Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

25 January 2013

The Altar: A Conversion Table

On the heels of Saint Francis de Sales the Church celebrates Saint Paul.  While the Church has come to revere him as "the Apostle," he described himself as "abnormally born" (1 Cor 15:8) because he was an apostolic latecomer, not one of the original twelve-plus-one.

The Church commemorates certain events in the lives of particularly noteworthy saints in addition to their "personal day."  Think of Mary-as-Godbearer (1 Jan) as well as her Maternal Consent (25 Mar), her Assumption (15 Aug), her own birth (8 Sep) and Immaculate Conception (8 Dec).  Think of John the Baptist (24 Jun) alongside his martyrdom (29 Aug).  Saint Paul's conversion (25 Jan) is honored in addition to his being the "two" of the "one-two punch" of Saints Peter and Paul (29 Jun).

I have a particular appreciation for the 24th and 25th of January because of a priest-friend and mentor  who for nearly 20 years was pastor of a Saint Francis de Sales Parish and whose birthday has been celebrated on the feast of Paul's conversion since 1938.  Although I was intrigued with the priesthood since the age of five, priests like this one have inspired me through the years to embrace kindness, devotion, wisdom, and knowledge, with humor and humility.

Some astute camera-wielding individual thought enough to take a picture of this priest and another priest (a classmate and dear friend from another diocese) while they were embracing me at the "Kiss of Peace" which takes place within the Ordination Rite.  These two photos are in the next room as I write.  Upon ordination I presented each of them a copy on which the phrase was inscribed, Ecce quomodo amabat eum: "See how much He loved him" (Jn 11:36).  You may recognize that as the remark of the Jews who beheld Jesus weeping upon the death of His friend Lazarus.  The affectionate greeting of those brother priests--whom I still marvel to call "peers"--reflected their love for me and for the sacrificial priesthood in which we share.

My best pose
Following the embrace of those men and dozens of others, my classmate and I were led to the Altar, having been "converted" from deacons into priests by the laying on of hands, a consecratory prayer, the Chrismation of our hands, and the repositioning of our stoles from over the left shoulder to around the neck.

I have settled into the living-out of "my" sacrament perhaps no better but no worse than any married persons.  At tonight's RCIA, part two of our matrimonial considerations, the presenter noted how she and her husband didn't fully understand what they were getting into either, what personal changes they would be prompted to make over the years, what joys awaited them.  I mentioned how the priest mentioned above inspired me to adopt the custom of kissing the ring hands of couples whose vows I had just witnessed--a gesture of mutual reverence that priests and married couples should offer because we all build up Christ's Mystical Body.  Earlier today, in talking to the 4th and 5th graders, I offered preliminary premarital formation by talking about the formation of conscience and the blessing of repentance, unique to human beings among all of God's creation by virtue of our will and intellect.  If we but contemplated our own divinized humanity a bit more deeply and a bit more often, who knows what might happen?

The "conversion" of me is only beginning, it seems; but the Altar of God is always the place of "reversion"--where I must return and love to return for the Offering of Peace and Sacrifice of Praise.  Whenever people join me at this altar, I am the richer for it.  Even when I am alone, however, I am never truly alone, for all the angels and saints are there; and soon the Lord of heaven and earth is there.

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Later this morning I will be leaving for the March for Life in Washington, D.C.  It will be blasted cold, I know; but this might be a spiritual boon for someone who doesn't gladly tolerate the winter, or anything else he perceives to be an inconvenience.  Pray for the health and safety of the traveling participants.  Pray especially for all who have participated in abortion by commission, coercion, suggestion, assistance, approval, and governmental support: for the repentance of those who still need it, for the continued growth of all who have repented, and finally, that the enveloping merits of Christ's sacrifice will shake the people of this nation into a new and comprehensive reverence for our own existence and worth.

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