weekend (Mass of Ordination, “First Mass” of Thanksgiving, and related celebrations) and the weeks following continue to overwhelm my heart and soul with joy. Words do not adequately express how deeply I have encountered God throughout the last several months.
Saturday morning, ordination day, I was in the abbey dining room and bumped into one of our elder priests, who suffers from dementia. I shared, “Father, they’re ordaining me today.” Startled and a bit confused, he replied, “What?” I repeated, “I will be ordained a priest today.” This time my words registered, and his face lit up as he said, “They are?” Smiling, he gave me a tender and loving hug and added, “Congratulations!” With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat I responded, “Thank you, Father!” In the abbey dining room, I was surprised by joy.
Recently, I joined Deacon Kevin DeCleene, pastoral leader of St. Norbert College Parish, and two friends in the home of a fellow parishioner who was preparing to have back surgery. As we gathered around her kitchen table for the Anointing of the Sick, I was overcome with the goodness and grace of this sacred moment. Around our neighbor’s kitchen table, I was surprised by joy.
These are but two specific examples of how I have been surprised by joy throughout the last several months. In addition, I have been surprised by the joy of making eye contact with family and friends throughout my weekend of ordination and First Mass, of consecrating the Eucharist, and of hearing confessions. My prayer is that God will continue to surprise me with joy as I seek to serve God and neighbor as “a priest forever.”