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Cover story

At ordination, talk of shared ministry

NCR Staff
Tucson, Ariz.

The two new priests-to-be were prostrate on the carpeted floor before the altar as the cantor, clergy and people intoned the ancient Litany of the Saints.

More words were yet to come, but words already spoken echoed in the cathedral and the minds of priests and people.

“The fires of renewal have purged us priests of our exclusive claim on ministry,” the bishop had said. “The magnificent gold that has come from that burning is the enormous outpouring of gifted men and women whose ministries we have not yet even begun to catalog. We must share our leadership.

“The second challenge is our call to celibacy in a time of sexual revolution and intense emphasis on genitality. Celibacy is not something possess for once and for all. We are constantly becoming celibate. Because of our upbringing, because of possible unenlightened sexual repression in early years, because of the original clouding of intellect and the weakening of will, because of the need for intimacy, and because of the downright pleasure of genitality, you will find celibacy an unremitting challenge.”

These bold, clear words had preceded the names of saints now being invoked to pray for these two young men, saints’ names that rolled down 2,000 years of Christianity into the modern, bright, simple St. Augustine’s Cathedral where the huge Christ carving behind the altar depicted a man who could have stepped directly out of the desert of the American Southwest.

The Catholic church at its best is magnificent at ritual. Form and flow follow function: sacrament-surrounded mystery at the core, movement and music at the periphery, words venerable and modern in the narrative and a delightful, very human grouping, part participatory congregation, part watching audience, joining, witnessing, assessing, praying.

In any good Catholic service, the meandering of the mind, the activity of the children, the cry of the infant are as vital as the prayer, the responses, the singing, the tolling of joyful bells. And so it was here.

Christopher M. Orndorff II, 27, and David Reinders, 44, were to be ordained on this feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the 100-year-old Tucson diocese.

Bishop Manuel D. Moreno was recuperating from surgery and unable to lay on hands. In his absence, a fine letter was read and he had asked his friend and colleague, retired Sacramento, Calif., Bishop Francis A. Quinn, to ordain the two men Aug. 15 at a service that started at 7 p.m.

Home in an RV

Quinn lives in a recreational vehicle given him by Sacramento priests when he retired three years ago. The RV is tethered to the telephone, electricity and water at the rear of Moreno’s residence. Quinn skips around town -- and serves the nearby Native American reservations as supply priest -- in a little white Chevy.

This day, as he arrived in the cathedral parking lot, Quinn saw Orndorff. “Nervous?” he asked. “A little,” said the candidate.

The bishop, a slender figure at 76, strode toward the door. “Is there a crosier?” he asked the chancellor, Fr. John P. Lyons. Quinn doesn’t keep anything but a Mass kit in his camper.

“We’ve got a selection,” replied Lyons, “but knowing your simple tastes we picked the plain wooden one.”

In the cathedral itself, more than half the 300-plus attendees had already arrived, and were either awaiting the start or holding mini-family reunions. Candidate Reinders was greeting friends.

Fresh arrivals pushed into pews and leaned over to greet, hug and joke with friends and family. The video man was positioning his camera tripod, priests were looking for the vesting area, the photographer was checking his battery pack, the greeters were handing out the program with the golden Our Lady of Guadalupe on its cover, a little boy in a green T-shirt was having the first of his miniature cheese-on-cracker offerings destined to keep him quiet for almost half the two-hour service. Then the plastic tub of jelly babies would be opened.

The 60-voice chorale was in final run-through. Soon it would launch into Christopher Wilcox’s “There is Nothing Told.”

As always at such a ceremony, as if by agreement, the conversation suddenly subsided. There was a loud clang, apparently from the huge doors at the entrance being thrown open, and the procession began.

Did some of the young women in the cathedral, watching the all-male cast, wonder if one day those ranks would be different? Perhaps.

Favorite music old and new connected the lengthy rite: “Hail Holy Queen”; Marty Haugen’s “Glory to God”; and Fintan O’Caroll and Christopher Walker’s “Celtic Alleluia.”

