This morning I attended the ordination of fellow Paulist Dat Tran to the holy priesthood. It was an occasion of personal joy for me, having known Dat ever he applied to enter the community while a senior at the University of California at Berkeley. I was privileged to be one of his interviewers when he applied and again a few years later served as his summer superviser while he was with us at St. Paul the Apostle parish in New York. More than any of that, however, his ordination is an occasion of great joy for our Paulist community, which has not celebrated an ordination to the priesthood in three long years. Hopefully, that desert experience is over as we look forward, God willing, to three ordinations next year.
This morning's ordination came as the climax of a powerful experience of Paulist community, the 2011 Paulist Retreat at Long Branch, NJ, a Spirit-filled week which will joyfully conclude with Fr. Tran's 1st Mass tomorrow morning. Being together for several days of reflection, retreat, and prayer, hearing each others' stories of adversity and resilience, confirmed us Paulists as a community of joy, gratitude, and hope. The beautiful and relaxing oceanside setting certainly helped, just as the majestic magnificence of St. Paul the Apostle Church contributed to the grandeur of today's ceremony.
When the Church calls a man and ordains him to the priesthood, it does more than set apart one individual, blessing and consecrating him for a holy life in the sacred ministry. In a sense, it recapitulates the character and call of the Church, animated by the presence of the Risen Christ, to be the priestly link, a conduit of grace, between God and the world, the institution within which and through which God's ancient promise to Abraham that, through him all the nations of the earth would find blessing, is literally being fulfilled.
None of this changes the challenges that threaten the Church, religious life, and indeed the world - challenges of which the recent paucity of ordinations is certainly a serious symptom. A week like this is, however, a happy reminder of what we are all about and of who remains present among us.