Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Year of Firsts

The life of a newly ordained man is marked by a series of "firsts" - his  first Mass, his first confession, his first wedding, his first funeral, his first fight with the pastor.  All of these serve, to some extent, as rites of passage through which one must progress before taking the next step of assuming full responsibility for a parish as parochial administrator or pastor.  In almost a year, I have accomplished many of these.  While I harbor no immediate ambitions to become a pastor (I find it quite consoling to be able to say things like, "You're really angry about that.  You should go tell the pastor right away."), I will be glad when I can expect not to encounter many more firsts, and have the confidence that comes only with experience when dealing with God's holy people.

Some firsts have been incredible.  My first Christmas as a priest at the Cathedral was spectacular.  Never have I celebrated Christmas so well.  So too with my first Easter.  The terror of my first day in the confessional and the great joy the celebration of the sacrament brought to me will always be fresh in my mind, I think.  The same is true of my first deathbed confession, and the first confession of a fallen-away Catholic.  Hearing teenagers ask "Father, would you come to my game?" or  "Father, can we go to coffee?" or being hugged by a middle school girl just because - realizing for the first time that I really am their father - is indescribable. 

Some firsts have been terrifying.  I still recall vividly how only days into my priesthood I was called to the hospital to pray with an elderly man who had just unexpectedly lost his wife.  It was a moment of profound sadness for me as I walked with him to his car and realized that he would go home alone for the first time in decades.  Trying to make sense of a confession spoken in Spanish with the penitent behind the screen left my brain numb afterward.  Preaching for a funeral of a woman I have never met, and whose family I am not likely to meet again left me feeling sort of empty.

There are some firsts that remain firsts however often they happen.  No number of repetitions of the same experience prepares one to weep with the parents of a dead baby.  No amount of exposure to it prepares one for the pain revealed by the confession of a post-abortive mother.

Yet, despite the tragedy and the anxiety some of these experiences have created, in their own ways, each of these firsts has been beautiful.  They have been entrusted to me by God who in them has given me permission to behold some glimpse of his own glory.   In some ways I feel like a small child filled with wonder as his parents place some tiny baby animal in his hands.  "You can hold it," they encourage, "But be gentle.  Don't squeeze it.  Be careful not to drop it."  So has the Lord spoken to me about these firsts.  "You can hold them, but be gentle.  Don't drop them." 


  1. ..... beautiful.

  2. I agree with everyone above. And that last paragraph seals it perfectly!


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