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‘Writing icons’ part of journey to priesthood

NCR Staff
Tucson, Ariz.

The term for painting an icon is “writing an icon,” because it is “writing out a gospel passage using pigments,” explained newly ordained Fr. David Reinders. Because of an icon and a Benedictine icon master at Mount St. Angel Abbey in Oregon, Reinders, as he moved toward the priesthood, returned to art, which he had forsaken. He began writing icons.

Formed by the Benedictines, Reinders, now 44, spent 1978-81 at the order’s St. Meinrad’s School of Theology. He also spent some time in the monastery.

His parents died during that period and, he said, he realized he could bury himself in the monastery and not be close to anyone. Instead, he was encouraged by two Benedictine brothers, “great mystics, Gabriel and David,” to go out on his own. His acknowledgments in the ordination program included the now-deceased brothers.

Although Reinders left the community, he remained a Benedictine oblate, a lay member of the order, as, between 1984 and 1994, he worked for the church in parishes and teaching high school. When he decided to enter the diocesan priesthood, he said, it was “because the people in the parishes are so hungry for spirituality.

“Given my own nature, my own need to experience quiet and solitude, the mystical component -- and with my sister Linda so logical in keeping my feet on the ground and a true Francis-like personality herself,” he said he hopes to carry with him both Benedictine stability and the Franciscan ability to go out among people.

Bishop Francis Quinn spoke of priests as an endangered species. Does Reinders feel that way?

“No I don’t,” he said, “I think God raises up people at different times in different ages to really assume the roles they are called to do.

“Perhaps if we think of an all-celibate clergy, that might put us on an endangered list,” he said, “but I hope for the day when many people can be called to ordained ministry in the church, both married people and women. Perhaps we are endangered if we don’t listen to the Spirit.”

Of celibacy, Reinders said, “Because of my background in mystical theology and looking at our whole tradition -- especially people like Francis and Benedict -- I see this as a faithfulness to my spouse, Christ, my primary relationship -- as in the Song of Songs. That means I must spend time in prayer.”

A Golden Age of church ahead?

If so, he said, “it is in rediscovering the value of the Second Vatican Council -- in people not wishing to run away from it and move backward and disguise themselves by turning altars to walls or wearing fiddlebacks [old-style chasubles] or entrenching themselves in a very old theology.

“If a Golden Age,” he said, “it is because we are at a threshold that will open for us a door to a future of really allowing the Spirit to lead the churches. And that takes a great deal of humility and courage.”

Now serving at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Casa Grande, Ariz., Reinders said such courage is shown not in stepping backward into what seems to be safe, but in moving into the unknown -- “allowing the unknown to lead you in the way their great trust led Abraham and Moses in the desert.”

This is a desert diocese. What does such a place give to the broader church? What emanates from it?

Beauty, an ancient tradition, a gift of the Eucharist going back to the 1500s, Reinders responded.

Despite the excesses of some early missionaries who forced Christianity onto people, he said, there was and is a “beauty in building up the body of Christ and of allowing people to worship as who they are,” he said.

“The Southwest has always been very peaceful, maybe because of the heat. The indigenous people were so welcoming before trials came into their lives,” he said. “They had a gentle way of including each other. And that persists, if we let it.”

Reinders, meanwhile, continues to capture Christianity’s gentle spirit in another way -- writing his icons.

National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 1997