There will be a priestly ordination in the Diocese of Knoxville this coming Saturday, June 1st. Deacon Christopher Manning will be ordained to the priesthood at 11:00am at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville. If the present crop of seminarians is any indication, Deacon Christopher will be the first of several such ordinations in the years ahead, God willing. I know that Bishop Stika, Deacon Christopher, and the entire Diocesan community will welcome your attendance at this beautiful Mass. On a personal note, I would recommend attendance to anyone who has never witnessed a priestly or deaconal ordination before. It is truly a joyous and precious event, not only for the ordinand, but for the whole People of God. Deacon Christopher is being ordained to serve all of us and he will need our prayers and support in his ministry as a priest, as well as in whatever his first assignment of ministry might happen to be. I hope that the cathedral is packed “to the rafters” as they say.
Deacon Christopher knows by now (and likely figured out long ago) one of the great truths that they teach you when you are in clerical formation. It is a truth that I have learned through the experience of my own formation in our diocese’s deaconate formation program, because Deacon Tim Elliott, who is our Director of Deacons, repeated it to us frequently in the early-going. Since then, my spiritual director has reminded me of the single most important thing that anyone discerning a vocation to Holy Orders needs to remember: This is not about you.
Yes, the ordination rite on Saturday will, in some sense, be about Deacon Christopher in that it will be on him that Bishop Stika lays hands. What makes this special is not, however, that the Diocese will be focusing our collective and prayerful attention toward Deacon Christopher Saturday, but that Deacon Christopher has followed the Holy Spirit to a life of service to God’s people. Deacon Christopher has chosen, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to give up the riches of this world in order to spend his life advancing the Kingdom of God. For the sake of our souls, Deacon Christopher has chosen to abandon himself and give his life to God and to Holy Mother Church. As with our other priests, he will be “the hands that bring us Jesus.”
For those who accept a call from the Holy Spirit to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, they are accepting that their life will no longer be their own. I reflected on this reality on my own personal blog back in early April. Those who are called to priestly or deaconal ministry are sent to their positions in the Church. They are called to live in radical imitation of Jesus Christ. For priests, that means that their family is God’s family, they go where they are needed-sent-and that can mean leaving ministries he loves and taking on new things and new challenges for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. That reality has been underscored to me this weekend, as I have learned that my own pastor will be reassigned effective July 1st, and we’ll have a new pastor that day.
Holy Orders isn’t about a job. Too often, many people come to view their parish priests as belonging to them in a personal or a parochial sense. Our priests belong not to us as individuals or even as parishioners, but belong to Christ and his Church-the whole Church. They serve us as the People of God. That is why it is such a special vocation, a call to be Christ to God’s people
I’ve mentioned before that I am at present an Aspirant to the permanent deaconate in our diocese. We’re approaching that point in our process of formation where I will soon have to submit letters on behalf of myself and my wife (who must give her permission) asking the bishop to make me a candidate for ordination. Those letters must adhere to a certain form, and I have read over mine extensively. The one phrase that really stuck out to me was that I will be asking the bishop that I might continue to pursue the journey that I am on “for the Glory of God and the good of souls.” Not because being ordained sounds really cool, and not because we get (in the words of one of our formators), “to dress up like the Infant of Prague,” but for the Glory of God and the good of souls.
Christ established the priesthood in order to give us the most precious gift of all, the gift of himself-Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Just as Christ’s ministry was never easy, neither is that of the priest, for like Christ, his journey is centered close to the cross, and is one of self-sacrificing love for souls, many of whom he does not really know. Like Christ in his time, the holy priest whose life is centered on the cross represents a Kingdom that is not of this world, and he goes where it is needed for him to bring the Good News of that Kingdom and the Sacraments of Christ’s Church.
Thank you Deacon Christopher, and all of those men of our diocese and elsewhere who will soon be ordained to the sacred priesthood, for following the call of the Holy Spirit instead of the vain enticements of the world, and for allowing yourselves to be led to the priesthood not for yourselves, but for God, and for the sake of our souls.
St. John Vianny, patron of priests, pray for them and for all priests.