One month ago today I was ordained a Catholic priest by Archbishop Michael Jackels. What had been planned to be a day shared with 2 other brothers being ordained, dozens of family and close friends, and hundreds of other people from around the Archdiocese, including my brothers and sisters in the diaconate community and my new brother priests, was actually shared with 10 people. And while I missed the physical presence of all the people that could not be there, their presence spiritually was very real to me, and I cherished the few people that were present. And God was present.
That same day I had the opportunity to say my first Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Springbrook, IA, the parish where my wife, Sara, and I lived and served for 2 years. It is also the place where Sara is buried; the last time I served in the sanctuary was her funeral nearly 4 years ago. My heart ached for missing her physical presence and all the other people that were not there, but I rejoiced with the 10 people that were there, and God was present.
The next morning I presided at Mass and preached in our mother church, the Cathedral of St. Raphael, with a total of 4 people present. My Archbishop concelebrated and served as the Lector. I preached to an empty church, save for the blinking live-stream camera. I know there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people watching at that moment, and I felt their spiritual presence, and God was present.
Over the next weeks I celebrated Mass every day, sometimes in churches, both empty and full (social distancing wise, that is), and sometimes in a beautiful chapel in the woods. Sometimes on a dining room table, or a coffee table, or a small end table set as an altar. Sometimes on a backyard deck, and even a pontoon boat on a lake. Whether I was the only person physically present or I was surrounded by hundreds of people, I was always surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and God was present.
I have anointed those in need of physical strength and healing. I have heard the confessions and given absolution to those whose spirits were wounded by sin but desired healing and restored communion with God. I have prayed with and for those fearing cancer in their lives, and offered Masses on their behalf. And God was always present.
I have had friends and family ask “what do we call you now?” because while I am still the “Sean” they have always known, they also know, even if they are not Catholic, that a priest is called not to be his own, but to be with them and for them, and to make God present.
To those that have been present to me, physically or even only spiritually, this past month, please know that my heart and my spirt are full. It has been a great joy to be with you, to pray with and for you, and to begin my life as a Catholic priest.
May God be present to you this day!