Then came Quinn, the gospel and the homily.

“There are two special challenges today. The first is the very confusion about the meaning of priesthood. Several decades ago one definition was this: ‘A priest is justice on a ball diamond; fortitude with a breviary in his hand. He has the trust of a child, the kindness of a best friend, the authority of an encyclopedia and the versatility of a commando.’

“This past fall,” Quinn continued, “researcher Robert Schmitz offered a less confident description: ‘A priest today has a perspective unique among God’s creatures: He may be the only animal fully aware that he has been put on the endangered species list.’ ”

A pearl of great price

The bishop raised the challenge of sharing leadership. “The emergence of other ministries may have come as a threat to some of us. What will our future be? Will we priests be sacramental circuit riders covering a chain of parishes? In whatever direction the Holy Spirit guides the future of the church, the ordained ministry will still be distinct and unique. We may feel a twinge of pain as we are pried away from unhealthy clericalism -- but we will still hold in our possession a pearl of great price.”

To Orndorff and Reinders Quinn said, “Keep your ministry simple. Just do what Christ did: teach, preach, heal, reconcile.”

He spoke to them about celibacy and said, “The following is old-fashioned advice, but there is no other magic formula. Stay away from the occasions of sin -- the persons and places that entice to sin. Calmly understand the nature of sex. Do not be frightened by your sexuality or obsessed with it. Present yourself to the laity as compassionate fellow strugglers, just as the laity are, to live up to Christian sexual ideals.

“God’s way of loving is the only licensed teacher of human sexuality,” said the bishop. “God’s passion created our passion. If we are afraid of our sexuality, we are afraid of God. Thomas Merton put it, ‘We must make ready for the Christ whose smile, like lightning, sets free the psalm of everlasting glory which now sleeps in your paper flesh.’ ”

Confronting the relentless challenges and daily setbacks in ministry, Quinn spoke of Christ’s failure and asked Christopher and David to ask themselves if, paradoxically, they were weak enough to be priests -- deficient enough to feel what it is to be human.

The bishop wove Nietzsche and Mozart, Aquinas and Chaucer together as failures with their creative business unfinished as was Christ’s. “Socrates went to his death with calmness and poise. ... Jesus ... how much the contrary: profoundly upset with terror and fear looked for comfort from his friends and an escape from death and found neither; finally got hold of himself and accepted his death in silence and lonely isolation.”

“Do you sense,” Quinn asked the ordinands, “that the church as an institution is less revered today? That we priests are less respected? If that is indeed true, is not our priesthood more authentic? ... Christ was scorned, misunderstood, misrepresented, held in suspicion, dismissed.”

Quinn was not, however, pessimistic about the church. “I think we are in a Golden Age of the church. Since the Second Vatican Council [1962-65], I think we have been in a prolonged period of growth. Like adolescents, we have been stumbling over our disproportionately large feet. We have been breaking out in ecclesial acne.”

The cathedral chuckle swelled into laughter when Quinn added, “In the earlier priesthood of many clergy here, so often we sang, ‘Faith of Our Fathers.’ In 1997, we are singing, ‘Be Not Afraid.’ ”

Do not think of career advancement, he told Orndorff and Reinders. Do pray for faith and do mix into daily life the necessary five ingredients: prayer, work, study, friends and leisure.

“An hour ago you came into this cathedral as young men. In another hour,” he said, “you will leave as presbyters -- elders.”

And so it was, after the Taize “Veni Sancti Spiritu” that followed Quinn’s laying on of hands, and after much good music, including a “Salve Regina” sung by the Tucson diocese clergy.

The 40-plus priests, including two new ones, recessed with bishop, family and friends to “Immaculate Mary.”

As the doors opened, the bells announced the news to a Tucson mainly unaware and perhaps unheeding, but to a church fully knowing.

At the reception, the new priests were the objects of attention and congratulation. But Quinn’s remarks were the topic of conversation.

National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 1997