By Mary DeTurris Poust
For the past nine months I’ve been working with eight Boy Scouts from my parish, including my own 13-year-old son, toward the completion of their Ad Altare Dei medal, a fairly rigorous religious program for Catholic Scouts that requires them to study the seven sacraments one by one. Service projects and prayers, Powerpoints and collages are all part of the “homework” that has to be done before they conclude with a weekend retreat.
I recently helped the boys with the Holy Orders chapter and thought it would be a good experience for them to attend an actual ordination. So this weekend we headed down to the newly renovated Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany to see five men ordained, including one Eagle Scout who served briefly at our parish, making it all the more personal and pertinent to the boys. As far as I’m concerned, what better group than Boy Scouts to tap for potential vocations to the priesthood. They’ve already shown their commitment to something bigger than themselves just by showing up and working their way through the not-so-easy ranks of Scouting.
The boys were given primo seats right behind the deacons, in clear view of the altar, so they could see everything as it unfolded. Before Mass began, our former pastor stopped by, as did the Eagle Scout ordinand, another priest who served at our parish before he was ordained last year, the diocesan director of vocations, as well as several other priests who noticed the small but impressive crowd of Junior High boys in their Class A uniforms. One after another the boys’ presence there was affirmed and celebrated.
Bishop Howard Hubbard began the Mass by telling the congregation that this class of five men was the largest class the diocese has ordained in 28 years. To top it off, it was the largest crowd ever to attend any event at the cathedral in his 33 years as bishop. Both, I think, are testaments to the strength of the faith in the face of scandal and other issues.
I don’t know how much the boys will remember of the specifics, but I doubt there is any way they can forget the haunting sounds of the Litany of the Saints sung as the priests-to-be lay prostrate before the altar, or the site of more than one hundred priests laying their hands on the heads of the newly ordained in a steady and happy stream.
I’m hoping the boys will remember at least some of the bishop’s homily, which focused on things critical to the priesthood but important to the rest of us Catholics as well. He reminded the priests of their role as teachers and the great need for faithful catechesis delivered not only in word but also through the witness of their lives. He reminded them of the need to collaborate with others and support one another on their journey through the priesthood. And he reminded them of the need to pray each day, saying that however they meet Jesus – in the Liturgy of the Hours, in Lectio Divina, in meditation, in Mass, before the Blessed Sacrament – they cannot cut corners in this area of their priestly lives.
We can all benefit from that message: catechize through our words and our lives, support each other along the way, meet Jesus in prayer every day.
Although the ordination itself was powerful and spiritually moving, there was another moment that stood out as a high point. At the end of the Mass, Bishop Hubbard reminded the congregation that when he was ordained in 1963, the Albany Diocese had more than 400 priests. When he became bishop in 1977, the diocese had more than 300 priests. Today there are 116 active priests serving more than 400,000 Catholics. And so the bishop asked any man in the congregation who had ever felt even the slightest hint of a calling to the priesthood to not only stand up but to come before the altar and receive a blessing. It was a risky move, I think, but lo and behold, fifteen men stood before the bishop. That takes some guts, but what a powerful witness to those young boys looking on and perhaps wondering if maybe God is calling them.
On his way out of the cathedral, the bishop processed by and said, “I didn’t see any Scouts up there. Maybe next year.” Maybe. Because sometimes all it takes is someone putting the idea out there. We all need to do more of that.