My Ordination

Once upon a time, I was a postulant to Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.

I received my call on a sleepless summer night. Oh, I had toyed with the idea for some years before, had run it past two priests who served my parish and was rebuffed, but though the exact date and time escapes me, I can say for certain that this was the night I received The Call. The night remained without sleep until the earliest light of day.

A month or so later I came away from a meeting with our newest parish priest wondering just what had happened. Discernment with a parish committee followed, then admittance to aspirancy. Imagine that: I, who had been a Christian for less than ten years, was on his way to becoming a priest in the church of God—as I understood it then. Baptized, married, confirmed in the space of a year, and now this. I was on one heck of a fast track.

I doubted, still. How could such a thing happen to me? How could God want a lifelong reprobate like me? These and other questions kept me awake all throughout those months of being an aspirant. Then the questions became accusations, and the accusations became open mockery of my humanity and dignity, and the mockery became curses the likes of which I’d never heard before, even in the most terrible times of my childhood. It was here that I learned what a superb ventriloquist the Adversary could be.

At my examination for admittance to the posutlancy I was asked which biblical character I identified with most. I picked Job, for I knew what it was like to be caught between two powers fighting for supremacy over my soul. Months after the examination, my bishop asked me to wait. He didn’t say no, he didn’t say yes. He asked me to wait. I accepted his decision, knowing it was correct. But I looked out over the lunar landscape of my spirit, and saw an airless, cratered battlefield, wondering who had won.

Months later, after a short meeting with my bishop, I was admitted to the postulancy. My faith in a rational universe vanished.

I doubted, still. My postulancy had opened doors to all kinds of ministry opportunities, not least of which preaching, for which I discovered something of a small talent. I enjoyed my time as a postulant as I had little else. But the Adversary had not been driven away, and new concerns filled my mind about the direction of the Episcopal Church and God’s new thing. My wife was resisting, too, and I’m sorry to say I behaved abominably toward her in my pursuit of ordination. The battle within, and over, my soul raged on.

The Adversary is an excellent ventriloquist. I persisted, following the call, the one thing in my heart I knew had come from God. I gave what I could, but it was not enough.

On an afternoon in May, the bishop rescinded my postulancy. Two hours before, as I waited for the bishop’s call, I heard another voice in my heart telling me that no matter what the bishop’s decision was, everything would be all right. I received his decision with sadness, but without sorrow and without regret. I would be all right. God told me so.

The next day I was re-examining everything I’d been through, everything I’d learned about God and about myself, and thought I’d done something pretty amazing for a lifelong atheist/agnostic/heathen.

Yeah, I know,” said a voice inside me, clear as a May afternoon. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I have never in my life wept as I did that day.

Yet I doubted, still. My faith was changing, and the more it changed, the less Episcopalian I became. I had wanted nothing more than to take that summer off from ministry, return to my parish, and serve God and His people faithfully, joyfully and honorably for the rest of my life. I had won the only reward I ever could have desired, and that was enough. Or so I thought. I began reading about the Catholic Church, and what she taught, and comparing what she taught to what I was coming to believe and what I had been taught to believe.

I was received into the Catholic Church on the Easter Vigil of 2015. I had no choice.

That beautiful if chaotic night, as I received the Eucharist for the first time—indeed, for the first time ever—it occurred to me: I had been ordained.

Not as a priest, no, of course not. But ordination, as I had come to understand it, produces a permanent change in the person on whom it is bestowed. Ordination is ontological; it changes one’s very being. I am still a new Catholic, and I may be mistaken in the particulars, but isn’t that what all the sacraments do?

I had been confirmed, yes. I had received the Eucharist in the fullness of Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity, yes. Had I not been changed, in some permanent way? Are we not all of us, the laity of the Catholic Church, ordained into the priesthood of all believers at confirmation, and even at every Mass? Are we not all of us transformed not only by the sight of Christ incarnate among us, but by the feel and taste of Him upon our lips and upon our tongues? If not, what are we missing?

So, here I am—not exactly where I expected my call to ordination to lead. And yet I look back, as I did after the end of my postulancy, and see all the questions and answers fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, revealing the big picture. I am where God has been leading me from the beginning. I am an aspirant no longer. I am a postulant no longer. I am where I belong, still seeking ordination—and receiving it with every sacrament. Like Job, I have been justified and rewarded. The battle is over (until a more opportune time). My soul is a garden again.  I doubt no more.

I am a fully ordained, perfectly ordinary layman of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and I wish to be nothing else.

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One thought on “My Ordination

  1. I’ve had the pleasure and honor of knowing this “perfectly ordinary layman” for less than a year, but feel as if it’s been longer than that. Perhaps that is because we’ve been Christian brothers at heart for a long time; or perhaps it is because he may have been Catholic at heart long before things were formalized at the Easter Vigil. In any case, now he’s fully Catholic, and I’m greatly pleased by that fact because it is clear to me that he is going to be a great asset to the Church. The story above about his journey into the arms of Christ’s Bride is so common yet so unique, because such a journey involves common threads among individuals yet always includes a type of unique, unrepeatable mystery lived out in the life of each person, one which is only partially unveiled by personal history and the God-authored events that led a person home. With that, I just want to say, “Welcome home!”

    Deacon Fred Bartels

    Like

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